Fuji X Lens Guide Part I

About half the email inquires I get are about Fuji X System gear. The other half are about important stuff. Sort of kidding but not kidding. I've written a few Fuji X System gear posts here and there. None of them could be considered reviews or any sort of formal scientific tests. Do I love the Fuji X series cameras and lenses? Absolutely love them for many reasons from how pictures look (important) to the size (important to me) to how people in front of the camera react or don't react due to look/size/sound/etc.

I think a few people might have misinterpreted my post a week or two ago regarding a lens that has been the whipping-boy of the Fuji X glass line-up since the very first reviewer put his hands on it. The lowly Fujinon 18mm R


In the above linked review I talk a lot about theoretical performance and what that may or may not mean to actual picture making. I brushed off in a very cavalier way things like wide-open lens performance in the corners. Made fun of people that take pictures of documents laying flat, even cast disparaging remarks regarding anyone that might take a picture of things far away in the same plane of focus. It was meant as an illustration more than anything else. A way to explain when theoretical things regarding optics and making choices about where to allocate hard earned cash might make a difference.

Take a hard look at the photo above comparing the much praised 23mm f/1.4 R Fuji vs. the 18mm f/2 R. Sure the 23mm is better in some theoretical ways. In one very glaring way it's not better at all. Out of my own experience I would opt for that 18mm f/2 in 8 out of 10 circumstances and I do. I'm lucky enough I can have both. Guess what happens when I do opt for the little one. I've never ever said to myself during or after the fact; "Gee I wish I would have used the 23mm f/1.4 because it's better".

I hear and read things all the time in response to questions about selecting the 16mm f/1.4 or the 23mm f/1.4 that are not great answers to someone trying to make that kind of decision. Obviously they are two completely different beasts in terms of use and field of view. Sure there are conversations along those lines but there's also the universal recommendation to go with the 16mm f/1.4 because it's "the best that Fuji makes" and non-sense like that. While that might be true and I am certain it's probably one of the best 24mm equiv primes out there what about the 18mm f/2 for someone really trying to make a decision between the two??

For my own needs after having handled the 16mm for a few hours I am certain the 18mm is a better choice for me. It's especially a better choice since I opted for the 14 f/2.8 as well. That doesn't mean I will always feel the 14mm and 18mm are better for me forever but right now they are. See that comparison above? Guess what, the 16mm f/1.4 is even bigger and heavier.


The next comparison above should give even a better picture of what kind of difference there is between the two primes. On the left we have the 18-55mm XF zoom, on the right the same 23mm f/1.4 R a comparison that most of you that may have neither prime can relate to. In almost every way the 23mm f/1.4 is bigger, obviously not when the 18-55mm is zoomed to 55.

Consider this:

  • The 18mm f/2 is at least as good as the X100 series 23mm f/2, maybe even better wide open.
  • The 18mm f/2 can render crazy sharp pictures both wide open and even more so closed down a stop or two for most subject matter circumstances where you're shooting wide open. I've never been disappointed.
  • Although I love the 23mm f/1.4 any of the X-series cameras is a completely different feeling camera with it vs. the very small 18mm f/2.

Having used the 18mm along with the 18-55mm extensively I can say that in most cases the 18mm prime is better than the 18mm end of the zoom. As in the pictures give the impression of being better in terms of sharpness and micro contrast. That doesn't mean the 18-55mm is bad, it's just the overall impression I get over and over and over again. How does that stack-up with the over and over repeated opinions otherwise? My guess is two reasons. First is the echo chamber effect when someone has an opinion and then everyone else acquires that same opinion with no personal experience. The second reason is comparison of theoretical difference or maybe even testing circumstances and subject matter that have no bearing on the vast majority of circumstances.

I feel the same way regarding the 18-55mm zoom vs the "pro-zoom" lenses for my own needs. I much prefer the handling characteristics of the smaller lens in situations where it makes no difference in the pictures. I am in no way saying there are not needs and circumstances that wouldn't dictate selection of the bigger zooms.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll do my best to share thoughts and tests of both real world subjects and maybe even some contrived subjects that attempt to show results from what my current lens line-up looks like along with why I might choose one over the other or actually do and where I'm sorry I did. I'll even do it with subject matter and circumstance that might be a bit more broadly acceptable for such comparisons. Stay tuned, I hope to help people make lens purchase decisions that are right for them instead of relying on "better-ness" in some theoretical sense of overall-ness.

End Notes

Pictures made with the Fuji XPro-2 and 35mm f/2 WR. Processing via Lightroom CC with VSCO FILM04 ASTIA 100F applied on import. Oh yea, those filters… Tiny huh? I'll get to those too.