Fujifilm XF 23mm f/2 R WR review

There is a reason why a review of this lens is a must on this blog: the Fujifilm XF 23mm f/2 R WR is my everyday lens whenever I’m taking my X-E3 out for a walk. In fact, it has been my everyday lens since I bought it, from the days when I was still using an X-Pro1.

The Fujifilm XF 23mm f/2 R WR is a newer generation Fuji lens: it was announced in 2016, several years after their first generation lenses and X system camera bodies were launched in 2012 and heavily criticized for their slow and hesitating auto focus.

This time around Fuji was able to produce a lens that is pretty much perfect. In a nutshell: it’s small, portable, has super quick auto focus and is weather sealed. Oh, and the image quality is very solid.

But… Being my everyday lens does not necessarily mean this is the Fuji lens I’m most happy shooting with. Why?

Well…

If you are interested to know, below is my detailed review of the Fujifilm XF 23mm f/2 R WR.

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I. Physical features

You already know this lens is small: total length is 52mm, probably the size of your thumb. Now you also need to know this lens it’s light: it weighs 180 grams.

This is important because it means this lens will feel excellent with pretty much every Fuji X system camera body. On the contrary, the XF 23mm f/1.4 R which has the same focal length but a greater aperture, felt too large and heavy in my X-E2. Handling was horrible and hence I sold it.

If you are using a small Fuji X body – namely the X-A, X-E or X-T10 series – and looking for a lens with the equivalent 35mm range, the XF 23mm f/2 R WR is the right one for you. Don’t be tempted as I was to get the larger one just because of the greater f/1.4 aperture. You will regret as I did.

Design

This lens has a unique design. The front end with its 43mm filter thread is actually smaller than the mount itself. It’s reminiscent of vintage rangefinder lenses. Whether you like it or not is a personal thing. I don’t care much about this, whereas I’ve read in some reviews people who absolutely love this design to the point of considering it a feature per se.

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Fuji applied this same design concept in other lenses as well. There is the very similar XF 35 f/2 R WR and the recently released XF 16mm f/2.8 R WR.

Build quality

Just like other Fuji lenses from my collection, build quality is superb. The whole body is made of metal with a semi-gloss black finish. The engravings are perfect as well. The whole thing feels very robust and ready to get a beating when you take it out for action.

Talking about action, this lens is weather sealed – hence the “WR” at the end of its name. Weather sealed means resistant to dust and moisture, as opposed to water proof as some people might be led to think. Don’t try to pour water on it.

Rings

The focusing ring is butter smooth and is a fly-by-wire system, meaning that you are not physically moving the lens members when you turn the ring. You are actually turning a switch that sends electronic signals to the lens motors to move the glass. Anyway I seldom use it, because the auto focus is competent and works well.

The aperture ring is one of the reasons I jumped to Fuji X system. If you have never used a camera with aperture rings, I strongly recommend you try it once in your lifetime. There is nothing better than being able to glance at the ring to see what aperture you are using at a given time when you are out shooting, and the sheer pleasure it gives turning it to open or close the aperture blades and regulate the light hitting the sensor.

The aperture ring goes from f/2 to f/16. At the far end there is an “A” marking for Auto. Switch the ring to that position and the camera will choose aperture for you, either in shutter priority mode or full program auto mode, depending on the shutter speed dial’s position.

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Each click represents 1/3 of a stop. It’s a reassuring click and the whole thing feels tight and solid. It’s definitely better than the ring from my XF 35 f/1.4 R that feels a bit too light and loose sometimes.

Obviously, the aperture ring is also fly-by-wire. Nothing you can do about it these days, everything is about electronic signals which is a bit unfortunate and kills the experience. Still, it’s better than adjusting the aperture in the camera body through a control wheel and numbers at the back screen.

Lens cap & hood

The lens cap is made of cheap plastic, but at least it’s not a thin biscuit single layer type of cap. It has some thickness, so it’s easy and comfortable to press both sides to release the cap from the lens. The design is actually similar to some of my Leica lens caps.

In the box you will also get a round hood made of plastic as well. It’s not my preferred hood because the lens looks funny with that… And so I bought a rectangular hood in Amazon: the Haoge LH-X35. It set me back USD$ 37.99 and it was worth it. It’s made of metal, provides good protection for your lens and looks really cool.

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Original plastic hood from Fuji…
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… and the Haoge rectangular hood. Looks gorgeous in my X-E3.

In case you are unaware, I never use filters to protect the front end of my lens. I think it’s a terrible idea: you spend thousands of dollars in a prime lens that’s been carefully designed and built by specialists, than you put up something not accounted for to interfere with the way the light hits your sensor. It doesn’t make any sense to me and thus I prefer to use a good lens hood for protection.

II. Image Quality & User Experience

With the 1.5x crop factor, the XF 23mm f/2 R WR gives you an equivalent 35mm focal length. Some people will tell you this is the normal focal length, whereas other people will tell you no, 50mm is the normal length.

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The equivalent 35mm length in a wide angle situation…
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… get closer and you can have a portrait with the surroundings to help tell the story.

While this is all debatable, the reality is that 35mm is a very usable focal length for everyday use. It’s in-between 28mm and 50mm, so I always find it very flexible especially for travel. It’s wide, but not too wide. You can use it to take portraits without noticeable distortions and get an interesting background showing the surroundings.

The two photos above are a good example. Both straight out of camera JPEGs with the XF 23mm f/2 R WR coupled to the X-E3, respectively at 1/60 – f/2 and 1/250 – f/2.

Auto focus

I guess the XF 23mm f/2 R WR gives you the best you can get from Fuji in terms of focusing speed. Auto focus is lightning fast and very accurate, with no hunting or hesitation at all. It just nails at once.

In fact it’s so fast that sometimes I am the one hesitating. I get focus confirmation and I’m like “is it really focused?!..”. I’m not even sure if the internals of the lens moved or not. Is that fast. And it’s silent.

Sharpness

This lens is overall sharp at all apertures, although wide open at f/2 some softness is visible if you shoot at close distance. Stopping down to f/4 will cure this. Not that it’s really an issue – this softness is visible only when you zoom in and pixel peep.

To be fair, this happens because this lens allows you to focus as close as 22 cm, which is quite close. For reference, the pricier XF 23mm f/1.4 R has a 28 cm minimum focusing distance. Oh, and my Leica 35mm Summicron? Minimum focusing is at 70 cm.

Anyway, in practical terms you are probably not taking many photos at 22 cm, after all this is an equivalent 35mm lens.

At normal distances the lens is sharp from corner to corner. And frankly I’m a bit sick and tired of writing this comment. It seems to me that lens design and manufacturing had evolved to a level that sharpness is something you almost take for granted when dealing with single focal prime lenses from a certain high-end category, which obviously this lens belongs to.

I feel like every prime lens I own now is sharp wide open from corner to corner.

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Shot with X-Pro1 @ 1/160 – f/2 – ISO 400.
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Shot with X-E3 @ 1/450 – f/4 – ISO 400.
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Shot with X-E3 @ 1/60 – f/5.6 – ISO 800

I’m not a pixel peeper so when I say it’s sharp it means it’s sharp enough for the naked eye and for what you will need. Still, you can blow-up to 100% or even 200%, and verify that it’s sharp at the pixel level.

I can tell you this lens is not as sharp as the XF 35mm f/1.4 R which I reviewed here. But frankly, this is irrelevant. Photos taken with the XF 23mm f/2 R WR are crisp and sharp enough for what you will need.

Bokeh

The bokeh from this lens is nothing worth bragging about. It’s not distracting, it doesn’t look bad, yet it’s neither creamy-dreamy or particularly pleasant.

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Shot with X-E3 @ 1/200 – f/2.8 – ISO 200

I’d say it’s neutral. And I’m shrugging my shoulders.

Colour

You get the typical Fuji colours with this lens, but that’s IF you are using the straight out of camera JPEGs. I made an observation in my recent X-E3 review here that RAWs from my X-E3 are somehow flat when compared to the JPEGs. This flatness applies to the colours as well.

I’m not saying the colours coming out of the XF 23mm f/2 R WR are not good. All I’m saying is that the in-camera JPEG will work out its magic and with that you will get the typical warm and pleasant Fuji colours, with nice and well balanced tones and saturation.

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Shot with X-E3 @ 1/340 – f/2 – ISO 400
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Shot with X-E3 @ 1/60 – f/4 – ISO 1000 – Velvia film simulation
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Shot with X-E3 @ 1/60 – f/4 – ISO 640 – Velvia film simulation

Having said that, when compared to the XF 35mm f/1.4 R – which again I’m using as a benchmark because this is one of Fuji’s best – the skin tones are not as good. Sometimes they will look a bit subdued or with a bit yellow / orange tone, depending on the lighting conditions.

Overall, it does not handle skin tones as magnificently as the XF 35mm, which always shows pleasant gradations and smoothness. Not that you won’t be able to reach that level with a bit of post-editing refinement though.

Chromatic aberrations

In some occasions I do notice chromatic aberrations, mostly purple fringing. I’m not able to say in what specific situations this will happen. In fact I have hundreds of shots taken against very bright skies and backgrounds with no issues at all. So what exactly triggers it I’m not sure.

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Shot with X-E3 @ 1/60 – f/2 – ISO 640. Note the chromatic aberration on top left corner.

All I can say though is you don’t need to be worried about this. Most of the times the lens handles everything nicely, so we are really talking about very unusual situations.

III. Final thoughts

I made a comment above that every single prime lens I own seems to be sharp wide open from corner to corner. And while this comment came with the flow when I was writing this review, it actually made me think a bit deeper.

To some extent, with the current standards of digital camera and lens design, the resulting outputs from modern lenses had already passed the point of sufficiency.

Weather due to the quality of the optics or due to the in-camera corrections from the image processors, the fact is that photos coming out of the latest crop of prime lenses are always very solid now.

Every lens draws the picture in a different manner. Now what separates a good prime lens from a mythical one though, is that extra bit of magic that some lenses are capable to deliver. It’s the micro-contrast, the creamy bokeh, the colour rendition or even a bit of light fall-off, a bit of imperfection. These are the things that add an extra bit of character and give personality to a lens.

Coming to this point, I’m going to say the XF 23mm f/2 R WR is probably missing this extra bit, this extra magic.

It is a very capable lens indeed: through anything at it and it will handle the situation just nicely. Plus, it is small and portable, it’s solidly built, it has a very usable f/2 aperture and focal length, it has quick and silent auto focus. It’s even weather sealed.

Yet… I can’t help to think that this lens, while being technically competent, still fails to make my jaw drop and trigger the sort of emotion I get from other lenses – namely the XF 35mm f/1.4 R.

Maybe for the sort of emotion I’m talking about you would have to get the pricier XF 23mm f/1.4 R. I’ve owned this lens before, however due to its bulkiness it didn’t last long in my collection. So I really don’t know how good it could have been.

Therefore… my final conclusion is that the XF 23mm f/2 R WR is a very good everyday lens: a lens that is reliable, that will not fail because it will always get the job done.

However,

If you are looking for that extra bit of something, you may have to look somewhere else.

IV. Samples gallery

Click on the thumbnails below for full resolution and EXIF data.

 

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