Fuji XF 14mm f2.8 R review

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Let’s just start by saying I’m really excited by this lens. I used to own the really nice Samyang 14mm f2.8 when I shot Nikon and it’s a focal length I’ve missed since switching to Fuji. For the last couple of years a Samyang 8mm fisheye was my fallback ultra-wide option, but fisheyes have limitations and I found I was using mine less and less. As a result I decided to sell it a few months ago. That left me with the 18mm f2 as my widest lens. The 18mm is a good lens, but it does have its shortcomings optically and I found myself yearning for something that could produce more dramatic results for landscape and street work. I did seriously consider Samyang’s new 12mm f2 ultra-wide angle, but I’ve read so many good things about the Fuji 14mm I decided to play it safe. I’m glad I did – this lens is clearly a winner.

Pros and cons of going wider

While 14mm (21mm equivalent) is not at the extreme end of the wide angle spectrum on APS-C, it’s enough to make photos look more dramatic and out of the ordinary. With the sheer ubiquity of 18-55mm (~28-85mm) lenses, people are used to seeing images at those focal lengths. That means lenses that break out of that range immediately have the potential to create more interesting pictures. The downside for the photographer is that it can make composition and getting the right exposure more complicated. You’ve potentially got to get a lot closer to subjects to make them fill your frame, then you have distortion to worry about, especially when shooting people. It’s often hard to keep bright light sources in the periphery out of your shot, which can throw off the camera’s metering causing under exposure or blown highlights. None of these things are insurmountable challenges, but they all take getting used to and are worth bearing in mind as they generally get more pronounced the wider the lens is.

14 vs 18

18mm vs 14mm

Compared to the Fuji 18mm lens (left), the 14mm is a fair bit bigger. It’s roughly the same size as the 60mm f2.4 or the 18-55mm f2.8-4 zoom. In fact it shares the same petal shaped, plastic (boo) lens hood with the latter. It has a 58mm filter thread which it shares with the 18-55mm, 16-50mm and 50-230mm zooms, but notably none of the other Fuji primes.

The 18mm is optically decent, (especially if you’re willing to work around its limitations in post*), but the 14mm is truly stellar. It shoots beautiful, sharp, undistorted images effortlessly. It’s already very sharp wide open at 2.8 and it really only gets better from there before diffraction starts to shave away at the sharpness past f8. But really most of the time you’re going to be using this lens from f2.8 to f5.6 where it really shines.

* The 18mm is hampered by chromatic aberration and the forced distortion correction both in-camera and in Lightroom loses you a lot of resolution at the image edges. For shots where resolution really matters it’s worth using a RAW processor that will let you disable this as it brings up the edge quality considerably (at the cost of some distortion natch).

Something presently only available on the 14mm and the 23mm f1.4, is the distance scale painted on the lens barrel and push-pull manual focus mechanism. When in autofocus mode, the focus ring is locked and won’t rotate. Pulling it back towards the camera body reveals distance markings and unlocks it with a satisfying click. The focus ring is range limited, with a 1/3rd turn moving it between infinity and near focus. The issue with this design is that there’s no way to autofocus and then tweak your focus manually. People who like to use manual mode and focus with the AE-L/AF-L button may be unhappy as a result. Personally I rarely use manual focus on AF lenses, but the distance scale and hard stopped focus ring will no doubt appeal to zone focus aficionados.

In use

Now if you’re after MTF charts or shots of brick walls, we’ll have to part ways here, but if you’d like to see some real life images shot with this lens then let’s plough on!

I’m lucky enough to live within easy travelling distance of the wonderful old English city of York, and where better to play with a wide angle lens than the cavernous, intricately detailed interior of York Minster Cathedral?

York Minster

 ƒ/10  CameraX-E1  14mm  1/125s  ISO 200 

You’ll notice I’ve shot this at f10. That wasn’t intentional and it brings me to really the only negative point with this lens – the aperture ring is too loose and is very easily changed unintentionally. I find the 18mm and 60mm have about equal stiffness and aren’t too easy to jog once mounted, but the 14mm is definitely one to keep an eye on.

DSCF3924

 ƒ/4  CameraX-E1  14mm  1/60s  ISO 1600 

The lack of distortion (even with corrections disabled in RAW) is a major boon for anyone looking to shoot architecture. The focal length also makes getting sharp images handheld at low shutter speeds fairly easy. It was quite dim inside the cathedral so I found myself shooting 1/30 and even 1/15 sec on several occasions, despite this the majority of the shots I took were sharp and free from motion blur.

DSCF3929-2

 ƒ/4.5  CameraX-E1  14mm  1/40s  ISO 1600 

You definitely have to pay more attention to your composition with wider angle lenses, as I mentioned earlier. It’s not as extreme as shooting with a fisheye, where a few degrees up or down could ruin your image if you wanted a flat horizon, but it can still strongly impact the look of a shot. Attempting to keep verticals dead straight inclines you towards creating ’50/50′ images with the horizon bang in the centre. This can leave you with unwanted masses of sky or foreground when shooting landscape or architecture. A solution can be to tilt upwards a little then correct in post (Lightroom has fantastic tools for this and can even automate much of the process). Or of course you can try and find a higher vantage point! In this case I’ve left the shot as is, but you can see if I’d gone for straight verticals I’d have had a lot more chairs and tiled floor in the shot and lost much the fantastic vaulted ceiling.

DSCF3947-2

 ƒ/4  CameraX-E1  14mm  1/45s  ISO 1600 

This is my favourite shot of the day. Looking straight up at the ceiling of the main tower. It’s almost dizzyingly high. I’ve cropped this down a little bit to help with the symmetry, but you still feel the benefit of the 14mm, as gives you the leeway to do this that the 18mm wouldn’t. Even at f4 it’s fantastically sharp into the extreme corners. This is certainly a lens that will stand the test of time if Fuji moves to higher megapixel sensors in the future.

DSCF3989-2

 ƒ/5.6  CameraX-E1  14mm  1/125s  ISO 250 

Of course the 14mm excels at grand landscapes too once you get outside. In this case after climbing 275 steps in claustrophobically narrow spiral staircases! Outdoors the challenge becomes balancing the exposure. It’s easy to throw off the metering by having so much bright sky in the shot. The advantage of shooting RAW is the huge dynamic range the X-trans sensor can capture. You can pull so much out of the shadows without things getting noisy, it can really save images where it appears you’ve completely lost areas to darkness. Hover over the image above to see the same shot with no adjustments applied. I’m happy to report I didn’t notice any problems with flare even when shooting with the sun just out of the corner of the shot. I imagine the smallish front element helps here.

Moving on to the National Railway Museum now, also in York, you can see another of the 14mm’s traits – incredibly close focus. In fact you can get to within 10cm of your subject and still be able to lock focus (you don’t even need to enable macro mode, which seems to have no practical effect with this lens). Bokeh is decent as wide angles go, although naturally it’s not quite as smooth and creamy as the 18mm f2 at close distances.

Train lamp

 ƒ/2.8  CameraX-E1  14mm  1/60s  ISO 1600 

DSCF3858

 ƒ/4  CameraX-E1  14mm  1/30s  ISO 1600 

Finally here’s one more shot from the museum. I’ve cropped it to 16:9 to further emphasis the cinematic look the lens gives to images. Wide angles like the 14mm are great for showing differences in scale, especially when you’ve got people in the shot.

Summary

I can really recommend this lens without caveats. Optically it’s stunning, it’s a good size, weight and balances well. The only real niggle is the loose aperture ring, and that’s something that’s easy to live with when the lens delivers such good results. Whether it’s right for you or not will depend on your shooting style and whether you prefer the versatility of a zoom or like a bag full of fantastic primes. I think I’m fairly heavily in the bag full of primes camp!

There are now quite a few wide angle options for the X mount: the 12mm f2.8 Zeiss Touit, the 12mm f2 Samyang, the 10-24mm f4 Fuji zoom and the 18mm Fuji at the narrower end, which is also covered by several of their general purpose zooms. There’s also a 16mm f1.4 Fuji due out later this year that will no doubt be an interesting optic. If you want a more extreme wide angle, the Zeiss and Samyang offerings are no doubt very good, although the Zeiss is pricey and the Samyang only manual focus. If you prefer zooms then the 10-24mm is also very good, but it can’t quite touch the overall optical quality of the 14mm based on the reviews I’ve seen, especially in the corners. It’s also getting a bit on the big and heavy side for my liking. If you’d like further reading, you can see a nice comparison between the Fuji wide primes and the 10-24mm on Fuji vs. Fuji.

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