Earlier this year I decided to part with my X100 and just focus on building up my lens collection for the X-E1. It was sad to part with the X100, it was a lovely camera that’s taken some great photos, but after you’ve been using a faster more modern camera it’s always a bit jarring to go back to something a bit older and clunkier. As my budget wouldn’t stretch to a shiny new X100S, my choice of replacement X lenses were the 23mm f1.4, the 27mm f2.8 or 35mm f1.4. The 23mm while amazing, was really too expensive for me, and also a little bit large and heavy. I wish Fuji would offer a smaller and less expensive f2 variant. Between the 27 and 35 it was a harder choice, both were within budget and ticked the right boxes for sharpness, size and weight. Ultimately I decided the 35mm focal length (52.5mm equivalent) was a little long for my tastes and the truly tiny dimensions of the 27mm helped seal the deal.
The first mockups Fuji showed of the 27mm made it look similar in size to the 18mm pancake. When it ultimately shipped, Fuji surprised everybody by making it even smaller, in fact barely bigger than a normal lens’s end cap. The tiny size and light weight are certainly attractive features, it makes an already lightweight camera system even more portable. Pair it with the 18mm pancake and you can leave the camera bag at home, this lens can be kept in your shirt pocket when you’re not shooting with it! Even though it’s tiny and light, the 27 has the usual excellent build quality you’d expect from a Fujinon.
There was a sacrifice made to achieve that tiny size though – note the conspicuous absence of an aperture ring. This was quite a ballsy move on Fuji’s part. One of the primary appeals of the X series are the traditional controls, the aperture ring being one of the key ways you control your camera. To my pleasant surprise, I find I don’t actually miss it that much. I always found the aperture control on the X100 a little fiddly and can imagine it would have been a similar affair with the 27 given its size. Changing the aperture using the rear thumb dial works nicely (you may need to upgrade your firmware to get this ability if you’ve not been keeping up-to-date).
The other omission from the lens is less forgivable, that would be any kind of lens hood. While the marketing people will tell you about how great the “Super EBC” coatings are, the reality is if you have the sun in the wrong position you will get lens flare. Hoods also provide valuable protection to the front element without requiring you to compromise the lens’s optical quality with an extra piece of glass. Thankfully nice metal screw in hoods are cheaply available, even for the awkward 39mm filter thread Fuji insisted on using here.
The 27 is sharp from corner to corner and at its best from f5.6 to f8. At wider apertures the center stays remarkably crisp, but the corners fall off a bit. The maximum aperture of f2.8 doesn’t make it super easy to throw the background out of focus and this isn’t helped by the rather pedestrian minimum focus distance of 34cm (about 13″). The bokeh you can get can be a little busy, but at minimum focus distance it’s fairly smooth with a pleasing degree of roundness. This really isn’t a lens for people who are looking for serious subject isolation and you’ll be disappointed if you get it for that.
For those wanting to maximise depth of field and have everything really crisp, this lens excels. Its practical 40.5mm equivalence and unobtrusive size make it ideal for a range of applications like street or travel photography. Its sharpness and good micro-contrast also lend it to landscape work where you really want as much detail out of foliage as possible to avoid getting a green mush in distant fields and trees.
Distortion is reasonably minimal and corrected in camera and most RAW processors as you’d expect. Unlike with the 18mm lens, the correction doesn’t overly impact sharpness at the edges of the frame. There is very little to no chromatic aberration or purple fringing to worry about, so shots generally look good without requiring much work. As mention above, flaring can be an issue if the sun or another bright light source hits the lens at the wrong angle, even with a hood you may find you have to adjust your composition sometimes to avoid it. To be fair this is true of nearly every lens so it’s certainly not a show-stopper.
The 27mm isn’t a lens for everybody, those with deep pockets will likely opt for an X100S or 23mm f1.4. But for anybody looking for a really tiny, affordable lens to make their X series body as portable as possible and with a good all-round focal length, its hard to beat. It punches far above its weight in terms of sharpness, rivalling Fuji’s best performing primes from f5.6. AF is quick and quiet although sadly not internal, so the front element does pump in and out during focusing. The 39mm filter ring is a fairly uncommon size, only the 60mm macro shares it in Fuji’s lineup. This means filters tend to be more expensive than for more common larger sizes, despite the smaller amount of glass required. I found using a step-up ring caused AF to fail so you may have limited luck adapting larger filters . Overall though I’d still find it hard not to recommend this lens, it’s just fun to use and I’ve yet to be disappointed by its optical quality. It does’t replace the 23mm f2 my X100 had perfectly, but no lens in the current Fuji X mount lineup really does.
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