08.15.2013 Masaaki Aihara

XF14mmF2.8 R review by Masaaki Aihara

Masaaki Aihara

Born in Tokyo in 1958. Graduated from the Department of Journalism (Newspaper/Printed Media), Nihon University with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. As a step towards reaching his aim of participating in the Paris-Dakar Rally, he made his first journey across the Australian Outback by a motorcycle, and instead discovered a passion for the Australian continent. Currently a free-lance photographer, Aihara is also active as a “Friend of Tasmania” (goodwill ambassador). Works by the renowned photographer have been exhibited in shows in Australia, Europe and around Asia.
“Sharaku” literally means the “fun of photography” and is also the name of a master of ukiyoe woodblock prints in the late 1700s, famed for his portraits of kabuki actors.

Ever since the first X Series’ interchangeable lens camera, the X-Pro1 was released, I have been waiting for the introduction of XF14mm, a 21mm lens in 35mm format equivalent. You would need a lens equivalent to 21mm to capture the vast expanses of land and clear skies in Australia, my main field for photography. Whilst the XF18mm (27mm in 35mm format equivalent) offers “a little wider” field of view for a regular shot, the XF14mm provides an extraordinary view of the world that only photos can bring to life. It is the perfect field of view when I think of the Australian landscape.
Some amateur landscape photographers use a telephoto lens with the focal length of 80 to 200mm, and crop the image to achieve a similar result. However, the fundamental approach in landscape photography is all about wide-angle. The approach of cropping an image taken with a telephoto lens is like Wasabi in Sushi. It is an added extra to complement the main approach.
The launch of the XF14mm has consolidated the foundation of landscape photography for the X Series cameras. It allows me to complete my story of the Australian landscape.

This photo was taken at Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair, which forms part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. I have always thought that it was difficult to photographically capture the feel of Tasmania’s cleanest air in the world.
However, the XF14mm delivers clear and crisp images. It gives you images exactly as you saw and exactly how you wanted to capture.

The lens achieved a stunning description of clarity in the water and air, texture of moss covering the rocks, and clear edges of the mountains. This was only made possible with the combination of the XF14mm’s premium image quality and the X-Pro1/X-E1’s wide dynamic range.

When using a wide-angle lens, keep in mind to include a foreground interest, and accentuate it while capturing the wide expanse of landscape behind it. You might think a fisheye lens would suffice to photograph a broad view, but the XF14mm lens strikes the right balance in highlighting a foreground interest and creating a sense of depth at the same time. It can produce a natural image with an impact and without excessive distortion.

I used XF14mm to photograph a eucalyptus tree that was about 70m high and I pressed the camera against the tree trunk to capture the rough texture of its barks.

The XF18mm would have blurred the foreground as it has a longer focal length and a naturally shallower depth of field. In contrast, the XF14mm can keep the foreground in focus. Its wide angle of view means the image can not only include the sky but also gives a sense of the tree reaching out towards it. The distortion-free wide-angle lens can show the tree spreading “straight” into the sky to depict a sense of strength.

It produces pictures with just the right tone, neither too hard nor too soft. That is why it accurately conveys the presence of these trees, which have a combination of both hard and soft textures. If you prefer a sharper tone, boost Sharpness or Contrast settings.

I photographed this Pandani, a species of plant endemic to Tasmania, crawling on all fours to go right up against it and pushing the camera through the leaves to place it at the minimum working distance of 18cm from the subject. The image shows the unique layering of the leaves against the deep blue of the sky. It demonstrates the plasticity and textures of the leaves, right down to their base.

SLRs or medium format cameras could not have taken such an image. A high-resolution camera would require a tripod as even the slightest of camera shake would be reflected in the images. However, you wouldn’t be able to go so close to the subject with a tripod on. This photograph was made possible because of the more manageable size and resolution of the X-Pro1 / X-E1.

The XF14mm lens allows you to go even closer for wide-angle macro photography or capture a subject, together with broad scenery behind it. The benefit of this type of photography is the natural connection between the foreground in sharp focus and the background in soft focus. At the end of the lens is a Distance Indicator and a Depth-of-field Indicator. Eliminating the need to look through a viewfinder or LCD monitor to check these factors; this provides great help to users in terms of composition and photographic actions. The same applies to the lens’ pull-back focus ring for switching between autofocus and manual focus.

The X Series cameras features an array of B&W film simulation modes. During the days of film cameras, photographers had to choose between color and B&W even when a scene includes a subject suited to both. Digital cameras, on the other hand, allow you to switch between the two modes with a touch of a button to broaden photographic options. B&W images can also reproduce the contrast between rigid pipe and light reflections, or the combination of soft snow and subtle gradation of the sky. Digital cameras have an unquestionable edge in this regard.

I decided to opt for B&W to portray these pipes at a hydroelectric plant in the central highland to accentuate the lights reflecting on them. This image could only have been achieved with the XF14mm lens. The leading line of the pipe that extends from the foreground into the far distance gives a visual impact much greater than what the naked eye can see. This truly reflects what my mind saw in this landscape. The XF14mm can capture your mind’s field of view much more faithfully than the XF18mm does.

Always keep your lens’ field of view in mind during photo shoots and visualise how you want to see and capture your subject, so that, when you see an ideal subject, you can determine your composition with ease. This helps you avoid becoming overwhelmed by the impact of your subject and taking a bland shot.

I use both digital and film cameras, and apply a range of selection criteria to choose which to use. This could be the characteristics of the subject, shooting conditions or colors. Fujifilm’s digital cameras produce astounding colors, especially mid-tones that competitors’ models are often not good at.

Many digital camera manufacturers struggle with the reproduction of green hues. The color “green” comes in a wide spectrum of shades. The decisive difference between digital and film cameras has been the ability to reproduce this color and its texture faithfully without making it look plasticky or dull.

However, the latest experience with the X-Pro1/X-E1 in combination with the XF14mm lens has made me realise it is no longer a choice between digital and film. Lenses with newer designs certainly have an improved resolving power. With the outstanding X-Trans CMOS sensor , the X-Pro1/X-E1 can now capture things that only film cameras could reproduce in the past. And the resulting images can be enlarged to the size equivalent to three Tatami mats (1,800 x 2,700 mm). This performance might be convincing enough to make me switch entirely to digital. The XF14mm lens has marked a turning point in my photography life.

In the textbook landscape photos consist of foreground, middleground and background, this camera-lens combination shows crisp image resolution across the landscape, while avoiding shadow clipping with an astonishing dynamic range and reproducing subtle tones of the dawn golden hour. Even in harsh mid-day sun, the lens’s excellent coating controls flair very well.

Being able to reproduce the colors and compositions exactly as you saw and intended, eliminates the need for post-processing. Photography is intrinsically a hobby of enjoying the shooting experience rather than post-processing images on computer. Images taken with the X-Pro1/X-E1 and the XF14mm lens present exactly what the photographer saw and felt. For people who enjoy photography as a hobby, there is no greater joy than being able to just go out and shoot without having to worry about the bother of post-processing.

The XF14mm lens is useful not only for outdoor landscape photography but also spontaneously at a cafe when you drop by, or a nearby garden or even at home.
At a cafe or restaurant, you can capture food as the main subject while incorporating the overall atmosphere of the setting. The X-Pro1/X-E1’s high sensitivity performance allows you to boost the ISO sensitivity higher, and show the light coming through a window in a gentle and beautiful tone. Australia has a lot of stone-built structures. This material accentuates an SLR’s noisy mirror folding up and down, making photographers hesitant at times. However, this is not a problem with the mirrorless X-Pro1/X-E1.

The photo of the roses I found in a cafe’s garden has reproduced the flowers’ gentle pink gradation and soft texture of the petals. That means this combination should be perfect for photographing cherry blossoms in the Japanese spring. I am definitely going to have a try this coming spring.
The out-of-focus “bokeh” in the background is also stunning. The creaminess and round shape of bokeh are also two of the X series’ fine features.

Finally, I attempted portrait photography with the XF14mm lens. I took this shot of my friends who recently got married. The key factor in portrait photography is not to be too imposing. A large camera like an SLR would make any subject feel tense and nervous just looking at it. However, the less-intimidating form factor of the X-Pro1/X-E1 can draw out natural and relaxed emotions from your subject.
Telephoto lenses seem to be the general choice for portrait photography. However, going up close and personal with the XF14mm lens lets you capture the subject’s facial expressions and atmosphere very intimately as if you could almost feel their body temperature. The biggest strength of Fujifilm’s cameras is its ability to reproduce skin tone perfectly. This is true also for Caucasian’s skin with a slight redness.

I used the XF14mm lens this time in Australia, but plan to try it for architectural shots in Tokyo in the crisp air of winter this year. For motorcycle touring and for a general walkaround in down town, I will be taking my XF14mm and the XF18-55mm zoom, or the XF14mm and XF35mm. Either way, the XF14mm is a must.

The theme of my photography is the “portrait of the earth = Earthrait”, which is to depict the dynamism and breathing of our planet Earth through my mindscape. I could hardly contain my excitement to think that this camera-lens combination will allow me to depict the expressions of this planet that could not have been captured previously. I urge you all to try and experience the world of photography that only XF14mm can provide. I am certain you will encounter moments you have not seen before.