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12 minute read

Compact, Lightweight, Sharp

My F2(.8) Obsession - During the holiday season of 2018 my partner and I had the privilege of being able to take a couple of weeks off and backpack throughout Thailand.

We were pretty prepared actually, we had Google Maps downloaded, we were learning how to speak simple phrases in Thai, and we organized our locations in advance to have a general idea of where we were going, but left it open enough for some spontaneity. I had my F-Stop Ajna 40L bag set with a few shirts, shorts, underwear, socks, self-care items – you know the essentials.

All of these choices seemed relatively easy until it got to the point of choosing my camera and lens combo. I own a FUJIFILM GFX50S with a few lenses, but trying to get that in a bag with all my essentials didn’t make sense. I didn’t have the available room. I had some gear organizers lying around and I forced myself to use a Tenba Tool Box 6 (7.5 in. W x 6.5 in. H x 3 in. D) to fit every camera-related item I wanted to bring.

I opted to bring three lenses (no room for four) and the FUJIFILM X-E3.  At the time, FUJIFILM X-T30 wasn’t available and I find the AF joystick and centralized viewfinder are essential for my style of shooting (left-eye dominant). This, in fact, is my favorite trait of FUJIFILM cameras: you don’t lose any image quality based on the camera you choose, just a different shooting experience. Yeah, I know fan boy here. Back to what I brought–the FUJIFILM XF23mmF2 R WR, XF50mmF2 R WR, and XF16mmF1.4 R WR were my lens choices. Now I know you’re probably wondering why I didn’t just bring the XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS lens that is generally kitted with most FUJIFILM cameras. The real reason, to be honest, is that I just like the experience of shooting prime lenses; it’s like riding a single-speed bicycle. You don’t have to worry about what gear you want to be in because you don’t really have any other choice. You pedal and it goes. I get that type of feeling when shooting prime lenses–less complexity, so I can concentrate on my subject.

The FUJIFILM XF16mmF2.8 R WR hadn’t been released yet, which is why I brought the f1.4 version (which is probably my favorite X Series lens, but I am using it less and less since the release of the F2.8 version). When I travel, size is everything. I could have brought the entire F2(.8) line up with me. These lenses are small, weather resistant, and have faster autofocus than their F1.2-F1.4 counterparts. The size just really reminds me of using my film lenses on my older rangefinder camera. Also, the weights of these lenses are next to nothing. All four of them weigh a total of about 700g (About 1.5 lbs.), which is less weight than the XF80mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro itself. I’m not really here to tell you about my times in Thailand, but this was the start of me carrying around this quartet of powerful lenses.

Weather Resistance

Aside from being compact, these lenses are also gasketed with up to 10 points of weather resistance–you can basically shoot in the rain. Speaking of which, I can attest to the thoroughness of said weather sealing and even though I shouldn’t admit it, I think we’ve all been there at some point. Truncating this story, I ended up leaving my FUJIFILM X-Pro2 and XF23mmF2 R WR in a torrential downpour – I’m not talking about a light sprinkle here. It sat there for about 10 hours. When I woke up the next morning and looked outside, my heart nearly sank as I saw a very waterlogged camera sitting on my back porch. I picked it up, shook it off, and dried it with a towel to the best of my ability. It turned on immediately, and I never had a single issue with it.  It ended up working for almost two years until it got replaced with the FUJIFILM X-Pro3. This moment sold me–you can read brochures and study specs all you want, but first-hand experience really speaks for itself. I can’t promise that you’ll have the same experience, but I for one, will never question Fujifilm’s weather resistance.

Quick Set-up

One thing I do during set up that doesn’t necessarily apply specifically to these four prime lenses, but that is a good idea when using longer focal lengths (50, 90) is adding AF Range Limiter to your ‘My Menu’. This is a setting you can use that will limit the Autofocus Range of your lens, which will make it autofocus just a little faster. It’s not a requirement, but it’s helped me not miss a few shots in my time. I’ll go into the reasons why a little later.

Also, here’s a quick list of items that might help you out with general shooting, but be especially helpful when shooting prime lenses:

  1. Focus Area – All (lets me cycle through single point up to wide without diving into the menu)
  2. Number of Focus Points – 425 (maxes out the number of AF points so I can be more precise)
  3. AF+MF – On (autofocus with a manual override)
  4. AF Beep Vol. – Off (seriously, just turn it off no matter what or all the way up for your friends)

Prepare for the unexpected – XF16mmF2.8 R WR

This XF lens was made for me – it’s the field of view that I absolutely love with the size that I’ve been searching for. I have the 1.4 and now I have both–why cover the same focal length you say? It all comes down to portability. I use the XF16mmF2.8 more than the F1.4 now, even though the latter is a lot brighter in terms of light-gathering capability. For landscapes, you rarely shoot at an aperture value that low unless you’re doing astrophotography or trying to isolate a small subject from the background (I say small because the minimum focusing distance on both of these lenses are pretty remarkable–less than seven inches).

The 16mm focal length is my go-to field of view for landscapes because it’s wide, but not so wide that you get obvious barrel distortion. My style of shooting is getting close to the subject to exaggerate its size, while still being able to show the relationship of the subject to the background. Keep in mind; you’ll have to do the same since subjects further away from the camera are going to appear much smaller. If there isn’t anything placed in the foreground, you’re going to have a lot of unused space.

Besides using it for landscapes, I generally use this lens when I’m shooting shows at small venues.  It gives you the capability to photograph the crowd and band without having a lens that makes you target. It is getting harder and harder to bring cameras into concerts, but I find when I stick to the FUJIFILM XF series of lenses, I usually have a good chance of getting in since most assume lens size and image quality go hand and hand–completely false. I’ll keep crossing my fingers that this mentality allows me to bring these wonderful lenses into tight quarters.

Bring everyday moments to life – XF23mmF2 R WR

The XF23mmF2 R WR is a pretty much THE lens if I was stuck on a desert island and I only had one choice–a 35mm Field of View (FoV) can pretty much handle anything you throw at it. It’s wide enough to create an establishing shot, but not too wide where you have to be right on top of your subject if you want to defocus the background. If you do, however, want to fill the frame with your subject, it’s a good focal length to force you to communicate with your subject if you’re too nervous normally. Photography is a great conversation starter and even better at helping you build friendships.

By the very nature of wide angle lenses, you typically will have faster autofocus than with a lens with a narrow field of view–you don’t have to be as precise in focus. There’s just more to grab on to. Obviously this will change the closer you get to your subject since your depth of field will decrease, but with an establishing shot, you can pretty much be f8 and there. That’s why the XF23mmF2 R WR seems to be a favorite for street shooters–it gives you the sense of place in your images since you’re more than likely going to include the environment around your subject, but it also can isolate your subject from the background when needed.

I mainly use my 23mm lens for cityscape and landscapes to be honest–both of which don’t require me to be incredibly fast, which is just my style of shooting. I like to set up my tripod, look where the light is coming from and wait for the right time. Regardless of its intention, the 23mm XF lens is one of my favorites.

Take a creative journey – XF35mmF2 R WR

The XF35mmF2 R WR is Fujifilm’s most popular lens, giving you a close Field of View to what your eye sees. It’s also a great introduction to prime lenses. Simplicity is key–you zoom with your feet, you have a wider aperture than any zoom lens offered in the FUJIFILM XF lens Ecosystem. As popular as it is, it’s honestly the lens that I grab last out of the four, although that has nothing to do with performance or anything else.  My mind simply doesn’t work in the 50mm range. The next person is going to say the same thing about the 16mm or the 50mm, but for me, it’s this. Weirdly enough, it’s also the lens that I bought first in the F2 range. I think I wanted it to force me to shoot in the perspective that I used to shoot when I had a film camera, but honestly every time I pick it up, I wish I was using the 23mm. That’s probably why the FUJIFILM X100S was the first camera that introduced me to Fujifilm.

One incredible plus for the entire set of the FUJIFILM XF F2(.8) lenses is that the XF lenses have nine rounded aperture blades. The out of focus areas are pleasing when shot at the widest aperture and when shot at F2.8-4, the out of focus areas aren’t a distracting polygonal shape. Also, the sun stars are crisp with 18 points that can really draw attention in your image if you’re lacking an obvious subject. I use the 35mm for just a general walk-around lens or if I’m shooting ‘Behind the Scenes’ at an event. There’s little to no distortion and the close focus is a little less than a foot, so you can absolutely get fine-detail shots. Long story short—the XF35mm lens is pretty versatile.

Make something remarkable – XF50mmF2 R WR

This lens is a hidden gem that’s been overshadowed by the XF56mmF1.2 R, both have their places, but after my Thailand trip, the 50mm generally stays in my bag for several reasons. One, the stepping motor makes it near silent and fast at autofocus. Two, it’s less than half the weight and has half the minimum focusing distance. Three, did I mention it was less than half the price?  Also, coupled with the MCEX-16 extension tube, you’re getting almost the same magnification rate as the XF60mmF2.4 R Macro. So basically, you have an outstanding portrait lens and for about 100 dollars more you can have a pseudo macro lens that gets to half of life size–amazing.

For this lens, I do like to set my custom preset on the AF Range Limiter (I’m using a FUJIFILM X-T4). The reason for this is that, like lenses that have a switch (I’m looking at you XF200mmF2 LM OIS WR), you can exclude the focus range that you won’t need. For example, if I know my subject is going to be 15 feet away and they won’t be changing a large amount of distance to the camera, I might set my Range Limiter to 10ft to infinity. The reason for this is to exclude the range before 10 feet–I don’t need it and by excluding it, I make the already fast autofocus even faster. This is really for when I have time to set it, if I’m in the moment and I’m going to lose an expression by diving into the menu to set this up, I’m more likely to just skip it all together. There are days when I’m photographing a subject that’s static (model and background piece) and am going to be shooting the same scene all day. In this instance, I’m absolutely setting the range limiter.

Wrap Up

The FUJIFILM XF lenses are among some of my favorite lenses–the 16mmF1.4 is still my first love; however, you can love a lens and not use it as much as you might like. These lenses are literally with me every time I go out shooting. If you ever catch me on a shoot or in the wilderness somewhere and you want to shoot or try one of these lenses out, you’re more than welcome. If you haven’t tried ANY of these lenses, I recommend you rent one (there are a million places that you can rent from). Find one that aligns with your shooting style or a look you want to work on and shoot only that lens for a week. If you go for the 50mm, then also get the extension tube (trust me). Just remember to keep in mind how you want to interact with your subject–wide angles put you closer if you want more interaction.


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