The Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4: a perfect wide angle

The Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4: a perfect wide angle

The Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR is by now one of the legendary lenses in the Fuji-X ecosystem. Some time ago I had the pleasure to have it at my disposal for a few weeks (courtesy of Fujifilm Hellas) and shoot with it extensively. Here is my hands-on experience and evaluation.

Hundreds or pages have been written in praise of this lens, and I’m afraid this report will not be much different. In a lot of cases this is a perfect wide angle lens; speaking in general and not for Fuji-X in particular. Objectively speaking it probably features the best optics in the Fuji-X ecosystem; the only other primes in the same league would be the 90mm f2 and 80mm f2.8 macro.

Since we begun with optical characteristics, let’s discuss image for a bit. Contrary to modern popular belief, image quality does not necessarily equate with “sharpness”. This is not to say that the 16mm is not a sharp lens; objectively speaking it’s killing it. There is, however, a different kind of quality that this lens exhibits, and indeed, this is true of several other lenses in the Fuji-X line.

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There are now several modern lenses that can be easily characterized as ultra sharp, at least as long as charts and laboratory tests are concerned. Put them where they belong, in front of a modern sensor and they can produce extremely detailed pictures, alas, in many cases said pictures appear lifeless, flat and clinical. On the other hand we have older lenses, most notably Leica but also traditional Zeiss and others, which are objectively not that sharp while pixel peeping but the whole picture gives a much more contrasty, 3D and lively impression. This “character” is perhaps due to microcontrast, color response and even some inherent “inefficiencies” and “flaws” in the design, but, nevertheless those lenses are continually sought after and some have become legendary.

I believe Fujifilm walks a fine line between those two extreme philosophies. Fujinon lenses are certainly modern in design and features and plenty sharp by any rate, but they also keep enough of the character of older designs to give them a special personality. The 16mm is a great example of this paradigm. Paired with the X-Trans sensor it can produce astonishing results both in the “modern” and “traditional” sense.

As far as textbook optical characteristics go, I noticed little distortion and modest vignetting at f1.4, which are also corrected in camera, so no need for worry there. There are some aberrations wide open with backlighting etc but nothing that can’t be corrected with a mouse click in post.

The lens focuses very closely to the subject, which makes it ideal for some impressive “wide angle macro” shots, easily throwing the background out of focus. Speaking of which, the bokeh is very nice for a wide angle lens, in fact if someone sees a cropped version of the image he should perhaps imagine it was taken with the 23 or 35mm lens.

Speaking of cropping, given the 24mp count of modern Fujis, I think the ability to crop in post is an underestimated quality of this lens. Several photos you’ll see in the gallery at the end of this post, are crops and this is an extra bonus while using this lens; using it as a “virtual” longer focal length, without much to worry regarding detail and distortion.

Of course all the optical virtues in the world are nothing if one has to struggle with operation. Luckily, the 16mm is a dream to work with: the AF is very fast and the wonderful manual clutch pull mechanism makes manual focusing a snap. The distance scale should also be helpful for “traditionalist” street photographers. The lens is in the same size/weight category as the 23mm and 56mm; that is to say, not small in any sense but very comfortable nevertheless. On the X-T2 and X-Pro2 it fits perfectly while not being a chore in smaller bodies either.

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I guess there is no point commenting on the build quality: it is superb, in absolute terms. Add weather sealing and this becomes a gem of a lens, worthy of the Fujinon name in any sense.

During the time I had it, I used in two paid assignments and a lot for my own stuff. My final conclusion is that any Fuji-X shooter in demand of the highest overall quality from a wide angle lens should have this lens in his or her arsenal. The only drawback is the asking price, which is a reflection of the quality and capabilities. It is also at the limits of the ultra-wide angle spectrum and some people would be better served by the 14mm f2.8 or 10-24mm f4 if a more dramatic view of the world is what they’re after. For any other use calling for the popular 24mm FF equivalent, the 16mm is the absolute best option.

Here is a small gallery shot with the lens with a variety of Fuji cameras (X-T2, X-Pro2, X-T20): 


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