There is no doubt that mirrorless cameras are beginning to gain significant ground on their larger DSLR cousins. Enthusiasts and pros alike are finding the benefits of their compact size and great image quality real draw. One area that mirrorless had traditionally lagged behind is in it’s range of lenses, and in particular ultra wide angle lenses. Recently however this trend has been pretty much reversed and there are now some fine wide angle lenses available. As I specialise in travel stock photography, a good wide angle for my Fuji X System is a vital addition to my camera bag.
The Build Quality.
Perhaps the first surprise is it’s size. As the previous owner of a Nikon 14-24mm the Fuji XF 14mm is tiny by comparison. It’s size however does not diminish it’s build quality. As in much of the Fuji X range of cameras, the design looks and feels very retro. It is very reminiscent of a good manual prime lens from the 1980’s, a solid metal barrel and strong tactile rubber for the focus ring. The similarities do not end there either. The lens has two other features that hark back to the days of film and that are sadly missing from many of today’s lenses. A depth of field scale and an aperture ring. The aperture ring is unusual in that it has indents for 1/3rd stops giving you a lot of control of the exposure. These indents however do seem to be a little loose and it is easy to knock the aperture ring to another setting. This can be an issue when shooting run and gun travel stock photography.
The aperture of the Fuji XF 14mm goes from a very nice f2.8 down to f22. The f2.8 aperture is on a par with the best equivalent DSLR wide angle lenses and is wide enough to get a shallow depth of field if used carefully. At the other end of the scale, f22 will give you massive depth of field, however being as this lens is solely for APS-C size sensors you should be aware that at f8 and above your will start to see the effects of diffraction. At one end of the aperture ring we have a red A. Putting the aperture on this setting gives priority to the shutter, the camera’s meter dealing with the aperture. Again this is a welcome throwback to the days of film cameras.
The APS-C sensor is also a factor in the field of view of this lens. Because of the sensor’s crop factor of about 1.5x the 14mm gives us an equivalent field of view to a 21mm lens on a full frame 35mm sensor. This, in my opinion actually makes the lens more usable than for example a 14mm on full frame, particularly on a travel stock shoot.
The Fuji XF 14mm has an interesting manual focus mode. On all other Fuji lenses, manual focus is set from the camera body, on the 14mm, however it is set by sliding the focus ring back. The lever on the camera body will not have any effect on this lens. I find it a fast and instinctive way to move to manual focus, however, this inconsistency with other Fuji lenses could lead to confusion in the field.
The Optical Quality.
The Fuji XF14mm is a sharp lens, perhaps one of the sharpest in the Fuji X range.. Without having to work too hard, you get ultra sharp contrasty images straight out of the camera. Whilst many lenses have a sweet spot in the aperture range, the Fuji XF 14mm seems consistent from about f4 through to f11. At f2.8 there is just a little softening at the edges and beyond f11 we start to feel the effects of diffraction. In use, I would say that this little Fuji lens is sharper than the 14-24mm Nikon, one of the wide angle benchmarks. That is of course purely a personal option and not backed up with laboratory based lens tests.
As you will know, all lenses have some inherent distortions in them. Typically this is barrel/pin cushion distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting. These days those issues are all easily correctable in post production using lens correction software. Fuji however has taken a different approach to this, building in the lens correction algorithms to the camera itself. This works both for Jpeg files and for RAWs. The upshot is that the XF14 displays virtually no distortion or color fringing. This makes image look very sharp straight out of the camera leaving the photographer to concentrate on the exposure elements of post production. It should be noted however that if you are using camera profiles in, for example Lightroom, these should be switched off, as it will be attempting to correct an already corrected image.
For any photographer using or contemplating the Fuji X system, the XF 14mm is a must have lens. There is an alternative, the 18mm pancake, however other reviews suggest this lens is not as sharp as the 14mm and of course, it is not as wide, giving an equivalent of around 27mm field of view. There is of course the superb 10-24mm but that's an f4 lens and about $100 more expensive. The XF 14mm is not a budget lens, it is however an excellent lens for the price. For my use, in travel stock photography, it has proved ideal. Indeed some of my best selling images have come from this little Fuji X series lens.
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