This year Fujifilm has made waves by finally upgrading their two flagship models: the X-Pro 2 and X-T2.
Both bring the X-mount up to speed with contemporary APS-C alternatives such as Sony’s A6300, Canon’s 80D, and Nikon’s D500 – at least in terms of resolution – by upgrading the capabilities of the sensor from 16.3MP to 24.3MP.
Yet very few new lenses have been announced, with only the XR 23mm f/2.0 R WR being released so far in 2016. Presumably this is because Fujifilm has already built a good selection of primes and zooms in previous years. Having an established portfolio makes any potential jump to the X-mount less daunting, especially since Fujifilm has a long history of making top quality Fujinon lenses.
I asked Fujifilm if they could send over the XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR, which was released in April 2015, for us to test out. For me this is one of the most exciting primes in the portfolio, providing an equivalent focal length in full-frame of 24mm.
Fast, wide-angle lenses like the Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR are ideal for a variety of subjects such as landscapes, astrophotography, environmental portraits, and street photography. It’s one of the most versatile primes, especially for photographers who are looking for just one or two lenses to begin with.
While generally the XF-mount lenses are stylistically similar and well-built, there are variations and discrepancies in the quality and design of many of the lenses. For example, the Fujifilm XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS has an unmarked aperture ring, while most other lenses such as the Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR and Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 R feature marked rings.
It goes without saying that I much prefer the marked aperture ring on this 16mm f/1.4, and the clutch focus system that enables a quick rotation between manual and autofocus. Focusing feels silky and textured, with just the right amount of resistance. When you pull down the focusing ring, it also reveals distance and depth-of-field scales, which is a great little addition.
This lens is also moisture and dust resistant, which makes it a great pair with the XT-2 or X-Pro 2 – not every XF prime is weather resistant, so this is an important point for photographers who know they’ll be exploring outdoors. I put the 16mm through a lot of punishment while testing this lens, particularly in heavy rain. Both the lens and X-Pro 2 are still working smoothly, and I didn’t experience any issues at all.
It’s worth noting that the lens doesn’t offer optical stablisation however, which would have made it an absolute low light beast with the fast aperture.
One other aspect which was a pleasant surprise is how closely the lens can focus, boasting a minimum focusing distance of 15cm. This was remarkably useful when I was travelling, since I could use it when looking for unique angles for food, landscapes, and other snaps.
Considering bokeh for wide angle lenses may seem counterintuitive, but the truth is that 24mm (or equivalents like this 16mm) isn’t that wide anymore by contemporary standards.
With ultra-wides becoming “the new wide” perspective, 24mm lies stylistically in between the former “environmental portrait” range of 35mm, and 18mm – pretty much officially the beginning of ultra-wide territory. 18mm lenses are usually too distorted for good portraiture, and don’t provide much bokeh at all. Of course, there is the phenomenal Carl Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8 for Sony FE, but that’s the exception rather than the norm.
At portrait distances, the 16mm f/1.4 can achieve a subtle isolation for the subject, keeping the background details in the frame while allowing the main object to be distinctly separated. When the subject is closer to the lens, the bokeh is enveloping, elegant, and pleasing. At all distances the lens defies expectations of how much background separation a wide angle lens can achieve.
And with nine rounded diaphragm blades, the bokeh is smooth and evenly shaped, matching the patterns of other Fuji lenses such as the aforementioned 23mm f/1.4 R.
The centres were consistently excellent from f/1.4 all the way to f/16, with almost no discernable difference in fringing or contrast. At f/1.4 there was a very small difference in terms of contrast, but nothing particularly significant.
The corners are actually far more shocking, with lots of purple fringing and loss of contrast at f/1.4. They stay soft even at f/1.8 up until f/4, and it’s only at f/5.6 that we notice a tremendous improvement. Interestingly, there wasn’t much diffraction even at f/11 or f/16.
The 16mm f/1.4 R WR has an electrical motor housed inside, and can focus from close-focus to infinity almost instantly. It didn’t require much tracking since it’s a wide angle lens, but locked on very quickly to my subjects. The front element of the lens also doesn’t rotate during autofocus, which is handy for circular polariser filters.
It’s worth noting that I was using the X-Pro 2 from the second generation of Fujifilm cameras, and the first generation cameras will be significantly slower. Vice versa, photographers can expect the 16mm f/1.4 to work even better than the X-Pro 2 with the new X-T2.
Fujifilm has crowded their wide angle prime portfolio with a confusing array of extremely similar lenses.
There’s the XF 14mm f/2.8 R, the XF 16mm f/1.6 R, the XF 18mm f/2.0 not to mention the aforementioned XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS. The difference between each one seems so miniscule, that it’s understandable consumers don’t have an easy choice. Obviously it’s better to have too many choices than no choices at all, but I can’t think of many other manufacturers who have decided to make so many similar lenses in such a short period. After all, the first lenses for the X-mount were only introduced exactly four years ago in September 2012.
The XF 16mm f/1.6 R was the most recent of these wide angle lenses to be introduced, and it’s certainly the most refined. The build is a culmination of all the small tweaks Fujifilm have been finetuning over the years, and the construction quality is near flawless if we consider the very reasonable price tag.
Nikon’s AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED for example is mostly composed of high-grade plastic, and it costs US$2,000. Canon’s EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM is around US$1,500 and also is made of more plastic than metal.
Metal isn’t the end-all-be-all of materials, and understandably plastic is a more flexible material. But my point is that not only is the 16mm relatively light at 375g, but it’s also well balanced against the hefty flagship models from Fuji.
Ultimately I can’t recommend that you choose the 16mm over the 14mm or the 18mm – that’s a review for another time, and each one has it’s advantages and disadvantages. The point-of-views between the three lenses are quite significant, but wider isn’t always better.
For me, the 16mm is one of those lenses which would go straight into my bag. It may not have shown up to be perfect in the corners on our tests, but the centre sharpness was perfect even when wide-open. I’ll be shooting at f/1.4 for portraits and indoor snaps, but for landscapes where I need the edge-to-edge sharpness, I can almost always guarantee going f/5.6 or more.