Fujifilm XF 14mm F2.8 R
Category: Wideangle Lens
Conclusion - Pros
- Extremely sharp across the frame at normal working apertures (F5.6 - F11)
- Minimal distortion
- Minimal chromatic aberration
- Well-implemented manual focusing
- Quiet autofocus
- Solid construction
Conclusion - Cons
- Soft corners at F2.8
- Moderately strong vignetting at F2.8 (corrected by camera's JPEG processing)
- Loose click-stops on aperture ring
- No way of combining manual focus and autofocus
- Slowish autofocus
The XF 14mm F2.8 R is a relatively rare example of a genuinely wideangle, high quality prime lens for any camera type other than full frame SLRs. The closest comparisons lie with the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm 1:2 for Micro Four Thirds and Pentax's smc DA 15mm F4 ED AL Limited for its APS-C SLRs, both of which also offer premium metal-barrelled construction and 'proper' manual focus rings with distance and depth of field scales. Indeed the 14mm's push/pull manual focus switchover mechanism bears more than a passing resemblance to Olympus's version. They're not strictly alternatives, of course; they all work on different camera systems. But of the three, the 14mm offers the widest view.
The 14mm is a pretty expensive optic, so needs to perform well to justify its price. Thankfully, it does just that - in fact it turns out to be an exceptionally good lens. At the apertures you'd most often shoot a wideangle it's exceptionally sharp right across the frame, and it's almost perfectly-corrected for distortion and chromatic aberration. Vignetting is quite strong at F2.8, and never quite goes away on stopping down; however it'll only be visible to RAW shooters, as it's corrected automatically by the camera's JPEG processing. The drop-off in brightness across the frame is also quite gradual, rather than abrupt in the extreme corners, which means that visually it's not so objectionable anyway.
Perhaps the nearest the lens has to a real flaw is rather soft edges and corners when shot at F2.8. This could be a real problem for photographers who shoot a lot handheld in low light, especially as there's no image stabilization available. But as sharpness picks up dramatically even at F4, and wideangles can safely be shot at relatively slow shutter speeds without fear of camera shake (allowing use of smaller apertures without having to raise the ISO) we suspect it won't be too much of a concern for the majority of users.
Autofocus isn't especially fast, but it's very accurate, and for many typical uses of a wideangle lens focus speed isn't especially important anyway. Manual focus is extremely well-implemented; the focus ring is well-damped and very responsive, making precise manual focusing very straightforward. Switching from auto to manual focus is very quick, requiring just a quick pull back on the focus ring. This reveals a distance and depth for field scale for zone focusing, which many users will be pleased to hear is calibrated conventionally, as opposed to the very conservative version Fujifilm displays in X-system camera viewfinders.
One point worth knowing, though, is that there's no way of combining auto and manual focus, so you can't use AF to prefocus then make adjustments manually. Instead switching the lens from AF to manual resets it to the last-used manual focus position. But again, this is a function that's arguably rather less useful on a wideangle lens than on a telephoto. Overall the 14mm offers perhaps the most convincing implementation of MF we've yet seen on an 'focus-by-wire lens, and is streets ahead of the existing XF lenses.
Build quality is very good, with the metal-skinned barrel and chunky metal focus ring offering a real feeling of solidity. On our sample this was slightly let down down by rather loose click-stops on the aperture ring, making it too easy to change by accident. Of course with the aperture setting constantly displayed in the viewfinder there's less risk of shooting lots of images at the wrong setting, but this does demand you get into the habit of checking your settings whenever you take the camera out of the bag for shooting.
The Final Word
In a way, the buying decision for the XF 14mm F2.8 R is a very simple one - if you use an X-system camera and need a lens wider than 18mm, at the time of writing it's your only real choice. Fujifilm is promising a wideangle zoom, the XF 10-24mm F4 R OIS, but it won't be available until the end of 2013. So the only question really is whether it's a good enough lens to justify the price. In our estimation the answer is a whole-hearted yes.
We go out of our way to identify and list the Pros and Cons for everything we review, and the final verdict depends on whether the former outweigh the latter. In the case of the XF 14mm F2.8 R, the exceptional cross-frame sharpness at normal working apertures, and almost complete lack of distortion or chromatic aberration, substantially outweigh the soft corners and vignetting at F2.8. Ultimately, the truly excellent image quality that it's capable of delivering earns it our top award.
Ergonomics and Handling
Fujifilm X system owners looking for a high-quality wide angle prime for architecture, landscapes etc.
Not so good for
Users who require cross-frame sharpness at F2.8
The XF 14mm F2.8 R is a solid, well-made lens that sports traditional aperture and manual focus rings. It's not bad at F2.8 and offers excellent image quality stopped down, where superb cross-frame sharpness and minimal distortion make it ideal for architectural and landscape work.
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