Sunday, February 3, 2013

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Fog & Fourteen: Fujifilm XF 14mm f/2.8 R Review



I was at the Port Mann Bridge on a foggy night yesterday and captured some shots with my X-E1, including a bunch with the superb new XF 14mm f/2.8 R wide-angle lens, the latest addition to Fujifilm's excellent X-body lens lineup. This lens has a focal length equivalent to a 21mm on a full-frame camera. Many years ago now, back in 1984 in fact, I was shooting with my brand new Nikon FE2 and I remember being impressed after seeing the full arc of a rainbow in a Nikon brochure, and that was taken with a 20mm lens. If I had to choose any one ultra-wide-angle focal length, it would indeed be right around 20mm mark, so this new lens is exactly what I had been waiting for. Quite simply, the optical quality of this lens is stunning, one of the very best ultra-wide primes I have ever shot with. For a variety of initial images shot with the 14mm, see the following gallery...

Gallery: Fujifilm XF 14mm f/2.8 R - First Tests

The above gallery also has a condensed review of the 14mm lens, but see the rest of this blog entry for further details, clarifications and sample images.


Some people seem put off by the relatively high price of the XF 14mm ($899), however considering its near flawless optical performance for an ultra-wide lens, as we'll see, I actually consider it to be a relative bargain.

The XF 14mm seems essentially free from any sort of field curvature, there is almost no barrel distortion to speak of, virtually no detectable chromatic aberration and only the barest hint of purple fringing along extremely high-contrast boundaries, for example, with power lines or branches against a white, blown out sky. Even the edges of the frame are essentially tack sharp wide open at f/2.8, with the extreme corners following by f/4 already. There is also no green/magenta bokeh fringing and what little background blur one can get with an ultra-wide at f/2.8, looks to be very smooth and pleasing as well. Internal reflections seem well controlled and contrast is good... although I have yet to see how it performs in daylight with the sun shining on the front element or when the sun is included in the frame. Hopefully I’ll see some sun again soon so I can test that!

The resolution of this lens is so consistent and even, 
that one can take a series of tripod shots, zoom into an extreme corner and flip through images shot from
 f/4 to f/11 and there is almost no detectable change or improvement in corner sharpness, presuming there are no depth of field issues there of course. Only at f/2.8 in the extreme corners, is there some contrast and sharpness loss, and beyond f/11, diffraction starts taking a visible toll across the entire frame. I would say it is actually sharpest in the f/4 to 5.6 range, which is truly superb for such a wide-angle lens. In demanding night scenes however, with bright point-source lights, I would suggest stopping the lens down one extra f-stop, compared to my above recommendations, to ensure light sources are rendered as cleanly as possible at the very edges and corners.



A unique feature, which I hope will make it to some other upcoming Fujifilm lenses, like the XF 23mm f/1.4, is the new manual focus collar / focusing clutch. When the collar is pushed forward, the lens is in autofocus mode. If you pull the collar back (as in the above photo), you get manual focus with a focusing distance scale that includes depth-of-field markings, a very welcome addition to this wide-angle lens! I have not tested the lens yet to see how "pessimistic" one must be to achieve acceptable infinity focus when using the depth-of-field scale. Generally, with most depth-of-field scales, I find one has to be conservative by one or two stops to ensure infinity is critically sharp for large prints, for example (and not shown in the above photo!) setting the infinity mark to f/5.6 or perhaps f/8, when actually shooting at f/11.

As far as the lens hood, observe the markings... it is actually compatible with, and identical to, the one that ships with the 18-55mm kit lens. For traveling, one could save a little bit of space and only pack a single hood, although one has to wonder if perhaps the hood's coverage is less than optimal on the 18-55mm...? Since the hood can be easily reversed though, it doesn't take up much extra room and I would probably travel with one on each lens regardless.

Here is a simple bokeh / close-focus test shot, wide open at f/2.8...



Next is shot that nicely demonstrates the lens' near complete lack of any chromatic aberration or purple fringing. When you click on the image, you'll be taken to a 100% zoom screenshot of the very top left corner of the image. I double and triple-checked: all lens corrections were turned off on this shot too, so you are truly seeing how cleanly high contrast detail is rendered at the extreme corner of the frame. This test shot was handheld at a fairly slow shutter speed, so maybe not quite 100% sharp, but certainly enough to tell if there was any purple fringing or chromatic aberration...


Next are some corner resolution examples. The first two images were processed in Capture One v7.02 (for better detail rendering), output to full size TIFFs with no sharpening or lens corrections, then brought into Lightroom for some slight sharpening and then output. For each image, clicking will bring up a 100% zoom of a top-right corner crop.

This first example will actually open the entire top strip of the image in a new window at full resolution, so you can see the wires silhouetted against the sky on the top left and the bricks on the top right. It was shot at ISO 400, 1/60 second and f/10...



This next one was handheld at f/2.8, and processed only in Lightroom, so you can see how the corners hold up wide-open. Hmm... I had a look, but as far as a photo at f/2.8 where a corner is actually in the plane of focus, it seems I only have this high ISO shot saved at the moment. I'll have to do a low ISO f-stop sequence at some point to properly judge the corner performance at f/2.8...


Conclusion

Discussing the Fujifilm X system with people over the last few months, I had often mentioned that my long-term adoption of the system hinged on just how good that 14mm lens would turn out to be. For me, a superb ultra-wide-angle lens option is pretty much the most important aspect of any camera system. My Panasonic GH2 kit has the excellent 7-14mm f/4, but indeed at 21mm equivalent (which is actually its sweet spot), the new XF 14mm outperforms it as far as corner sharpness and has vastly less lens flare and purple fringing when comparing similar, high-contrast night shots.

The Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G VR I have for my D800 kit is definitely an excellent lens too, but even it has worse corner sharpness (until you stop it down), slight purple fringing and considerably more distortion. In fact, for the relative corner performance of the 16-35mm, at 21mm, to equal the XF 14mm wide open at f/2.8, I need to stop the Nikkor down to about f/8. Yes, one can correct all those aberrations in Lightroom and stop the lens down sufficiently for excellent corner sharpness, but all those corrections do take a toll on ultimate image quality, especially on a demanding camera like the D800. I am definitely hoping Nikon decides to release a new version of their 20mm prime, one that performs as well on the D800 as the XF 14mm performs on my X-E1! At least my Nikkor AF-S 24mm f/1.4G does perform extremely well on the D800, but I do wish for a wider prime that is as good...

In conclusion, based on how impressive the new XF 14mm lens is, the Fujifilm X system is definitely one that I will be keeping for the long haul. So far, almost all the lenses have turned out to be spectacular performers and the X-E1 is truly a wonderful camera to shoot, with its traditional exposure control dials, excellent image quality, great EVF and small, lightweight handling. Will it replace my Nikon D800 kit? Well not quite yet; with the right lenses, the D800 is certainly still king-of-the-hill when it comes to image quality, at least amongst the cameras that I could ever afford to own. However, when I want to carry around a smaller, lighter system with superb image quality, my X-E1 kit will most definitely be the one I reach for!

Lastly, here are some more foggy shots taken with the 14mm last night, as well as a few with the 18-55mm at the end...




Played with the white balance on this next one, trying to neutralize the colours of the foreground rocks. Made for quite a different look...



Lastly, here are a few foggy images taken with the XF 18-55mm kit lens...




3 comments:

Steven Lennon said...

Wonderful review Mike, thanks.
I'm considering this setup for landscape photography in place of my 5d Mk2. The high quality lenses and compact size make this camera a very attractive option. More resolution would be great, but no doubt that will come with future models.

Steven

Ron Greer said...

nice review, my 14mm arrives on Tuesday!

George Saad said...

Thanks for the review! my X-E1 and 14mm will be here tomorrow, I wanna live just one or two more days!

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