The Fuji 16mm f1.4 : The Only Lens You'll Ever Need?

May 8, 2018

I'm experimenting with Daily Fail headlines at the moment (and another excuse to link to Dan & Dan) so please take the post title with a pinch of salt. However as you can see from my prolific blog, it takes quite a bit to drag me out onto my keyboard to actually type something useful. The Fuji XF 16mm f1.4 WR prime lens though is something a bit special, and worth a few words.

So with the crop factor, that 24mm field of view is perfect for me both close up and at distance. I had the 14mm f2.8 for a long time - it was my preferred walkabout landscape lens, but for me - it was a little to wide to be called perfect. Then I got hold of the 16-55 f2.8 which is a lovely lens, but it's huge and heavy. A quick glance at my Lightroom catalogue told me that a lot of my images were at the 16mm end of it though. My investment in the 16mm prime lens was less confident than my (badly mistaken!) purchase of the 23mm f1.4, but when it came up on the Fuji refurb store I had to make a quick decision (as they don't last long!).

 

I've got quite a few Fuji lenses. The 23mm f2 for street photography, the 35mm f1.4 because it's just a fab "do anything" lens, the 56mm f1.2 for portraits, and most of the zooms for when I'm feeling lazy. I've had the 27mm pancake (didn't like the field of view) and the 23mm f1.4 (dreadfully slow to focus - thus no good for street photography without pre-focussing & dubious image quality in my copy) and have a special love for the primes. I know people say "zoom with your feet" but for me, a prime makes me work for an image - it makes me actually look at what I'm taking a photograph of. It's not "more work" but "better photographs". So this year, I put my lens where my mouth was and took just 2 primes on holiday. The 16 & the 35 (for portraits).

 

This lens stayed on my camera for the whole holiday. It just seemed to "fit" with whatever scene I was looking at. I don't know whether everyone "sees" at a particular focal length, but 50mm be damned, 24mm is my vision. And having the availability of a nice fat wide aperture really helps creatively.

Whilst the above photo isn't a good example of this, being able to easily get down to f1.4 in bright daylight is a breeze. The Fuji's electronic shutter allowing silly shutter speeds of 1/32000sec which is enough to be able to shoot wide open in bright sunlight without filters. Additionally, the low aperture (and wide angle) allows for hand-held shooting even at night - and that's with my shaky hands too!

The above image was shot at f1.6 & ISO 12800 at 1/55 sec. And here's where we can see all the facets of Fuji engineering come together. High quality wide aperture primes allowing lots of light through to the sensor. A sensor which can be cranked up to ISO 12800 easily without degradation. Only at prints of A3 or larger do I really need to start clever noise reduction software post processing. Electronic shutter to allow superfast shutter speeds without filters to get the benefit of that wide aperture even in bright sun.

 

This flexibility is where things really shine. Sometimes the emphasis on new shiny gear can all be about affiliate links and getting you to buy something. Sometimes though - there's a lens that comes out that really does live up to its hype. The field of view is perfect for the normal landscape work I prefer (not ultra-wide). The depth of field controls with the large aperture range, coupled with a close focussing distance, all contribute to aid creativity. I was really disappointed with the 23mm f1.4, I enjoyed the 14mm f2.8 but it was really a bit too wide for me. The 16 is just a perfect fit. I love it. The only thing it doesn't do is portraits - although it's great for long armed distorted selfies :-) Even close up work is possible - although it isn't a macro lens.

 

And for me - the last tick in the box, was its performance as an infra-red lens. I shoot with a converted X-T1 and the Fuji lens lineup isn't great for IR photography. My 14mm f2.8 was terrible, the 16-55 is also terrible, the 10-24 - terrible. Only the 18-135 has given me good results, but it's not the sharpest of lenses and the corner distortion at the wide end (which is where most of my IR landscape is done) doesn't look good when printed large. But the 16mm though... Wow.

 

I put some un-edited hotspot test image results up on Imjur here which you can review, but even close examination of the resulting images shows great edge to edge sharpness at f8+, and no hotspots at all. All I need to do now is take a decent photo with it - but it's a great alternative to my 18-135. Maybe I'll give it over the summer to bed in.

 It's not a cheap lens, and it's slap bang in the middle between two other highly regarded lenses (the 14 & the 23). But it's mine now and I won't go back... Although I do keep seeing 14's go up on sale. Maybe I'll swap my 10-24 for one...

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