The XF23 F1.4 and the XF23 F2: Part Three

This is a three part series. This is Part Three. Click for Part One. Click for Part Two.

Last week (click here if you missed it) I showed you how both XF23s rendered and produced images that looked different.

This week we’ll continue that theme.

Let’s take a look at another contrast/colour variance example


XF23 F2 @F2 Same Exposure


XF23 F1.4 @F2 Same Exposure

And again we see that the F2 renders darker, which gives us a different colour signature and more contrast!

As I mentioned before, this difference in colour is because the F2 renders darker, if we leave the camera to decide it’s own exposure in A mode (which I did for the test shots of the doll and the shot where I compared how much wider the 23/F2 was in parts ONE and TWO of this comparison) then the camera compensates for this exposure variation.

But I also wanted to show how each lens performed with the same camera settings as I think this is valid. I’ll talk about the implications of the difference in maximum aperture further down this page, but I feel it’s very important to note that even at the same aperture settings, the 23/F2 produces a darker image, that will require a longer shutter speed or higher ISO to compensate for. The relevance to your shot, will vary shot by shot. But if you’re already at a high ISO or a slow shutter speed, the impact of this will be more important.

But how can this be? F2 is F2 is F2, right? Well no, calculating aperture (in camera lenses) is way beyond my school boy maths grade 🙂 however in a hideous over simplification I’ll describe the physical aperture size as a ratio of other factors about the lens.

But what is also often overlooked, is that the very light transmissivity of the glass itself is a factor. In basic terms sunglasses have less light transmissivity than reading glasses. Glass generally isn’t 100% transparent, nor does all glass share the same transparency. So when lenses, such as the two 23s sport a different number of elements, that are different to one another, with different coatings – they are unlikely to share the exact amount of transmissivity.

Let’s take a closer look at how each lens is using the light, we can see this quite clearly when we take a look at the histogram for each image


XF23 F1.4 @F2 Same Exposure – Histogram


XF23 F2 @F2 Same Exposure – Histogram

You can really see the differences in the amount of green and red at the brighter end of curve in both the actual shots (the red overlaps green to make yellow in the images) and the corresponding histograms.

So let’s review your questions:

1. Are they both the same focal length, because some say they aren’t?
2.  Is the F2 lens softer?
3. Is there any colour/contrast/rendering differences between them?

  1. No way are they the same focal length: clearly the F2 is shorter than the F1.4
  2. I would say yes, but not by a colossal margin
  3. Yes the rendering differences between each lens are, in some shots, actually quite pronounced

Conclusion:

So this is the part where I tell you all how much better the F1.4 is, and I’m so glad that I chose that variant for my own kit.

Well not exactly.

You see in most of the areas where the F1.4 holds a clear advantage; namely more organic looking contrast, micro details at pixel peeping levels and light ingress, the F2 can be tweaked to taste in post.

Less light? Raise exposure a bit (pre or post capture)

Too much contrast? Lower it a bit in post then.

Micro details? Sharpen to taste.

However the areas in which the F1.4 is at distinct disadvantage, physical size, cost and OVF blockage – you can’t do anything about.

And this is before we mention just how fast the XF23 F2 acquires focus, which in plentiful light is staggeringly fast. The 23 F1.4 is not slow, but in many ways the XF23 F2 is PERHAPS the Fujifilm AF lens by which other XF lenses should be judged

The F2 also has the cachet of being dust and moisture resistant and also the latest design of aperture ring which has a tactility that embarrasses lenses from other famous manufactures that cost 10x the price

In short there’s an awful lot to recommend the XF23 F2. The areas where you can see why it’s cheaper (light ingress, vignetting, less sharp) are either fixed by in-camera software or can be resolved in post, and the areas it shines at (build quality, size, price and speed) are all welcome features with real, tangible benefits to photographers.

But let’s not write the F1.4 off. Because no matter what it’s compared too, it’s a special piece of glass that can be that distortion free, have that little vignetting and have that fast of an aperture and all for under £800

You may very well be able to edit your F2 images to taste, correct the exposure and turn down contrast where needed, but there’s a satisfaction from owning an optic that does this natively.

A little like how I prefer my favoured recording artists not to have to rely on autotune in the studio, I personally get a sense of pride of ownership from glass that’s naturally in tune (sic)

To my eye and for my tastes (so YMMV) the XF23 F1.4 has that lovely rendering style that got me into Fuji in the first place, whereas the XF23 F2 has a more “common digital camera” look to its images.

Let’s not be too hasty to overlook the extra stop of light that the F1.4 gives us either (which in reality will be a little more than a stop as the F2 exposes darker even with the same SS/Aperture settings)

Oh it’s only a stop – I don’t care” is a sentiment often expressed on the forums and FB groups when the subject comes up.

But a stop of light is a little like toilet paper – apparently plentiful and far from your list of wants, until such time as you desperately need it and it’s not available 🙂

In professional motorsport it can easily cost an extra £100,000 to go 1/50th of a second per lap quicker and much like a race car the extra cost of the F1.4 is a big ask for what you’re actually getting.

But value for money aside, the F1.4 is the faster race car – it’s a superior optical product, able to produce images with more character (subjective) in less light (fact)

I think if you’re a plentiful light shooter, or an OVF at all times shooter or an F8 and be there type of photographer; if you spend a great deal of time outdoors in damp or dusty places, if superlative AF speed is very important to you, if you tend to whack the contrast up the moment you import an image into your editing software – then the F1.4 makes very little sense for you in practical terms.

But for low light and for that extra bit of image rendering sophistication which in my OPINION the F2 can’t quite match the F1.4 – if those things appeal, and if the extra cost isn’t prohibitive to you – then you’ll have your choice made.

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10 thoughts on “The XF23 F1.4 and the XF23 F2: Part Three”

  1. What’s the best car? A Tesla or a land rover?

    Thanks for your fine articles. I like that you bring your own personal view to the table and embrace the complexity instead of just writing boring cookie cutter reviews.

    Immanuel

    Like

  2. I disagree with a single aspect here: If the image is blurry when it comes out of camera, no amount of sharpening will fix it. As the old saying goes you can’t put Lipstick on a pig and make it pretty. With that said I own the 23 1.4. I find the entire line-up of F2 lenses just oh so butt-ugly. My 35 1.4, and 23 1.4 are beautiful, functional works of art.

    Like

    1. You’re certainly correct about sharpening not fixing “blurry” focusing issues.

      But softer lenses can take more sharpening that those that offer more acuity. The XF18 can tolerate (and benefit from) a lot more sharpening than the XF35/1.4 for example.

      It’s funny how strongly the looks of the F2 lenses divide opinion.

      Like

    2. You prove a point about being evangelical about your equipment as well as slightly offended by a comparison.

      And the f2 lenses do not produce a blurry image, nor are they pigs with lipstick.
      All they are: small and fast lenses that just work great…

      Like

      1. I’m not sure that Jorge (the person you’re replying to) meant that the F2s are blurry, he was saying that I was wrong to suggest that PP can fix blur, which I didn’t say in the first place.

        I see this a lot these days with gear, if you write “the Porsche 911 is a better car than the Porsche boxster” then boxster owners arrive demanding that you stop saying their car is rubbish.

        But you didn’t say it was rubbish, just that a different car was better

        And like a 911/boxster comparison – the F2s V the F1.4s is win some lose some, with different designs and features and price points.

        Like

  3. Adam, I enjoyed reading your post, as I bought yesterday the F2, and after some shots I notice this darkness and harsh gradients in color (compared this time with my xf18-55 zoom lens). It might be sharper, and have more detail than my kit-lens. But certainly it does have a “more synthetic” feeling too.
    Concerning the darkness at same aperture, sincerely, I dont believe that such drastically difference could come from the transmission of the glass. More over, I would say its a question of the vignetting (that its very pronounced just from the center?): the diameter of the aperture will let light pass in the same amount (fixed focal length), but this is only true either in the center of the sensor, or supposing a wide enough lens.
    Have you try both lenses in autoexposure with spot metering in the center? Most probably you would get the same reading, regardless how dark will be the frame overall…
    At the end, in my opinion, the f number is a very overestimated parameter, as it doest mean nothing about the quality of that lens at that aperture.
    At this respect, I see from your article that the former xf23 is far more luminous than just one stop.

    Like

    1. Hi Victor,

      Thanks very much.

      The 23/2 has long since gone back to Fuji so further testing by me is possible.

      Generally the camera (and the raw software) corrects for the vignette, so maybe / maybe not

      The fact that the two 23s are not actually the same FL might play a part.

      I asked on the FujiLove group what people wanted me to look at, and that was one of the tests.

      At the end of the day – I set the camera to exposure parameter X and took a shot with each lens.

      You all saw how it came out

      Like

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