review of every fujifilm XF lens

a blog by Branden Frederick

Fujifilm, blessed be they, are makers of the "X" camera system – the best compact camera system on the market. There's two lens lines available in this system, the XC lenses, which suck are cheap, and the XF lenses, which are awesome. I'm going to tell you all about every single XF lens, even those I've never used. Are you ready?

first, let's talk zooms

I just don't like zoom lenses. They're sloppy and hard to compose with. They're complicated in ways that interfere with my workflow. They're the hardest to keep clean and maintain because of all the moving parts. I generally do not buy zoom lenses, but sometimes some slip through the cracks.

XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS

This is the basic "kit" lens. It's probably the lens that most X-system users own. It gets praise online for being faster than other manufacturer's kit lenses, and some say it's sharper. I don't know, the lens is alright. It's not fast enough for me, and like with most zooms, I find myself shooting mostly at the extreme ends of the range (e.g. either at 18mm or 55mm, but not in between). With that, the 18mm is crisp, clear, and makes good images, whereas the 55mm end is less so. At no point in the zoom range am I ever super-happy with the colors.

All the letters at the end of the lens name mean this lens is equipped with an aperture ring, a linear motor focusing system, and optical image stabilization. The aperture ring spins freely (unlike some other lenses where the ring stops spinning when you reach the end of the aperture range), which I don't like. The zoom barrel isn't dampened enough for my taste, and makes the barrel extend out of the lens.

XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 sample image

Verdict: I've stopped using this lens for anything other than aerial photography. The versatility of a zoom in a small Cessna cabin is too important to worry about all this technical garbage. But elsewhere, I've got better options and this lens stays at home.

XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 R LM OIS

I know I just spent four paragraphs hating on zoom lenses, and I constantly talk about loving small equipment, but here I break all my own rules. This is a large, obnoxious zoom lens, and I love it. Back when I was a Canon shooter, I loved/hated their EF 70-300mm "L" lens. This Fujifilm XF lens is equivalent, and better in every way. Not only is it less expensive, but the images it makes, at every point in the zoom range, are just great. I love using this for landscapes. The zoom and aperture rings are dampened well, too, unlike the XF 18-55mm lens.

Again here we have the freely-spinning aperture ring, which yes I wish was better, and also the Optical Image Stabilization, which is super important and super powerful on this lens, and the Linear Motor for focusing, although why I would care about that, I don't know. More importantly, the zoom, focus, and aperture rings are well differentiated to the touch, meaning you won't accidentally spin the wrong one.

Fujifilm makes a few lenses similar to this: the XF 50-140mm and XF 100-400mm lenses (more on these below). This XF 55-200mm is actually the smallest and lightest of the bunch at a little over 4.5 inches and 1.25 pounds. I can't compare the optics here against the others, but that's fine, the 55-200mm lens has never given me reason to doubt that it would hold up. And, as I tend to use this mostly for landscape work, I truly believe I have the lens most appropriate to my purpose, despite this being the "budget" option of the three.

XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 sample image

Verdict: Despite compromises around size and weight, this lens still manages to make it into my gear bag when shooting landscapes, and sometimes even when travelling. For the longest time, it was the only "long" Fujifilm lens I owned, because it's just that good. Definite recommendation.

All the other zoom lenses

For the Fujifilm zoom lenses I haven't used, we've got:

prime time

The best part about Fujifilm's X system is that someone at Fujifilm loves prime lenses even more than I do. This is glorious, and what makes this a serious system. Let's get to it.

XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR

This is the best lens.

It does everything right: first, and most important, the images it makes are just superb. The way it renders colors and light just knocks my socks off. It is sharp always, at all settings. It's so fast, and so wide, I can shoot this in the dark, handheld.

Back in my Canon days, my 2nd most used lens was their EF 24mm f/1.4L II. This XF lens is the Fujifilm equivalent, but better, and cheaper, and smaller, and lighter. This focal length works great, especially when shooting in 1:1 square format. Features-wise, this lens has a great aperture ring, well-dampened, with each click of the ring corresponding to a specific aperture, like the camera gods intended.

But about the focus ring, well... the thing is, this 16mm lens shares a similar style mechanism with only two other Fujifilm lenses (at time of writing) – the XF 14mm f/2.8 and XF 23mm f/1.4 lenses. All other Fujifilm lenses use an always-on focus ring. This is a little confusing, so let me stop and explain what's going on here.

All Fujifilm X-series lenses use fly-by-wire focus rings, meaning that the focus ring isn't mechanically connected to anything. Instead, it's electronic, and spinning it clockwise or counter-clockwise tells a computer in the camera to adjust the focus forward or back. On most X-series lenses, the focus ring can spin freely, forever. If the camera is in manual focus, spinning the ring focuses like normal. In autofocus, push the shutter half down and the camera autofocuses, then the photographer can spin the ring to adjust the focus further.

However, not so on this XF 16mm lens (or the 14mm f/2.8 or 23mm f/1.4 lenses). Here, the focus ring pops forward and backward. Forward, the ring is locked in place, and doesn't spin at all. The camera will always autofocus while the ring is in this position, no matter what setting it set on the camera's focus mode dial. Pop the focus ring backward, and it exposes the focus scale and let's the focus ring spin. But unlike the other X-series lenses, this focus ring has a one-to-one relationship between position on the ring and focus distance. This allows hard stops at the ends of the distance scale – the ring stops at minimum focus distance, and just past infinity. But, for this to work, not only does the ring have to be poppped backward, but the camera also must be in manual focus mode. The upshot of all of this, in addition to having to learn this different behavior, is that this lens (and the other two like it) have lost the always-on focus abilities.

Ok, so just rambled on about focus rings for three paragraphs. How much does this actually affect shooting with the lens? In practice, barely at all. The Fujifilm focus system is excellent and I rarely use anything beyond autofocus, no matter which lens I'm shooting. I wanted this focus issue explained, but it's not something to dwell on.

This lens also has weather resistance, not that I've had any weather issues even with the lenses that aren't.

XF 16mm f/1.4 sample image

Verdict: This lens makes the system. I had my X-T1 before Fujifilm released this lens, and when my pre-order of this 16mm lens showed up, it elevated my Fujifilm setup from "pretty swell" to "heck yes". Don't let the manual focus confusion scare you off, this lens is the best.

XF 23mm f/1.4 R

If you just read the above review of the XF 16mm f/1.4 lens, you can now re-read that review, mentally swapping "16mm" for "23mm". Or not, you know, because that's crazy. The point is, this lens is nearly identical to it's 16mm cousin. Although this 23mm is slightly smaller and lighter, it's not by much, and the lenses are the same shape and operate identically. Also, this one lacks the Weather Resistance package, not that I've been hindered by this.

XF 23mm f/1.4 sample image

Verdict: This is a great lens. It gives you a 35mm-e field-of-view and a wicked fast aperture, with punch-your-face great results. If you're choosing between this and the 16mm lens, it really just comes down to your preferred focal length.

XF 27mm f/2.8

This pancake lens gives you a 40mm-e field of view in a relatively slow (compared to my other lenses) f/2.8 package. While I can't argue with this lens's size, I just don't find myself wanting to use it very often. I cannot put my finger on the exact reason why, but I tend to find the resulting images flat and uninteresting. I purchase this lens because of its similarity to the Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens that I love, but instead of being similarly impressed, I've been disappointed.

Despite all this kvetching, this 27mm lens tends to spend a lot of time in my camera bag (if not on the camera itself) because it is so small it fits in one of the accessory pockets, and doesn't take up a lens slot. So as for being a tiny lens, this lens is a success. Functionally, this is one of the few XF-series lenses to lack an aperture ring (the lens is just too small for one), and the barrel of the lens is basically all focus ring.

XF 27mm f/2.8 sample image

Verdict: While this is a fine compact lens, it's falls into the same category as the 18-55mm kit lens – lenses I could live without. Yes, I do sometimes use this lens. But if I didn't have it, I don't think my photography would be effected.

XF 35mm f/1.4 R

This lens is great. It is the best "normal" lens in the Fujifilm lineup, giving a field-of-view which is basically 50mm. And being compact and opening up to f/1.4 and doing it well, this lens is superbly flexible. I have traveled with nothing but this lens and loved every minute of it. Every camera system out there should be judged by the quality of its standard prime – and judging the X-system this way is what makes me call this system "the best."

The setup here is typical of X, with an aperture ring and focus ring and nothing else. This simplicity is perfect, there are no distractions or confusing switches. Yes, the lens hood is this weird square shape, but I leave it off most of the time; its absence doesn't seem to effect the photos, and I like how compact the lens is without it.

XF 35mm f/1.4 sample image

Verdict: If you're starting out on your X-camera journey and want only one lens, this is the lens to get. Skip those stupid zooms. This prime normal right here is all you need.

XF 50mm f/2 R WR

At the time I'm writing this, the XF 50mm f/2 lens is the newest on Fujifilm's lineup. I had mine on pre-order and only got it two months ago. Despite my personal challenges in making these ~80mm-e field-of-view images work, I picked up this lens to force myself to learn to compose better in this range. And the glass here is no way holding me back – in fact this lens renders images so amazingly, especially in lighting and coloring, that I'm pulled into using this more often.

In Fujifilm's X-lineup, they first released a series of fast primes, of which I've snagged the 16mm, 23mm, and 35mm models. But the 800 pound gorilla of the fast primes was the XF 56mm f/1.2 – the bokeh beast of the bunch. To pull that off, though, the 56mm lens is expensive, and that combined with it being a weaker focal length for me always kept me away from adding that lens to my arsenal.

But after Fujifilm was done releasing those fast primes, they began releasing a series of slightly slower (but still fast), compact, affordable primes. The newest in that series is this, the XF 50mm f/2, which is my first experience with this new line.

So with that backstory told, know that I have been impressed with this lens in every way. The size and weight advantage over the 56mm f/1.2 lens is considerable, and there is no compromise in image quality. The f/2 aperture is still amazingly fast, and completely flawless. Again with the comparison to Canon EF, this lens is an upgrade in every way from the EF 85mm f/1.8. This XF 50mm lens even features weather resistance!

XF 50mm f/2 sample image

Verdict: Although I respect Fujifilm's impressive XF 56mm f/1.2 lens, I feel that this XF 50mm f/2 lens is the superior option for many photographers, especially me. I went into this lens unsure if I'd keep it, but now I love it. What more can you ask for?

All the other primes

XF 56mm f/1.2 sample image

in conclusion

Thank you for reading this far. The Fujifilm X-system has been a rewarding time investment for me, and I'm hoping these notes about the lenses available are helpful to someone.

First published on 19 May 2017; last updated on 29 Nov 2017.

about Branden Frederick

I am a photographer: I have fun taking photos, and I always have.

I've had a camera in my hand my whole life, a 110 camera as a kid, and the high school's 35mm SLR later. In 2008 I spent six months doing nothing but taking photos and loved it. From that point on I've had my camera surgically attached to my hand (I lie). I went digital in the year 2000, and I came back to film in 2013. My parents tell me my photos are "nice".

bf@branfred.com