Although I travel and take pictures for work, my vacation photography is very different. I spend more time taking pictures of my wife, family and friends, and I spend less time worrying about taking epic pictures or bringing the fanciest equipment. As a camera reviewer I pretty much have access to whatever I want, so what I bring on my personal time says a lot about the equipment I decide to bring. Saying that, I do consider what equipment I do decide to use and how I could write an article around it, so this year I decided to focus on the 3 Fujicrons: the XF 23mm f/2 R WR, XF 35mm f/2 R WR and the XF 50mm f/2 R WR. Although I’ve reviewed all three lenses extensively, I’ve never forced myself to shoot with all three Fujicrons as a group, so I was looking forward to using these very different lenses within the vacation environment and see which lens I preferred overall. Can you guess which was my favourite?
Last year when I was on vacation in Japan I reviewed the then new XF 23mm f/2 R WR. I was impressed and I barely touched the other two primes I brought with me (XF14mm and XF35mm). With my style of photography, the XF23’s field of view is pretty much all I really want. I don’t care too much about shallow depth of field since I prefer capturing people within context of their surrounding environment with everything in focus (see opening image). The XF23mm lens was the fastest and most accurate focusing lens of the 3 lenses. This lens is sharp at medium to long distances, but don’t try using this lens at minimum focus distance unless you stop down. In a tight and busy city (think of a crowded food market), if you want to minimize the working distance between you and your subject (so nobody walks between while shooting), or you’re doing a lot of group shots, the XF 23mm lens is the lens you want to bring. I often found when doing ‘family’ pictures, I had to switch to the XF23mm. The XF35mm was too tight and the XF50mm was useless in this situation.
I have to say, when the XF 50mm R WR lens was first announced, even I was a bit surprised. I thought it would have been a 60mm f/2, or at least a 56mm, but I understand Fujifilm’s thinking. If it was 60mm, it would have duplicated the macro lens focal length, and the same if it was made as a 56mm lens. The 75mm equivalent focal length can be considered a very short telephoto, perfect for getting in a tight shot in a city environment. I found I was getting a nice tight frame when shooting from across the street. It was also a great portrait lens without having to step too far back to get my shot. I found the lens sharpness was best at f/2.8 when shooting close to infinity, but at medium distance the lens was super sharp wide open. However, you do have to be careful on what the camera focuses on. I say turn on the face and eye detect for close up portraits (or manually focus with peaking), or else you may end up focusing on your subject’s ear or tip of the nose.
We finally get to the XF 35mm f/2 R WR, the original Fujicron. I tested it when it first came out when I was in Hong Kong for work two years ago. It’s compact, light, quiet, fast and the images produced are beautiful. With a 50mm equivalent focal length, it’s the classic lens for street style photography. I knew what this lens could do before taking it on vacation, but I have to admit I forgot how good this lens was. It’s the sharpest lens of the 3 Fujicons while wide open, and it has the most consistent image quality at all focus distances. When I first started testing these lenses, I was forcing myself to use each lens equally; but after a while, I decided to shoot with the lens I felt would get me the shot. I thought for sure it would be the XF 23mm, but I was wrong. The XF35mm was the lens I shot 75% of the time near the end of my vacation. Shooting late at night, shooting while bike riding or sight seeing, it was the XF35mm. The only time I took it off was when I needed a wider shot while at dinner, or if I was in a very tight environment for my street work.
All three lenses are very competent lenses optically, and each have specific strengths, either optically or in terms of the focal length. The XF23mm has the most general use field of view for family vacation photography, and I like the way the lens renders more than the other two. The XF50mm is a great compact portrait lens, and can be used where there is a lot of space between you and your subject, even within the context of a city scene. The XF35mm is the smallest and lightest of all three lenses, but it’s also the sharpest. You can use this lens instead of the other two if you had to, although I would argue that most will be switching between the XF35 and XF23 lenses. If the amount of time spent shooting with a particular lens is an indicator of which was my favourite lens for this trip, I guess I would have to choose the XF 35mm f/2 R WR. I had a great time using each lens, but if I was forced to take any single lens for this vacation, I would have to choose the XF35mm lens. However, why choose? Why not bring all 3 Fujicrons while on vacation? These lenses are compact, light, fast, quiet and optically competent. Thanks for reading and happy shooting. All images taken with the Fujifilm X-T2.