Thursday, November 6, 2014

"The wide world is all about you . . . ."

I'm an advocate of wide angle lenses. Images made with them have depth and context which tell good stories. They're easy to use indoors where space is tight, and can also capture the grandeur of outdoor spaces. One of my favorite Canon lenses was the 24mm f/1.4 L. The wide perspective allowed for getting in very close, which is the way to make spectators feel part of the moment. It was a staple of my news photography.
I've been using the Fujinon XF 14mm for about a year now, and it's become one of my standard lenses. It covers a field of view equivalent to a 21mm full-frame. Solidly made, but not stiff. A nice heft, but not heavy. A wide f/2.8 pulls in the light, but the lens is the same diameter as the slower Fujinon 18-55mm zoom. The 1/3 stop aperture increments are professional and welcome. It comes with a hood, but I never use it. The 14mm is a professional photographer's lens which produces great results paired to an X Series body. I would have been pleased to have this lens on any system, anytime.
Those compliments aside, and with all due respect to Fuji's storied history in making excellent lenses, this is not a Leica lens. A distortion-free 28mm Elmarit it is not. The 14mm has plenty of distortion. It's not extreme, but it's there in the corners. If you like your architectural lines straight, this lens won't work for you. If you're like me and care about content over form, then the tweaked perspective isn't relevant. If anything, I like to exploit it to give a clearer sense of the space.

The following images are all full-frame, taken on an X-E1. They have been converted to achromatic, but no lens corrections have been made. The distortion you see is what you get straight from the lens.

Get a little lower to enhance the wide-angle perspective.
In operation, the 14mm is a joy to use. The aperture works very smoothly, but the 1/3 stop increments are secure. Manual focus is activated on the barrel itself: the focusing collar clicks backward to engage the manual mode, and reveal the distance engravings. Although the focus lock is secure in use, it can get dislodged in a bag, or when putting the lens on the camera. Be sure to check it before shooting! My X-E1's screen isn't sharp enough for meaningful manual focus, but I'm sure that it will be a handy feature when the technology evolves.



The lens takes a 58mm filter. I'm of two minds about filters: I don't like adding another layer of glass because even with a Schneider B+W filter, there's still a degradation of quality. I don't keep a filter on the Leica lenses, but I do keep lens caps on them. I'm slower and more mindful when I'm shooting film. I work faster with the Fuji cameras, however, so I have opted to use a multicoated, 007 Neutral filter on the Fujinons. Pulling lenses in and out of the bag while I work, scratches are inevitable. I would rather be able to work faster with the Fujis than to worry about the front lens element, so a filter makes sense.



The front of the 14mm's barrel is etched with a depth of field scale. It's a nice touch, but kind of pointless on a wide lens which will often be shot wide open in low light. The depth of field is very good wide open. A bokeh lens, this is not, but with a close-focusing range of 7 inches, it's possible to get blurry backgrounds.

This is not a cheap lens. But Fuji is committed to the X Series line, and investing in glass makes sense. Cameras come and cameras go, but high quality prime lenses maintain their utility and value. Even if Fuji were to change sensor sizes, I would expect the XF lenses to work on newer cameras. Indeed, I'm counting on it!

So, take the advice of Tolkien and embrace the wide: “The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.” — The Fellowship of the Ring