That is how long Fujifilm has waited to provide us the larger aperture sibling of the Fujinon XF18mm f2 , finally allowing the XF18 to join the club of the XF16, XF23, XF35 and XF50mm dual sized aperture pairings.
And I am very glad this day did come, and I am now most humbled to share my real life usage perspectives of the XF18mm f1.4 R LM WR officially announced on 15 April 2021.
Let us start.
Background: The XF18mm f2 R announced on Jan 9 2012 was one of the three original X-mount lenses released and you can find my review of it here. Even without weather-resistance and issues with internal dust accumulation, this excellent pancake lens does possess its steady fan base.
Akin to the XF50mm f1.0 (my review of this optical monster is here), when I first picked up rumours of a XF18mm f1.4 in the works, I was pretty excited about testing it and I am very appreciative to receive a review unit from Fujifilm for this review.
Shooting portraits makes up at least 60% of what I shoot, and similar to the XF18mm f2, the XF18mm f1.4’s extremely short minimum focusing distance allows me to go closer for more intimate and impactful portraits. In this case, the madly close minimum focusing distance of 20cm (7.08 inches) works incredibly well to give more creative freedom.
To start, the review will comprise 3 main sections.
- The XF18mm f1.4 R LM WR – the technicalities,
- Four reasons for the XF18mm f1.4 sharing why it is going to be the next hit for the street and environmental portrait photographer,
Section 1: The Technicalities
Straight off the bat, the name XF18mm f1.4 R LM WR implies that this piece of optics comes with a physical aperture ring (R) , and it’s autofocus is powered by linear motors (LM) that debuted in the XF90mm f2 to ensure fast quiet and accurate auto-focus. No prizes for guessing WR means weather-resistance, a criteria for any lens that is likely to spend a lot of time on the streets.
Like the XF27mm f2.8 II, the XF18mm f1.4 comes with a ‘lock’ for when the aperture ring is set to the ‘auto’ position, ensuring that the aperture ring does not get knocked out of position accidentally. (see image below) One simply depresses the orange button to unlock the aperture ring to move out of Auto-aperture mode.
To the users who loved the short minimum focusing distance of the XF18mm f2, the XF18mm f1.4 focuses as close as 20cm (7.08 inches).
*yes, the XF18mm f1.4 does come bundled with a plastic hood as shown.
The XF18mm f1.4 sports a common sized 62mm filter diameter, comes in at 75.6mm length and weighing in at 370 grams (0.815 pounds). For comparison, the XF16mm f1.4 weighs 375 grams.
There is a lot of glass packed in this piece of excellent optics with 15 elements in 9 groups, including 3 aspherical and 1 ED elements.
But let us be frank, you didn’t come here to find specification tables which you can find on Fujifilm’s website, so now done with the necessary, let us proceed into the next section.
Section 2: Four reasons for the XF18mm f1.4
One. Yes, the larger f1.4 aperture makes a real difference in image rendition.
Beyond simply a larger maximum aperture, the XF18mm f1.4 is tack sharp and resolves excellent details wide open. I was hard pressed to find any sources of aberration with my review copy and sharpness wise, the older XF18mm f2 is simply unable to match the f1.4 version. Corners on the XF18 f1.4 are also much improved over the XF18mm f2. One simply cannot stop progress.
There is little point in paying for a piece of optics that does not perform well wide-open and the XF18mm f1.4 is an example of an excellent designed optic that ticks off this criteria.
Some of my peers will probably taunt me for discussing ‘bokeh‘, but personally I find the out-of-focus regions and transition between focused and off-focus areas very pleasant on the XF18mm f1.4. Maybe with age, I have started to avoid ‘too-busy /chaotic’ bokeh renditions and in this sense the XF18mm f1.4 provides a very pleasant, fine (not harsh) bokeh that lends a nice dimension to the image.
Some may scoff at the difference of 1 stop between f2 and f1.4 but note that optically this translates to double the amount of light available to the sensor, making a real difference in the image quality one may get especially in low light or in situations where we prefer to work with lesser depth of field.
In low light, especially when it is all about getting the shot, we will want every bit of help available, and in this situation, the 1 stop advantage is a blessing.
These two shots were all photographed hand-held at 1/6s and 1/8s respectively. The X-E4 does not come equipped with IBIS and I am sure using an X-S10 with its 5-stop IBIS would have easily allowed me to obtain sharper shots at slower shutter speeds. With the XF18mm f2 variant, these two shots would not have been possible for me handheld on the X-E4 as I would have needed even longer exposures to compensate for the smaller maximum aperture.
Two. The excellent build and weather resistance.
As expected, the XF18mm f1.4’s build is robust, and carries with it all the technological advancements over the last 9 years with better quality materials for the body and most of all, weather-sealing which the XF18mm f2 skips.
One can argue and I will totally agree that the XF18mm f2 is much more compact, but with a f1.4 aperture, you simply cannot fight the law of physics with size. In fact, one amazing thing is that the XF18mm f1.4 is still relatively compact with its 62mm filter size.
Three. The do-it-all (almost) versatile 28mm focal length.
The iPhone has been ranked as the most popular ‘camera’ on Flickr for years, and the Leica Q and Ricoh GR series have all become cult classics and one of the key common characteristics between these cameras is that they all sport the 28mm focal length and i.m.o the attraction lies in the versatility of the 28mm focal length.
And here I will be most glad to share samples across street photography and architecture.
Some may see the 28mm focal length as wide, but it presents the balance between the 35mm and 50mm focal lengths, allowing one to include elements of the background into the story-telling of the image, while allowing me to go much closer to the subject. (I actually find it creepy that some people use telephoto lenses to do street photography but we all have our quirks)
The 28mm focal length is easygoing for streets as it is for travel, group photos, architecture and yes, portraits as shown above.
Four. Significantly improved autofocus reliability and performance.
The XF18mm f1.4 focuses fast, easily out-performing the XF18mm f2 which still hunts in low light. In street photography, this easily makes the differences between nailing a moment or missing it. The previous XF18mm f2 version though stealthy was hardly a winner in focusing reliability for street snaps.
Fast focusing doesn’t matter as much as focusing reliability and the XF18mm f1.4 does great in this respect.
The LM designation in the name defines the use of a linear motor seen from the XF90mm f2 onwards and which has seen reliable performance in many lenses then. Fujifilm claims autofocus speeds to be as fast as 0.04 seconds. But to me, frankly I don’t know how to appreciate the difference between 0.04 and say, 0.10 seconds. If a lens works well, it works well and in the autofocus aspect, the XF18mm f1.4 performs as well as any modern Fujifilm lens should.
Section 3: Concluding words
Understandably, a lot of users will tend to compare the two XF18mm versions and I am guilty of this too. But I am keen to highlight my opinion that the XF18mm f1.4 does not seek to replace the XF18mm f2. After all, few lenses can even compete with the compactness of the classical XF18mm f2.
Other than sharing the same focal length, frankly I see the two lenses as very different lenses designed to cater to more choices for the photographer, akin to comparing the XF50mm f2 and XF50mm f1.
The XF18mm f2 is a lens I love but it is more of a make-do lens, a lens which may be competitive in a few areas but not extraordinary in sharpness nor aperture.
Unlike the XF27 II which was more of adopting minor but meaningful upgrades to the original (optical formulae remains the same) the XF18mm f1.4 is a totally different lens from the XF18mm f2 redesigned ground up.
The XF18mm f1.4 seeks to provide a strong alternative for the street photographers, users who are clear on their penchant for a 28mm focal length and on their need for the extra stop of speed in their work. Like the photographers who will choose the XF50mm f1 over the XF56mm f1.2 or XF50mm f2, the XF18mm f1.4 will be part of many photographers and enthusiast kits.
Thank you for dropping by and reading, do take care.
I will be glad to take any questions in the comments below too.
1. The Fujifilm X-E4 and XF18mm f1.4 were loaned from Fujifilm Asia Pacific and returned.
My thanks and appreciation to Mr. Keitaro So, Divisional Head of Fujifilm for providing the loan.
2. The X-E4 and XF18mm f1.4 were pre-production sets running firmware 1.0.
3. All samples shared were from RAW and edited to my preferences.