Here’s the TLDR summary for you: Despite it’s shortcomings, the XF 18mm f/2 is still (as of 2017) one of the most enjoyable Fuji lenses I’ve ever used and I highly recommend it for street, travel, and everyday shooting.
The Fujinon XF 18mm f/2 R was one of the original three lenses released with the X-Pro 1 back in 2012. They were compact, bright, and sharp lenses. The initial focal length offerings were also very practical. Even now in 2017, I still have a soft spot for Fuji’s original trinity. The only thing that was really not so great about the lenses was the noisy and relatively slower autofocus. Of course, firmware updates have made these lenses perform much better, but the AF noise is still quite loud, especially compared to the the recent Fuji pro zooms and the f/2 WR “Fujicron” lenses.
Despite all this, I recently picked up an 18mm f/2 lens (talk about late to the party, right?). I knew it was going to be loud. I knew it was going to be a bit soft in the corners. But that 28mm(-ish) equivalent focal length and near-pancake size still called out to me and I pulled the trigger. I have not regretted that decision. I believe the 18mm f/2 is still a unique offering, even among the more modern Fuji lenses. I also got a great deal on the lens, which goes for a very good street price nowadays.
What I love about this lens:
- Size – it’s very close to pancake size. With this lens, I have a super-light setup that I can carry easily and slip into a large coat pocket. It reminds me of my beloved X100S. I love using this lens for walking around with my family and shooting the streets. Rumor has it that Fuji is going to make a version II of this lens, which will surely be quieter and probably weather-resistant. However, I’m not quite sure if they’ll be able to keep it as small as the original. As the 23mm f/2 WR has shown, perhaps the quiet motors and WR design make the lenses fundamentally larger. I would love for Fuji to prove me wrong though! 🙂
- Focal length – the 27mm equivalent is an ideal focal length for me. A lot of people love the 23mm lenses (35mm equivalent) and talk about how it’s the perfect focal length for street photography. I owned the X100S and while I enjoyed the 23mm focal length, I often found myself wanting the lens to be just a bit wider (or longer). Perhaps it’s because South Korea and other Asian countries I travel to have relatively smaller spaces and people are generally packed closer together. My desire for a 28mm equivalent lens was fueled even further when I used my friend Jackson Hung’s Fuji X70 in Hong Kong. I think if you enjoy shooting with your iPhone as I do, you’ll enjoy this lens. Their focal lengths are very similar and you get much higher quality images to boot. It has also been said that 28mm is a favorite cinematic focal length as its great for storytelling, which I believe as well.
My father-in-law recently had a stroke and I’ve been documenting life after the incident. The small size of the 18mm f/2 keeps the camera out of the way and the wide perspective is great for small spaces.
- Aperture ring – for a time, I was very interested in the XF 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens. However, I was turned off by the fact that it doesn’t have an aperture ring. The aperture ring is one of the things that make Fuji cameras such a pleasure to use, and the 18mm f/2 offers that.
- Build quality – the 18mm f/2 is a high-quality metal lens and it definitely feels like it will last. The front element does move in and out when focusing, but I have a feeling that this design actually helped keep the lens small.
- AF speed – this was the fastest focusing lens of the original 3. It still holds its own among newer lenses. It even tracks well in continuous mode, face detection and video (though the AF motor is probably a bit too loud for video purposes).
What I don’t love about this lens:
- AF Noise – This lens is pretty loud, especially indoors. I own the 35mm f/2 and the 16-55 f/2.8 so I know how quiet Fuji lenses can be. The noise might surprise you, as it did when I first mounted it. However, the size, speed, and handling more than make up for that in my opinion. And you can’t really hear the AF noise when you’re outside.
- Soft corners and chromatic aberration – this is probably what this lens is most notorious for. In practice though, I think this lens is great even wide open. As long as you focus on telling the story rather than shooting brick walls and tree branches, you should be okay. Shooting RAW will also give you more control over these shortcomings in post production.
- No WR – this is a minor thing for me, as I don’t usually go shooting in very harsh conditions. But I could eventually find myself in a harsh environment and having weather-resistance would be nice.
Back to Basics
Since I got the 18mm f/2, I have found myself carrying around a kit that is very much like the original X-mount offering released by Fujifilm back in 2012. But instead of an X-Pro 1, I use my X-E1 (never been a fan of the OVF) and I use a 35mm f/2 instead of the original 1.4. As I mentioned before, Fuji’s initial 3 focal length offerings made a lot of sense and I find this kit sufficient for traveling and everyday photography. The return to the classic configuration has been refreshing and enjoyable. Even the AF speed is fast enough as long as you keep in mind what you’re working with.
Don’t get me wrong though, I still love my Samyang 12mm for when I need to do serious landscapes. And my X-T1 has been assigned to my professional work kit along with excellent the XF16-55mm f/2.8 WR. But for everyday stuff, the X-E1 and the classic(-ish) trinity has been awesome as of late.
My current working kit, mainly for outdoor portraits and events: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF 16-55mm f/2.8 and the Canon EOS 6D + EF 70-200 f/2.8L with the Holdfast Moneymaker Strap. Dual systems at the moment, as it’s hard to let go of the 70-200 f/2.8 and it’s versatility and bokeh goodness.
Overall, even though I’ve had it for only a couple of months, this lens has quickly become one of my favorite Fuji lenses (perhaps favorite lenses, period). As mentioned earlier, I love taking this to the park with my daughter or on family outings. I would also gladly use this as my main lens for street, documentary, and travel photography, as the focal length is so great for storytelling. Along with the 35mm f/2 and 60mm f/2.4 macro, I can do portraits, landscapes, food, and so many other types of photography that I enjoy.
If Fuji does decide to build a version II of this lens and they can keep the small size, I’ll definitely be one of the first in line to get it! For the meantime, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the original 18mm f/2 R to anyone looking for a small, fast walk-around lens for their Fujifilm X-mount camera.
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