Fujifilm XF 23mm F/2 WR Lens Review – The Fuji X Series’ Best Kit Lens?

Fujifilm XF 23mm F/2 WR Lens Review – The Fuji X Series’ Best Kit Lens?

2000 1125 Chris Cushing

Lens names seldom roll off the tongue. Most sport an alphabet soup of millimeters and f-numbers, and while these tell us most of what we need to know about a lens, this valuable info is rarely evocative on its own. Fujifilm’s new XF 23mm F2 WR is no different, and it even brings some new letters and numbers to the ranks of Fuji’s X-mount lenses. Skip the technical jargon and what do we have? Fuji’s best and finest kit lens.

When the first interchangeable lens Fuji X-Series cameras launched in early 2012, they were fairly revolutionary cameras. Though Fuji’s weren’t the first mirrorless cameras to come to market, both Olympus and the leather-apron’d anachronists at Leica beat Fuji to the punch by a wide margin, Fuji offered a compelling blend of user-friendly controls, modern features, a unique APS-C sensor, and a range of brand new fast prime lenses right from the outset. But while these primes dominated the initial offerings, the kit lens for most Fuji cameras was the XF 18-55 mm f/2.8-f/4 OIS.

A strong performer in its own right, the bulky 18-55 was an odd choice alongside the often svelte primes, and downplayed some of the system’s inherent merits in terms of compact dimensions and light weight. But since the launch of the X-Pro 2 last year, this has started to change. On the heals of the new Pro came the XF 23mm F2 WR, and it’s now an available kit lens for both the X-Pro 2 and the recently launched X-E3 mirrorless cameras. This is a welcome change, as the lens is a great piece of glass and a very capable all-rounder (with Fuji’s crop-sensor, the 23mm lens offers roughly the same field of view as a 35mm lens would on full-frame).

That all-rounder status is what really sets this lens apart from its brethren, which on paper seem to be plentiful and a bit too similar. Fuji’s been offering a different 23mm, the XF 23mm f/1.4, since the beginning of the Fuji X-system, and they’ve also produced the XF 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens. Things seem congested. But get to know this system and you’ll understand that each lens serves a very specific purpose. The XF 23mm f/1.4 is a pretty hefty lens that produces unbelievable bokeh. The 27mm is the tiniest lens you may ever see. The XF 23mm f/2 WR lands somewhere between these two lenses in terms of both size and function. And it may just be the best of the three.

The 23/2 weighs just 180g, and features an all-metal body, ribbed metal focus and aperture rings, and a sturdy metal mounting flange. It’s fairly compact overall, with an unusual tapered shape that’s quite a bit smaller at the filter thread than at the mounting flange. Compact form noted, the lens does protrude from the face of the camera about three times as far as the XF27 without the hood and lens cap attached, making it impossible to pocket unless you wear JNCO pants or a ludicrously over-sized Gore-tex jacket. With the included lens hood fitted, which eliminates the mild flare that this lens seems prone to, it naturally presents an even larger footprint.

In the hand, the XF23 feels solid. Really solid. Alongside my long-suffering XF 18-55 and XF 27, the XF 23 shows a marked improvement in build quality. The aperture ring is fully stopped at both extremes, and each detent feels solid. The 18-55’s aperture ring, by comparison, has detents, but you can spin the ring forever, which I’ve always found a bit annoying.

The focus ring is substantially thicker than on either of my other Fuji lenses, making it much easier to use. I’m not certain if this is the case, but it certainly seems that the manual focusing algorithm has improved dramatically since the first generation lenses. Whatever the change, the XF23 focuses more like a manual focus lens than its older counterparts. Focus happens in a much more linear way from minimum focus out to infinity than on other Fujis.

Last but not least, the lens is weather resistant, making it a great match for the weather resistant Fuji X-T series bodies and the X-Pro 2. Critically for a weather sealed lens, the focusing is all internal. Several first generation Fuji X-series lenses, including the XF 27, have external focusing, which invites dust and particulates into the body of the lens as it breathes. Though some may dismiss this weather-sealing as superfluous, there’s really nothing like owning a camera that can handle the elements. Just ask Nikonos fans. With this lens, you won’t have to worry.

A lot of this talk of build quality need barely be mentioned; virtually all of the XF lenses have been praised for their exceptionally robust build. But while most of them feel fantastic, not all are great optical performers. I’ve not tried the XF 60mm f/2.4 Macro myself, but I’ve heard some pretty nasty criticisms and seen some iffy results, and I flat out did not like the XF 18-135mm that I tried. So while I know Fuji’s system offers some of the best optics being made right now, I also understand that some of them can be duds. And the first thirty minutes with the XF 23mm F/2 WR did not have me feeling good about my future with the lens.

When the package arrived from B&H, I carefully mounted the new 23 to my X-E1 and proceeded to chase my cat around the apartment. Weirdly, the lens didn’t want to focus on her black fur at all, and seemed to struggle with other matte-finish things around my house to a degree I’ve never experience with any other Fuji lens.

It also failed the “how close to my girlfriend’s face can I get with a camera before she yells at me” test, which I have always found to be a valuable data point in close-focusing tests.

I’m not sure what caused the issue, because every other time I went to use the lens, the autofocus proved to be virtually foolproof. Whether I was photographing shiny chrome, glossy painted metal, or even a piece of dark, shadowy hardware deep in an engine bay, the XF 23 worked perfectly. By some wizardry, this lens would even focus easily on a clear blue patch of sky, a trick that I have never been able to replicate with either of my other Fujis. Call those first moments a fluke, and once we got past those, this lens proved to be an incredible performer.

Its design is what we’ve come to expect from Fuji; masterful and complex. With ten elements in six groups, and two aspherical elements, this is one of the most intricate primes in the range. By contrast, the XF 23mm f/1.4 from Fuji’s first series had just one aspherical element in its 11-element design. The latest XF 23 is tack sharp, with good performance corner to corner. Shot wide open we’re seeing a bit of softness compared with something like the XF 23/1.4, but since that is just about the sharpest lens I’ve used, I’m not surprised. The XF 23/2 is no slouch, it’s just not as amazing as its much larger and heavier predecessor when it comes to sharpness.

But generally speaking, image quality is superb. For those who’ve used Fuji’s X-series for the past few years, none of this will come as a surprise. They’re consistently churning out lenses that are simply among the best in the world, year after year. Colors from the lens, combined with the always incredible Fuji sensors, are fantastic. Punchy, without being oversaturated or garish, images are simply beautiful. Fuji’s EBC (multi-coating) does well to massage those photons into perfection, with chromatic aberration and other disgusting optical anomalies mitigated beautifully.

Sure, there’s a tendency to vignette against the standard 18% grey test drops, but in the conditions in which I (and most normal shooters) use this lens, the falloff presents almost no problems.

In fact, the lens really never seemed to cause anything but easy-going joy, and its versatility surprised me. I kept finding myself in situations where a lens as short as the XF 23 wouldn’t have been my first choice, yet only once did I remove it from my camera while I had it. In the three weeks I used it, I shot a car for sale for a friend, an air show, live motor racing and more, and I never felt compelled to swap it out. The lens’ relatively fast f/2 aperture made it useful inside dark hangars, and dark car interiors, and allowed me to consistently use a full-stop slower ISO than my XF 27 allows. For such a short lens, it also produced surprisingly pleasant and round bokeh, probably on account of the nine rounded blades (which seem almost standard for Fuji’s lenses). Sure, if you own a Bokehlicious shirt, you won’t be thrilled with the out of focus areas, but the XF 23 certainly punches above its weight.

Packaging the lens back up, I was actually sad to see it go. I really enjoyed this lens, and rather wanted to keep it. Not enough to consider moving to Tangier and changing my name just to avoid shipping it back, but certainly enough to consider buying a copy for myself. But when I checked in to B&H, I had reason to pause. The problem is that I already own the XF 27. For me, this lens doesn’t add enough to my current catalog of lenses to justify purchasing it. It’s a terrific piece of metal and glass, but in my specific case that just isn’t enough. That said, if I find myself buying the new X-E3 I’ll certainly be doing so with this lens attached.

For users new to the system, or for those who don’t own the 23mm f/1.4 or 27mm, this calculus will be entirely different. Since Fuji’s recent price adjustments, the old XF 27 and this far superior XF 23 carry the same low price-tag, making the choice easier. Unless you need a pancake, buy the 23mm. In nearly every way, it’s a better lens, and if you’re buying a new Fuji camera this is the best kit lens you can get. Hell, it’s one of the best lenses, kit or not.

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Chris Cushing

Chris Cushing is a freelance writer, pedant and photographer who still plays with cars. Based in Albany, New York, he can often be seen aimlessly wandering the Northeast with a camera twice his age slung around his neck.

All stories by:Chris Cushing
  • Surprised to see a non vintage/film lens to be featured here. Just to point out, there are a few spelling errors in the article

    • Thanks for the heads up and feedback. We’re all about interesting gear here, it doesn’t necessarily have to be vintage. We’ve covered new cameras from Leica, Fuji, and Voigtlander in the past couple of years and moving forward we’re going to balance our classic camera coverage with some interesting new gear as well. The only real qualifier for a product to get on these pages is, “Is it worth talking about?”

      Hope you’ll stay tuned for more interesting gear, old and new.

  • Not knocking the quality of Chris’ writing – which is great – but the subject matter. There a million of sites out there reviewing digital gear. What makes CPP so great is it’s a film site. I tune out digital stuff (I pretty much only use it under duress/time constraints or to scan my film) and sentences like this kill it for me:
    “the manual focusing algorithm has improved dramatically since the first generation lenses”. A fake focus (ring) Fuji?! It’s all so digital, there’s no charm here.

    I do have interest in the new Nikon D850, but that’s only because it has a film copy mode! So it would look sweet on my copy stand pointed at some Portra VC160…

    • Yeah, that D850 film copier is a really interesting accessory. We’ll be testing that out soon. It seems like it would be one of the faster methods for “scanning” out there.

  • Is there a reasonably priced point and shoot out there that doesn’t use the crappy CCD sensor?

  • Best lenses in the world? I thought everyone knew that Fujifilm uses a LOT of digital correction in most of their lenses. I dont think you can classify a lens as best in the world if it requires a computer to fix all kinds of problems in the optical lens design. But then again, I’m not Fuji fan boy.

    • What the final image looks like is what counts. Who cares how a lens is created if the result is great? Speaking as someone who has a stupid amount of lenses and no allegiance to any particular brand…

  • Hi,

    Thanks for the great work on your site for years and this article. You mentioned herein, you already own XF 27mm f/2.8, what are your thoughts on it?

    Got rid of my X100f, acquired nice XT1 body, (¼ price of x100f) no glass yet and although I am considering XF 23 mm f/2.0, (35 mm is how I see the world through the glass), but XF 27mm is also very tempting. Partially for its pancake quality but also the focal length, (familiar with it due to my Canonet G-III QL17), although its just wee too tight, sometimes…

    Many Thanks in advance.

  • Five stars plus for this lens – to stretch my neck out a bit and risk quoting a few old booths, the ’23’ suits my view of the world to near-perfection (bearing in mind that nothing is 100% perfect, perfection being the enemy of the good/good enough) and this lens is more than “just good enough”.

    I will try to strictly ration myself with the (), but this Fuji lens quite rates a lot of side comments…!

    it lives on my XT2 and occasionally part-time on my XE2. When I moved, or rather digressed as I’ve kept both systems, from Nikon to Fujifilm in 2021 I bought the legendary Fujinon 23/1.4, which also does everything it has to do with ease and elegance but (again my viewpoint) not quite up to the 23/2. For one thing, the 1.4 is too big, adds unnecessary bulk to my two light Fujis and looks oddly out of place on my XE2. At my age (mid-70s)

    I liked the push-down-pull-up manual focus system on the 1.4 but to be honest, I used it on M setting maybe two times in a year.

    Optically, I found the two lenses are pretty well matched with very little differences in color or mid-tones. I rather suspect that the 2.0 may have edged out the 1.4 for “cream” (soft tones), but when I was out shooting I found the bulk of the 1.4 tended to intimidate me. Not so the 2.0 which fits nearly on either of my two Fujis and lets me float around the streets of wherever I am, indulging myself in my very best Henri Cartier-Bresson style.

    This year I may sell the 1.4 (surely I’ll miss it if I do, but you know) and invest isn a 35. Whether this will be a 1.4 or the 2.0 remains to be decided – but that’s part of the fun of being a Fuji lens person and being out and about with a kit I can actually carry in a small backpack without bending my aged spine, which I could never do with my two equally beloved beasts, the Nikon D800 or D700. To me this means a lot.

    Dann in Melbourne

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Chris Cushing

Chris Cushing is a freelance writer, pedant and photographer who still plays with cars. Based in Albany, New York, he can often be seen aimlessly wandering the Northeast with a camera twice his age slung around his neck.

All stories by:Chris Cushing