Fujifilm XF 18mm F2: review of a storytelling lens

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I hate writing reviews about technical gear, cameras and lenses, but a lot of people ask me me hints about which lens is better for telling stories of their life. Today I’m going to review the small Fujifilm XF 18mm F/2. Most people disregard  this lens because (they say) it’s “not sharp at the edges of the frame”. Honestly, I never had to discard any photo shot with this lens because of the lacking of “sharpness at the edges”.  On the opposite, I find this 18mm f2 to be a great lens for several reasons. First of all, it’s a cheap, small and compact lens. I shoot with a Fujifilm X-E2 and I think that coupled with the XF 18mm F2 become a very portable and light combo. You lost every excuse  for not taking the camera always with you and bringing the camera always with you, as I said here, it’s the best way to be always ready to immortalize the most amazing moments of our lives. The image quality is very good and definitely above the average of the photographers’ needing. It’s a wide angle lens, equivalent to 27 mm in the Full Frame (35mm) format. Some famous photographers (Garry Winogrand for example) used to shoot with this focal length and they took some unforgettable photos. Be aware: being wide angle implies that the frame will capture a lot of the world you see and, shooting wisely, this 18mm becomes a powerful storytelling tool. All that said, it’s not an easy lens. First time you’ll shoot with the XF 18mm F2, everything will look small. Your cat, your best friend portraited, everything will look far and you’ll scream: “Fuck! I didn’t think they looked so tiny!”. Relax, keep calm and breath. Everything is ok. It’s normal. Fujifilm XF 18mm F2 WANTS you to be close to your subject.

Golden rule number 1: get closer to your subject.

Fuji XF 18mm F2

When you tale courage and get closer to your subject, that’s when magic happens: who looks at your photograph feels “there”. The photograph, mainly because of the emphasized perspective, comes to life, becomes tridimensional, gains plasticity  and the observer feels just like being there, in the moment the photo was shot. This lens won’t blur away the background in foggy bokeh. Not saying it has a bad bokeh, it’s the opposite indeed: when you are really close to your subject and the subject has some distance from the background, you’ll get a creamy and pleasant bokeh.

XF 18mm F2 Fuji

But, most of the times, forget about that poetic and vague fog you get from longer focals. Here comes the

golden rule number 2: the Fuji XF 18mm F2 will constrain you to think before shooting, to balance the composition of the image, to look for power lines capable of leading the observer eye to your subject.

Fuji XF 18mm f2

Same here: when you’ll get used and used to this little masterpiece, you’ll really get photographs that tell stories in a unique way. And this is the great magic of this small and light lens: the power of telling stories. I don’t believe very much in the theory according to which the so called “normals” focal lengths (with equivalent focal length between 35mm and 50mm) are similar to human field of view. The human eye is able, by focusing its attention, to get a more wide or a less wide field of view and our brain is able to pay less attention or more attention to elements captured by peripheral view. Despite this, this lens is effectively able to capture the scene that hits our eyes in that moment. Imagine a dinner between friends, imagine your friends playing cards at the end of the dinner. I see my friends around a table, soft lights, faces focused on the game, people having fun. May be the smoke of some cigarettes goes up to the ceiling. I could shoot a portrait to each of my friends, but it’s with the XF 18mm F2 that I’ll be able to capture the whole scene, the smoky and noir atmosfera;

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and I’ll be able to capture it in a discreet way, because the XF 18mm F2 Fujifilm is really small and compact. The lens is a F/2 speed so it’s able to shoot also in low light situations (thanks also to high ISO performaces of the Fuji X-Trans sensor).

Golden rule number 3: it’s not the ideal lens for portraits.

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Subjects will often look odd and deformed by perspective, but you can always take a step back and eventually crop the photograph in order to have a tighter crop on the subject without deforming it. Remember: deformation due to perspective depends from the distance between you and the subject, not from the lens. If you are shooting a half-figure portrait or a whole figure portrait, it’s a different whole story: in this case the lens is perfect and you can be quite sure not to “cut off the feet” from your subject.

I love to photograph my life. I love to photograph the people, the moments and the stories that come across my life. Starting from this premise , I’m not really interested in pixel-peeping tests about how sharp a lens is. Of course, I’m not going to lie: when I shoot with my Fujifilm XF 35mm f2 I’m always surprised for how much sharp the image is. The 35mm F2 is tack sharp. The XF 18mm F2 is not that sharp, but it has character, personality, charisma and will affect your photo with all these features.

Golden rule number 4: take advantage of this lens for Black & White.

Don’t misunderstand me: the chromatic performance is very good (especially with the film simulation Classic Chrome, setting everything to 0, beside sharpness +2 and noise reduction -2).

Fujifilm XF 18mm f2

But when shooting with a wide focal length like this, colors bring another distraction element. The XF 18mm F2 Fujifilm is a lens who love shadows, light playing, lines, shapes, textures. That’s why I suggest you to use it for your Black & White photography (settings: Black&White Yellow Filter film simulation, shadows +2, highlights +2, sharpness +2, noise reduction -2): this lens not only loves B&W: it claims it! Try underexpose your image by – 2/3 eV…and by magic your photo will get an eternal and ageless look.

Fuji XF 18mm F2

I have to confess: the autofocus of this lens is not the top of the speed and precision, but I don’t agree with what Eric Kim says in this article. Eric says this lens sucks about autofocus speed and precision. Instead I think that (after the new X-E2 firmware) it became a lot faster and more precise, though not reaching sci-fiction performance.

The Fuji XF 18mm F2 is a hate or love lens. Your hate it or love it for the same reasons, being the main one the strong perspective feeling that affects the photographs you shoot with it: what is close will be big, what is far will be small. I found this to be the reason I love it, because it gives strong personality and magic tridimensionality to your photographs.

It’s not an easy focal. The more elements you put inside the frame, the more difficult becomes to avoid distractions from the subject. Don’t give up. This lens will teach you composition, it will improve your skill to find order in chaos. It will make you love shooting black and white.

I’m not paid or endorsed by Fujifilm, nor I ever had any free stuff from Fujifilm. But this lens is an amazing and cheap tool for photographing your life. There are lenses that disclose the beauty of human faces in portraits. There are lenses who capture every single detail of a landscape. Some other lenses are made to tell stories and that’s the gift you’ll get from the Xf 18mm F2 Fujifilm: it will help you in telling beautiful stories.

Namasté

Marco

19 thoughts on “Fujifilm XF 18mm F2: review of a storytelling lens”

  1. Nice review!
    There are some black Friday interesting prices these days and this lens is again an option for me, while I wanted to get the 23mm F2 for its higher sharpness and slightly better all rounder FOV, I mainly shoot landscapes, most of my photos taken with the xc 16-50 are between 16 and 21mm so 18mm is not bad. Though what do you think about resistance to flares and sun? landscapes will be nice as I see you like this lens more for street b&w?

    1. I have both 18mm f2 and 23mm f2.
      23mm f2 is far sharper than 18mm f2, but that’s not a big issue for me, since 18mm is more a street/reportage lens for me. I’m now really involved with the 23mm f2 which I like more for the FOV.
      To be honest I’m not shooting landscapes, but in those rare occasions 18mm f2 has done his job. I didn’t notice any problem with flares and sun (I’ve found more problems of flares on the 35mm f2 and on the 56mm F1.2).
      Thank you for visiting and feedback, please stay tuned and share, I’ll be soon on this blog!

  2. I have read thousends of reviews about lenses and cameras. And found your blog when i looked for other experiences with the lovely fuji 18.
    Your review is the first one, that is realy from a photographers point of view.
    Your blog was nice to read, because you wrote with a lot of emotions and knowlege.
    Gratulation for this very personal blog. Greetings from Kiel / Germany

    1. Thank you for reading and for your feedback. I think 18mm is really good as a reportage lens and has…A LOT of character. I hope to get back on this blog very soon. Stay tuned and please share! Bye!

  3. I recently got the 18mm f2 and I am having buyer’s remorse after reading all the other reviews in the web. Although I really haven’t gone out shooting with it. I am thinking of exchanging it for a 35mm f2 but I like the 18mm’s form factor. Am I sacrificing size over the image quality? Help. :(

    1. I think 18mm is a great lens and if you like the form factor you should go outside and shoot. You’ll really enjoy this lens.
      After shooting you’ll undertand that most of the reviews are pixel-peeling reviews that has nothing to do with real life photography.
      Enjoy yout 18mm!

  4. This review has convinced me to go 18 over 27 for my street photography. Every case you made speaks to what I aim to do with my photography. Thanks for a smart photographers write up… The web gets too bogged down with technical detail, people forget focal length is the most critical factor on composition and shooting style. I have the 56 lens ready for portraits and can’t wait to return to the wide angle of my film days and hit the New York streets… Final comment, everyone can shoot 18/28… It’s what your cell phone probably uses…

    1. I’m happy my review inspired you. People like you definitely push me in the corner with a “why am I not writing on this blog anymore?”. It’s in my next plans to write again.
      Well James, we whare the same vision of photography. I’m not interested in pixel peeling, or how fast a camera burst can be.
      And I totally agree with your final statement. I’m telling you: I more than often shoot with my LG-G4 and I’m pretty happy with my results.
      People tend to forget that a camera is just a tool.
      Stay tuned! I’ll write soon!

  5. Excellent review!!! My favorite one so far. I love my 18mm. I surprisingly love using it more than my 35mm F2. I really hope people will read this review before those other negative reviews. It is so underrated that it’s a crime!

    1. Thank you for appreciating.
      I sold my 35mm f2 ’cause I surprised myself shooting more with 18mm than with 35mm. Now I have the 23mm f2 and I must say it’s a great lens.
      But 18mm f2 is still worth every single buck: it has magic inside!

  6. Thank you for sharing this review. As others have mentioned, it is not focused on the technical stuff — for that I can check Photozone, DPReview, etc — but on your perspective as a photographer, which is good.

    Mine is in the mail and I expect to give it its first tryout in the streets next weekend. I loved the 27mm f/2.8 — it is a great FOV, tack sharp and zone focusing works great BUT many times I felt I was left missing something in my frame. This is the gap I expect the 18mm f/2 to fill.

    Cheers.

    J.A.

    1. Thank you very much for the feedback! 18mm is a great lens. Just stay really close to the subject!

  7. Nice review! I shoot with a X-Pro1 and use the XF27mm and XF18mm lenses (and sometimes a Voigtländer 15mm lens, you would like this manual lens, but it’s expensive..), anyways, I have one question: while I am not a pixel-peeper at all I do get the feeling there is some barrel distortion in the 18mm lens. What do you do to correct this? (Or is it just the normal ‘distortion’ you get from a wide angle lens?) I use CS6 and have downloaded a lens profile made by roger100c, but not sure if I’m happy yet.. Thanks!!

    1. Hi and Thanks for feedback.
      Coming to your question: you should be able to get an undistorted image just using the in-camera correction profile if shooting jpg. If shooting raw I think PS or LR would solve the problem. Anyway, we have to be precise on what we’re talking about. Barrel distortion on this lens is very low. I think what you see is the perspective distortion. That depends on how close you are to the subject, but it is a matter of fact that any object that is close o you and far from the center will be distorted. It’s the price for using a wide angle lens, but I like it.

      1. Thanks! You are right, was mixing up barrel and perspective distortion.. Getting used to it and not minding it; severe cases I vertical transfer a bit.

        I like the the wide angle as you can just put it on f8 (& auto iso) and walk around the city , I do need to seek out whether the focus ring can stay in one place as it seems to be very sensitive (& actually move around a little when actually not touching it..)!

        1. Yes, wide angles are great when you are using hyperfocal.
          yes, you are right about the focus ring moving. Plus the Fuji manual focus isn’t a real manual focus. It’s “by wire” so you’re not really moving the lens; you’re sending impulses to the Focus Engine that moves the lenses.
          May be I’m a little bit rough, but if you need to keep it table…just tape it. 😉

  8. Great review from a photographer point of view! I’ve never tried this little lens but believe that it will be good for street and landscape photo. Keep going! Thanks!

  9. your review is really unique since it focuses more on being a good photographer aspect and it has convince me to stay with this lens. I am just starting my hobby in photography and has chosen Fuji for my system. Somehow, I’ve bought the X-E1 bundled with the 18 mm f2 and after clicking buy, I started searching its review on the internet (which should be done vice versa!) and started to regret my decision because a lot of them said this is the weakest fuji lens. but your review changes my view from focusing more on my gear, it is being a good photographer that really matters. i hope you continue this style of review while not totally dismissing the gear’s aspect. great job!

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