One of the most discussed subjects related to photographic gear is also one of the oldest and most ardent, ever: prime lenses, or zoom lenses? I did write my impressions on this subject before and as long as we are so different and our needs in photography are so unique and vast, there is no “right” or “wrong” with either fixed, or zoom lenses.  Since I made the switch from DSLR to Fujifilm, things got significantly easier (in terms of weight and size) and more delightful (in terms of usability, ergonomics and gear design) for me and for the way I approach photography.

XF 35mm F1.4 R

Since using Fujifilm cameras and lenses for some years, it became like second nature. The way those tools are designed fits more and more my changing and maturing process of making photography. They say as you grow older, times passes faster and this will forge some significant changes in the personal style. We have less and less time for photography, for connecting ourselves to the core of the important things we need to experience. As we go along in our photographic endeavours and we refine our style by acquiring more knowledge (including new and more detailed post-processing techniques, new softwares, new gear, etc.) we find out that there isn’t enough time for shooting; most of the time we could dedicate to photography is spent on post-processing, sorting, archiving, posting our best on social media networks and so on.

XF 23mm F2.0 R WR

As I said in a previous article on the need of freedom, we should cherish the time for the actual photographic process. Actually it’s not “shooting”; this word doesn’t fully describe it. I prefer to elaborate a little, this “shooting” action; because we need to draw a line between taking photos and making photographs. And if we are talking about making photography, then that process is about:

  1. what you see;

  2. what you feel about the scenery / action / person you are looking at, in that moment, that will become your subject, your story;

  3. the camera settings;

  4. the composition;

  5. the recording of the moment – pressing the shutter button.

We have less time for this. And the available time is even shorter when you could miss the moment because you might be carrying a lot more than necessary in your photo bag. Having too much could mean not knowing what camera, what filter, on what lens would be perfectly fit to capture that moment. The reality is the perfection is not in the gear you are using and how pro-level it is, but it is in the moment itself and your ability / inspiration to actually capture it (even in an imperfect way, with imperfect means).

XF 35mm F1.4 R

To be able to capture the moment, be ready for whatever interesting / ideal scene might be in front of you, to have less and to travel light might be the answer, as I see it. The minimal approach of “less is more” could be creatively essential. One camera, one lens, like the Fujifilm X100 series – what more could be said? When you have only one lens, you already set your mind to think and see the world in that one focal length (35 mm in Full Frame format, for the X100 series cameras) and try to make the best of if.

XF 23mm F2.0 R WR

But what if only 2 lenses would be everything you could bring? Or everything you own? Let’s consider 2 fixed lenses, for the sake of travelling light, keep the volume and weight of your photo bag to a minimum, but having at your disposal the best IQ, which is normally better than what a regular zoom lens could offer. What 2 fixed lenses would be best for your needs?

XF 35mm F1.4 R

For Fujifilm, you have the choice of several focal lengths: 14mm, 16mm, 18mm, 23mm, 27mm, 35mm, 50mm, 56mm, 60mm, 80mm and 90mm and soon a big 200mm F2.0 prime lens. I am referring to the X Mount lenses. In my opinion, a kit of 4 prime lenses would be:

The first: XF 14mm F2.8 or XF 16mm F1.4 WR

The second: XF 23mm F2.0 WR or XF 23 mm F1.4

The third: XF 35mm F2.0 WR or XF 35mm F1.4

The fourth: XF 50mm F2.0 WR or XF 56mm F1.2

For now, I only use 2 prime lenses and those are: XF 23mm F2.0 WR and XF 35mm F1.4 R. This “compact travel prime kit” is really good in covering the needs for a travelling photographer. They are good for landscape, street, architecture and environmental portrait photography. I love both of them for their compact size, great optical quality and also for the fact that they are different (I am not talking about the obvious differences like aperture and focal length). Let me explain:

XF 23mm F2.0 R WR

XF 35mm F1.4 R is a wonderful lens. It has a lot of character, beautiful bokeh, at F1.4 is a fast prime, very good for background separation, as well as for the photography in low light conditions. It is one of the first prime lenses for X Mount cameras, announced by Fujifilm in January 2012. Its colour rendition and sharpness, even at its maximum aperture are gorgeous. It isn’t one of the fastest lenses in AF speed, nor does it have the convenient weather sealing, but for its positive points, it’s worth a lot using it and having it.

XF 35mm F1.4 R

XF 23mm F2.0 R WR is even more compact. At F2.0 maximum aperture, that’s the minimum speed a quality prime lens should have (I wish XF 14mm should be F2.0, instead of F2.8). The new construction formula guarantees great sharpness and very fast and silent AF operation, plus being weather resistant. This focal length is great for travel and street photography and it makes it a nice companion for the other one. This is the last generation of compact, affordable, high quality modern prime lenses; this one was announced in August 2016.

XF 23mm F2.0 R WR

When I said they are different, I meant they come from different eras, if I may say so. One is weather sealed, but only F2.0, the other isn’t weather sealed, but it has a wonderful F1.4 aperture; they are built differently, even if they have a lot in common.

Instead of having a 2 prime lens kit with both focal lengths (23mm and 35mm) on the F1.4 version, or both on F2.0 WR version, I think that having one from each category could mean precisely that “best from both worlds” type of compromise. XF 35mm F2.0 WR wasn’t for me, from the start (this is just how I felt) and XF 23mm F1.4 R is a great lens, but even more expensive than the XF 35mm F1.4 R and I preferred the fast F1.4 aperture to be for a longer focal length (35mm, instead of 23mm) – a real benefit when using it for portraits.

XF 35mm F1.4 R

What would be your 2 prime lenses that could cover your needs in photography?

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2018 /