Decisions: Fujifilm XF 14mm F2.8 vs. XF 16mm F1.4

Recently, during a workshop with a Fujifilm X Photographer, I got the chance to test some of Fujifilm equipment that I didn’t own, including three lenses that interests me and two new cameras. Of course, the X-H1 is an interesting camera: refined ergonomics, improved weather sealing, the additional LCD screen on top of the body. I consider this camera really attractive, especially from the point of view of the professional photographers and the enthusiast film-makers. As I really enjoy the night photography and shooting in low light conditions, the performance of X-H1, especially with prime lenses, where there is no O.I.S. sounds so tempting; if this would make you forget about the tripod, in most situations, can be a real advantage for the traveller that needs to discover the surroundings, as light as possible.

But as I enjoy the rangefinder style design, there are 99% chances we will get IBIS in a body smaller than X-H1. I just don’t see it happening in the future X-Pro3. Too bad; not a deal breaker for me, but still… Now, back to the XF lenses!

Although it was not my first experience with the XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS lens, it was a pleasure to see its performance, especially that ridiculous sharpness that rival the one you can find in a pro-level prime lens. It is on my wish-list, as this zoom lens is truly made for work at professional levels, no matter the weather conditions you throw at it, offering you the constant F2.8 aperture with incredible image quality and the versatility that made the 70-200mm F2.8 lenses in Full-Frame world, a “classic” must-have in your photo bag.

Now, back to the two prime lenses, mentioned in the title of this short article. From the start, I should mention that this isn’t a technical review, but only some of my quick impressions (subjective) while testing XF 14mm F2.8 and XF 16mm F1.4 on my X-Pro2 with the same camera settings. If you need technical specs and a more scientific approach with laboratory conditions, data graphics, optics measurements, you need to find all of those on the internet. But as a beginner, or an enthusiast photographer, that simply trusts the Fujinon high quality glass and will not be obstructed by the endless technical comparison, those impressions might give you a hint, if you need to choose between the two, as I, soon, will make this choice.

X-Pro2 + XF 14mm F2.8 @ F2.8 ISO200 1/1000 sec

X-Pro2 + XF 16mm F1.4 @ F2.8 ISO400 1/8000 sec

It wasn’t a scientific test, as I have said before and there wasn’t much time at my disposal. I’ve tried those 2 lenses both indoor and outdoor and I won’t judge the RAW performance, not even pixel peeping the JPEG results, from corner to corner.

X-Pro2 + XF 14mm F2.8 @ F2.8 ISO1000 1/40 sec

X-Pro2 + XF 16mm F1.4 @ F1.4 ISO400 1/52 sec

We clearly see the huge advantage in having extra 2 Stops of light, especially in the used ISO values; so useful when shooting hand-held. All photos were made with the Auto ISO. The focus was on the aloe vera leaves, for both pictures, using the same size for the focus point.

X-Pro2 + XF 14mm F2.8 @ F2.8 ISO1600 1/40 sec

X-Pro2 + XF 16mm F1.4 @ F1.4 ISO400 1/40 sec

For the last two images, the focus was put on the wall with coloured pictures. The longest the distance to the subject in focus, the less the difference in bokeh and background separation ability. Both lenses are manufactured according to the high quality Fujinon standards, that we are so pleased to see. Both can focus really close to the subject, which is a great feature for those that are interested in such compositions and creating some bokeh (that is quite hard to get, when using such ultra-wide focal length lenses).

It seems that there isn’t enough data and a sufficient, relevant shooting experience for me to have the clearest conclusion, but in my subjective opinion, I can write for you a short list with the Pros and Cons for each of the 2 ultra-wide Fujinon prime lenses.

XF 16mm F1.4

  • + Faster and quieter autofocus motors, as they use a modern technology for AF (the difference is not by much, compared to the other lens, at least on my camera);
  • + Weather resistant ability;
  • + Amazing background separation at F1.4 with unbelievable bokeh for such a wide lens, if you get really close to the subject;
  • + F1.4 is fast;
  • – Expensive;
  • – Not the sharpness I would expect from a pro level prime lens;
  • – Not the most compact and lightest prime lens.

XF 14mm F2.8

  • + A bit cheaper;
  • + Smaller and lighter, for those who care about those aspects;
  • + Warmer colours;
  • + Extra 2mm that create a field of view of 21mm, in Full Frame equivalent (pictures that our eyes are less used to see, thus more “wow” factor, especially for architecture and landscape photography);
  • + Significantly sharper than its rival, the XF 16mm F1.8. With the extra 2mm in focal length and the F2.8 aperture, you will get more of the frame, in focus, so less chance of having your subject not entirely in focus, when using the maximum aperture;
  • + Incredible lack of barrel distortion (at least  when shooting in JPEG); XF 16mm distorts more, towards the edges of the frame;
  • + Smaller filter size (58mm, the same as for the popular XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 O.I.S.);
  • – Lack of weather sealing;
  • – That F2.8 maximum aperture. I wish it was at least F2.0, for low light situations. This could be easily compensated when used with an IBIS camera, like the Fujifilm X-H1;
  • – Older generation autofocus motor, that is a bit noisier and slower (but not a huge difference, compared to the other lens).

With this in mind, I might incline towards the 14mm, although I remain obsessed about low light advantages, where a larger aperture helps a lot, when shooting hand-held. For example, ISO400 instead of ISO1600 can be a real difference, when looking for the sharpest result. Meanwhile, let’s not forget the progress we see today in image noise control. We get very usable images at high ISO level, that were out of discussion a few years ago. One last thing: when talking about the XF 16mm F1.4, I already have this focal length on my XF 16-55mm F2.8 (even if it’s 2 Stops slower). Knowing all that, what would you choose?

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2018 / www.sebastianboatca.com

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13 Comments

  1. Considering that 14mm gives you more of a wow factor (sharpness, field of view , that you already have the 16mm in your arsenal, that the distortion is better controlled and that IBIS is available or just round the corner … in the end, the stops advantages leans more toward DOF, which can be a bit of a false flag considering you name landscape and architecture as your first two examples.
    So with this in mind, I’d go for the 14mm which received a lot of very good reviews in it’s time.

    (the 16mm too, mind you)

    1. Thank you, Didier for your comment. It seems like a debate without end. The ideal situation is to get both lenses and truly use each one of them in a very specialized way, according to specific needs. If the budget permits, I think getting both is highly recommendable. If not, XF 16mm F1.4 + Samyang 12mm F2.0 might also be a winning scenario (with 2 ultra-wide lenses). If only one lens must be chosen, it depends… I think subjectivity / personal taste come at work, while making a decision.

  2. Perhaps saying that the 14mm is way sharper than the 16mm is a giveaway that something went wring, because all other comoarisons state the opposite, and I can attest the 16mm is a jewel, optics-wise. Regardless, I am sure to some people the extra 2mm are more important than the extra two stops of aperture, and others will think otherwise. It’s great to have quality choices available. I just don’t believe that the sharpness difference, if any, favors the 14mm lens.

    1. Thanks for your feedback! Maybe I should add the text “this is available for the copies of the lenses I had in my hands”. Although there could be differences between the lenses (the same model), I simply hope this happens more with Samyang, than with Fujifilm products. My article is based on my own opinion and this is not a laboratory test, under scientific supervision. But in real life, I need opinions and feedbacks that are not necessarily based on laboratory measurements. We value the technical performances, but photography should remain an art, more than a science.
      Also important, this is my second occasion when I see this difference in sharpness, only this time I get to write about it. The same results were confirmed from another source that did a more serious test and now, I see a comment on my Facebook post (with a link to this article) that states the same thing. I already know XF 16mm F1.4 is an amazing lens and I keep hearing this, a lot. I truly value the experience of those photographers that tested / have both lenses. If you have experience with the XF 14mm F2.8, especially in comparison with the XF 16mm F1.4, it will be much appreciated. Thank you!

  3. I prefer the 14mm due to its lack of distortion. I know Fuji does a wicked job of correcting distortion, but software corrected distorsion is a lossy procedure. You can notice this in the darker areas of the file as the software corrects for distortion and vignetting. So, I try to buy fixed focal length lenses which have as little distortion and vignetting as possible.

  4. Lot’s of technical info, no mention of render. I had both, the 14 was sold. A boring lens compared to the micro-contrast/render of the superb 16.

    1. I made a decision and got the 14mm. As I already use the 16mm focal length on my XF 16-55mm F2.8 WR zoom lens, I’ve felt I need a different perspective. No regrets. I keep hearing about others that did the same. And I know about the qualities of the XF 16mm F1.4, so I guess we have different tastes and needs – which is a good thing.

  5. Great comparison, done in an easy non-technically-obsessed way. Thank you!

    I have the XF 18-55 lens. Do you think the XF 16 would be a big enough difference in focal length to make a difference? I do love its f/1.4, as I’m a big fan of bokeh. But is it’s too close to the 18-55 with focal length then there’s really no point, is there, aside from the wonderfully high aperture.

    1. Thanks, Noah for your comment. In my non-technical comparison, my choice was XF 14mm, but XF 16mm F1.4 is still one of the most appreciated lens. I think I don’t remeber hearing more praises for a single lens, as for the XF 16mm F1.4. I don’t think you can be wrong if you get it. F1.4 is “somewhat good” for bokeh, although if you think of portraits, 16mm can be used, but there are other lenses more suitable for portraits, while searching for real bokeh capabilities. But F1.4 is really necessary when shooting in available light, especially when the light is low and you want to keep both your shutter speeds and ISO on reasonable / good levels of comfort and image quality. And to finally answer your question, 2mm are really noticeable in the wide zone. Between 50mm and 52mm you won’t see any difference, but between 18mm and 16mm, you will certainly see it and the wider you go, the more those 2mm will make a difference. I have the XF 16-55mm F2.8 (one of the reasons why XF 16mm F1.4 wasn’t essential for me to get it) and I am glad to see the difference XF 14mm F2.8 brings to my perspectives in photography. I just wished my 14mm would be F2.0 🙂 Cheers! S.

        1. Sometimes I take a pen and a piece of paper and draw a vertical line, writing down the pros and cons and I count the pros vs. the cons. 🙂

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