For the last few months, the metal lens hood for the 35mm/23mm has been sitting in my Amazon cart. It became an invaluable addition to my XF35mmf2, even saving it from being slammed into the sliding door of a convenience store and smashed against a rock when I slipped off a dock down in Ibusuki. I'd been wanting to get on for my 23mm f2 as well to save me the minor inconvenience of switching them around... But I can't get myself to pull the plug and actually buy the lens hood... Not because of the price, but because I'm not really sure if I want to keep the 23mm f2 around.
I've previously wrote about my love-hate relationship with this lens, but that was purely because of the learning curve that came with using a focal length I'd never used. Now, the more and more I try to use the 23mm f2 as a walk around lens, the more one major problem sinks through the cracks:
The performance at F2.
When this lens first came out, you probably heard quite a bit about the vignetting at F2 and the softness at close distance. The vignetting I can live with, and more often than not welcome it... but the softness at close focus has been a thorn in my side for quite some time, and while I'm slowly putting together my kit for my Kyushu Trip in December, I'm starting to doubt if the xf23mm f2 is going to cut it.
I'm not one for test shots, and especially not one for arbitrary sharpness tests.. But lets take a look at these shots, all shot at high shutter speeds, same ISO but at varying apertures from f2 to f5.6
Notice something? The F2 shot was focused on the dead centre. I even took multiple shots at F2 and looked over each one at maximum magnification on the screen. I tried to salvage some sharpess out of them and post to no avail, and the weird ghosting around the leaf is also unfixable. Focused in the corners, the results at F2 are more disheartening...
Daytime shooting may not cause too many problems, especially when harsh light means shooting at f2 isn't possible without an ND filter... but as soon as I'm somewhere darker and want to compose a shot close up, or even in hazy conditions, or when I want to get more depth of field... this lens loses all of it's value.
At f2, focused in the distance it yields decent results, but I don't feel confident with it.
It's like I have an abusive relationship with this lens. When I want to use this lens at F2, and in circumstances where I had no choice but to use it at F2, this lens has become a distraction and has ruined a few opportunities.... And just when I'm ready to pull the plug on it, I shoot it stopped down again and have second thoughts. When this lens is stopped down it yields AMAZING results, with beautiful color rendition and stunning sharpness, the tests at f5.6 prove that. But the inconsistent results at F2 leave me doubting this len's ability as an every-day lens. And a piece of camera equipment should NEVER be the reason you miss a shot. I'm worried that keeping this lens on will result a weird russian-roulette of usable photographs. When I go to some of the smaller islands off the coast of Kagoshima in December, I refuse to let this len's performance cause me to be unable to perform shots I'll never be able to take again.
I hate to seem so bitter, especially when I have good things as well to say about this lens, but stopping down a camera lens is such a natural movement that I stop down to F2 subconsciously and remember this lens fault only after I take the shot. I don't feel like I should be reminding myself in the heat of the moment, "Hey, your 23mm f2 is on, be careful".
I haven't decided what route I'm going to take with replacing it, but one thing is for certain: As much as I love it, I've lost a lot of confidence in the 23mm f2 as an every-day lens. I know many street shooters and MANY people including myself 90% of the time, love this lens. But I really can't get myself to consider it a versatile piece of kit worthy of a spot in my already crammed bag. Maybe it's time to pass on that torch to a new lens.... (Stay tuned)