The Fujifilm 23mm f2 was a VERY welcome addition to the Fuji lens lineup when it hit shelves in 2016. Following the 35mm f2's sexy barrel design and compact size, it found a permanent place on many Fuji photographers cameras. It's beautiful black finish and metal construction with 10 glass elements in 6 groups that made me wonder....
How can something so gorgeous piss me off so goddamn much?!
In January of this year, I was in Kagoshima for the fourth time... And the amount of times I'd make the trek down there showed in my photos. I had kept my 35mm f2 almost permanently attached to my camera from day 1, and had the focal length nailed down to a pulp. I could frame a photograph without even thinking... And that bored me to death.
For a few days I switched to using ONLY my 55-200, and noticed that I was starting to make photographs that actually surprised me. I would check the back of the screen every few shots and be mesmerised by my own photographs. It was the most satisfying feeling to be seeing something new from a place I had been many times. Places I thought I had milked every possible composition out of had a whole new life breathed into them by simply changing lens.
One night back at the rental apartment I was staying in, it occurred to me that if going longer with the 55-200mm was producing more unique compositions... going even wider than I ever have would do the same thing too! On a whim I ordered the newly released xf 23mmf2 and had it delivered to the convenience store by the place I was staying (yea, you can do that in Japan). Unfortunately, Kagoshima being relatively far from the nearest Amazon warehouse, the lens arrived 2 Days before I left Kagoshima. With only one full day left, I did some research to find a town in Kagoshima I hadn't been to (as of now theres only a few), and surprise myself with a new lens in a new location.
I read about a place called Kaseda, which had been a hub for the now defunct "Nantetsu Line", a train line that serviced the population of Kaseda and surrounding areas. However the line was too expensive to maintain for such a small amount of people, so the last train rolled into Kaseda station on January 15th, 1962. Nowadays, Kaseda is home to miles of unused train-lines, well preserved train cars and a station that hasn't really changed since the day it closed... I had so many ideas and places to test out my new lens...
It's a shame I missed the bus to get there.
I missed the bus on my last day, and my time in Kagoshima was quickly wearing thin. Without thinking, I took the next bus I could find going anywhere else. That bus was en-route to Makurazaki, a town famous for being Japan's supplier of Skipjack Tuna (Katsuo). I'd been to Makurazaki before, and I knew it wasn't a place that lent itself well to very wide angles. The harbours and scenery lent themselves to longer lenses to help clean-up the compositions. Still, I was determined to make something work. That was the point of buying the lens, after all.
....Long story short, I returned to my apartment disappointed. I had one decent photo, but nothing I was truly satisfied with. Having only used longer focal lengths for over a year, I struggled with letting so much visual-information into my photographs when I used the 23mmf2. It had a learning curve, a pretty steep one for me. Unfortunately, I noticed that learning-curve on the last day of a VERY important trip. It was the last trip before moving back to America to finish my degree (I'll be back to Japan for good in a few years time though). I wanted so much more out of that last day that I blamed the lens for having nothing to show for it. I blamed wide-angle lenses for tainting such an important opportunity. I genuinely hated wide-angle lens photography.
A month later, I was back in America. It was the most difficult transition I had ever made, and I tried to use photography as a way of coping. I realised I wasn't producing anything I was passionate about, but what I didn't realise was that the 23mmf2 was almost always fixed to my camera. Chicago, and the prairies that surround it benefitted from the wider view, and there was already a lot less things that creeped their way into my compositions. I hadn't produced anything of value or passion, but by the time I'd mastered using a wider lens I was on a plane back to Japan to visit for a month, and for the first time in my life I headed to Tohoku.
Tohoku (and by extension Hokkaido) is very different to the rest of Japan. It's wider, far less densely populated, and it's mountains are wide, distinct landscapes in-and-of themselves. The 60mmf2.4 and 35mmf2 in my bag didn't ever seem to get JUST ENOUGH information into the frame. The 23mmf2, a lens I assumed I personally couldn't photograph Japan with, was the main lens I was using to photograph Japan!
I feel the relationship between a lens and a photographer is a reciprocative one. The lens gives the photographer a perspective, and the photographer gives the lens a composition. The lens tells the photographer "This is what I got" and the photographer in response says, "This is what I want you to do with it".
I started to think about all the advice I'd heard while trying to learn about photography from as many people as possible on the internet. Things like, "A good photographer only needs one lens he can use very well, and if you use too many lens you'll never get really good" or the occasional "I've only been using one focal length since I started shooting back in the film-days, and you should too", and thinking to myself that those kinds of articles are nothing more than humble-bragging from people with nothing to brag about.
It's good advice to be familiar with your gear, only take what you need and avoid spending countless dollars on lenses. It's not a good idea, though, to stick with something you're so familiar with that you're convinced you'll never need anything else. Adding a lens I couldn't use to my kit encouraged me to think harder, look at the environments I'm going to before packing my lenses, and think just a tiny bit hard about compositions.