Fujifilm 16mm Lens Reviews

Welcome to my first side-by-side review. 16mm is an important focal length for the XF cameras (24mm equivalent), and Fujifilm has two variations: a fast f/1.4 prime and a small f/2.8 prime. Rather than have you flip back and forth to figure out which might be for you, I've opted to review the two lenses together.

bythom fujifilm 16mm

16mm f/1.4 mounted on X-T30 on left; 16mm f/2.8 mounted on X-T30 on right

What Are They?

The 16mm f/1.4 R WR lens is Fujifilm's fast wide angle lens (24mm equivalent) with an emphasis on light collection and bokeh. The 16mm f/2.8 R RW lens has the same focal length, but is designed to be small and light, almost, but not quite, a pancake lens.

Reminder: in Fujiland, R refers to having an aperture ring, and WR refers to weather resistant.

The question is which one is for you? 

Let's start with the details. 

The 16mm f/1.4 is a pro build lens with serious dust and weather sealing in a largish body. By largish I mean almost 3" long (7.6cm) and the same in diameter. Overall weight is a relatively modest 13.2 ounces (375g).

The 16mm f/2.8 is also a pro build lens with dust and weather sealing, but in a very compact body. By compact I mean 1.8" in length and 2.4" in diameter. Overall weight is a very slight 5.5 ounces (155g).

As you might expect, the faster lens has a more complex optical formula (13 elements in 11 groups, with 2 aspherical, 2 ED elements, and Nano-GI coating) while the smaller lens is less sophisticated (10 elements in 8 groups, with 2 aspherical elements). The faster you make a lens design, the more complexities you find in the optical path that you need to account for, thus these differences are to be expected.

The f/1.4 lens has apertures to f/16, the f/2.8 lens has apertures to f/22, also a common design choice between faster and slower lenses. Both lenses have 9-blade aperture diaphragms. Both lenses have aperture rings on the lens.

bythom 16mm clutch

Where we start to see some additional differences is in focus. The 16mm f/1.4 has a push/pull clutch mechanism (pull back of the focus ring, photo above) that takes the lens from autofocus to manual focus, and reveals focus markings with a depth of field scale with markings for f/4, f/8, f/11, and f/16. When you pull the lens into the manual focus position, that DOF ring is revealed and there's a manual coupling to the focus ring. The focus ring rotates about half a turn from near to far distances. On the f/2.8 lens, all you have is a narrow fly-by-wire focus ring and no markings.

The f/1.4 lens focuses to 6" (0.15m) and the f/2.8 lens to 7" (0.17m). There's a tiny bit more focal length breathing in the f/2.8 lens as it focuses close than with the f/1.4 lens, which shows up as a worse maximum magnification. But frankly, both have so little focus breathing that manual focus pulls on video look fine.

Both lenses come with an appropriate petal hood and soft wrap. Both lenses use the pinch-style front cap that Nikon pioneered. The f/1.4 lens takes 67mm filters, the f/2.8 lens takes 49mm filters. Neither seems to need particularly thin filters.

The 16mm f/1.4 is made in Japan and sells for US$1000. Only black is available.

The 16mm f/2.8 is made in the Philippines and sells for US$400. Both black and silver versions are available.

Source of the reviewed lenses: f/2.8 purchased, f/1.4 B&H loaner

Fujifilm's page for the 16mm f/1.4

Fujifilm's page for the 16mm f/2.8

How do They Handle?

One reason why I bought the f/2.8 lens is that I felt it was the appropriate lens for the small Fujifilm bodies that I own (X-A5, X-T100). It also is a very appropriate size for the X-T30, the camera I mostly used it on in testing (so that I could match sensors with the X-T3, which was testing the 16mm f/1.4). 

I can't emphasize this enough. An X-T30 and the 16mm f/2.8 looks like a miniaturized DSLR and handles pretty much the way you'd expect. You can probably slip that combo into a big jacket pocket, and the f/2.8 lens balances on the front of the X-T30 quite nicely. 

Put the f/1.4 lens on the front of the X-T30 (or X-A5/X-T100) and the lens start to dominate the body. The result isn't an out-of-balance, front-heavy one, but it's getting close to that edge. On the X-T3 and X-H1 bodies, the f/1.4 lens actually is small and light enough to be a bit refreshing on those bigger, heavier bodies. 

I like the push/pull focus mode of the f/1.4 a lot. Some other Fujifilm primes use this same technique, and I find it highly preferable to fly-by-wire manual focus. So if you're into manual focusing, pay close attention to that. The one aspect of the push/pull clutch is that it often gets moved in rough handling in and out of the bag. More than once I've started to shoot and wondered by autofocus wasn't working. If you use this lens enough, you'll get into the habit of checking where the clutch mechanism is every time you pick up your camera/lens. 

Both lenses have very solid build feels to them, and excellent ring movement (perhaps a little loose on the apertures, but I found it fine). The narrow focus ring on the f/2.8 is a little tougher to find, but considering the size of the lens, Fujifilm's done a good job of making it distinct by feel (it's a bit depressed from the slippery metal rings around it, so you absolutely know when you're on the focus ring).

All in all, no handling complaints.

How do They Perform?

Focus: The f/2.8 lens is very fast to focus on the latest Fujifilm cameras (e.g. X-T3/X-T30). Call it snappy. The lens clearly isn't moving anything of much mass very far, and the motor is fully up to the task.

The f/1.4 lens is a little bit different, but only a little. I can see some slight slide-to-focus performance on long focus changes that I don't see on the slower, smaller lens. Clearly the faster lens is moving more mass, and perhaps further, than the slower lens. 

Either way, on the current top bodies, focus performance is pretty much as you'd expect it to be. Neither lens is going to be the hold up on getting subjects in focus. 

Sharpness: the f/1.4 is one of the few lenses where I saw center and edge performance slightly out of sync. By this I mean that stopping down improves the center, but at the first stop down seems to add a bit of blur to the corners. I'm not sure if that is because of an issue with my sample or by design. 

That said, the f/1.4 is very good in the center and corners wide open, improving to excellent by f/2.8. f/5.6 seems to be the best aperture overall, but there's not a great shift across apertures from say, poor to excellent, like you sometimes see in fast primes in the DSLR world. All apertures are quite usable across the frame. I'd set f/5.6 if I wanted to get everything I could from the lens, but wouldn't be afraid of f/1.4. 

There's some coma in the extreme corners on the f/1.4 lens, but it's mostly ignorable if you stop down.

The f/2.8 lens is very good in the center and just good in the corners wide open. On my sample, I see a very slight decentering that makes the right edge ever so slightly more blurry than the left, but this is so low level I ignore it.

Like the f/1.4 lens, f/5.6 is probably the best aperture, though the f/2.8 lens lags just slightly behind the f/1.4 lens in terms of both center and edge sharpness at that aperture. That's not an indictment of the f/2.8 lens, it just shows how good the f/1.4 lens really is. But you pay over double for that extra nudge of optical performance (and the faster aperture). 

The f/2.8 lens has more visible coma than the f/1.4 in the corners, as might be expected. It's not the lens I'd use for shooting stars because of that.

Linear Distortion: The f/1.4 lens has some minimal barrel distortion, right around the level where I want to correct it if there a straight lines in the scene (e.g. 1-2%). The bowing seems relatively free from waves, so it's easy to correct.

The f/2.8 lens has more barrel distortion than the f/1.4, but not a lot more. Again, it's very easily corrected.

Chromatic Aberration: If the f/1.4 lens has a weakness, it's the chromatic aberration. There's clear, though modest, latitudinal CA that's easily corrected, and some serious longitudinal CA at the widest apertures that's tougher to deal with. Shooting bright tree detail against the sky at f/1.4 isn't recommended ;~).  

The f/2.8 lens is a little better at chromatic aberration, but that's likely because it's not as fast an aperture lens. I'd still say that CA is the most visible weakness of this lens.

Vignetting: The f/1.4 lens has surprisingly little vignetting, and it's a little different than I'm used to. Basically the left and right frame edges go slightly darker wide open (e.g., the vignetting almost looks elliptical on the short axis to me [I know it isn't, but it just goes to show how spreading the vignetting impact wider on a lens with a large enough image circle means you don't see a circle of vignetting]). 

The f/2.8 lens is also pretty good in respect to vignetting, with a wide inner area that has little falloff. Overall, it's not quite as good as the f/1.4, but I'd not call the performance at all disappointing here. Just the opposite. It's a low cost lens without any real flaw in terms of vignetting.

Bokeh: If there's a big difference between the lenses, it really comes in the bokeh. Part of that is definitional: it's tough to push backgrounds far out of focus at f/2.8 and 24mm (equivalent). The extra aperture allows the faster f/1.4 lens to show off just how smooth the background bokeh can be. It's relatively free from artifacts, though I did see a little onion skinning. One thing I liked is that the corners don't go all cat-eyed on you with what should be spherical highlights. 

Final Words

I can recommend either lens if you need a 24mm equivalent prime. So it really boils down to what it is you're expecting from such a lens.

If you're always shooting in low light and relatively close to subjects (hoping the out of focus background drops to a nice bokeh look), the f/1.4 is your lens, no questions asked. It's a solid performer, but you pay for that fast aperture and excellent performance.

If you're mostly looking for a 24mm prime that renders well, but don't want to be carrying another big and heavy lens around with you, the f/2.8 starts to come into focus. It's definitely a bargain at its US$400 price, as it renders pretty darned well, but to me the small size and weight is its most appealing trait. This is literally a lens I can carry around in almost any pocket or stuff into small camera bags, yet I don't feel like I'm giving up a lot of optical performance in doing so. It's really only that extra stop-and-two-thirds of exposure and mechanically coupled focus ring that's missing.

Yes, the f/1.4 lens is sharper. Particularly into the corners. If that's what you crave, then the f/1.4 is your lens. But don't write off the f/2.8: it may not quite put up the high MTF numbers that the faster version manages, but it isn't a slouch, either. I'd say it performs quite well over most of the frame, with only the corners being anything anyone might consider problematic. But remember, I bought the f/2.8 lens, which has to say something ;~).

Personally, I like the 14mm focal length better than the 16mm focal length (mainly because I'm using lenses this wide mostly for landscapes). Still, I can live with either 16mm, too.

Recommended (2019 to present)

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