With almost every new camera coming with a kit zoom lens and the popular image of newspaper photographers stalking the streets with three DSLRs and the usual wide, standard and telephoto zoom lens trio, prime lenses have taken a back seat and most lens makers seem to have forgotten some of the most useful, most classic prime lenses upon which documentary photographers and moviemakers once depended upon to earn their living.
I am referring to the 28mm and 40mm focal lengths with the former documentary photographer’s go-to wide angle lens and the latter a favourite focal length of many of the great Hollywood feature film cinematographers and directors.
While I remain hopeful that other camera and lens makers will soon release professional-quality 28mm and 40mm lenses for 35mm sensor cameras and their equivalents in other sensor formats, Sigma Corporation has led the way in creating the Sigma 28mm f/1.4 DG HSM | Art and Sigma 28mm f/1.4 DG HSM | Art prime lenses for 35mm sensor cameras.
Sigma 28mm f/1.4 DG HSM | Art prime lens for 35mm sensor cameras.
Sigma 40mm f/1.4 DG HSM | Art prime lens for 35mm sensor cameras.
In the Micro Four Thirds sensor format, their equivalents would be 14mm and 20mm, and in the APS-C sensor format they would be 18mm and 27mm.
While all of those focal lengths are catered for with pancake or near-pancake lenses in APS-C by Fujifilm and in M43 by Panasonic, none are suitable for the rigours of professional-level documentary photography and photojournalism, or feature film and documentary moviemaking.
The 28mm focal length, superb for documenting people in places without optical distortions detracting from the story
Prime lenses in 24mm equivalent focal lengths such as 16mm in APS-C and 12mm in M43 appear to be touted these days as the “replacement” for 28mm and its equivalents, but 24mm super wide angle lenses have inherent optical distortions and volume deformations that must be corrected in software in-camera and on-computer.
I rarely use 24mm, preferring instead 21mm for establishing shots and tiny-figure-in-landscape images as well as architecture, but when I am not carrying the wider lens and only have a zoom lens with 24mm at its widest find I must apply DxO ViewPoint after processing the raw file.
The other big difference between 28mm and 24mm?
Photographs made with the 28mm draw attention to the contents of the image itself whereas photographs made with the 24mm often draw attention to the lens that was applied.
I know which one I prefer for immersive documentary photography that respects the subject and enhances the story.
The most famous 40mm lenses were introduced with the Leica CL and Minolta CLE
Minolta Rokkor-M 40mm f/2.0 lens for Minolta CLE 35mm analog rangefinder camera, successor to the Leica CL.
Minolta CLE with 40mm f/2.0 perfect normal prime lens, photograph courtesy of Japan Camera Hunter.
The 40mm focal length is often characterized as “perfect normal” as opposed to the “standard normal” of the 50mm focal length that was introduced as standard with the first Leica cameras in the early 20th century.
Stop press: Zeiss announces Zeiss Batis 40mm f/2.0 prime lens for Sony E-Mount cameras
As I was writing this article news arrived of Zeiss’ announcement at photokina 2018 of its new Zeiss Batis 40mm f/2.0 prime lens, characterized as “the versatile lens”.
Some 35mm DSLR camera and lens makers still produce 40mm lenses as low-price options such as Canon while Voigtlaender has several 40mm lenses for DSLR and rangefinder cameras.
The 40mm focal length is also available in some high end cinema prime lens brands.
Leica and Minolta’s 40mm lenses were discontinued at the same time as the cameras for which they were designed, but remain popular purchases on the second-hand market.
Now that Sigma is a member of the L-Mount Alliance, let’s hope that the company comes up with a wide range of L-mount Art prime and zoom lenses including 28mm and 40mm.
A new lens is a new way of seeing the world and if that new lens is a focal length far away from those you are most accustomed to using then it can be exciting, even liberating.
Ms Winfred has relied on some of the longer Fujinon XF focal lengths for some years – 23mm, 27mm, 35mm and 56mm – and felt the allure of 18mm while borrowing one a couple of times.
That I can well understand.
I felt the same after buying into the Leica M-System with a secondhand Leica rangefinder camera and a new Summicron-M 35mm f/2.0 lens, the perfect one camera, one lens combination for environmental portraits, cityscapes and documentary work.
The 35mm focal length – 23mm in Fujifilm APS-C, 17mm in Micro Four Thirds – is a great one prime lens compromise along with the slightly longer 40mm lens – 27mm in APS-C and 20mm in M43.
I felt the 28mm urge – 18mm in APS-C and 14mm in M43 – after getting deeper into documentary photography, needing to better share my close proximity to the people, events and emotions in which I was embedded.
My 28mm Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 lens was my documentary go-to lens for years, and when Fujifilm finally released its first interchangeable lens rangefinder camera, the X-Pro1, I hoped that the 18mm lens released with it might have qualities located somewhere in that particular ball park.
Fujifilm’s Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R is quirky, what some commentators refer to as a character or art lens with properties that suit some subjects and photographic styes but not others.
Especially not the sort of photographs I like to make where every single part of the photograph is important and the whole visual field needs to be in sharp focus, near to far, left to right and right up into all four corners.
If I want radical bokeh or a curved image field instead of flat, then I will consider an art lens or two, some day.
A number of other documentary photographers have expressed the hope that Fujifilm will finally release a Fujicron style Fujinon 18mm f/2.0 R WR to go with its current Fujicron 23mm, 35mm and 50mm lenses and the coming 16mm ‘Fujicron’ prime.
I would prefer to see Fujifilm release an 18mm lens in the style of its excellent 14mm f/2.8, 16mm f/1.4 and 23mm f/1.4 lenses with their manual clutch focus mechanisms, so useful for video and available light photography with the aperture wide open.
Why can’t Fujifilm issue two or more versions of some focal lengths, just like other lens makers do?
They are about to do exactly that with the 16mm focal length, a focal length I do not particularly like, that is so wide it draws undue attention to itself and detracts from what it depicts, and that I find so distorting for human subjects that I must apply volume deformation correction to images I have shot with 16mm or equivalent lenses via DxO ViewPoint.
Fujifilm, keep the current 18mm f/2.0 semi-pancake lens, by all means, for those for whom quirky is an essential creative character trait, but please, please, please Fujifilm, give us a professional-quality 18mm lens too.
What have you got to lose?
Not as much as I have by not being able to have a good enough 18mm prime lens on my X-Pro2.
I hope that Ms Winfred gets hold of her own Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R lens very soon as its immersive, wide but not too wide focal length can be a real liberation after years of narrower ways of seeing.
Fujifilm, are you reading this?
Some views of Chatswood with a borrowed Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R on my X-Pro2
The folks at Fujifilm Australia kindly loaned me a subset of Fujinon XF prime and zoom lenses a little while ago and one of them was the Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R.
I took it out for a spin several times but found it frustrating to use in making my usual urban documentary photographs as above, and found I needed to bend my usual way of processing raw files shot with it into more of a quirky, funky direction than I like, substituting clarity all across the frame with something a little more retro, an almost 1980s analog style.
Not my favourite era, frankly.
One of the other loaner lenses was the Fujinon XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR zoom lens and I found myself relying on that mounted on a loaner Fujifilm X-T2 on preference to the Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R mounted on my X-Pro2 when needing the 18mm focal length.
I have yet to try Fujifilm’s Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 R LM OIS kit zoom lens but note that veteran photojournalist David Alan Harvey spoke of using that lens at its 18mm focal length setting during Fujifilm’s X-Pro2 launch event in Tokyo.
I have also tried out the Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4.0 R OIS zoom lens on a Fujifilm X-T1 at the 18mm focal length setting and found that a very satisfying experience too, even though my needs are for rangefinder and rangefinder-stye cameras with prime lenses that do not protrude into those cameras’ optical viewfinders if they have them.
Theoretically the Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 R LM OIS kit zoom should provide a decent match for the X-Pro2 in its optical viewfinder aka OVF mode given the OVF’s brightline range from 18mm to 56mm, but I suspect the 58mm filter diameter of the lens may protrude into the OVF’s lower right somewhat.
That is a problem that can be palliated to some degree by using the X-Pro2 in M for manual focus mode with the EVF-in-OVF switched on to give you an overall view of the scene, or in S or C autofocus mode with the focusing area set to smallest.
Some urban documentary photographers render the Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R more usable by taping its aperture and focusing rings up on selected settings while others use the lens untaped-up and set for zone focusing, like Sydney urban documentarian Steve Dimitriadis in his article below.
I have tried using the Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R for the up-close, immersive, available light documentary projects for I which I also loved to use my Leica Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 but found the 18mm even more frustrating in use than for urban documentary at a distance from my subjects.
As a result of this article I have been accused online of demanding that Fujifilm must now make two versions of every lens that they currently make, one with a wide maximum aperture and one with with a less wide maximum aperture, and thus that I am demanding that Fujifilm bankrupts itself.
Reference to some facts is in order.
I am asking Fujifilm that they consider releasing the updated 18mm lens design that has apparently been on their internal lens release roadmap for some time since it was first reported by Fuji Rumors.
Given Fujifilm is about to release a 16mm Fujicron lens to sit alongside its current 16mm f/1.4 lens, surely it is not outside the bounds of imagination that the company may be capable of having two 18mm lenses in its collection, a quirky and characterful 18mm art lens and a professional-quality 18mm lens.
If two different 16mm lenses are unlikely to bankrupt Fujifilm then perhaps two different 18mm lenses may not bankrupt Fujifilm either.
Other lens makers manage to issue two and sometimes even three different versions of the same focal length without bankrupting themselves.
I would hope Fujifilm is capable of doing the same.
Voigtlander Ultron 28mm f/2 Lens – B&H – Cosina makes excellent lenses under its own brand name, Voigtlaender, as well as on commission from camera and lens companies. Voigtlaender lenses for Leica M-mount tend to be far more affordable than Leica own-brand lenses
ZEISS Biogon T* 28mm f/2.8 ZM Lens – B&H – Zeiss ZM lenses for Leica M-Mount rangefinder cameras and adapters are an excellent, more affordable alternative to Leica’s own lenses and tend to have more neutral colour rendering than Leica’s warmer colours.
Quincy’s Fujifilm X-Mount OEM and third-party brand lenses lists are kept up to date and are drawn upon by Patrick at Fuji Rumors for articles, and I go there when I need to research current and coming X-Mount lenses for my articles.
I have been struck by how the number of third-party X-Mount lenses keeps increasing, with most of them being manual focus lenses often designed and manufactured by Chinese companies, but so far my biggest ongoing disappointment with the Fujifilm X-Mount system remains unassuaged by Fujifilm itself as well as by third-parties making native or adapted X-Mount lenses.
Other than Fujifilm’s Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R semi-pancake prime lens, nobody but nobody is making a prime lens that is equivalent to 28mm in the 35mm sensor format.
This searing blindspot is not just a Fujifilm X-Mount APS-C problem; it applies to the Micro Four Thirds sensor format as well wherein Olympus does not make a 14mm lens at all and Panasonic’s Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 II pancake lens appears to have gone missing in action from many retailers.
The 35mm sensor format’s 28mm focal length and its APS-C and M43 equivalents of 18mm and 14mm respectively has been a staple of the documentary, photojournalism and street photography genres for years now including those when I relied on them on Canon, Leica and Nikon rangefinders and SLRs, but it seems that contemporary lens makers just do not give a damn.
Yes, one may wish to slap a 14mm, 18mm or 28mm inclusive zoom lens on to one’s camera as I do with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 and the excellent Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro or the usually underestimated Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f3.5-5.6 Aspheric Mega OIS collapsible zoom lens, but using those focal lengths on a zoom and as a prime lens are two very different things.
Especially if the said prime lens allows easy setting of hyperfocal distance via manual focus or manual clutch focus mechanisms like those in some Fujinon prime lenses and Olympus’ excellent M.Zuiko Pro primes and zooms.
There are some close but no cigar choices for non-Fujifilm cameras, such as Panasonic’s Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 Aspheric prime lens, but for now I will stick with my two M43 zoom lenses rather than fork out for yet another no-cigar substitute.
What I am really after is a decent 18mm prime lens for my Fujifilm X-Pro2 for use as my number one documentary lens.
Given the premium price Fujifilm charges for its elderly Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R, no way am I going to throw good cash down that particular black hole.
Getting back to close but no cigar, independent cinema lens company Veydra lists a 19mm Mini Prime cinema lens amongst its options, and it is available with a Duclos-designed Fujifilm X-Mount that can be DIY-attached onto an M43 version of the lens.
Sigma released a 19mm f/2.8 Art lens in the M43 and Sony E mounts some years ago, but the company has never shown signs of coming out with a Fujifilm X-Mount version.
The Sigma lens is affordable but the Veydra costs over twice the price of Fujifilm’s 18mm.
Veydra’s is an excellent geared cinema lens but its greater size and wide front diameter compared to the Fujifilm and the Sigma makes it a poor choice on my X-Pro2 given I rely on the camera’s excellent optical viewfinder for documentary photography and oftentimes video too.
This ongoing dilemma would not be one if Fujifilm simply went along with their customers’ longstanding request for an updated 18mm lens but I often find myself wondering if the company even cares for its documentary, street photography and photojournalist customers.
Two X-Pro2 cameras equipped with an 18mm lens on one and a 50mm lens on the other is, in my experience, the closest one can get to a perfect two-camera, two-lens documentary photography and photojournalism set-up.
Why provide half of the equation, Fujifilm, when you could so easily give us both even if each lens might be Fujicron-style f/2.0 compacts instead of the maximum versatility of f/1.4 manual clutch focussing alternatives?
The problem of Fujifilm’s ageing, substandard Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R lens
Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R prime lens.
Leica Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 Aspheric prime lens for Leica M-System cameras, for me the archetypal discrete 28mm documentary and photojournalism lens.
Duclos Lenses came up with a Fujifilm X-Mount option for Veydra’s Mini Primes that can cover the APS-C format.
Veydra Mini Prime 19mm cinema lens available in Sony E-Mount, Micro Four Thirds mount and Fujifilm X-Mount.
Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 Aspheric Mega OIS collapsible standard zoom lens.
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro zoom lens, one of the most versatile top-quality professional zoom lenses made.
Panasonic Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 II Aspheric pancake prime lens, which appears to be missing in action from most if not all retailers now.
Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 Aspheric prime lens. Narrower than a 28mm-equivalent 14mm lens in Micro Four Thirds format, but at least it is generally available whereas Panasonic’s 14mm pancake lens seems to have vanished.
Sigma 19mm f/2.8 DN for Sony E-Mount APS-C and Micro Four Thirds. Sigma, please release this in a Fujifilm X-Mount version.
Zeiss Distagon T* 18mm f/4.0 ZM Leica-M-Mount lens. A solution for the well-heeled in combo with an M-Mount to X-Mount adapter?
Fujifilm M Mount Adapter. Will this work with the Zeiss Distagon T* 18mm f/4.0 ZM lens?
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Fujifilm 18mm f/2.0 XF R Lens – B&H – The least impressive Fujinon X-Mount lens in Fujifilm’s collection and one that badly needs to be replaced with a new Fujicron-style lens or better yet a wide aperture manual clutch focussing alternative for professional photography and video work.
Leica CL Mirrorless Digital Camera with 18mm Lens (Black) – B&H – This APS-C rangefinder-style camera with interchangeable 28mm equivalent lens is another possible solution to the ongoing problem of Fujifilm’s substandard Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R lens.
“It’s wide, it’s fast and it’s tiny! Laowa’s 7.5mm f/2 is a very credible addition to the ever expanding armoury of Micro Four Thirds lenses. Is it a credible buy instead of a native Micro Four Thirds wide-zoom? It’s cheaper, that’s for sure. But does the IQ match up?…”
This morning I had to jump into action to shoot a small series of architectural interior photographs to send off to a potential buyer of our house and soon-to-be subdivided property in one of the most prestigious suburbs in Sydney’s upper north shore.
Our plan has always been to sell our house only if the subdivision takes far too long to complete, subject as such things are to the vagaries of bureaucracies and the availability or lack of it of consultants and tradesmen, as a last resort.
With almost every cent of our savings spoken for and the final cost of the last stage of the subdivision process of unknown cost depending on when a tradesman can be persuaded to arrive to take on the final stage and what he finds when he starts digging, we have had to suspend all new photography and video production hardware and software purchases and it really grates.
I have been wanting some wider focal lengths than 12mm (in Micro Four Thirds) or 16mm (in APS-C) both of which are equivalent to 24mm in the 35mm format, for quite some time, for architectural photography and moviemaking as well as scene-setting shots in photoessays and movies.
The optimum super wide-angle lens solutions for each or just one of those two mirrorless sensor formats that I use are neither clear nor obvious.
Choose a zoom lens and compromise on optical distortion and vignetting?
Compromise again on a variable instead of fixed maximum aperture zoom lens knowing that I find variable maximum apertures irritating when shooting video though acceptable enough when shooting stills?
And what do you do about superwide zoom lenses and some superwide prime lenses with convex front elements that make attaching protective, UV or ND filters really expensive, bulky or next-to-impossible?
One possible stop-gap solution might be an affordable, small flat-fronted manual prime like the Laowa 7.5mm f/2.0 rectilinear superwide lens.
There is nothing so annoying as shooting a figure walking through a cityscape and the lens is turning all the parallel straight lines into curves, morphing from straight to bent and back as you follow your subject.
The Laowa 7.5mm f/2.0, equivalent to 15mm in 35mm sensor terms, is wider than my preferred go-to superwide focal length of 10.5mm in M43, 14mm in APS-C or 21mm in 35mm format, and the Laowa has a very small filter diameter of 46mm, necessitating finding an alternative to my preferred range of top-quality knurled brass step-up rings made by Breakthrough Photography.
My second-choice brand in knurled brass step-up rings, Sensei Pro, does not appear to make a 46mm diameter step-up ring either so I am limited to my third-choice, the non-knurled but thankfully non-binding brass Heliopan, made in Germany.
Why aren’t these things straightforward and easy to solve?
I managed to produce an acceptable set of interior photographs with my Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro zoom set at 12mm, my least favourite focal length for architectural and interiors photography, but at least it got the job done.
When it comes time to produce a complete set of images of this house and land once the final work is done and the council approvals – fingers crossed – come through, then I will have to do it with a much wider lens to get the feel of really being there in the interior or in the landscape rather than peering at it from a slight distance.
I would rather spend more money on Micro Four Thirds lenses and accessories right now than on APS-C gear as I need to have a well-rounded video and stills kit based on Panasonic’s Lumix Super 16/M43 cameras rather than Fujifilm’s Super 35/APS-C cameras.
Panasonic has really hit the moviemaking mark whereas Fujifilm is still playing catch-up from well behind in the video stakes and seems to have lost interest in producing more moviemaking-ready manual clutch focus primes and zooms.
Fujifilm’s strength is in stills photography with my preferred camera series being the professional digital rangefinder X-Pron (n standing for a number) and the compact digital rangefinder X100n, both of which allow me to create photographs with image design and timing that continue to elude me in EVF-based cameras like Panasonic’s.
If Fujifilm comes out with a top-quality, non-compromised EVF in the X-Pro2’s successor than I may well add one for use with prime lenses longer than 35mm and wider than 18mm, as well as all zoom lenses, making for a classic two-camera, longer plus wider prime lens kit for immersive documentary photography.
Meanwhile Panasonic goes from strength to strength with its EVF-based, DSLR-style video stills hybrids cameras, though I do have a very special fondness for its Lumix GXn rangefinder-style series with its unique tilting EVF that allows me to photograph in the style of my beloved, long-lost Rolleiflex twin lens reflex cameras.
“The latest version of Panasonic’s Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 ‘pancake’ lens has been re-styled to make it a better match for the company’s ultra-compact DMC-GM1 or DMC-GM5 cameras. Offered in black and silver, it has the same basic specifications as the original 14mm f/2.5 lens we reviewed back in September, 2011. The AF drive appears to have been upgraded to provide faster, quieter autofocusing but otherwise nothing much has changed….”