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. Image courtesy of Veydra LLC.
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?
Clicking on these affiliate links and purchasing through them helps us continue our work for ‘Untitled: Stories of Creativity, Innovation, Success’.
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.
I have always set up my cameras to zone focus by simply going into manual focus mode, setting the focusing distance scale to my desired focusing distance and shooting away. The problem with this approach is that it is difficult to keep the focusing distance consistent because more often than not I am accidentely bumping the focusing ring. However using the settings I describe below I have been able to circumvent both of these issues and have a reliable zone focusing setup….”
I made heavy use of zone focusing via setting hyperfocal distance during a years-long urban documentary project during the analog era when relying on a pair of Leica M-Series cameras and mostly 28mm and 35mm lenses.
Of the two my preference was the 28mm lens as its medium wide-angle focal length allowed me to be right in the middle of crowds and close-up to my human subjects while still revealing telling details of the environment in which they and I found ourselves.
Narrower or wider than 28mm or 35mm does not cut it for that approach, as I have proven to myself many times before and since, and ultra-wideangle lenses like the otherwise excellent Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 R and Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR with their 21mm and 24mm equivalent focal lengths impose a so-called “lensey” look on the image the perspective distortion of which draws undue attention to the lens and not to the subject matter when using it up-close and in-deep in the street.
Setting one of two hyperfocal distances for either closer or more distant action with the 18mm-equivalent 28mm Leica lens was a brilliant solution to the need for maximum speed and meant I could concentrate on seeing and getting into the zone, achieving maximum flow, achieving extraordinary outcomes that evaded a slower, more deliberate approach.
My term for this high-speed, highly-focused approach to urban documentary photography was “visual athletics” and it produced challenging, heavy-muscled images that upset the denizens of my then-local art and photography community and challenged them in accepting my work as art much less as being in any way creative.
More fool them, now that photography is understood as an art form in its own right and that so-called street photography has become an acceptable creative practice.
It can be a thankless task, though, to be something of a provincial pioneer in any art form.
As I have written here a number of times, I am not a fan of Fujifilm’s ageing 18mm almost-pancake lens and have been waiting far too long for its modernized replacement.
A Fujicron-style Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R WR lens would be an acceptable upgrade especially for urban documentary photography but even better would be a far more versatile professional-style manual clutch focus lens in the manner of the Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 R, XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR and XF 23mm f/1.4 R for stills and video.
Fujifilm, where is the Fujinon XF 18mm that Patrick of Fuji Rumors has been telling us is coming for ages now?
Clicking on these affiliate links and purchasing through them helps us continue our work for ‘Untitled: Stories of Creativity, Innovation, Success’.
Breakthrough Photography X4 Brass UV filters – B&H – I rely on this brand’s beautifully-made non-binding knurled traction frame UV filters to protect all my lenses with filter diameters from 39mm up to 105mm.
Fujifilm XF 14mm f/2.8 R Ultra Wide-Angle Lens – B&H
Leica CL Mirrorless Digital Camera with 18mm Lens (Black) – B&H – Leica’s APS-C sensor digital rangefinder-style camera with 28mm-equivalent f/2.8 interchangeable lens is one possible solution to Fujifilm’s lack of a decent 28mm-equivalent 18mm lens.
Leica Q (Typ 116) Digital Camera – B&H – Leica’s 35mm sensor digital rangefinder-style camera with 28mm f/1.7 fixed lens is another possible solution to Fujifilm’s lack of a decent 28mm-equivalent 18mm lens.