By Antonio Malara
I chose to buy the Viltrox 23mm F1.4 for Fujifilm after watching a long series of videos on YouTube, the choice was between this lens and the Fujinon 23mm F2. The price difference in the store where I buy was about 90 €, in reality the Fujinon costs almost two hundred euros more, but despite it being discounted I opted for the Viltrox anyway. According to some, the only drawback of the Fujinon was the sharpness, which was slightly lower than on the Viltrox. According to others, the Viltrox had a series of "defects" which in a sense justified the lower price of the 23 F1.4. However, it is precisely on these defects that I want to focus my impressions on this lens. It must be said that for the use I have to make, these defects are irrelevant but I will try to focus on this anyway.
The Viltrox 23mm corresponds to a focal length of 35mm on full frame, a lens that I bought in 2014 for my Nikon DSLR system and then I recklessly sold it in 2018. In fact, I bought that focal length for a purpose and then instead I was come in handy for something else. Initially I wanted to use it to lighten the Nikon D800 when I was using it for small trips or weekends where I didn't want to carry a lot of weight with me. I found that 35mm wasn't wide enough for photos of buildings and monuments or at least I wasn't able to make the most of it for that type of photo. Where it helped me a lot, however, were events such as weddings and birthdays. Especially the latter, I covered many in those years using the D800 and the flash pop up of the camera. I sold the Nikkor 35mm F1.8 to buy the Fujnon 10-24 F4 and after a while I missed it precisely because of the inability to cover the events I mentioned earlier. This is because it was impossible to use the D800 flash with lenses like the 24-70 F2.8 because the length of the lens casts a shadow in the lower part of the photo. I ended up covering these events with the Fujifilm XT-3 and the 18-55 F2.8-4. However, the main focal length that I used with the zoom was 23mm which in that focal the aperture opens to F3.2. Otherwise the XT-3 was perfect, hence the idea of buying a prime lens equivalent to 35mm for the Fujifilm system.
I don't want to dwell on this "impressions and samples" but getting to the point, the defects of the Viltrox in theory should be the following:
-lack of weather sealed
-non-clickable aperture ring
-presence of many flares when shooting against the light
I tried to test the Viltrox precisely in these aspects and then obviously to use it with the flash indoors to try to recreate a situation similar to that of events. First of all, I would like to say a few words about ergonomics; the Viltrox has more or less the same dimensions as the 18-55 F2.8-4 closed at the focal length of 18 mm. However, the Viltrox weighs 269 grams compared to the 310 of the Fujinon 18-55, the difference in weight is perceptible and benefits the 23mm which is manageable but light. Obviously the 23mm F2 Fujinon is even lighter and more compact but using the Fujinon 18mm F2 I noticed that a very small lens does not balance the camera well, also for this reason the choice went to the 23mm Viltrox compared to the Fujifilm model.
As for the test, unfortunately due to the lack of events in this period, I was unable to test the lens from the profile that interested me most. However, out of the hundred or so photos taken with the flash indoors, I got good results. I found no aberrations, fringes or strange things and the colors and image quality were close to other Fujifilm lenses I own. But let's move on to the alleged flaws that I listed earlier and that make many people complain about.
Let's go in order;
-Weather Sealed; since I have no intention of using this lens in adverse weather conditions, so the lack of protection from water and dust does not concern me. Obviously, I didn't try to wet the lens on purpose, so I don't know its real resistance to atmospheric agents.
-Aperture ring; The real problem with the aperture ring is not the fact that it’s not clickable. There are actually two substantial problems; as in the case of 18-135, the ring is positioned practically near the lens attachment. The second flaw is that compared to the Fujinon mentioned, only part of the ring has a raised thread. This means that it is very difficult to turn, because it is too close to the camera and because especially if we have to close the aperture, the part to be turned is practically smooth and without grip. The thread is instead present in closed diaphragms, let's say that if you close from F5.6 to F14, the ring moves always touching the threaded part.
-Flare; actually I had seen many tests on YouTube where the Viltrox compared to the Fujifilm equivalent produced many more flares. In my tests, I always used the lens hood mounted and honestly I never noticed exaggerated flare. I did some backlight tests and what showed up were some minimal flares, I don't know if thanks to the lens hood but normally taking similar photos with my D800 and 24-70 2.8 (without lens hood), I have always had more showy flares. To have exaggerated bubbles with the Viltrox, I had to point the lens right at the sun but otherwise, in controlled backlight, with the lens hood does not produce images with showy flare.
-Purple fringe; here the problem becomes more complex and actually those who emphasized this defect were right but I tried to investigate the causes. It is true that in certain light conditions, there is the presence of these showy fringes around the edges. However, in my tests I realized that this defect appears only when there is a high contrast between an overexposed light and a dark part. I'll explain; for example by photographing a large street lamp at night I exposed on it, this burned the lights emitted by the lamp which turned out to be white. The purple fringe appeared precisely in the contrast between the white of the lamp and the black of the sky. It must be said that this defect does so at F1.4, in a less accentuated way it is also present at F1.6 and disappears from F1.8 upwards. So there is this defect but it can be handled easily in the composition phase and if the situation does not allow it, however it’s a minimal thing, visible only by zooming a lot. In reality, in addition to the purple fringe, I also noticed that in backlit situations and in the apertures between F1.4 and F2, there is the possibility of having some annoying chromatic aberrations. Even in this case, the defect is noticeable only zooming in.
Fast and precise autofocus, never had a problem, even at night in dark scenes the lens always focused flawlessly. Furthermore, there was a case in which it was also too precise. By shooting a series of leaves, where two were large and then others very small in the background, the system was able to focus precisely on the single central point by focusing on the small leaf in the background. From my tests, the autofocus system is in all ways like all the other Fujinon lenses I own. Probably not the same sharpness and image quality but close. My impression, however, is that the Viltrox tends to have a fairly evident magenta cast, especially in backlit photos. Another positive aspect that I personally underestimated was the opening 1.4. The difference from F2 to 1.4 is very noticeable and I could see this in the night photos. The scene lights up much more at 1.4, leaving room for a faster shutter speed and therefore a sharper and steadier image. I was very skeptical about it and I must say that I was happy in this respect. This will surely lead me to play more with this aperture, taking into account, however, that there is a risk of having the defect of purple fringes.
Surely there could be some improvements in the construction of the lens; the repositioning of the opening ring and a complete thread of it. Beyond this what bothered me most was the magenta cast that appeared several times in the editing phase. Honestly, the purple fringe did not create any particular problems for me in terms of the final result in the photos.
As far as I'm concerned and for the kind of photos I take, the Viltrox 23mm turned out to be a good deal. At a price of € 349, the lens is light but with the right size. The F1.4 aperture was a surprise and to be experimented, the images it produces are sharp and with nice colors. Moreover, shooting a lot for this test, I re-evaluated the focal length. I thought that 23mm was too "long" as a focal length but in reality it turned out to be quite wide. I have memories of Milan, where I found it difficult to take the photos I wanted but over time I learned to compose in a different way and I discovered that there are always the margins to take beautiful photos with any focal length we have. In my plans there are other Viltrox lenses that at this point, I will buy. One is the 56 F1.4, the other is the 33 F1.4 because right now they priced it at 290€. This lens is the right compromise between performance and the price but to be honest if I had to use such a lens for more professional work, I would have opted for the Fujinon. In general, however, I appreciate the chance of being able to choose between these third-party lenses and the official ones. As I write this I have just bought the Fujinon XF 70-300 but I will certainly buy other Viltrox lenses in the near future accepting the compromises they bring.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Fujifilm XT-3