Icelandic inclusion – The Fujinon GF 23mm f/4 Review

In the year 2017 four Danish friends set out to revisit the cradle of the nordics. The land of the Norse mythology. The Epic land of Thor, land of Odin…. land of extremely complicated names like Eyjafjallajökull! They had been on the trip before. They had already experienced what Iceland had to offer. What majestic landscapes that bellowed under the nordic skies. They had one goal. Travel with the light! – Seek it, go to it, embrace it….. except…… there was no light! It was hidden above an impermeable layer of thick, moist, cloudy mush of north atlantic rain!!
So they had to improvise
– and drive around
– a lot!

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GFX50s – GF23mm – f/11 – 40sec – ISO200

We had planned the trip for a while. Not with particular locations as such, but with an idea of what we wanted to do. We were quite ready in our own right. But the circumstances changed. I was asked to test out the Fujinon GF 23mm f/4 WR lens for the GFX50s system and Palle Schultz was asked to document the trip and make it into a short film about the lens and our trip.
And just like that our cumulated luggage amount rose by about 300%. Palle had the hardest task of carrying all the videogear. A fully equipped XT2 video rig as well as an XT20 for handheld video stuff. I brought the GFX50s with 32-64mm, 63mm, the new 110mm as well as the new 23mm. Jeff Ravn brought a Hasselblad H2 with a Phase One P25 back and his newly acquired Leica M240, and Henrik Ravn carried his two XT2’s with a wide variety of lenses. So we were armed to the teeth!

So let me start off this review by showing you the video that Palle did. He is a true multitalent. He filmed, edited, scored and performed the music. It gives a really good impression of what our trip was all about. Having a good time and getting to shoot some serious gear in one of the most beautiful places on earth. – And don’t worry. No rocks were harmed during the making of this video.

Photography and narration: Jonas Dyhr Rask
Videography, editing, color grading, music and additional photography: Palle Schultz

“Sudden silence” by Black Hook
Written by Palle Schultz and Line Krogholm.
Vocals performed by Line Krogholm
Guitar, bass, keys and programming by Palle Schultz

The Lens

So let’s get into a bit of geartalk before I take you through my vacation photo album! Fujifilm has already laid out its starting roadmap for the GFX lenses. We all knew the 110mm and the 23mm were coming, and we also know that a 45mm is coming at some point. So there aren’t really any surprises in that regard. What did surprise me about the GF 23mm f/4 was that it included a massive field of view but it didn’t stretch and distort! I hadn’t honestly tried anything like that before. And that is the beauty of larger format sensors and their corresponding “Longer” focal lengths. It gives a very distinct look.

The Fujinon GF23mm f/4 is a fantastic piece of engineering. It’s the widest medium format lens in production. It is built to a very high standard and it delivers some amazing image quality to a very unforgiving sensor!
The size is just right for the GFX body. It feels like a very complete kit when using that lens. It has a 82mm filterthread, which makes it possible to use even the smaller 100x100mm filters. This is so incredibly handy when trying to cut back on size in your backpack for trips like this.
The lens is a 15 element in 12 groups construction, and it includes aspherical elements as well as super low dispersion elements that basically eliminates most abberations and distortion. It has 9 rounded aperture blades, and yes you can achieve blurry backgrounds with this lens if you want to!
The GF23mm f/4 WR has some serious weather-sealing going on, but I’ll get into that a little later.

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GFX50s – GF23mm – f/5.6 – 25sec – ISO100

We stayed at Hotel Skógafoss in the heart of the golden circle of south-west Iceland. In my mind I had a preconceived image of the flowing river, the waterfall and the aurora borealis hovering above it. All I saw was grey dark skies!
Being stationed next to the Skógafoss meant that I had a lot of time to really have a go at it. I went out early mornings, and late evenings. I went up, over, right, under, near and far. I don’t think I really “cracked it”, but I ended up with a wide variety of shots of one of the most beautiful waterfalls imaginable. This is what I think a 6 year old will draw, when asked to draw a waterfall.

As you can probably tell from the above shots, I like my waterfalls to be nice and silky, so long exposure photography is the way to go for me. I used a Haida 100×100 filter system with an ND1000 filter and a 0.6 grad filter for some of the skies. The filters are compact, and yet they do not exhibit any vignetting on the GF23mm f/4 despite its wide FOV.

On the first whole day of shooting, after having cursed at the weather forecast, we saw a minute chance of sun in an area 3 hours drive due east from us. It was around the area of Jökulsárlón, one of the biggest glacier lakes of Iceland. Here the Vatnajökull glacier breaks of giant chunks of ice into the lake, transforming it into one of the largest slush-ices I’ve ever seen. When you stand next to that lake, and look at the chunks dancing according to mass, with the mighty mountains in the background, it kind of takes your breath away for a minute.

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The bright ice in the cyan-coloured water in full bright midday sun is not an easy task for a cameras dynamic range. The combination of ultra bright highlight and the need for accurate color reproduction is hard on any camera. The large sensor of the GFX50s combined with the amazing highlight control of the GF23mm f/4 was really an asset in this environment.

On day 2 we vigorously looked to our phones once again to see if the Nordic Gods had been gracious in regards to the weather. As luck would have it it looked like a good old north atlantic rainstorm was rolling in, covering the entire island! Even though I had visited the black beaches of Vík before, I really thought that a day with weather like that where sea and sky blends together in contrast to the black sand and black rocks would make for some great longexposure photography. So out into the rain we went.

I tested the weather sealing of the XT2 last year in Iceland, so I know that the Fujifilm gear can tolerate a lot of weather. But there was a little bit more at stake this time around. I had an $6500 camera and a bag full of lenses, two of which were prototypes, and I decided (without doing drugs, mind you!!) that I would take them into the weather from hell combined with 10 ft waves from the atlantic ocean slamming into the coast!
But guess what! – The weather sealing of this kit is downright awesome! It just took it all on. No complaints!

There is no doubt in my mind, that the best images from the trip was made on that day, in the worst weather imaginable. So it was another reminder of a thing that I all too often seem to forget. Use the elements to your advantage. There’s always a picture to be made, no matter the weather.

On day 3 we decided to take the car on a 5+ hour drive to the northwestern part of Iceland. We wanted to shoot the very infamous mountain of Kirkjufell. I have seen so many amazing photographs from this outer worldly surreal alien landscape, and I really wanted to make one of my own. This was not about great re-invention of photography. It was about me wanting to make that image for myself! Jeff Ravn who have been to Iceland so many times before hadn’t experienced Kirkjufell either, so again we loaded the car full of gear and drove away from the shitty weather around Skógafoss.

Driving through Iceland is very much about enjoying the journey instead of thinking about endpoints. There are so many little gems along the way. Hidden lakes and waterfalls, abandoned churches, epic mountainscapes, and coastal lines. All laid out in an ever-changing fashion where the weather changes at an amazing pace. If you ever go to Iceland, do yourself the favour of really enjoying the driving time. Take many stops along the way and explore the lesser visited areas.

Kirkjufell doesn’t look like much when you comes in over the pass on the opposite side of the bay. Not much of a triangular shape, more like a giant shark fin that has had the top cut off. – But when you drive around the bay to the waterfall on the opposite side you get to experience the full epic ness of the mountain. My images doesn’t even come close to doing this scene justice, but I gave it my best shot!

The Fujinon GF23mm f/4 is a musthave for the landscape photographer that uses the Fujifilm GFX system. The benefits of using a medium format system becomes really apparent when using this lens. Because of the larger sensor and hence longer focal lengths needed you get some really cool benefits. The most obvious one is the fact that it doesn’t stretch the corners like a full frame 18mm equivalent, or APSC 12mm equivalent. It is a 23mm lens, and it distorts like a 23mm lens, which is close to nothing. So you get this 99.9 degree angle of view but with minimal corner stretching. It gives an amazing calmness to the images that is hard to achieve with the smaller format sensors.

The other thing to note is how amazing the GF 23mm f/4 performs even at f/32. There is close to zero aberration with this lens. The depth of field at f/32 is quite impressive. It’s almost as if it layers the focus a little bit. Everything from the back to the front is in focus.

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All in all this lens is yet another home-run by Fujifilm. It’s getting tiresome, and repetitive, I know. But in reality I’m merely stating the obvious. Fujinon glass is world class and has been world class for decades. With the GF lenses they’re really flexing their muscles, and bringing you some of the best lenses out there. The GF23mm f/4 WR is no exception. It’s a great achievement, but most importantly it’s incredibly fun to shoot!

Samples and tidbits

All the images in this writeup has been made using the GFX 50s with the GF23mm f/4 WR. They have all been processed in Adobe Lightroom CC to my liking. If you want straight out of camera jpegs, this is not the site for you. I would have loved to use Capture One for my editing, but unfortunately they do not support the GFX files.

I have uploaded a few full size samples for you to download HERE

In addition to using the lens on Iceland, I also used it for some other random shots. You can find those in the gallery below.


Iceland 2017


Tidbits of 23

Disclaimer: The lens used is a pre-production model, and image quality might be subject to change. Although I don’t really see how they could improve it!
I’m an official Fujifilm ambassador, my views are hence biassed. Take that for what you want – At least you got to see my vacation photos, right?

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34 thoughts on “Icelandic inclusion – The Fujinon GF 23mm f/4 Review

  1. Wonderful images, thanks for posting. I’ll be in Iceland myself in a little over a month so it’s nice to be inspired. That GFX/23 combination looks amazing. I find myself wondering if I could be happy with just that body/lens combination, and maybe the 32-63. If I sold all my Fuji-X gear I could put a good dent in the price…

  2. I really love your reviews but I’m in the “lucky” position that the gear I have (X-pro2 and X100F) is better than me so I don’t even have to struggle with GAS with this one. Do you find it hard to go back to your ordinary gear after a time with a camera like this or do you just solve the problem 😉 Kjell

  3. Beautiful images, in particular those from the black sand beach at Reynisfjara – congratulations on those 🙂

    However, what you write about imaging of the 23 mm in contrast to an 18 mm on “full frame” – I cannot second that, as it’s simply a function of the angle of view, not the focal length as such. I have worked with my favourite focal length of 90 mm on a large-format (4″ x 5″) camera for decades, which is about equivalent to 24 mm on “full frame”, and except for the different aspect ratio (4 x 5 vs. 2 x 3), perspective is exactly the same as with a 24 mm on FF. That anything of this changes with format is an all-too-common misconception.

    Cheers
    Heiko

    1. You are correct comparisons are related to the angle of view or field of view as I would call it. But the focal length is what dictates the distortion, so a 23mm lens has less distortion than an 18mm, no matter what camera or format you put it on. The ultra wide angle effect on an 18mm lens causes objects to appear larger than real life when close to the camera and distant objects much further away. With a similar apparent field of view of a full frame and medium format camera, the Fuji 23mm will give LESS distortion than an 18mm on a FF camera. Your 90mm will have an opposite effect of distortion compressing the scene

      1. I don’t think that what you write is correct, and it is also not my experience. And the reason that it is not so is that while a 23 mm on an FF camera would give less distortion than an 18 mm (let alone a 90 mm), you at the same time on the GFX use a larger image sensor ‘going more outwards’ from the optical axis. I’m not sure what kind of distortion you describe anyway – that close objects appear larger compared to distant objects is simply perspective. However, there is this other really optical distortion which turns round objects towards the periphery of the frame into, let’s call it ‘eggs’. This distortion is an artefact of rectilinear lenses but again, if you use an 18 mm on FF or a 65 mm on 4 x 5, that distortion is the same.

        1. I tested it against my Sony 16-35mm F4 lens, which was a tad sharper at 18mm. Perhaps soft is a bit harsh, but when comapring against a Sony lens, I expected better. I also tested the Fuji lens at F4, F8 and upwards. Once you get above F8 it is really sharp and I would be surprised if anyone used it wide open as this is a lens for landscape and architectural photographers.

          1. Yes, I would too not use it below f/8, or more probably even at f/11, depending on the image. However, if a lens is already sharp wide-open or one stop down, it’s usually sharper three stops down, too. That’s what I’m a bit disappointed about, in particular considering the price tag.

        2. OK, we are describing different distortions and I am referring to the compression effect and I believe Jonas is too. Its the opposite of using a telephoto lens where objects at different distances appear closer together and a wide angle lens gives a “stretched out” appearance. You are referring to off axis aberrations, but I believe that this lens is very good off axis (in my 1 week experience so far!), the best test would be using a starfield, which I do intend to do!

          1. I don’t want to come across as a nitpick, but concerning the compression effect it is also not true. You can see this when you crop. Take an image from a certain standpoint with, say, a 24 mm, and one with a 70 mm. Then crop the 24 mm image to show the same image as the one with 70 mm. Compare the two, and you will see that both look exactly the same compression-wise, only the 70 mm will probably have better image quality than the cropped 24 mm one because it’s not cropped.

            The off-axis aberration I describe is no sign of lesser quality, it’s a physical necessity born out of geometrical optics.

  4. Hi Jonas,

    This is fabulously inspirational. The video was wonderful too. I now know this 23mm is a must have lens for me too and I love how you describe the characteristics.

    Thank you,

    Damien.

  5. The 24mm is pretty amazing. I dowloaded the images and now get what you were trying to express about wide without the stretch. The sense of space is wonderful. Thanks for sharing the images! The video is well done also, good work!!

  6. Just got this lens, seems good, but when wide open it is remarkably soft, not that I would use it wide open, but its the only Fuji GFX lens I have at the moment, saving my pennies

    1. Interesting, and somewhat disappointing that the lens is soft wide-open – the other GFX lenses seem to be really good, in particular the zoom (for a zoom). Fujinons earned a place in my heart since my large-format days (all but gone by since 4 years now).

  7. Adrian, for some reason I can’t reply to the other thread anymore, so: Your experiment with an UWA going close, yes, it would work with switching to a telephoto, too. In practice, the telephoto probably lacks the needed close distance capability. But in general, the standpoint of the camera determines the perspective, which is to say size relations among close and distant objects, not the used focal length. The latter then determines how much you get into the picture.

    This also explains why the old ‘zoom with your feet’ is nonsense: Zooming is exactly the same as cropping as far as (unchanged) perspective goes, while walking changes your standpoint and therefore perspective.

    1. So you agree with the distortions associated with UWA lenses? and I agree with you about cropping compared with focal length. But when you compare the same standpoint using a FF and Medium format camera with the same FOV, but different focal lengths, ie 18mm versus 23mm, the medium format 23mm has less distortion, particularly noticeable for objects close to the camera.

      1. Depends on what you mean with ‘distortion’. If you mean that a good 23 mm lens is easier to design and in particular to manufacture, you may be right. If you mean an absolute grounded on geometrical optics, then: No, both look the same. I’d like to see evidence to the contrary.

  8. Hi Jonas

    Thank you for posting your review which is very interesting and inspirational.
    Convinced me to go ahead and get the 23mm, which is essential for landscapes.

    However, I found the Lee 82mm wide angle adapter does not fit the GF 23mm lens because the bayonet for the lens hood prevents it from screwing on properly. I have not tried the 82mm normal adapter (I do not have one) – but suspect it might cause vignetting.

    What filter system adapters did you use?
    Did you find any similar issues?

    Thanks

    Chris

  9. Hey Chris. Thank you very much for the kind words.

    I use a Haida 100 filtersystem. Their adapter fit quite well. No issues.

    I hope you figure it out somehow.

    /Jonas

  10. Hi Jonas/Adrian and for general information

    This morning I spoke to Lee Filters. They were already aware of the issue and are actively looking into it.
    I feel reassured they will come up with a solution, even if they have to make an adapter specifically for the GF 23mm lens.

    Good to know some of the photographic manufacturers take customer care seriously and are keen to resolve problems.

    Chris

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