Until recently, if you were a Fujifilm X-Series camera owner, your options for fast prime lenses (f/1.4 or wider) were limited to (relatively) expensive options from Fujinon, or less expensive third-party manual focus lenses.
Fujifilm has recently opened their autofocus protocols, and we can expect more third party autofocus fast prime lenses soon. Until then, Viltrox has filled the gap of autofocus fast primes with their reverse engineered 23mm, 56mm, and 85mm f/1.4 lenses.
Let’s take a look at the Viltrox AF 23mm f/1.4 lens to see what you get for lots less money.
A brief reminder that I approach lens reviews from a fairly non-technical aspect and evaluate the lens based on its subjective technical and optical performance in the type of photographs I typically create. I (mostly) don’t pixel peep and don’t stress too much about micro-contrast, bokeh shapes, and (a little) vignetting. Therefore, your mileage (and opinion) may vary…
The Viltrox AF 23mm f/1.4 is a direct specification competitor to the Fujinon XF 23mm f1/1.4 R. The Fujinon lens retails for $899, while the Viltrox retails for $329. I am far from a lens design expert, but I think I can figure out a few ways that Viltrox was able to save money in constructing this lens, while still delivering quality images. One way that costs are reduced is by sharing one outer housing across all three of the f/1.4 primes.
The Viltrox AF 23mm f/1.4 features all-metal construction and has a pleasing feeling of density and heft that is reassuring in a lens priced at 1/3 of its Fujinon equivalent. It feels like a very nice size and weight compromise for a lens this fast. The focusing ring is smooth and the clickless aperture ring has decent resistance. However, it’s still fairly easy to nudge the aperture ring to a different value in general handling and placing in and out of a camera bag.
In my experience, the Viltrox AF 23mm f/1.4 focuses quickly, accurately, and quietly. The focusing also works quite well in low light. I briefly used this lens as my lens for recording YouTube videos, and I found its video focusing to also be quite speedy and accurate. I really liked this lens for video in my office studio setup, and the only reason I stopped using it for video was that in my small space, 23mm is just a little too tight for my preferred framing.
The Viltrox AF 23mm f/1.4 pairs nicely with my Fujifilm X-T3, with its slightly larger size offering an easy-to-hold surface and its relatively lightweight allowing for easy handling. I recently used this lens as my primary lens for a wedding, and as a self-avowed lover of zooms (I typically use the XF 50-140mm f/2.8 and XF 16-55mm f/2.8 for weddings), I have to confess to now seeing what all the fuss is about with fast prime lenses. The lighter weight, faster aperture (hello blurry background in the messy groom’s getting ready room!), and the smaller size make for a really great picture-taking experience.
I am generally quite pleased with the images from the Viltrox AF 23mm f/1.4 at this wedding but did notice two areas for improvement.
First, there is considerable fringing in high-contrast areas, especially white (groom’s shirts and bride’s dress) against the overcast sky. This fringing was noticeable even on the camera rear screen preview but was quickly fixable in Lightroom.
Second, there is a fair bit of vignetting noticeable in mid-tone corner areas. Again, this was noticeable in the rear screen preview. I generally add a bit of vignetting to most photos, so this was not too much of an issue in my experience, and in the situations where it was, I framed a little wide, so I could crop out the vignette-affected area in Lightroom.
Aside from the above technical issues, I really like the images from this lens. In my experience, they tend to have a quiet and somewhat moody feel. This might be due to the majority of images I’ve created so far with this lens having been shot on overcast Northwest days, but still, there is a very pleasing quality to the images from this lens. The background blur is smooth and quiet to my eye, with round bokeh balls that tend towards oval shapes near the frame edges.
Here’s a link to a full gallery of sample photos taken with the Viltrox AF 23mm f/1.4 for Fujifilm X-Series.
Pros and Cons
- Fast focusing speed
- Quality construction
- Image quality
- Clickless aperture
- Vignetting (especially wide open)
- Color fringing (especially wide open)
Summary and Recommendation
It’s great to have options! The Viltrox AF 23mm f/1.4 is a superb value that performs extremely well mechanically and in creating wonderful images.
As mentioned, there are some noticeable issues with fringing and vignetting in certain situations, but those can be addressed quickly in software. There’s something compelling about being able to create images at f/1.4, with faster shutter speeds, lower ISO settings, and background separation.
I’m really impressed with this lens. I am so impressed that I’m considering the Viltrox AF 56mm f/1.4 at $329 as my next lens purchase. I could never pull the trigger on the Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R lens at $999, but my experience with the Viltrox AF 23mm f/1.4 has convinced me they are on to a winning formula in the lower-priced prime lens market for Fujifilm X cameras.
About the author: Michael Sladek teaches digital photography at Highline College near Seattle, Washington. He enjoys dad jokes, doughnuts, and helping others discover the fun of creating photos they love. Stay connected with Michael on his website, YouTube channel, and Instagram.