Exploring Universal Studios Japan with Fujinon 23MM F/2

By Jacob Leong . 6 November 2020

The Hogwarts Castle from a distance.

When we touched down at Narita International Airport a year ago, I was filled with excitement. Apart from being my first time in Japan, it was the first trip where I brought along my Fujinon 23mm f/2 lens. I have seen great images about the land of the rising sun and looked forward to the day to photograph my own. My family and I was on a guided tour as we arrived at Universal Studios Japan.

Today I’d like to share with you the theme park experience through the lens of my Fujinon XF23mm f/2.

The Fujinon XF23mm f/2 is water resistant and weights 180g

Why the 23mm f/2?

There are several reasons why I chose the xf23mm f/2 over my other lenses but the basic reason was size and weight. As a father I need to carry essential items for my six years old boy, so this was primary a family trip and photography was secondary. I have other options such as the 23mm f/1.4 but I reckoned its a long day balancing my load between family and photography so I chose the lighter option. Experience have taught me for street photography lighter gears have its merits. When unburdened by weight, I could explore more and find better spots for photos! So, the 23mm f/2 was my final choice.

A mock up train preparing to move off

First Praise 

With the lens mounted on XE3 body, I set off on my journey. The first stop we came to Harry Potter section. The streets of diagon alley are buzzed with people and emit strong wizardry vibes with visitors dressed in magic robes and costume plays. It was a very hot afternoon with harsh sunlight, not the most ideal for photography but I need to seize every opportunity that I have.

On the other hand, the bright condition enables fast shutter speeds to freeze the actions: great for street photography. Using XE3 back button focus quickly becomes a second nature for me to set the focal distance, recompose and shoot. The lens ability to change focal distances quickly is impressive. There’s barely any lags and the linear motor is fast and silent. After moments under the hot weather, my family soon ventured into the back lanes off the street.

 A group of Japanese teenagers hanging out
My son waiting among the crowd for an outdoor performance

Indoor Performance 

We came upon decorative shops and indoor exhibits. Here is where the lens start to hunt in dimmer conditions. It’s fine for stationary subjects but for moving subject its harder to acquire focus. Perhaps the XT3 will be better in such scenarios. Sad to say I missed a couple of shots. After trying autofocus without much success I soon reverted back to manual focus for tricky situations such as shooting through a window. Bringing the camera to my eye I could easily reach the 23mm f/2 manual focus ring. Unlike the crutch design of the the 23mm f/1.4 lens, there are no hard stops nor distance scales printed on the exterior. The focus ring turns indefinitely and have to be used in conjunction with the in-camera scale distance display. Physically, the ring is buttery smooth to turn yet not too loose. Coupled with XE3 focus peaking it was an enjoyable experience.

An antique clock inside the gift shop
Shooting through the window is a breeze

Low Light Performance 

As we continued our journey we came upon a dark chamber where a wizard taught an audience how to use a magic ward. This was where I wished I had brought along the 23mm f/1.4. It was almost pitch dark and I have to push the iso to the max and shoot wide open at f/2. At this point the lens has real trouble of focusing and I was lucky to get a decent shot. A f/1.4 lens will definitely help with the extra stop of light as the I am getting dangerously slow shutter speeds around 1/45 a second without any form of stabilization. In the end, the performance still impress me as the noise is well controlled by the camera and the picture is usable. Do note that the picture was processed using Adobe Lightroom a year ago which I’m sure will benefit from better renderings with latest Capture One software.

A wizard teaching an audience how to use a magic ward
A string ensemble performing along the streets

A Street Photography Gem

For the rest of the day I find myself enjoying the time with my family and photographing around the theme park. The afternoon had transited to evening where light is warm and soft. In the streets the kit was a blast to use. I believe this is where the combination of the 23mm f/2 lens and XE3 truly shines. The lens is unobtrusive to strangers and the camera is comfortable to shoot in the street without my hands getting tired. In terms of image quality, the lens performed to my expectations with good centre sharpness across to the sides. The depth of field might not be as good compared to the legendary f/1.4 version, but for a wide angle lens this is not a major issue when the aperture is stopped down for street photography. Color renditions are nice with realistic and variant colors of the Fujifilm. Black and white photos are punchy and sharp.

A Japanese girl waiting for the halloween performance

Final Thoughts

In the evening as I got up into the tour bus back towards the hotel, I gave a few moment to think about my choice of equipment. I think that I could not ask for more as most of the time when I missed a shot, it is due to my user error. The 23mm f/2 lens performed admirably and allowed me to focus on what was really important: enjoying my time in the Universal Studios and focusing on the decisive photographic moments. Portability and capturing unique moments are the real purpose of 23mm f/2. In that respect, it is the perfect lens to have on you for a journey as magical as this.

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