The best wide-angle zoom in the world? The Fujinon G5 20-35mm f4 R WR reviewed.

Camera & Technology

March 22, 2024 ·

Dan Wells

Traditionally, photographing with formats larger than 35mm/full frame has meant losing access to the ends of the focal length range. Most medium and large format lens lines have ranged from about 24 or 28mm equivalent out to about 150mm equivalent, with any lens outside of that range being considered an exotic focal length. 

The EXTREMELY rare Carl Zeiss 24mm fisheye. I wasn’t aware of the existence of this lens before researching this article.

There have been exceptions over the years – Carl Zeiss has built tiny numbers of a few very exotic lenses for Hasselblad V-series bodies, for example. Only 50 units or so of 24mm f3.5 fisheyes (for any V series camera) and less than five 1700mm f4 ultratelephotos (for focal-plane shutter models only) were built.   Zeiss brought one to PhotoPlus to New York one year.

The “Sigmonster” 200-500 2.8

None of these lenses sold in any significant quantity, and they are all charter members of the “optical zoo” that includes lenses like the Nikon 6mm fisheye and 1200-1700mm zoom, the Canon 1200mm f5.6 and the 200-500mm f2.8 “Sigmonster”.

The 47mm Super-Angulon is rare, but it is a lens a mere mortal might actually see. It’s about as wide as the 20-35mm Fujinon (if you use the Super-Angulon on a 4×5” camera)

The other occasional source of odd focal lengths on larger formats is a few unusual lenses on 4×5” view cameras. While the widest common lens on 4×5” is 90mm (~30mm equivalent) or maybe 75mm (~25mm), a few wider lenses have been built. As far as I can tell, the widest of all is the Schneider 47mm Super-Angulon (~15mm equivalent).

Very wide lenses become more and more difficult to focus, because the bellows doesn’t allow the two standards to get close enough together. Anything wider than 90mm generally requires a highly flexible bag bellows, and by the time you reach the 47mm, not every camera will focus it at infinity, even with a bag bellows.

  At the other extreme, lenses suited for 4×5” longer than 300mm (100mm equivalent) are somewhat rare. When you do find one, it’s often really an 8×10” lens, and needlessly big and heavy. A few smaller and lighter long lenses dedicated to 4×5” have existed over the years, some of them standard long designs, while others are true telephotos. The difference is that a telephoto lens focuses at infinity with a physical length shorter than the focal length, while a non-telephoto long lens requires the full physical length.

In the case of a view camera lens, a 600mm non-telephoto would need 600mm of bellows merely to reach infinity, more to focus closer than infinity. A 600mm telephoto (a 600mm lens is only a 200mm equivalent in 35mm terms) might focus at infinity with ~400 mm of bellows. Typical 4×5” cameras have between 300 and 600mm of bellows at full extension.

Fujifilm has been pushing the extremes of what’s available beyond full-frame with some of their recent designs. They have pre-announced a 500mm f5.6 lens (400mm f4.5 full-frame equivalent, which may be quite compact), and they have two wide-angle lenses that go well beyond the usual 24-28mm equivalents. The first of the two to be introduced was the Fuji 23mm f4 prime, roughly an 18mm f3.2 equivalent. Typically for a medium format wide-angle, the cost and weight premium over a similar full-frame lens is considerable. Panasonic makes an L-mount 18mm f1.8, and it’s less than half the weight and cost of the Fujifilm lens, while also being 2 1/3 stops faster (taking the format difference into account, it’s more like 1 2/3 stops faster, but that’s still significant). The 23mm is one of the widest practical medium format lenses ever built, and it’s a very sharp lens, but it’s still a bulky, expensive lens for the coverage it offers. 

Fujifilm’s second attempt at the wide-angle market for medium format (and the subject of this review) is a different beast entirely. It’s the Fujifilm 20-35mm f4 R WR zoom (for convenience, “the Fuji 20-35mm” or “the lens” from this point on). In full-frame terms, it’s just about equivalent to a 16-28mm f3.2.  When I first heard of the Fuji 20-35mm, I wondered “how big is THAT going to be”? High-quality wide-angle zooms are typically big, and wide-angle medium format lenses are almost always big, so just how large was the first medium format wide-angle zoom lens going to be? 

When I saw the specs at the introduction, I thought “that sounds surprisingly compact for what it is”. When I first saw a review copy of the lens, I thought “oh wow, other than the big mount on the back, that looks like a full-frame lens”. It really does look like a full-frame lens, almost exactly the same size as and less than 200 grams (about 25%) heavier than the Sony 16-35mm f2.8 GM II. It’s only 1/3 stop slower once the format difference is accounted for, and it’s a tiny bit wider at the wide end while losing a larger bit at the long end. It’s $200 more expensive than the Sony, currently selling for $2500.

If it stands up optically, Fujifilm has pretty much eliminated the premium for wide angle in medium format. How good is it? I own a copy and have well over 5000 shots on it, and my findings are below.

A lens with both 3 ED elements AND 3 aspherical elements is an exotic design. Never mind that seventh element that is both ED and aspherical!

The answer is that it is a SUPERB lens, running on a superb sensor. Fujifilm used no less than SEVEN exotic elements (out of a total of fourteen elements) to achieve this level of performance (three ED, three aspherical and one of the few aspherical ED elements I am aware of). It is absolutely tack-sharp to the edges of the frame, with only a mild dropoff in the corners. Tests others have done show some barrel distortion at 20mm, turning to pincushion by 35mm. Every wide-angle zoom I am aware of has a similar distortion pattern, and this one is better than many. It is also fixed automatically in jpegs, and in most modern raw converters. 

Seascapes are a favorite use for a really wide lens – this isn’t even fully zoomed out.

Yes, it is an electronically corrected lens – a fully optically corrected version would both weigh and cost twice as much if it could be made at all. All modern wide-angle zoom lenses, and most wide primes, are electronically corrected. It is only a minor issue with manufacturer and major-brand lenses that correctly report what they are to the camera. There are two cases where it becomes a more important issue – the most prevalent is manual focus, non-coupled lenses (or lenses used on non-electronic adapters) that do not correctly report their focal length and aperture. The second case is a few, often extremely compact, lenses that use electronic correction to deal with extreme distortion (and may lose a significant part of their angle of view). The Fuji 20-35mm does NOT have that level of distortion. The lens has fairly strong corner vignetting, again nearly universal for similar lenses and easy to fix. In some images, you may want to experiment with turning the vignetting correction DOWN in your raw converter – many landscape photographers like to darken the corners on purpose. You probably won’t use it (or any wide-angle zoom) with the vignetting correction entirely off, but your raw converter may over-correct.

Ah yes, Fujifilm greens – nobody does them better.

As is typical of GF lenses, color is wonderful. Fujifilm has really dialed in the color science between their lenses and their sensor filtration (the underlying sensor is from Sony, but the color filtration technology is all Fujifilm). They do a particularly gorgeous job in the greens and blues, important landscape colors. Adobe still doesn’t interpret Fujifilm colors at the raw conversion stage as well as they could, but DxO and Capture One both do a good job. Color is a complex dance between the sensor/filtration package, the lens and the software (either the camera’s JPEG engine or the raw converter). Each of the three stages has an impact, and Fujifilm tends to do a very good job on all the parts they are in charge of.

Fringing isn’t bad, even in an image like this where it would be likely to occur

The only significant optical weakness I have found in the Fuji 20-35mm is one that is common to wide-angle lenses. It is certainly capable of producing some color fringing, especially in situations like leaves backlit by a bright sky (photographing up a tree trunk). I’m not aware of any wide-angle lens that doesn’t produce some fringing in that situation, and it is controlled well enough with this lens that it is usually invisible in prints. It looks scary in a highly magnified view while editing, but the width of the fringing is small enough that it doesn’t show up even in very large prints. Among similar lenses, I would put the 20-35 well above the middle of the pack in control of fringing.

Physically, it’s an excellent lens to use. It balances very well on the medium-sized Fuji GFX 100S body. The focus, zoom and aperture rings all feel well-constructed – both focus and zoom are very smooth, and the aperture clicks are excellent (although there is no option to “declick” the aperture ring for video use. The weather sealing has worked perfectly for the six months I’ve had the lens. High-end bodies and lenses in general are well enough sealed that I don’t worry about it as much as I used to. Protect your gear in significant rain or snow, and especially if there is salt water or dust around. Don’t take cameras into the most extreme environments (or recognize the risk if you do). 

For one semi-common environment that simply eats cameras alive, read our friends at Lensrentals’ blog post, entitled Please Don’t Take our Photography and Video Gear to Burning Man. Burning Man is a cultural music festival that lasts a couple of weeks in the desert in California. If I were crazy enough to try and photograph at Burning Man, I would take an older (therefore less valuable) Olympus/OM System 1-series body with one of their Pro lenses, or a Pentax DSLR with a sealed lens. Both are notable for unusually good weather sealing (whether or not it is advisable, there are YouTube videos of both being rinsed with a hose), and neither is extremely expensive.

GFX gear is as well sealed as anything short of the OM/Pentax outliers and the expensive sports cameras, but it’s not invincible. That said, one of my favorite places to photograph with the Fuji 20-35mm and the GFX 100S is in the temperate rainforest of Redwood National and State Parks, and I haven’t had any problems.

At full wide-angle, it’s wide enough to fit one of the tallest trees in the world in the frame.

The Fuji 20-35mm is not an image stabilized lens, but it doesn’t need to be. It is a very wide lens in a system where excellent body stabilization is common. It works very well with the stabilization in the GFX 100S body I use it with, allowing shutter speeds as slow as 1/8 second (and possibly slower).

The GFX 50S II has the same stabilization as the 100S, the GFX 100 II is supposed to be better, and the original GFX 100 has a system that is only slightly inferior. I have not used the lens on one of the original 50 MP GFX cameras that lack in-body stabilization. That may not be an ideal match in a low-light environment, but it should work fairly well. The older 50 MP sensor doesn’t have quite the high-ISO performance of the 100 MP sensor, and it will need somewhat higher shutter speeds because it is an unstabilized combination, but it’s still a very wide lens that inherently resists camera shake, and it’s a relatively easy combination to hold steady. Electronic first curtain shutter is a good idea to avoid shutter shock, and I leave it on all the time (I do NOT use full electronic shutter, due to concerns about rolling shutter).

This is a landscape lens. And landscapes don’t need super-fast AF – it’s well more than fast enough.

Some reviewers have expressed concerns about autofocus speed. With the GFX 100S, I have absolutely no such concerns. This is a landscape lens! It is a decently fast focuser, and extremely accurate, even in low light. Is it fast enough for fast action indoors? Maybe, maybe not – but what are you doing shooting fast action, indoors, at close range, with an ultra-wide angle lens? I simply cannot come up with an application where I would want this sort of lens and the focusing would not be fast enough. My one caveat is the 50 MP cameras, which I did not try the lens on. They are MUCH slower focusers, even the GFX 50S II, because they use a 2014 sensor without phase-detect AF. No review of a lens on the 100 MP phase-detect cameras can adequately predict performance on the very slow 50 MP models.

In conclusion, the Fujifilm GF 20-35mm f4 R WR is the best wide-angle zoom lens I am aware of, in combination with the 100 MP sensor. I would go so far as to say that it is probably unbeatable, except by Fujifilm themselves, Hasselblad or Phase One. I suspect (without having used all the full-frame competitors) that there is no possible lens that, paired with a sensor with a full stop disadvantage in overall image quality, can equal it – and the best full-frame sensors presently available have that full stop disadvantage compared to the 100 MP GFX/Hasselblad sensor.

  It stands up to the resolution of the sensor admirably, and produces detail, contrast and color that simply are not available from a smaller or lower resolution sensor. Some of the best full-frame lenses on the market are almost certainly optically comparable, but they have a lot less sensor to work with. If you are a GFX photographer looking to add wide-angle capability to your system, the Fujifilm 20-35mm is the obvious choice. It goes wider than the 23mm, it is very comparable in image quality, it reaches the same maximum aperture, it is actually smaller and lighter, and it is only modestly more expensive, depending on deals on both lenses. Never underestimate the utility of a zoom on a wide-angle lens. The compositional flexibility of a zoom can remove distracting elements from a scene. The 23mm is still an excellent lens with comparable image quality, and whether or not to sell it to buy the 20-35mm is a decision about how much you value the bit of extra coverage on the wide end and the zoom.

There are two trickier scenarios. One is the dual-system photographer who already uses a 100 MP GFX camera but owns an excellent wide-angle lens on their OTHER system. Is it worth replacing that lens with the 20-35mm, moving your wide-angle work to GFX for the extra quality? If you really care about wide angles and you print big, it probably is. The camera and lens combination shines for the type of work you are likely to do with a lens this wide. 

The second situation is the major investment. You already own a significant full-frame system from a manufacturer with a good future plan, but you’re considering GFX, either adding or replacing a system.  See our recent series A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Sensor Fab for much more on this decision – all the full-frame systems are more focused on adding speed than image quality at present, and medium format may well be worth considering if image quality is your top priority. Is this the lens that makes the difference? It just might be, partially because it is an excellent lens – but also because wide angle is classic GFX territory. Both the lens and the system lend themselves to contemplative landscape, cityscape and architectural photography. 

If the 20-35mm isn’t wide enough, stitching it is always an option. This isn’t 360 degrees, but it’s close (around 270 degrees).

One caveat is that the widest full-frame lenses get considerably wider than this one. Nikon and L-mount have lenses as wide as 14mm  available, which are noticeably wider. Sony goes a step wider than that with a couple of lenses that reach 12mm.

Canon, not to be outdone, has a full-frame zoom lens that reaches 10mm, and there are a couple of manual focus full-frame prime lenses from minor brands as wide as 9mm.  This lens has a nearly 109-degree angle of view, while a Canon 14mm lens reaches 114 degrees, a 12 mm lens attains 122 degrees, Canon’s 10mm lens reaches 130 degrees and the 9mm minor-brand lenses hit an incredible 135 degrees. Note that the minor brand 9mm lenses are NOT electronically coupled, and they will require a lot of manual distortion correction, because the camera defaults to thinking of them as a 50mm lens. 109 degrees is wide enough for most purposes, but there are wider lenses. A 28mm lens on full-frame, as wide as more typical medium format lenses get, only has a 75-degree angle of view. 

Toward the longer end of the range, it’s surprisingly useful in close…

The Fujifilm GF 20-35mm f4 R WR is a superb lens, and it is a surprisingly easy one to deal with. Often, a lens that breaks as much new ground as this one does will be somewhat impractical, which this lens is emphatically not. It’s an expensive lens at $2499, but it’s not notably expensive for an ultra-wide zoom of its quality, especially when you consider that it’s a medium format lens. It is around the average price for a GF lens, and much less expensive than most lenses for Hasselblad and Phase One. Highly Recommended for GF System owners with an interest in wide-angle photography, and a lens that will make some non-GFX photographers consider the system.

Congratulations, Fujifilm!

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Dan Wells, "Shuttterbug" on the trail, is a landscape photographer, long-distance hiker and student in the Master of Divinity program at Harvard Divinity School. He lives in Cambridge, MA when not in wild places photographing and contemplating our connection to the natural world. Dan's images try to capture the spirit he finds in places where, in the worlds of the Wilderness Act of 1964, "Man himself is but a visitor". He has hiked 230 miles of Vermont's Long Trail and 450 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail with his cameras, as well as photographing in numerous National Parks, Seashores and Forests over the years - often in the offseason when few people think to be there. In the summer of 2020, Dan plans to hike a stretch of hundreds of miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, focusing on his own and others' spiritual connection to these special places, and making images that document these connections. Over years of personal work and teaching photography, Dan has used a variety of equipment (presently Nikon Z7 and Fujifilm APS-C). He is looking for the perfect combination of light weight, ruggedness and superb image quality.

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