The other nifty-fifty: a review of the Fujifilm XF 35mm f/2
The Fujifilm XF 35mm f/2 WR, as it's the proper name, is one of their latest, and the second "standard" focal length lens they issue. The 35mm f/1.4 was one of the trio of lenses originally introduced with the X-System, about 4 years ago. One cannot possibly write a review of the f/2 lens without referencing that lens also.
Although the f/1.4 was, and still is, one of the most popular and loved Fuji lenses, the company decided -wisely, in my opinion- to offer one more option which differentiates from the "original" while also encompassing all the experience Fuji gathered with the X-System so far.
At first sight, the lens is about the same length, but notably smaller than the f/1.4, since it has a conical body profile. Its build does not disappoint in any way; in fact, it does carry the Fuji XF tradition proudly. It feels and looks solid despite the low weight. Both aperture and focus rings are excellent; especially the former, which has a very positive and precise click. I had the lens with the original small hood; from what I know, there is a larger "slotted" hood on offer which also makes it more traditional looking. Considering the large "squashed can" hood of the f/1.4, the f/2 becomes even smaller on camera, if one uses the hood.
The size and shape is ideal for the X-Pro as well as the X-E line of cameras. On the X-Pro1 or X-Pro2, the lens can also be easily used with the OVF, without obstructing the view. It also looks very cool on either the X-Pro2 or X-E2 that I tested it on.
In use the f/2 shows right away how far the X-System has come, compared to the original X-Pro1 and trio of lenses. It has very fast AF in almost all conditions, and will never disappoint in this department. The only caveat is that, sometimes, when used in especially bad light, it seems to hunt through the entire focus range. This happened to me a couple of times, and the correct remedy in this case is to give the lens the chance to lock on again, by refocusing. This is not an unheard-of behavior, and, indeed I have seen it occasionally with several lenses, from different systems.
We can't help but compare to the f/1.4, which, in the same conditions, shows a slightly lower performance. Several firmware updates, for cameras and lenses both, have upgraded the f/1.4 performance considerably, although it was one of the earlier XF lenses. Still the f/2 beats it, barely, in overall AF performance.
Moving on to the optical performance, the f/2 seems to follow on the steps of its brother, but with a different character.
Speaking of resolution and sharpness, at f/2 both lenses are excellent at the center of the frame, with the f/1.4 even being very slightly better. But the f/2 beats it at the corners and edges. In fact, the lens shows an impressive edge to edge consistency in its performance. When we reach about f/4, both lenses are almost evenly matched in sharpness.
The same goes for contrast and color; one would be hard pressed to tell apart photos taken with either lens. The f/2 has an advantage, as I found at, at flare resistance. As far as I know, neither lens has special flare resisting elements, and the f/1.4 is quite prone to flares if you are not careful, or the hood is not used. Probably the f/2 shape and construction helps a lot, because flares are virtually nonexistent.
The f/2 also has lower vignetting; not that the f/1.4 is particularly bad in this respect, especially with profile correction applied (in OOC-JPEGs or in post processing). By the way, in LR, one can safely use the f/1.4 lens profiles for the f/2. Distortions are low in both lenses, nothing special to report here. Also both lenses, notably, have a quite short minimum focusing distance, which allows for a variety of creative effects.
One buys a fast prime lens, among other reasons, to get beautifully looking shallow DoF and nice bokeh. The f/2 is at a handicap here, being one full stop slower, but the quality of out of focus elements is equally good as with the f/1.4. Having an aperture with 9 circular blades (instead of 7, in the f/1.4) also helps it to keep up.
I had the lens for close to two weeks and, in this time, I used it in several shooting instances. Since the previous article about the X-Pro2 and ACROS film simulation, with achitectural elements, was so popular with readers, I decided to expand the essay a bit more; so here is a small collection of similar pictures taken with the 35mm f/2:
I also used it in shooting live music; this gave the chance to test the low light performance and color/contrast retention at high ISO:
The lens was additionally used extensively in portraiture, street/documentary and photojournalism (of which pictures, more examples will come in the future). This is my conclusion from a day to day use:
First off, the obvious question is, why one would choose the f/2 over the f/1.4. First of all, I liked that Fuji decided to distinguish between the two lenses giving the latest a f/2 aperture but also weather sealing, faster AF and 9 circular bladed aperture. It is a "different character" lens, while still managing to remain "similar enough". So, what gives?
The center vs. edges/corners performance would be a dead giveaway. The f/1.4 would be the first choice for portraiture, while in need of shallow DoF. On the other hand, the f/2 would be my choice for any photojournalism/street/documentary/travel type of photography. Weather sealing is a great bonus here, when mated with a X-T1 or X-Pro2.
For low light photography, I'd call it a draw. The f/2 is a bit better in speed and accuracy, but the f/1.4 gains one stop of light, which may prove vital in some situations.
Finally, at the studio, with artificial lighting, it's also a highly subjective situation. If one shoots at f/4 or higher, which is most often the case, it doesn't really matter which of the two is used. Honestly, I can't see any difference at all.
I really love what Fuji did here. Having more than one choice at a given focal length, is a mark of a mature system. In this case, the choice is not one of the "hi-lo" variety (where we have, e.g. a "plastic fantastic" f/1.8 or f/2 lens and one or more higher-end offerings).
In fact, as I've written in an older post, Fuji ought to continue this trend with the smaller lenses. The 23mm f/2 is on the cards, it seems. Why not see a 16mm f/2 or even a 56mm f/2 in the roadmap? Smaller, WR lenses, that sacrifice a stop of light but no optical or use performance. And If the 56mm f/2 seems an odd choice, consider historical examples, such as Zeiss, which had f/1.4 as well as f/2.8 lenses at 85mm. The slower lens was always better edge to edge, smaller and lighter. Ultra shallow DoF is not the only requirement from a high-end optic.
In summary: if one already has the XF 35mm f/1.4 and is satisfied with what it does, there is no real reason to buy the f/2. The main offering here would be weather sealing. For a new user, both would be great, and f/2 is also a bit cheaper. If money is no object, just get both and be done with it. After all, the f/1.4 can be found used rather easily.
I won't be keeping the 35mm f/2... for now... since I'm very pleased with what the f/1.4 does for me. But I'd be equally happy if I originally had it instead. And I'm keeping my fingers crossed for future similar lenses in other focal lengths. The Fuji-X system is coming of age, this is abundantly clear.
I'd like to thank Fujifilm Hellas and especially Vangelis Psathas for giving me the opportunity to put this beautiful little lens through its paces.
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