Monday, February 2, 2015

Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 XF R Review

 Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 XF R

The Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 XF R is a "normal" lens that approximates the field of view that a 50mm lens (52mm, actually) gives on a traditional film/full-frame system. Though there is a convincing argument that this field of view is not exactly what the human eye sees, it nonetheless is a useful one as it can be used for many situations. There is also a convincing argument that this field of view isn't "creative" enough for stand-out photography as it neither opens up a scene like a wide-angle lens, nor does it compress the perspective that a portrait length does. However, there is no denying that this is a popular focal length, and for good reason; 35mm equivalent brings you too close to the subject for portrait work and 85mm is far too tight for landscape.  

To that end end, 50mm (or 35mm on APS-C) is a happy medium. Even though it isn't the "right" focal length for dedicated photography, it is the "right" lens for many people. People are rational beings, and when budgets are limited, the choice will often narrow down to multitasking tools rather than uni-taskers. As such, the XF 35mm f/1.4 R is often the first lens that many Fujifilm X-system users choose to supplement the kit lens.

Body and Design

This is a compact and simple lens. The weight and heft is moderate; it will feel at home on any X-system body, from the X-T1 to the X-A1. Unlike the XF 23mm f/1.4 R, the focus ring does not have a manual clutch-override feature. Focus speed is adequate; for than enough for stationary and slow moving subjects, but fast enough for action. To give a subjective description of the performance threshold, you can use this lens for tracking people for candid photos but you will get better results if you are especially mindful of what is going on under the focus-area point.

One indication of how this lens is "different" from the rest of the  Fujinon lens lineup is in how it is packaged. Not only is the box arrangement different from how other Fujifilm boxes are packaged, it is the only one that comes with the exterior of the box shrink-wrapped in plastic. In real world terms, this doesn't mean much, but in production terms there's usually a big difference in volume between volume sellers and specialist lenses; the 35mm is by Fuji's standards in the first camp and they thus far haven't seen need to re-align the packaging with the rest of the line-up.

Image Quality

Because lens optical performance is a complex topic, the objective description of such is beyond the scope of this blog. Though there are many aspects to quantify (resolving power, field curvature, distortion, aberrations, etc.), a general sense of a lens’ character can be determined without resorting to lab testing. The following is one aspect; bokeh and apparent background blur with the subject at short distances. 

In RAW, there are some minor quibbles with the image quality, but otherwise the output is excellent and appropriate for this price point. As with all contemporary lenses, center resolution is high throughout the aperture range. The lens is usable at f/1.4, but corner resolution is merely adequate below f/2.8. All fast primes have vignetting with the aperture held wide-open, but on this lens the light fall-off is moderate and unobjectionable. The lens is also resistant to lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberration and can be used in relatively care-free manner in back-light situations. JPEG output is bright and punchy as you would expect from an X-Trans camera.

Bokeh is generally smooth and un-distorted. (Note the shape of the out-of-focus highlights, more or less round by f/2.) In practical use, there is visible bokeh highlight fringing below f/2.8, meaning that you need to be mindful of what's in the background to get the best results. Click on each for a larger view:




In summary, you'll get the best results out of this lens if you aren't trying to throw the background out of focus, but it most certainly can be used without reservation wide-open.

Concluding Thoughts

If you have the XF 18-55 f/2.8-4 R OIS lens, is the XF 35mm lens worth getting? This is conundrum for many Fujifilm users as the "kit" lens that is used on the X-E2 (and sometimes the X-T1) is already well regarded and versatile.  However, it is missing the ability to truly throw the background out of focus, which the 35mm f/1.4 lens can do, but if you account for the zoom lens' image-stabilization function, the low-light ability for both lenses is roughly the same if you are photographing stationary objects. You can use larger aperture of the 35mm f/1.4 for faster shutter speeds, but this is often a poor choice for moving subjects because of how narrow the plain of focus becomes. In other words, the 35mm is a good addition to the kit 18-55mm lens if you think of using it in "prime lens state of mind" rather than looking at it is as something that is merely "better".

 Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 XF R on X-T1

The 35mm makes a clearer case for itself as the next lens to get after the XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR. This all-in-one lens is sometimes packaged in kit form with the X-T1, and even though it has an excellent optical image stabilization system, it is incapable of generating depth of field effects because of its smallish variable aperture design.

There is also the matter of the Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8, which retails for over $700 USD, more than $200 more than the Fujifilm. The Touit is visibly a better lens, having more contrast and being a little more consistent throughout the aperture range, but this more of a luxury than an advantage given the price of the lens. Objectively, the Touit isn't that much better than the XF 35mm f/1.4 R, but in subjective use, most people will find that the Zeiss-branded optic does perform better.

One thing to keep in mind is that while this lens replicates the field of view of a 50mm lens on a full frame system, it is actually more expensive than the equivalent Nikon and Canon lenses. It is also more expensive than the similar 35mm lens Nikon's crop form factor, or the 30mm f/1.4 offered by Sigma. This is currently the problem with mirrorless cameras in general; you pay for the convenience of size. Fortunately, you don't give up the image quality, as it could be said that you are getting the same level of performance as you would get from Canon and Nikon's 50mm f/1.4 lenses, except for the change in depth of field.

With thanks to Broadway Camera

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