K Madhavan Pillai discovers why so many photographers are all praise for the Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R, and then goes on to find out where it falters.
Normal lenses mimic the angle of view of the human eye. The huge advantage that the XF 35mm has (over traditional full-frame 50mm normal lenses), is that the depth-of-field remains that of a 35mm lens. This also means that a maximum aperture of f/1.4 is important for good focus blurs. At this point, the XF 35mm, released early this year, is still the only f/1.4 normal block lens amongst lenses made by any APS-C camera or lens manufacturer today.
The lens is meant to be used with the Fuji X-Pro 1 or the recently released X-E1. Going by their form and function, these cameras have been made for thinking photographers, who prefer simplicity, quality, speed and control. It is with this in mind that I put the XF 35mm to the test.
The XF 35mm provides a full-frame equivalent of 53mm. The lens construction includes a strong metal barrel that houses eight lens elements in six groups, including an aspherical lens element. It features a common filter diameter of 52mm and comes with a dedicated lenshood. With a rather good magnification of 0.17x at its minimum shooting distance of 11 inches, this non-stabilised lens houses an AF motor, a focus-by-wire MF system, and has no focus distance or DOF scale.
Both the X-Pro1 and the XE-1 display a focus scale and DOF electronically. Unfortunately, the DOF calculation is based on more stringent parameters that show a much more conservative DOF. This makes setting hyperfocal distances by any conventional DOF parameters a lot more difficult.
Otherwise, the lens is quite light despite the metal construction, but feels quite sturdy and handles well. MF is smooth and perfectly accurate (but a bit too slow for comfort). The focus and zooming rings are broad enough and ridged differently for easy identification.
The true quality of a lens can be fully appreciated only coupled with the camera it is supposed to be used with. Both the X-Pro 1 and the new X-E1 feature sensors that does not use anti-aliasing filters to cut down on moiré. For this type of sensor to deliver the best results, it needs a sharp lens with reduced aberrations.
At the widest aperture of f/1.4, there is the expected but noticeable drop in the resolving power at the edges and corners. But it is still as good or better than similar lenses from other manufacturers. Vignetting at the corners is about half a stop, which is excellent.
Reducing the aperture by a stop to just f/2 improves the edge-to-edge performance significantly. At f/5.6, the lens peaks in terms of optical performance, which is nothing short of exemplary. After this point, the loss in performance is progressive, but slight. It continues to be very sharp all the way up to f/16.
Fringing is well controlled in the sharper areas of the image. There is some minor fringing in the bokeh at the edges of the frame, at the widest apertures. Stopping down to f/4 resolves this. That said, the XF 35mm is better at controlling bokeh fringing than most others lenses of its type. RAW files show that the XF 35mm has been designed to be optically free of visible distortion.
The advantage of the rounded diaphragm blades in the XF 35mm is apparent. Large aperture bokeh is pleasing and nicely round upto f/4. After this, you can count the number of aperture blades. At the edges of the frame, wide open circular bokeh is very slightly elongated. Again, stopping down the aperture to f/4 or smaller takes care of this.
In terms of AF speed, Fuji XF 35mm is reasonably quick, but not the fastest I have seen. It is also not the quietest. It does not shoot macro, but works very well with extreme close-ups. In all these areas of our tests, the lens proved to be satisfying, but not exceptional. But where it excels brilliantly is in its optical performance.
Since no other manufacturer makes lenses for Fuji, the XF 35mm is the only option for the X-Pro 1 or the X-E1 mounts. It is also the only f/1.4 normal prime lens amongst any mirrorless or APS-C DSLR cameras, making its Rs. 36,999 price tag unique.
The only negative is that it is difficult to use the electronic DOF scale in the viewfinder and LCD, which is a big limiting factor if you constantly use hyperfocal distances when you shoot.
What you do get for the price is classleading sharpness, excellent overall optical quality, good build and handling. This is, without doubt, a brilliant piece of glass.
Large maximum aperture of f/1.4, 7-bladed rounded diaphragm, aspherical lens element
Extremely sharp, excellent overall optical performance, average AF
Sturdy build overall, aluminium barrel
Well designed, ribbed rings, no focus scale
Warranty & Support
Two-year warranty in India
Value For Money: 3.5/5
Who should buy it?
X-Pro 1 or X-E1 users who want a normal prime that gets the best out of the sensors, but do not work extensively with hyperfocal distances.
Overall optical quality is excellent. Sharpness is this lens’ main forte. The XF 35mm is small, well built and handles well with the X-Pro 1.