Wednesday, October 21, 2015

FIRST LOOK: FUJIFILM XF35mm f2 R WR Fujinon lens

Today is another great day for Fujifilm X-shooters; a double launch of both the XF1.4x TC WR Teleconverter and the XF 35mm f2 R WR Fujinon lens! 


End of September, the fine folks of Fujifilm Middle-East, borrowed me a pre-production copy of this brand-new fast standard prime lens to review. As always, since it is not a final product, the quality may vary ever so slightly; if anything this will likely be for the better! The lens I tested had a 1.00 Lens firmware and I shot it on a X-T10 & X-T1 camera body with the latest firmware.

OLD and NEW 35mm
When Fujifilm launched their first interchangeable X-series camera (X-Pro1) over 4 years ago, the XF 35mm f1.4 lens was by far the most talked about and desirable lens. 

It was (and is!) very sharp in the center and middle section of the frame, with some softness towards the extreme corners at wide apertures. As over the years, newer Fujifilm XF lenses were launched, there was some critique about the lower autofocus speed in low light and the somewhat noisy autofocus motor of the 35mm f1.4.

When Fujifilm showed a "new 35mm" lens on their new lens roadmap a while ago, a lot of people automatically thought it would be a replacement for the "old" 35mm f1.4. Well that seems to be not the case, as for the time being the old 35mm lens will remain in production.



QUALITY - SIZE - WEIGHT
The new 35mm f2 lens is made in Japan and feels very solid; typical of the newer XF lenses released over the last 2 years. The aperture ring is not too loose and the focus ring at the top of the lens is nice and smooth. I personally would have liked it just a little bit wider, but then again us photo-gear reviewers are never 100% happy!

The lens is Weather Resistant (WR) which is perfect for day to day, out in the elements shooting on a WR rated body such as the X-T1 and hopefully the soon to be announced X-Pro2!

I really like the compact size of the lens; although almost as tall, it feels a lot smaller than the old 35mm. This is likely because of the somewhat conical shape (wider at the bottom than top) which will work better with Optical Viewfinder (OVF) cameras like the X-Pro1 (and  X-Pro2?) as the lens will be blocking less of the viewfinder compared to a standard size lens! Its shape reminds me of the Leica 50mm f2 Simmicron lens, but at a fraction of the cost!

Weighing in at 170gr (without the lenscaps and lenshood) this compares with 187gr for the old 35mm f1.4. Needless to say it will balance perfectly on all of the X-series bodies with and without any grips; I personally tried it on the X-T1, X-T10 and X-E1, and it feels perfect.

LENS HOOD
The lens comes with a small lenshood (only 10mm tall), which screws on the 43mm filter thread. Fujifilm will also sell stylish slightly larger metal lens hood (LH-XF35-2) which will fit on the standard bayonet lens mount. Unfortunately  I was not able to test this new accessory which has a expected 59,-USD price-point. Both lens-hoods will allow the front lens-cap to be installed while attached.



I shot the 35mm a fair bit in bright sunlight and have seen no flaring with the provided smaller lens-hood. The image below was shot at f16.



AUTOFOCUS
Unlike the old 35mm f1.4, the new 35mm autofocus is fast and precise with no focus hunting, even in low light and it is very silent. As the focus is internal, the lens barrel does not rotate like on the f1.4 lens version. Clearly the autofocus technology has improved a lot over the last 4 years!

IMAGE QUALITY AND BOKEH
One of the strongest points everybody is raving about with the 35mm f1.4 is the sharpness across the frame (except for the extreme corners). Although I did not do specific lens comparisons, the center and middle sharpness on the new lens is very good. Image immediately below here is shot at f2.0.



Just like its predecessor, sharpness at the extreme four corners (not the borders) of the image, becomes noticeable softer at wide open apertures (left image above). The effect might be slightly stronger than on the original 35mm but I wasn't able to compare it as I presently don't own a 35mm. Both visible in RAW and in-camera jpegs files, around f5.6 the softness in the corners is largely gone.


Please take into consideration that the image above is a 100% zoom of the left hand corner (in camera jpeg); and that most people won't even notice it on a standard view. If you are however a pixel-peeper (I'm not!), click on the image above for an even more detailed view.

I did not see easy visible vignetting, with and without the lens hood. 


At f2.0 the bokeh (out of focus areas) is obviously a bit less pronounced than  with wider aperture lenses like the 35mm f1.4, but the quality of the bokeh is nice and soft. 

The minimum focus distance for the lens is 35cm, which is 7cm longer than the 35mm f1.4 lens. Still good enough for close-up photography. Image below is shot at f2.0.



DISTORTION
At minimum focus distance, the little bit of pincushion distortion is as expected for a 35mm lens that close to the subject. If it bothers you, it can easily be corrected in Lightroom with the Lens Correction sliders. 


At a standard shooting distance, the distortion is hardly noticeable as can be seen in the shot of this brick wall below.



PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
The new 35mm f2 will sell for 399,-USD (likely around 399,-EUR in Europe) which is very affordable for such a fun little lens! I personally thought the lens would sell minimum in the 500-600,-USD range.

If all goes as planned, it should be available in your local camerastore towards the end of November


WHO IS THE LENS FOR?
A 35mm lens on a X-series body gives it a 53mm full frame equivalent focal range. Some photographers might still remember the days when all film cameras were sold with a bright 50mm lens. To me it still makes perfect sense for a new photographer to learn with a standard lens like a 35mm (close to 50mm full frame equivalent)! After all, this is pretty much what we see through our human eyes. As this lens is very affordable, it makes it a perfect  beginners lens!

Even though the new 35mm lens is not a replacement for the older 35mm f1.4, I do realise that quite a few people will still make the switch. Its clear advantages over its predecessor are the faster and quieter autofocus and a smaller form factor. The fact that the lens is Weather Resistant (WR) will surely pull some more people over! 

Beside an excellent "beginner photographer's" lens, I see the 35mm f2 as an excellent documentary photographer's lens; it is fast enough (f2), compact (non-intrusive) and can take-on all the environmental challenges (WR). Some Street Photographers might also like the 35mm field of view on a cropped body although I personally prefer a slightly wider focal length (23-28mm) for shooting the streets. 

Because the lens is close to what the human eye sees, it makes it perfect to shoot panoramas. As an example, the image below is a handheld vertical panorama, consisting of 4 images shot at 1/20s at f2 and ISO 3200.


WILL I BUY THE LENS?
Well, I don't even have to think twice; YES! Especially since I presently no longer own a "classic 35mm" and at less than 400,-USD it is a no brainer! I was pretty much immediately sold when I first held this beautifully made lens in my hands and I didn't even know its price then... Call it Love at first sight!

I can already see myself going out for a full day of street photography using an X-T10, the tiny 27mm pancake lens and the new 35mm. No need for a camera bag, just put the second lens in your pocket!

SAMPLE IMAGES

ISO 250, f2.0, 1/400s

ISO 1000, f2.8, 1/125s


ISO 500, f8, 1/125s

ISO 3200, f4, 1/240s


ISO 1000, f4, 1/250s

ISO 1000, f11, 1/250s

ISO 200, f5, 4s

ISO 200, f2.0, 1/1000s

ISO 200, f2.0, 1/800s


My review of the brand-new XF 1.4x TC (Teleconverter), can be found here.

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