The Fujifilm XF 35mm f/2 review

When a street- and lifestyle photographer whos absolute all-time favourite focal length is a 50mm full frame eq. gets offered a chance by the incredibly kind people at Fujifilm Nordic to test and scribble some thoughts about the new Fujinon XF 35mm f/2 R WR lens he starts to get those joyful jitters.

The reason for that initial excitement is two-fold.

1: The old Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R is one of those incredible lenses that gives a fantastic rendering with a certain “something” that just can’t be translated into performance charts.

2: Since the launch of the 35mm f/1.4 back in 2012 Fujifilm has continued to make amazing lenses for the X system with the newer lenses being leaner, meaner, sharper, badder and faster than the previous.

So could Fujifilm do it? Take the magical recipe that made the 35mm f/1.4 such an incredible lens and pack it into a modern design that could perform up to the standards of the newer X-series bodies?

Short answer. Oh Yes!

DISCLAIMER: The lens used for this review is a pre-production unit, and image quality might not be final. – probably pretty close though!

The product shots were taken using the X-T1 with the XF56mm f/1.2 and the MCEX-11.

With the initial reveal of the XF 35mm f/2 R WR Fujifilm made it abundantly clear that the X-series lens selection is getting closer to completion. They can now start to add different variants of similar focal lengths, adding a higher level of diversity to the line-up. (I know about the 56mm APD. Thats a different story altogether).

XF35mm @ f/2
XF 35mm f/2 R WR @ f/2

What I feel Fujifilm needs to accomplish when they take away an f-stop of light, is to add something else in other areas of the lens design. Something that will play on diversity, and give the photographer a choice depending on the task at hand.

From what I saw from the reveal back in the beginning of 2015 I hence expected this lens to be:

  • smaller (obviously)
  • faster to focus
  • sharper
  • quieter

… than its 35mm f/1.4 cousin.

When I received my test-copy of the lens the validity of the above 4 main points was of course what I said out to test. And from reading the WR moniker on the box/lens this lens comes with weather resistancy!

Weather Resistant
Weather Resistant

Build

Available in both black and silver finishes, I received the latter version. The silver finish is made to match the silver of the X-T10, X-E2, X-A2. It isn’t the Graphite Silver variant of the XT1 GS. Regardless, it looks perfectly fine on the XT1 as well. (Even on the black X-Pro1, but then again I have a thing for silver lenses on black bodies!)

The lens weighs in at 170g and is sized at  60 mm in diameter and 45,9 mm in length. It is constructed of 9 lens elements in 6 groups with 2 aspherical elements. The aperture diapragm is made up of 9 rounded blades. It has a near-focus limit of 35cm, and a maximum magnification of 0.135x.

Obviously the weather resistance shows. It has a rubber ring to seal the mount. The aperture is very nice. To the firm side, but nice. This is probably also due to the fact that theres weather sealing behind it. It clicks in 1/3 stop incriments. The manual focus ring is amazing. Not as “flimsy” as it feels on the 35 f/1.4. It feels perfectly dampened, just like on the larger lenses like the XF 90mm f/2 and the XF 50-140 f/2.8

The XF 35mm f/2 is smaller than the XF 35mm f/1.4. It’s about half a centimeter shorter. It has the same diameter at the mount, but obviously it thins alot towards the front of the lens. Mounted on the X-Pro1 you have zero OVF blockage! If this lens hadn’t been weather sealed it could have been made even smaller, but WR is a damn good thing, and it’s a feature that I think every Fujinon lens going forward should have.

The finish on the lens is gorgeous. Its metal and glass. It has the right amount of weight and heft, and it really balances out well with the small X-series cameras. The included lens hood is plain round version in plastic, but FUJIFILM sells the LH-XF35-2  which features a classic vented design.

The noise you get from the aperture blades as well as from focussing on the old 35mm f/1.4 is no longer there. The new 35mm f/2 is silent. Its a real improvement of something that was the biggest flaw of the 35 f/1.4

XF35mm f/2 @f/2 - Drops shows on the glass
XF35mm f/2 @f/2 – Drops shows on the glass

Autofocus speed

The old 35 f/1.4 was not a excactly a precision speed daemon at launch. Various firmware updates to the lens have made it quite accurate and whole lot faster. Especially on the new FW 4.0 for the X-T10 and X-T1 the 35mm f/1.4 is vastly improved in this regard.

The focussing speed of the new 35mm f/2 is an entirely different ballgame.  It’s superfast, and dead accurate! It’s closest competitor is the XF 23mm f/1.4 which has been rated as the fastest focussing lens in the XF lineup. This makes the lens oh so much more useful in those highpaced moments that life throws at you!

The focus is internal, meaning that you don’t have a protruding barrell like on the XF 35mm f/1.4

Its hard to say if it’s the lens or the cameras, but in dark conditions you can still get som occasional focus hunting. Not at all like the f/1.4 though.

XF35mm f/2 @f/5.6
XF35mm f/2 @f/5.6

Image Quality

This is where things gets really interesting.

Is it sharp? YES

Does it have great bokeh? YES

Does it have microcontrast? YES

Does it render like the 35mm f/1.4? YES, and more!

I know that sharpness isn’t all its cracked up to be. It isn’t the sharpness of an image that makes an image. The same thing can be said about bokeh. Its much more important how all these things come together. This is what makes a lens stand out. A great lens has a signature. The XF 35mm f/2 has exactly that! A defined signature.

It renders the images in a very varm tone. Give it sun light during the golden hour and the colors will gloom at you! Give it harsh cold light, and it will do great highlight preservation without blowing them. The coating of the lens is no less than fantastic.

Flares are kept to an absolute minimum, and I really had to angle at the sun to provoke them. Great flare control! The provided hood does a great job of getting rid of the few flares that it does produce. In the samples section, as well as in the paraglider shot above, you can see how well it handles shooting directly against the sun.

But lets talk about sharpness. Cause this lens is sharp. wide open at f/2 its actually sharper than the old 35mm f/1.4 stopped down to f/2. – And sharpness is a pleasant one. It’s filled with that microcontrast that gives the images some great depth at pixel peeping level. Aberrations seem to be managed very well as I see very minimal light leakage from highs into lows, and no visible colorsmearing/inaccuracy.

The above two images are screenshots of 100% crops from RAW. Both the f/1.4 and f/2 are shot at f/2. The new 35mm f/2 being the sharpest of the two. No small feat!

The lens fall off into out of focus areas in the most delicate and pleasing way, especially visible in tight cropped head shots, it really falls off smoothly along the sides of the face.

The bokeh is gorgeous. Its renders a very clean and pleasing background. Especially when shot into sunlit foliage the resulting specular highlights (bokeh-balls®) show no halo effects, no onion rings, no harsh edges. Just a downright smooth trip down blurry land! – I would say the bokeh is a pleasant mixture of the XF 56mm f/1.2 APD and the XF 90mm f/2. It looks a lot cleaner than the OOF areas from the older 35mm f/1.4

So what about that magic! – Does it retain just some of what makes the XF 35mm such a special lens for so many people? – From my limited time with the lens I would say yes. Give this lens golden color light and you will get some of the most rich and vibrant images possible, just as the XF 35mm f/1.4 gives you. The smoothness of the OOF areas is much improved, and I actually prefer the 35mm f/2 bokeh to that of the 35mm f/1.4. Add to that improved portability, weather resistance, as well as much faster focussing, and I will not hesitate to call this lens a new favourite of mine.

Samples

So what do people use a standard lens for? Well, just about everything I guess. Thats probably why the 35mm (50mm full frame) focal length  is so widely used. This focal length can basically be used for almost anything. From landscape over portraits to street and everything in between. It’s a lifestyle lens…..

And thats how I tested! In all aspects of my photographic life. Samples are processed in Lightroom 6. Samples are mostly to show how I used this lens during the test period. What you do with it is up to you 😉

Make sure to click the images to view them larger in their galleries.


XF 35mm f/2 on the streets


XF 35mm f/2 and the rest


Conclusion

So by now the question on everybodys mind is probably. “Why should I choose this over the XF35mm f/1.4?”

If I should conclude on my findings during this last month of testing it boils down to this: If you can live without that extra stop of light from f/1.4 to f/2 then you should definitely consider this lens.

It’s faster to focus, it’s smaller, it’s sharper, its weather resistant. And its cheaper.

Of course this is all depending on what type of photography you do. but for the street photographer who likes the 50mm full frame FOV this lens is a no brainer. It’s made for street photography.

For the more casual user the XF 35mm f/2 is a brilliant way to start the entry into prime-lenses.

All I can say is that this lens is now glued to my fujifilm XT10, and it probably will be for a loooong time to come