Some months with the Fujifilm XF35mm F1.4

A few months ago, Fujifilm had a big sale of lenses and gear, with some drastic discounts like the famous XF35mm F1.4 lens.

Although I couldn’t take advantage of the discounts in the US, I was able to get this lens for a similar price in the local Fujifilm distributor (which I had no clue existed).

Six months later, here are my thoughts on this lens.


Fuji X-E2 with XF35mm F1.4.
Fuji X-E2 with XF35mm F1.4.

If you browse around the web you are going to find very generous amounts of praise for this lens: from how it feels, to how it renders colors and images.

While I do agree this is a little gem, I thought I would add some further observations since praise is not something this lens is missing (unlike the XF27mm which could benefit from some extra love).

The decisive factor: F1.4

The biggest difference I felt when I started shooting this lens was being able to isolate subjects at F1.4. Over night it turned any street, room, landscape, into a contextual portrait opportunity (perhaps my favorite kind). The wide aperture melts the background into a creamy mix of colors that is so pretty you want to find excuses to shoot.

That said, with shallow depth of field comes the responsibility of focusing properly. The depth of field is so thin at close distance, that missing your mark means the whole picture looks blurry. Here’s an example with my watch on a table:

Extra thin depth of field. Notice the focus was on the crown of the watch (the side knob) and there's barely any more watch in focus.
Extra thin depth of field. Notice the focus was on the crown of the watch (the side knob) and there’s barely any more watch in focus.

Night time landscapes also turn into a feasible option, specially hand held. Like this view of Lima’s coast line, hand held at 1/60, F1.4, and ISO5000. I didn’t have time to set the camera down, nor any good place to do so.

Lima's coast line at night, view from Miraflores. You can see I didn't manage to be perfectly steady at 1/60, but it's a pretty usable image nonetheless.
Lima’s coast line at night, view from Miraflores. You can see I didn’t manage to be perfectly steady at 1/60, but it’s a pretty usable image nonetheless.

On my XF18-55, or my XF27mm, this shot would have been a 1/15 or 1/8 exposure at the same noisy ISO. While definitely not a life changing photograph, I did appreciate being able to grab a quick snap to remember the night without having to get out of the moment and focus on technique.

That said, perhaps more than shutter speed, I like the ability to go to slower ISOs and avoid image noise. It’s like seeing in the dark, and on that note…

Night vision goggles

My favorite fact about the lens is the incredible low light opportunities it opens. The photo below is a 1/60, ISO3200 image from a concert held in a very dark bar. Slowing down my shutter speed was not an option because of the energy of the performance, and I didn’t want to increase ISO because I wanted clean JPGs out of camera.

Charly CASS performance in Barranco, Perú.
Charly CASS performance in Barranco, Perú.

You could argue that if I had a slower lens, like an F2.8, I could have shot RAW at the same or lower ISO and then push the exposure with the camera RAW converter, or Lightroom. But I don’t like fiddling with RAW files when I’m simply shooting snaps casually.

The fact remains that the extra two stops of light (versus my other lenses) meant this photo was possible, in JPG, in camera.

Another similar example is the shot below: F1.4, 1/125, at ISO400. A slower lens would have meant a noisier image.

Another low light show in Barranco, Perú. A slower shutter speed was not an option, and I didn't want a noisier image.
Another low light show in Barranco, Perú. A slower shutter speed was not an option, and I didn’t want a noisier image.

Landscaping with a 53mm equivalent

Shooting landscapes with this lens I have noticed that pictures with a visible vanishing point tend to look stretched out on the sides, but flat on the center. I don’t think this is an optical problem of the lens at all, but rather my eyes being used to 28mm/35mm equivalents for landscapes.

The best example for this is any centered empty street shot.

Empty streets in Urubamba, Cusco. The walls on the left and right borders seem to stretch, but the far center looks flat. My 28mm/35mm eyes can help but notice that.
Empty streets in Urubamba, Cusco. The walls on the left and right borders seem to stretch, but the far center looks flat. My 28mm/35mm eyes can help but notice that.

Note how the walls on the left and right stretch a bit, but then the center feels flat, similar to what a long lens would do.

I don’t dislike this effect, but I certainly prefer the effect on perspective of my XF27mm, or the XF18-55mm at 18mm. Perhaps I’m just not used to the wider lenses look.

On the other hand, this curious mix of stretching and flattening looks pretty good on vertical shots.

Motocarro/Motocar/Mototaxi (whatever you prefer) in Urubamba, Cusco.
Motocarro/Motocar/Mototaxi (whatever you prefer) in Urubamba, Cusco.

That said, when the vanishing point “hits a wall”, the effect is not noticeable, it’s even welcomed. Like in this (almost) symmetric shot of a wedding.

Some church in Lima.
Some church in Lima.

Portraits and context

Fantastic results, not much to say regarding the quality of the lens for this purpose. I can say though that my favorite use of this lens is for full body shots, always biased towards context, like Darío, from Cervería Willkamayu, here:

Darío, Willkamayu Brewery creator and host. Urubamba, Cusco.
Darío, Willkamayu Brewery creator and host. Urubamba, Cusco.

Melting backgrounds away also helps to turn any opportunity into a portrait chance, like this spontaneous shot taken after a very long photo shoot.

Joss in Miraflores, Perú. The big tree, wall, and ocean where melted into pretty colors. You probably had no idea the ocean was in the shot.
Joss in Miraflores, Perú. The big tree, wall, and ocean where melted into pretty colors. You probably had no idea the ocean was in the shot.

For very close or more formal portraits, like headshots, I prefer to use my XF18-55 at the long end because the compression of the 55mm looks a bit better when you fill the frame with a face.

When it’s not a formal assignment this lens is my favorite for its contextual properties. I like that I don’t have to stand too far away from the subject and the background separation with how those colors melt and mix… Lovely!

Focus speed and noise

One bit that is surprisingly missing from reviews and even simple YouTube videos, is a precise description of the autofocus speed and noise of this lens on modern firmware cameras.

Most reviews of this lens are stuck in the months following the X-Pro1 release in 2012, that’s four years that cover: a new sensor version, improved firmware for cameras, new autofocus algorithms, etc.

Before getting this lens all I could read was that it was “extremely slow” and “really noisy”. Circumstances allowed me to try this lens on a couple combinations. I do not remember the original XF35mm firmware version on the lens, but I’m sure it was the original one, or at most the first revision:

  • Fuji X-E2, firmware 3.10. XF35mm out of the box: Focuses fine, works fine.
  • Fuji X-E2, firmware 3.10. XF35mm, firmware 3.10: Focuses faster, almost no complains.
  • Fuji X-E2, firmware 4.01. XF35mm, firmware 3.10: Focuses even faster, no issues (using “AF-S Zone” mode is even better).

This is definitely not the fastest lens, but it’s not up to the very gloom myth that the first reviews created. For my style of shooting, I’m perfectly happy with this lens. If I need speed above all, then I grab my XF18-55 F2.8.

You might want to compare the autofocus test above with the one I made for my XF27mm F2.8 review.

Remember to keep your firmware up to date, both for your camera and lenses: Fujifilm’s firmware download page.

Final thoughts

Get this lens, it’s great. Unless you prefer or need wide or long lenses, this one is fantastic. It feels nice, it works great, and that F1.4 is magical.

Yes, compared to the newer XF35mm F2 this one is slower, noisier, and it’s not weather resistant, but it has a pretty unique look, good enough autofocus, and offers an extra stop of light for not much more money.

Fuji XF35mm F1.4. UV filter to avoid dust and fingerprints.
Fuji XF35mm F1.4. UV filter to avoid dust and fingerprints.

If I was buying today, I would probably go with this again over the F2 version, because of the additional light and because I don’t think city weather qualifies as extreme weather. I honestly think WR is overrated for 90% of users. The 10% who really need WR know they need it.

If budget is a problem, wait for a sale. It usually goes for $450, barely $50 more than the F2. The extra stop of light can mean not upgrading your camera for better ISO performance for a few years.

If weather is a problem, then you probably already know the F2 version and a weather resistant body is your only option.

Happy shooting.