Today I’m taking an in-depth look not at a new lens, but from a lens that’s been a staple of the Fuji X-System since the very beginning. The XF 35mm f/1.4 R was well received among the photographic community when it was released, and I bought my copy alongside my first X-Series body, which was the X-E1, though somehow reviewing it was pushed to the back burner. As such, this will be a very long-term review, as I’ve notched many thousands of frames and over two years of shooting with this little lens.
Construction and Handling
The XF 35mm f/1.4 is one of the trio of lenses that debuted with the original X-Series camera, the X-Pro 1. Along with the XF 60mm f/2.4 Macro and the XF 18mm f/2, it’s the oldest lens in the XF lineup. Starting the X-Series with an f/1.4 normal prime was a fairly big deal: it showed that Fuji was catering to the serious shooter, and it displayed a commitment to fast glass: something the other mirrorless makers left until much later in the development of their systems.
Fuji also started the X series with high quality in mind and the 35mm f/1.4 features an all-metal construction with nicely ribbed focus ring. The 35mm f/1.4 is a solid lens and feels very much like some of the older manual focus 50mm lenses from the 60s. The 35mm’s focus group is the front element group, which moves and extends during focusing, which feels a bit behind the times with regards to many of the other XF prime lenses, most of which feature internal focusing.
The aperture ring on the 35mm f/1.4 is fairly average by Fuji standards. It is not on par with the well-damped ring with solid detents that the XF 90mm f/2 or the f/2.8 zooms display, nor is it as loose as the terrible aperture ring on the 14mm f/2.8. The f-stop is selectable in 1/3 stop increments from f/1.4 to f/16 and generally, the ring stays where you put it. The focus ring is well damped, though not as silky smooth as the rings on several of the later XF prime lenses. It’s not bad, but it does feel slightly ‘scratchy’ due to some resistance against the barrel.
Despite the fast f/1.4 aperture, the XF 35mm is a very compact lens. It’s similar in size to f/1.8 standard lenses from Sony and Zeiss, despite the extra 2/3 stop of light gathering. It handles beautifully on any of the X-series cameras, from the X-T1 all the way to the diminutive X-M1 and X-A series cameras. The very small XF 27mm f/2.8 is notably thinner than the 35mm, but I have found I will grab the 35mm almost all the time when I’m simply packing my X-E2 with one lens in a small hip pouch, as the small increase in size is well worth the extra two stops of aperture over the 27mm.
The lens comes with a metal “pinch” style lens hood that requires its own cap, as it’s neither reversible nor capable of use with the standard lens cap. The hood is effective and looks cool. Unfortunately, it’s also supremely annoying. The rubber hood cap constantly falls off when pulling the lens out of the bag, and it dramatically increases the stored length when in use. Because of these frustrations, it’s one of the few lens hoods that I almost always leave at home. It’s just not worth the hassle.
The XF 35mm f/1.4 has a standard micromotor for autofocus, making it one of the slower and louder lenses in the Fuji lineup. Focusing is quite audible and, when using contrast detect focus, only moderate in speed. With the later release of lens firmware coupled with phase-detect autofocus (PDAF) capable Fuji cameras, the 35mm f/1.4 is capable of quite quick operation in decent light when PDAF is used. Overall focus accuracy has been quite good for me over the years, with only very rarely missed shots, even at f/1.4.
The X-Series was well received when it launched despite some major early issues with the X-Pro 1 and the limited 3 lens set, and a large part of that is due to the excellent quality of images produced by Fuji’s lenses. The 35mm was often billed as a must have lens, with the 60mm followed closely in praise.
Having owned or reviewed nearly every Fuji X lens over the past two years, I have to say that while the XF 35mm f/1.4 doesn’t quite reach the lofty pure quality that later lenses like the 14mm f/2.8, 16mm f/1.4, 56mm f/1.2 and 90mm f/2 do, it impresses with quality that is both empirically good and subjectively beautiful.
Fuji did a very nice job in designing the XF 35mm, especially considering the compact size and fast aperture. The lens produces images with good sharpness over about 70% of the frame right from f/1.4, while the edges soften at these wide apertures. Stopping down to f/2 brings the center up to excellent levels of clarity while the edges improve a bit. However, stopping down to f/4 , or even better, f/5.6, dramatically improves cross-frame sharpness. The edges become very sharp by f/5.6, with the corners only lagging slightly behind, but still showing plenty of detail.
As such, the lens performs very well for typical environmental portrait applications at wide apertures, as subject placement in these situations almost always falls in the areas where good resolution is displayed, and the lens is excellent for landscape or other uses where cross frame sharpness is paramount. It’s not the sharpest fast lens Fuji makes, nor the sharpest fast normal prime I’ve tried, but it is quite good.
Bokeh on the 35mm f/1.4 falls short of perfect, but in my opinion is one of the nicest things about the way the lens draws. Backgrounds are generally creamy and soft with beautiful falloff from the focus point. Specular highlights are generally evenly illuminated and soft, especially at wide apertures. Stopped down, a slight bright ring can be seen, but is rarely bothersome. Foreground bokeh is also largely excellent, as the character in front of and behind the focus point is consistent. The overall look is quite beautiful to my eye.
Color, Contrast and Chromatic Aberration
The XF 35mm f/1.4 shows a contrast profile very similar to many other fast lenses in the Fuji lineup. At wide apertures, contrast is good, but slightly muted, while a significant contrast increase comes when stopping down to f/2 and beyond. Color is largely accurately rendered, perhaps with a slight warm bias.
The XF 35mm f/1.4 controls chromatic aberration fairly well considering the speed. Lateral CA is quite well controlled and is largely invisible in field use. Some slight longitudinal CA can bee seen in the right circumstances, but again is generally minor.
Distortion, Flare and Vignetting
The XF 35mm f/1.4 is well corrected for distortion, with only a very slight bit of barrel distortion that you’d be hard pressed to ever notice in photos. For almost all applications, it’s effectively zero. The lens also performs very well against bright light, with only minimal flare induced in most situations with bright light in the frame. Only upon placing the sun directly in a corner can somewhat nasty ghosts and streaks be readily produced.
The 35mm f/1.4 does have rather strong vignetting, with pronounced corner shading at f/1.4 that eases as you stop down to f/2.8 or so, though it never fully goes away. If this bothers you, you’ll need to apply some vignetting correction in post processing. I generally like some vignetting in my fast lenses, so the look at f/1.4 is rather appealing to me, especially in conjunction with the other imaging characteristics.
Overall, I simply love the look of the images the 35mm f/1.4 produces. It’s not the sharpest, nor the best corrected lens, but is sharp enough and the overall drawing style is simply gorgeous. There is a definite ‘look’ the images the 35mm f/1.4 produces, and it’s one that I personally very much enjoy.
- Well constructed and compact lens
- Fast f/1.4 aperture provides versatility
- Good sharpness over the central part of the frame wide open and excellent cross-frame sharpness stopped down
- Beautiful bokeh
- Pleasing contrast profile
- Good control of chromatic aberration
- Very low distortion
- Beautiful overall rendering
- Autofocus is noisy and slower than other Fuji primes
- Aperture ring could be a bit stiffer
- Lens hood design is non-reversible and frustrating in use
- High vignetting
- Edges are soft at wide apertures
The XF 35mm f/1.4 isn’t a perfect lens. It’s definitely got some edge softness at wider apertures, the focus motor is a bit loud and pokey and the lens hood stinks. It’s also one of my favorite lenses for the X-Series. It’s probably not my most used lens. It’s not even my most used prime in the system. But when I take the 35mm for a spin, I remember why I have it: beautiful images with a unique look. The smooth bokeh, gorgeous falloff, good sharpness and correction of most lens aberrations give the lens a rendering that is hard to beat.
Fuji is said to be working on a version 2 of this lens, with an improved focus motor and some other improvements. I wouldn’t mind some minor improvements to sharpness, but I hope that whatever optical changes are made retain the special magic present in this lens. The Fuji 35mm f/1.4 is a modern classic.