Ready for anything | The FUJINON XF 35mm f/2 R WR

The old XF 35mm f/1.4 carries a lot of history for me. It's the lens that made me switch from Nikon to the X system after taking that leap of faith with the X-Pro1 (and after falling head over heels for the X100). Of course, back then we didn't really have much choice: it was either the 35, the 60 or the 18, and in terms of ticking all three boxes (IQ, rendering and performance), the 35 was by far the best lens in that initial crop (the 60 was/is fantastic but...slooow).

Since then Fuji shooters have been completely spoiled, not just by the sheer number of lenses available but by the quality of the optics and the refinement of the technology behind each successive release. We've come a long way baby. But even today, even with all these lenses I now own...That venerable 35 f/1.4 remains a staple of my workflow; I really never stopped shooting it. 

Until about 10 days ago.


Every single Fuji photographer I've ever talked to gets almost misty-eyed when talking about the f/1.4's character and rendering. Certain lenses possess a certain magic that's hard to explain and this one always had it in droves. But in terms of performance—I'm talking physical performance not optical—it started showing its age the moment the next generation of Fujinon XF lenses hit the scene: the loose aperture and focus rings, the noisy AF, the external focusing and slow motor...given the importance of the 50mm equivalent focal length, it only made sense to create an updated version that would be on par with the rest of the lineup; in fact I remember asking about this possibility during one of my very first meetings with Fujifilm Canada. The challenge was in keeping that magic alive: whatever secret sauce the old model had been dipped into, the new one needed a heaping teaspoon of it or risk becoming a total let down. Good news folks: it's dripping with it.

I'm not going to even attempt a technical explanation because frankly, I don't care. Specs can be found here if you're curious (9 elements in 6 groups, two aspherical elements etc). All I know is I love what I've been seeing so far and the filiation is perfectly clear—this is the f/1.4's sibling through and through. Same feel, same personality

On the X-T1

On the X-Pro1


In terms of manipulation, it boasts the stronger build of the new generations and has much stiffer aperture and focus rings, something I've been told will be the new standard for XF lenses going forward. I'm talking good stiffness here—gone are the days when you'd end up at f/2.8 just by picking up the camera (I'm looking at you 14mm). 

The lens has a new, slightly more elongated design that initially looks odd but grows on you (I have the black version but I think it looks especially nice in silver), although it feels a little different in terms of how it balances in the hand. And the hood? T.I.N.Y. Makes sense but it's a welcome change that I believe is more about impact protection this time than flaring. It's made of plastic which I'm not crazy about, but it's perfectly fine once mounted on the lens. The compact size and mechanical changes make for a lens that feels solid; tight is the word that comes to mind.

f/2? f/1.4?

What about that 1 stop difference? Everyone loves fast lenses; I love fast lenses. So although I've always been perfectly comfortable with the X100 line's f/2 aperture, I was admittedly disappointed when I first heard about the new 35: why would Fujifilm choose to go with a slower f/2? Well, two reasons: focus speed and size. The smaller glass allows for a smaller overall footprint as well as serious gains in AF speed. And: the new 35 brings total, absolute silence. This is something easily forgotten when talking about lenses but it's part of what makes the X100 line (in my mind) so appealing for any sort of documentary work. By using internal focusing and a much quieter motor, the new 35 disappears...A feature that's as much part of the footprint as its actual physical size. 

Does it make a difference visually? Sure it does. At f/2 the lenses provide virtually identical images but f/1.4 is still f/1.4—that much more light and that much more blur at equal distance. But the bottom line: given the improvements listed above, I'm more than happy to live with that 1 stop trade-off. Besides, this new model is an addition—not a replacement.

I've been using the new 35 a lot since getting my hands on it. As far as I'm concerned it's yet another high mark for Fujifilm, who seem to have found a pretty impressive groove when it comes to optics. It was true out of the gate but it’s become even more consistent these past two years. In tandem with the weather-sealed X-T1, the new Fujinon XF 35mm f/2 R WR finally gives us a robust, classic 50mm reportage kit. 

Reactive, beautiful...and ready for anything.

More info available here.
Jonas Rask also has a great review that's well worth reading if you haven't done so already.

Addendum: the two posts below were shot using the new lens, including a new essay for KAGE COLLECTIVE. I went to the solidarity gathering in Montreal on November 14th to show support, but also to witness the outpouring of emotion and make sense of these events through images—the way I cope with everything in my life. What happened in Paris makes anything as trivial as gear seem almost like an insult to the memory of that terrible night. But still: those images were shot with the new 35mm so I’m including the link in this review, the way I’d include any other. Let’s just remember what truly matters.






An essay about the  Montreal solidarity gathering for the victims of the Paris attack on November 13th 2015. Click here for the story. Shot with the 35mm f/2 R WR.

Beach Revisited - or the end of an experiment.

I was dead serious about leaving Lightroom behind. And I did: until today both Lightroom and Photoshop were on the verge of leaving my Dock, after weeks without a single launch. The switch to Capture One hadn't gone without a few hiccups, but overall I was super happy with the results and had completely rewired my brain to the Phase One workflow. A couple of big jobs edited, processed and delivered, a few blog posts...all good.

But then on Wednesday something happened: I got my brand spanking new iMac 5k. Gorgeous machine obviously and I was stoked to start editing with a state of the art computer again, in full resolution no less. So after 14 hours of file transfers I sat down the next morning, fired up COP...and it crashed within 5 minutes. On a small client catalog, not my huge library. That day I think I sent 8-10 crash reports, some of these while working in another very small Session—so this wasn’t solely a catalog issue. Now, as depressing as that was, what really got to me was how little different my new computer felt from the old one while using the app. Certain things—like brushing— were even slower. In fact when the day ended I was rather bummed out: all that money for this? A vague speed bump? I told Cynthia about it that night and went to bed somewhat disillusioned, dreaming of the days when replacing a six year-old machine was like stepping into a whole new universe. Bummer? Yeah.

Thursday came and went. Same deal.  Everything outside image editing was downright zippy but I figured this had to do with that 5K resolution vs scaling trickery going on in the OS, Capture One having to push pixels the rest of the system didn't need to deal with. Then on this morning the app crashed again and I just decided to open Lightroom, just for the heck of it. Just to see…

Bloody. Hell. 
So this is where the speed had been hiding.

As stubborn as I can be, I can admit when I've made a mistake: this is one of those times. As much as I love many, MANY aspects of COP8, I have to go back. The difference in performance can't even begin to compare—and we all know performance has not been the star of this latest LR version (which, incidentally, is the dreaded 6.2.1 on this new Mac). Everything is lightning fast, even with images at 100%. I'm talking processing, moving around, the sliders, the modules, the brushes…all of it. I'm suddenly running the iMac I paid for. I have another 16 gigs of ram ordered so this is bound to become even better.

I believe part of the bottleneck in Capture One has to do with UI animations that appear to slow the app down. I've also noticed significant and possibly unnecessary disk reads when accessing files, as though the app needs to pre-read every single file in a folder instead of just the ones displayed on-screen. So accessing All Photographs on a large library would send my external hard drives grinding for several minutes, which makes no sense—it should only access the files it needs or better yet, use internal previews until we actually select the images we want to work on. If this is how it works then I'm not sure what's going on exactly; but I suspect this was a big part of my main library problems.

Beyond the speed issue however, I had also begun to realize the number of workarounds I'd need to figure out in order to do certain things I had always taken for granted: no round-tripping to speak of (files are always sent without adjustments unless going through the export panel), no built-in metadata editing beyond keywords (can't change capture time for instance), no mobile solution or any sort of syncing. Some of these I discovered, others I already knew about but was prepared to deal with (Fuji tethering)...but 1+1+1+100 is eventually too much of a load. Death by a thousand cuts.

I've paid for the COP8 license so it's not going away. The way I see it, I've got a shiny new drill in my toolbox. I've learned a lot about processing in that application and will have zero trouble switching from one app to the other if I feel it's the right tool for the job. The raw decoding for X-Trans files remains way better than LR and the colouring/toning tools are spectacular (tint wheels AND colour editors AND levels AND curves). Everything it does can be more or less achieved in LR but the process is so much more intuitive once you grasp the concepts—it feels more like film grading. And it's extremely visual, especially compared to manipulating a single red, blue or green curve. COP8 also has an amazing grain engine that goes way beyond what LR or others can achieve. I'm going to miss all of these capabilities a lot.

If there's one thing this entire episode has showed me, it's how much more Adobe could be doing for photographers. There's great stuff in LR but why not give us UI/shortcut customization for instance, or anything I've just described above. Is it really asking too much to be able to sort my collections and collection sets either manually or by creation/modified date? Alphabetical makes ZERO sense. I can’t imagine I’m alone on this one. Go ahead and copy Aperture, I'm sure Apple won't mind at this point. Think beyond marketing tactics and please, PLEASE don't focus on newbies. Instead, make an app worth learning. There's nothing wrong with effort in life. Nothing at all. It's called craftsmanship and it should be encouraged not stifled and sacrificed on the altar of Instagram. Anyway...

I’d been using the images below to experiment various looks in Capture One when it crashed and sent me packing. So I redid them in Lightroom and created a new preset for myself along the way. I think I’ll call it Mann. Or Sally

Or eating crow...

Shot with the X100T

New 35. First Fragments.

These are from a brand new production version of the Fujinon XF 35mm f/2 R WR. I've been busy with editing a few jobs, writing a magazine article and preparing for my new iMac (yay!) but I'll be posting a full review shortly. Let me just quickly say this: the force is strong with this one. What made the old 35 so special is still there in droves...+ speed + silence.

Very cool.

Shot with the X-T1 and XF 35mm f/2 R WR

All Hallows' Eve

I don't like Halloween. There, I said it.

When I was a kid Halloween was simple: you'd put on a cheap paper mask (I was fond of Spiderman) or punch holes in a bed-sheet, head out for an hour or two, come back with candy and a few bucks for Unicef. That was the extent of it. But now... It's a weeks-long extravaganza with houses decorated to the hilt, special events at school and the corresponding peer pressure for costumes that'll knock it out of the ballpark. A paper mask? Please.

"When I was a kid we'd walk ten miles in the snow!..."

It IS kinda cute for a second or two though—the wigs, the makeup, the funny faces. Last year Jacob was our first deserter, invited to spend the evening with a friend from school. This year Anaïs joined the fray and did her own thing as well. So for a few short hours of roaming and candy hunting, Heloïse got to be an only-child; she was ecstatic. "Just me and my parents!" she kept repeating, grinning from ear to ear. As much as you try and give everyone their one on one time, being the youngest of three inevitably takes its toll I guess. Your space, after all, is defined within a group from day one. That's your reality.

I broke out the XF 35mm f/1.4 on this one (except for the image at top shot with the X100T). A vampire, a doll (Lalaloopsy anyone?) and a pirate—who had already jumped ship before I reached for the camera.

Eventually Cynthia and I will have our wish: on Halloween night we'll spend a quiet evening at home, watching a movie, maybe having a glass of wine.
And we'll miss all of this nonsense so much it'll hurt.

Shot with the X-T1 and Xf 35mm f/1.4 R