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Nov 25

Fuji 35mm f/1.4 vs. Fuji 35mm f/2

Today, I’m pitting the original lens for the X-Series, the venerable XF 35mm f/1.4 R against the new normal prime, the XF 35mm f/2 R WR, a slightly more compact and weather resistant lens that has just been released for the X-Series of interchangeable lens cameras.  The lenses carry the same field of view and have a one stop difference in aperture.  Which should you get?  Is the new lens better than the relatively good 35mm f/1.4?  Let’s find out.

X-E2 with 35mm f/2 WR and X-T1 with 35mm f/1.4

X-E2 with 35mm f/2 WR and X-T1 with 35mm f/1.4

The Lenses

The two lenses share a lot in common, but differ in several key ways.  Both lenses are constructed with a solid metal shell and are roughly the same overall size.  The new XF 35mm f/2 tapers towards the end of the lens and is very slightly shorter, so it looks smaller than it really is.  The 35mm f/2 is a bit more solidly constructed than its f/1.4 brother, and has some weather resistance as well, but both are well-built.

The biggest physical difference between the two is the focusing system used.  The f/2 lens is an internally focusing lens, so the lens always stays a constant length.  The f/1.4 lens uses an extension focusing system, so the front element will move in and out as the lens focuses.

Mechanically, the focus motor in the 35mm f/1.4 is probably the loudest of all X-series lenses.  The new f/2 lens has a completely silent and very fast focusing motor.  The f/2 is definitely a faster performer in the autofocus department, and in my experience, hunts a bit less in very dim light as well.

Test #1 – Close Up Performance

For the first test, I placed the camera on a tripod approximately 1m from the target, square to the wall.  I tested whole stop apertures from wide open to f/8, and looked at sharpness and contrast at the center and the lower left edge, while also looking at the bokeh in the background of the frame.  The full scene is below:

Close Up Test Scene - XF 35mm f/1.4 @ f/4

Close Up Test Scene – XF 35mm f/1.4 @ f/4

Center Sharpness

First, let’s take a look at the performance in the center of the frame.  Below are 100% crops of the center, where the lenses were focused.  Click on the image to open full size in a new tab.  Make sure to enlarge to full size when viewing the comparison.

XF 35mm f/1.4 vs. XF 35mm f/2 - 100% Center Crops (Click to Enlarge)

XF 35mm f/1.4 vs. XF 35mm f/2 – 100% Center Crops (Click to Enlarge)

Looking at the center performance, the two lenses perform very close to each other.  While the 35mm f/1.4 shows a touch of softness at f/1.4, it sharpens up a fair bit at f/2, and the new XF 35mm f/2 looks to be very slightly behind the f/1.4 lens when both are at f/2.  Stopping down to f/2.8 flips things a bit, with the 35mm f/2 taking a slight lead. By f/4, both lenses are exceptionally sharp, and there’s very little difference at smaller apertures.

Edge Sharpness

Now let’s take a look at the edge.  The crops below were taken from the lower left edge.   As you’ll see, this is where the 35mm f/2 begins to separate itself.

35mm f/1.4 vs. 35mm f/2 - 100% Edge Crops (Click to Enlarge)

XF35mm f/1.4 vs. XF 35mm f/2 – 100% Edge Crops (Click to Enlarge)

While the center resolution was very similar overall, the edge crops tell a different story.  At wide apertures, the 35mm f/1.4 is quite soft, especially at f/1.4.  It’s not until f/5.6 that things start to show decent resolution, and it takes until f/8 to really be called acceptably sharp.

Meanwhile, the XF 35mm f/2 shows some edge softness at f/2, but even here the lens shows better resolution than the f/1.4 lens does at f/4.  Stopping down to f/2.8 improves things dramatically, producing very good resolution already.  By f/4, the edge at this point is very sharp and the 35mm f/2 maintains a lead across the frame all the way to f/8.

As far as resolution goes, the new XF 35mm f/2 is showing a distinct advantage across the frame at this focus distance, especially at wider apertures.

Bokeh

Finally, we’ll look at the bokeh. Again, click the image below to view full size. The crops below were taken of the specular highlights from lights in a building in the distance.

XF 35mm f/1.4 vs. XF 35mm f/2 - Bokeh (Click to Enlarge)

XF 35mm f/1.4 vs. XF 35mm f/2 – Bokeh (Click to Enlarge)

Looking at the bokeh, both lenses show a very similar drawing style.  The XF 35mm f/1.4 retains a bit more uniform circles at wide apertures, while the rounded 9 bladed aperture of the XF 35mm f/2 shows a rounder appearance to the highlights at smaller apertures. However, the overall character is quite similar.  We’ll call this one a draw.

Close Up Findings

At this 1m focus distance, the XF 35mm f/2 is showing to be the sharper lens across the frame while maintaining similar bokeh to its older brother.  At this distance, the 35mm f/2 is the superior lens, provided you don’t need that potentially all-important full stop of aperture.  That extra speed gets you lower ISO in dim condition and better subject separation when shooting shallow depth of field. How important those points are to you will help guide your decision.

However, lenses often perform differently near infinity than they do close up, so next we’ll look at distant performance.

Continue: Test 2: Infinity Performance

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

25 comments

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  1. Eddie

    And here I thought I was quite contempt with my 1.4 till you showed edge to edge comparisons.

    And this lens is WR to boot! Arrrrggggggg!! Decisions, decisions….

  2. Peter Stevens

    The 1.4 examples look (slightly) better in the head to head examples, actually, coming from a place of non-bias and having not read all of what you wrote either. The bokeh in the f2 lens seems to have more of a coma effect to it also, even if it is slightly more smooth across the board. The 1.4 looks sharper all around.

    1. Jordan Steele

      Are you sure you’re looking at the right lines? At the edge it’s not even close, and the f2 is dramatically sharper at wide apertures at the edge.

  3. Ian

    I’ve got to agree with Peter Stevens the 1.4 lens looks a lot sharper than the f2 from f2 up. Edge to edge no comparison really. By the way I own the 35 mm f2. I’m now considering trading upto the 1.4

    1. Jordan Steele

      Honestly. What are you two looking at? You have to be looking at the wrong line.

  4. Rg

    Haha, some folks are crazy the 35mm f2 looks better end of story. Thank you for the review. f.y.i. I had the 1.4 and would sell all over again for the f2 the feel of this lens is wayssss better.

  5. Damien Lovegrove

    The 35mm f/1.4 you tested here is shocking. I shoot my copy almost exclusively at f/1.4 and it is stellar right across the frame. If my 35mm lens looked as bad as this it would have been rejected/ swapped for a new one years ago. Definitely repeat the test with another lens. My 18mm f/2 was bad at the edges so I got rid of it when I bought the 18-55 zoom but my 35 f/1.4 is sparkling.

    1. madsector

      Thats what I thought when I saw the examples, your 35/1.4 looks like a bad example. Thanks for the test of the 35/2 anyway though :)

  6. madsector

    Thats what I thought when I saw the examples, your 35/1.4 looks like a bad example. Thanks for the test of the 35/2 anyway though :)

    1. Jordan Steele

      While I can’t say that my 35/1.4 is perfect without comparing it to many other copies, the results here are in line with the differences that other sites have noted, both subjectively and empirically. Lenstip shows the 35/2 also having a strong edge in resolution, especially near the edges of the frame, with a huge advantage at wide apertures in the edge…just like my test reveals. In fact their numbers have the 35/2 as sharp at the edge at f/2 as the 35/1.4 is in the center.

  7. Questor

    I have to agree with others; the samples from your 35/f1.4 don’t match the performance of mine, I get much better edge and center sharpness than yours seems to. I think you need to test with another version of the 35/1.4.

  8. Jamesf

    Results are in line with lenstip’s results. Resolution isn’t everything,don’t get hung up on it.

  9. To

    “..but the 35mm f/2 shows what Fuji can do with an extra few years of lens design for the X-Series.”

    Good review, but this conclusion has nothing to do with the reality of optical design. It’s just physical compromises and marketing decisions. Fuji knows how to design reference lenses since decades. They made trade offs to offer a compact f1.4 lens with the launch of the system. They could have done a bigger 1.4 with much improved corner sharpness, but it woudn’t have fit the size of the body. And they could have launched the system with this f2.0. But f2.0 doesn’t draw that much attention.

    Those are the usual compromises being done in optical design. Look at Nikkor 50mm f1.4 versus f1.8. Same thing. 40 years back.

    Best,
    Toni

  10. j woodward

    In the closeup view of the bridge stone pillars, the view at f8 appears to give the edge to the 1.4. I base that on the conduit coupling on one of the conduits in the shot.
    Perhaps it’s a focus issue but the coupling seems to be considerably sharper to me.

    Cheers

  11. Tomte

    I also think that you have a really bad copy of the 35 / 1.4. The corner sharpness I get from mine is far, far, far better than what I am seeing here – even at f1.4 or f2.
    Corner sharpness from your 35/2 looks impressive though. I am going to try it out someday.
    Lens performance variety is allways an issue, with some manufacturers more than with others… I have experienced issues with Fujifilm quite a lot though, so maybe here’s a comparisson between an outstanding 35/2 copy and a rather poor copy of the 35/1.4.

  12. Jake

    I have to agree that this test shows that the f/1.4 copy is terrible. It looks nothing like what my old one produced on a consistent basis. Though, the f/2 version isn’t extremely impressive. I shot a few of both while testing them at a camera shop, inside and outside as well. The thing is, the f/1.4 IS definitely sharper (if only slightly) than the f/2 version from f/2 on up. Slight, but noticeable. Even with the ‘paper specs’ being different, the f/1.4 only loses in the autofocus department, and softness in the corners (which, for a lens with this sort of aperture is expected anyway.)
    As far as size is concerned, the f/2 is only slightly smaller from what I was seeing, it’s a bit awkwardly shaped which may matter to some. Also of note is the stupid lens hood that’s included isn’t even the GOOD one, which you have to buy separately. Overall for me, it wasn’t enough to convince me that it was worth a trade in or 400 of my dollars.

    The f/1.4 right now with current rebates (12-14-15) is going for only $50 more than the f/2. So…. It’s really a decision that boils down to focus speed, aperture and price.

  13. Jordan Steele

    To all those saying that the 35/1.4 is a bad copy: I doubt it. The results shown here are in line not only in line with many other photographers’ observations, but also mirror both Lenstip and SLRGear’s MTF testing. Take a look at SLR Gear’s review and you will see that they also tested the 35/1.4 to have very soft corners wide open and taking to around f/5.6 to properly sharpen up. http://slrgear.com/reviews/showproduct.php/product/1487/cat/105

    I’ve been using the 35/1.4 for years, and the thing is, I wouldn’t have predicted this either based on my general experience, and the main reason for that is that the 35 is sharp wide open in the parts of the frame where you’d be shooting at f/1.4…namely, shooting people or isolating subjects…unless you put the subject right at the edge or corner, you won’t see this softness wide open, and how many f/1.4 shots put important details in that part of the frame? Very few. When you need cross-frame sharpness, you generally stop the lens down to f/5.6 or f/8, where the 35mm f/1.4 is very sharp indeed, even into the corners.

    1. Tomte

      That’s a good point.
      I want to test the 35F2 anyway now. I find its size and look very appealing which also is an important thing with Fuji gear 😉

  14. Jon

    Thanks for the review Jordan.
    Like others have said I think there is some sample variation in the mix here. I tested both lenses at near and far distances and found similar centre performance to you, but my 1.4 sample was consistently better as I moved towards the corners. Some reviews like the Lenstrip one agree with your findings, though of the many many reviews I have read the majority state the 1.4 to be the better performer. As I say this could be sample variation, or the fact that the 1.4 is optically corrected whereas the F2 just uses software. The resolution charts are also not the be all and end all for sharpness, Lenstrip does point out other problems the F2 has in the corners which are likely to affect real world sharpness.
    Either way it seems that if buying either lens it is worth ensuing you can take it back if you are not happy.

  15. Rick

    Thanks for a great summary. On the market for a Xt-1 and are looking for a prime.
    Did you get a chance to measure the AF?

    Thanks
    Rick

  16. Jordan Steele

    Again, for those who are insisting that my copy of the 35/1.4 is poor because of how much better the f/2 shows to be, compare SLRGear’s tests as well, as they just completed reviewing the 35/2 and you will see their sharpness map mirrorors my results almost exactly. This is typical performance for these two lenses.

    http://slrgear.com/reviews/showproduct.php/product/1487/cat/105
    http://slrgear.com/reviews/showproduct.php/product/1834/cat/105

  17. Adrian

    As a matter of fact, Fujinon has, in my experience with several 1.4/35 to compare, rather tight tolerances. I strongly doubt, there are any noticeably better copies out there than the one used for this comparison. As for the results, I can only confirm your findings.

    What’s more, these results were to be expected and are compliant with what you generally get from similar lenses of other manufacturers. E.g. compared to their closest siblings by external apearance, the 1980’s y50mm Summicron/Summilux, you will find allmost exactly identical behaviour in terms of sharpness.

    I personally own both of these lenses. The 2/35 is a delightful lens to work with. Actually, you will have a hard time finding any more pleasant to work with lens than this. As oposed to the 1.4/35, which is noisy, hard to manual focus, has an easy to knock over aperture ring, etc. This has moved to my secondary bag, reserved for cases calling specifically for it.

    1. Grant S.

      And I would second that…
      I had the opportunity to try both, with an unprejudiced choice to make, cost irrelevant. I found the operation of the f2 to be in a whole different league, I think no-one disputes that, but optically they were closer than I thought. The f1.4 was really nice from f4 down into the corners, where the f2 stays a bit smeary until f8. In the centre the f2 was superb, especially at f2.8.
      So much sample variation goes on, even in expensive semi handmade lenses, so what you show here may well be typical. My only real disappointment was with the level of native distortion. I know software correction is the norm, and surely necessary to get the lens this small (it is really tiny considering!) but optically corrected lenses are always preferable when possible, because you can hit close to perfection with the f1.4 stopped down to f8, which the f2 will never achieve. And shooting focus/recompose is always much easier with a flat field lens. The often overlooked 27mm pancake manages a better compromise in my opinion.
      But the focus speed is so good my XE1 now doubled in response time. :-) like a new camera!

  18. Art

    I have to agree with the “bad copy” comments. I have owned the f/1.4 with my X-E1 going on 3 yards now and in reviewing my landscape images I hav NOT seen the bad edge resolution that is mentioned here. Just recently I have used this set-up I mentioned on my eastern sierras photo roadtrip and I am very happy wih the results at mid to small apertures I used. I made sure the Mt. Whitney mountain range was sharp from edge to edge, and with success it is. The rocks, mountain peaks and tree details are sharp as heck, unlike the examples posted here. So I agree, you may have acquired one from a bad batch, or your X-T1 doesn’t like your f/1.4.

  19. viramati

    You need to test the f2 lens in the extreme corners where it is not sharp even stopped down. Optically I find the f1.4 lens to be superior across the whole frame

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