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.