When choosing between two lenses that share the same focal length, there are a few considerations to be made. One: Is the slower lens significantly cheaper? Two: Is the slower lens significantly smaller? Three: Does the slower lens have any optical advantages?
In the case of the 35mm f/2 WR, the lens answers the first two with a “slightly.” It’s cheaper, but only by $200, which when you’re talking about a stop of aperture really isn’t that much. It’s smaller, but not much smaller. It’s very slightly shorter and it’s narrower at the end, but both lenses will take up similar amounts of space in your bag. So how about the third? Let’s take a look.
When dealing with a normal lens that starts at a more modest f/2 aperture rather than something faster, wide open image quality becomes even more important than it does on faster lenses, and the 35mm f/2 doesn’t disappoint here. The lens is very sharp right from f/2 over the majority of the frame. The central part of the frame is already extremely crisp out of the gate, and the edges even show good resolution at f/2. Only the corners soften a bit. Stopping down a stop or two improves the center even further, to absolutely tack sharp levels, while the edges improve a fair bit when shooting closer up. Stopped down at short to medium distances, the lens displays very sharp results across the image frame. When compared with the 35mm f/1.4, the new f/2 lens has much improved sharpness on the image edges at wide apertures. See the image below for an idea of wide open sharpness. Click here to view a 100% crop of the image below.
Focusing closer to infinity, the edge performance is good, but doesn’t every really get exceptionally sharp. It’s certainly usable across the frame at any aperture, but resolution records won’t be broken on the frame edges at long focus distances. Some of the minor edge softness may be due to the level of digital distortion correction that the lens utilizes, but even though things aren’t perfect here, it’s worth stressing that the 35mm f/2 produces images with excellent resolution across almost the entire frame. It is a lens that you really don’t need to worry about much when shooting. Just pick the aperture for your required depth of field and move on.
Often when lens sharpness is a major focus, bokeh tends to suffer. Thankfully that is not the case with the 35mm f/2. One of the nicest things about the faster 35mm f/1.4 lens is that the bokeh is quite pretty, and the overall drawing style is beautiful. The 35mm f/2, despite being sharper at wider apertures, maintains an almost identical bokeh signature to the f/1.4 lens. The 35mm f/2 shows predominantly even illumination of specular highlights, with just the faintest hint of a bright edge. Background detail is blurred neutrally and smoothly, and the look of the files is very pleasing at any focus distance. The 35mm f/2 also has a 9-bladed aperture, which maintains a nicely rounded shape to the highlights even when stopped down.
However, that point above comes with a caveat: Round highlights are maintained in the center of the frame. The 35mm f/2 does distort the shape of the specular highlights the further away from the center you get in the image frame, such that the highlights in the middle third look slightly oval, while towards the edges, highlights take on a distinct cat’s eye appearance, especially wide open. This may not be to everyone’s taste, though I’ve always somewhat liked the effect. Look at the sample images at the end of the review for more samples to see what you think.
Color, Contrast and Chromatic Aberration
The 35mm f/2 also maintains that typical Fuji look with regards to color and contrast. Fuji has done an excellent job creating lenses that have a similar color and contrast profile, such that images are consistent across different focal lengths. It’s a great thing that many lens makers struggle with, and among the lenses I’ve regularly used, only Fuji, Leica and Zeiss are this consistent. The 35mm f/2 has strong contrast without being too strong and rich color that is natural without being overly punchy. It’s a great combination in a normal lens, retaining good sharpness and nice bokeh with a natural rendering that I find extremely pleasing.
The lens does a very good job with chromatic aberration control as well. Lateral CA is very well controlled, though a small bit can be visible at smaller apertures. While present, even longitudinal CA is minimal and unlikely to show up in the vast majority of situations, though it can rear its head in closer focus situations with something like white on black text. I’m quite impressed with the performance in this department.
Distortion, Flare and Vignetting
If there’s one major weakness with the Fuji 35mm f/2, it’s with the native optical distortion. Most users won’t ever see this distortion, however, as the lens bakes a distortion profile into the RAW files, such that most RAW converters don’t even show you the native file. Both Adobe Lightroom and Capture One Pro read this data and by default auto-correct the relatively hefty barrel distortion. You can’t turn it off in Lightroom, though Capture One allows you to disable this distortion correction.
When uncorrected, the lens shows strong barrel distortion. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the distortion profile actually over-corrects and leaves you with pincushion distortion that ranges from fairly significant at close distances to very mild at further focus distances. In a program like Capture One Pro, you can balance this out, and reduce the percentage of the distortion correction applied. Depending on focus distance, a percentage between 80 and 95% will counteract almost all of the pincushion distortion in the profile. The image below, taken at around 1.5m distance, shows the native optical distortion (top) and the RAW profile (bottom). Setting CaptureOne to apply 80% of the distortion profile on this image yields straight lines.
I’m usually OK with digital distortion correction when it’s done correctly and if there isn’t a major impact to image sharpness as a result. When designing a compact lens like this, often choices need to be made between correcting aberrations and size. I’m fine with sacrificing a bit of optical distortion correction for the overall strong resolution in a very small lens. Most people will never see the barrel distortion, and the pincushion overcorrection is mostly visible only at close focus distances on straight-line objects. However, given the overcorrection of the current profile, I do hope Fuji updates the distortion profile with a firmware update to the lens.
The lens puts forth a decent effort with regards to flare performance. Few obvious ghosts are displayed when a bright light source is in the frame, even at the corners, though there is a loss of contrast that somewhat radiates out of the light source and can extend a fair bit into the frame. There is one spot when a light source is at the very edge of the frame, where a flare spike can intrude on the image, but a very slight repositioning in either direction will eliminate it. I’ve definitely seen lenses with better flare performance, but overall it’s a solid showing.
There is some visible vignetting at wide apertures, but this too is somewhat corrected with a lens profile. Without the profile, vignetting is quite strong, though most users won’t ever see this. I’m not one who generally minds vignetting anyway, especially at wide apertures, and often I will add some additional subtle vignetting in post to help guide the eye to the subject.
Overall, I’m quite pleased with the 35mm f/2. It maintains the unique Fuji look while providing an impressively sharp optic with good aberration control in most areas. In pure optical quality, I feel it’s a step up from the 35mm f/1.4.