For many photographers, one normal lens is all you need. A normal lens reproduces a field of view that appears natural to the human eye. On Fuji’s APS-C sized sensors, a 35mm focal length is considered normal (it’s 50mm on full-frame and film cameras, though that field of view is technically longer than what is considered normal, thanks Oskar Barnak – creator of the Leica camera). As you probably know by now, there is no shortage of Fuji 35mm lenses to chose from (a simple Amazon search can be overwhelming). As a matter of fact, there are probably more 35mm-ish lens options than any other single focal length!
So how does one settle on a Fuji 35mm lens?
Just as with most things in life, the choice boils down to personal preferences. For my particular situation, I would consider the following for a 35mm APS-C lens (in no particular order): size, maximum aperture, weight, price, ruggedness, weather sealing, bokeh, IQ, autofocus vs manual focus.
Your list might be different but you will still be balancing and juggling with each point. The order of priorities you end up with will help narrow down your choices. You can get a cheap 7artisans 35mm f/1.2 (Amazon), an even cheaper Neewer 35mm f/1.2 (Amazon) or a ridiculously cheap Meike 35mm f/1.7 (Amazon), all full of
defects character and be happy for the rest of your shooting experience. Or you can invest in the Fuji 35mm f/1.4 (Amazon) for surgical sharpness. In my case I ended up with the two lenses that are featured in this article: the Mitakon Speedmaster 35mm f/0.95 Mark II (Amazon) and the Fuji 35mm f/2 WR (Amazon).
Why the Mitakon?
With the above values in mind, you might wonder why I would even bother with the Mitakon in the first place. It is much larger than the Fuji 35mm, significantly heavier, not as sharp, not weather resistant, more expensive and doesn’t even autofocus. The truth is that I had purchased the Fujifilm X-E3 (Amazon) with its great 18-55mm kit lens (Amazon) and adding the Speedmaster to that combo at the time just made sense:
- Weather resistance wasn’t important at all since the X-E3 isn’t weather sealed.
- I had been shooting mostly manual lenses on the Sony A7rII and another manual lens fit perfectly with the rangefinder.
- I was afraid of missing the full-frame shallow depth of field after moving away from Sony.
- The X-E3 is small and light enough that the size and weight of the Mitakon wasn’t as much of a concern.
Now that the X-T3 is a new part of my equation, the order and balance changed. Here is what this list might look like, at least from my perspective:
|On Fujifilm X-E3||On Fujifilm X-T3|
|Size||Ruggedness / Weather sealing|
|Autofocus / Manual focus||Price|
|Ruggedness / Weather sealing||Autofocus / Manual focus|
Let’s take a closer look at both lenses.
The Fuji 35mm f/2 is part of Fujifilm’s X-series collection of rugged compact primes: the 23mm f/2 (Amazon), the 50mm f/2 (Amazon) and the upcoming 16mm f/2.8. These three or four lenses could arguably be all you ever need to create an amazing photographic portfolio. They are all very small, light, weather resistant and tack sharp (though it’s reported that the 23mm is slightly softer at close range).
Image quality and personality
Honestly, there isn’t too much to say when it comes to the IQ of the Fuji 35mm since it’s so good. Images are sharp and contrasty across the frame at every setting (though yes, very close focus can get a teeny bit softer). The lens doesn’t have any visible vignetting and keeps distortions under control. Bokeh melts away smoothly thanks to nine aperture blades.
As for style and personality, it is just not as unique as the Mitakon. This Fuji 35mm is more of a precision drafter than an abstract painter.
Ease of use
Combined with the X-T3’s excellent autofocus capabilities, the Fuji 35mm is a pleasure to use. It focuses quickly and precisely. It locks on to your subject’s eye and doesn’t let go (as long as your camera allows this to happen). The aperture ring is easy to find and use without looking for it. The lens focuses relatively closely though it seems to lose a little sharpness at macro distances. Speaking of macro, the Fuji 35mm is fully compatible with the Fujifilm extension tubes (Amazon: 11mm and 16mm) and allows for more than 1:2 magnification ratio.
Just as with IQ, there isn’t much to complain about when looking at the build quality. Fujifilm made this lens to be rugged and weather proof, it feels precise and solid.
On the other end of the photographic spectrum, we have the Mitakon 35mm f/0.95. Many consider this lens to be a must-have on the Fuji-X system. I would have to agree. Mitakon appropriately named this lens “Speedmaster” as it is one of the fastest lenses you can get for APS-C sensor cameras (save for the Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 – Amazon).
Image quality and personality
With a wide open aperture of f/0.95, the lens combines razor thin depth of field with sharpness where it matters (center of the image), buttery smooth bokeh and light gathering capabilities that would rival any blackhole in this galaxy. This makes the Mitakon an excellent performer for extremely low light situations and portraiture.
This lens is interesting as it challenges what most value in a prime. In the lab, the Mitakon is probably one of the worst performers especially when compared to similarly priced primes. Corner sharpness is mediocre, especially wide open, coma is out of control, vignetting is intense and it flares like a J.J. Abrams Star Trek Movie. But that’s exactly what gives this lens an amazing personality! The images you will create using this hunk of metal and glass will be full of irresistible character.
Ease of use
The Mitakon is, however, quite hard to use! The point of this lens is to shoot it wide open and as close to your subject as possible to accentuate bokeh. Its massive aperture makes it a real challenge to shoot, especially with moving subjects. The lens, of course, doesn’t autofocus nor does it communicate with the camera. Focus peaking helps but takes time. You usually have to zoom in to check if you’re in focus, zoom out to check the framing and finally hit the shutter. By that time, there’s a good chance you or your subject moved enough to be out of focus. This makes candid fast paced photography quite challenging and you will be sorting through many out of focus shots. The ones in focus though will be worth the well effort!
Manual focus isn’t always a disadvantage by the way. The additional time required for you to focus and frame your shot forces you to think about your image. This results in taking fewer but better photos.
I can spin a positive light on many of this lens’ shortcomings, but not all. The aperture ring for example is de-clicked and very easy to inadvertently spin to a different setting (at least on my sample). The de-clicked lens might be a plus for videographers but it isn’t ideal for pure photography. The clicks allow you to set your aperture by feel and keep it in place. With this lens, you have to take your eye off of the viewfinder to double check the aperture you’re shooting at.
Despite my issues with the too-easy-to-spin aperture ring and the non-weather sealing, the lens itself looks and feels well-built. The barrel is all metal and the focus is buttery smooth. It’s also heavy as brick! Weight is a byproduct of fast lenses, as they require a lot of glass to correct aberrations. That mass of glass is another reason why this lens is only a manual focus lens by the way. Moving heavy elements with the precision and speed required for accurate focus at f/0.95 isn’t easy and would make the lens significantly larger and incredibly more expensive.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, I’m not a lab photographer. If pure sharpness was my photographic goal, I wouldn’t be selling off my Sony A7rII in favor of Fuji’s APS-C offering. Don’t get me wrong, Fuji’s X-series cameras are amazing, but they also can’t quite reach Sony’s full-frame sensor performance. However, it really doesn’t matter all that much when it comes to creating compelling images and I believe Fuji is much more fun to shoot! And in my book, “much more fun” means many more keepers.
So which lens do I prefer?
Well, I like them enough to keep them both. Yes, it’s not a very decisive conclusion, I know. However these two lenses are distinct enough that there is no confusion as to which lens to pack on a day to day basis. I hate carrying extra gear but I have nothing against owning it. The issue with owning too much comes when options are too similar. If I owned the amazing Fuji 35mm f/1.4 (Amazon), it’d be much more difficult for me to pick what to pack. In my case, if there is any chance of weather, long hikes or heavy bags, travel, fast moving subjects or critical sharpness needs, the Fuji 35mm f/2.0 is in my bag. If I have decent weather, more artistic freedom, more time, less gear needed and want a tool to create truly unique images, I pack the Mitakon 35mm f/0.95.
If my indecisiveness didn’t help you make a choice, maybe this summary table will:
|Fuji 35mm f/2.0 WR||Mitakon 35mm f/0.95|
Decent low light
|Sharp only in the middle|
Amazing low light
|Image personality||Surgical and predictable||Wild and fun|
|Size / weight||Small and light||Medium and heavy|
|Ease of use||Precise auto focus|
Clicked aperture ring
|Hard to focus|
De-clicked aperture ring
|Build quality||Very well built||Well built though sample dependent|
|Ruggedness||Weather sealed||Not weather sealed|
|Price (at the time of writing)||$349||$499|
Objectively, the Fuji 35mm is the clear winner on most metrics. However, the balancing act I mentioned at the beginning of this article must be considered. The wild image results of the Mitakon could be much more important to you than weather sealing for example, tipping the balance toward the heavier of the two lenses.
I’ll leave you with a mixture of shots from both lenses, maybe you’ll be able to figure out which is which.