As an early adopter of the X Series in 2012 I purchased the original trio of prime XF lenses to go with the Fujifilm X-Pro1. While the 60mm f2.4 macro was sold in 2015, I still own the XF18mm f2 and the XF35mm f1.4 lenses, and I use them both on a regular basis.
Compared to later lenses in the XF line up, the two primes are not the fastest operators in the auto focus department. So when the X-T3 was launched I was keen to see if the new AF system and faster processor would make a noticeable difference to the performance of the older lenses. The 35mm has a special place in my heart as I love using the ‘standard’ 50mm equivalent focal length and the fast 1.4 maximum aperture gives the images a certain look.
Now Fujifilm do offer a more modern lens, the 35mm f2, which has faster AF, silent motors, with all the movements internal to the lens. It is also weather resistant. I have tested the f2 version on three occasions over a period of six weeks, and while it is a great performer, I much prefer the look of the final images taken with the older f1.4 lens.
Also, from a totally aesthetic point of view, I prefer the classic styling of the older lens on the camera, rather than the tapered barrel of the f/2 with its smaller 43mm diameter filter ring. This is just my preference, nothing more.
Anyway I decided to test the older lens on the new X-T3 in and around my home in Scotland and I also used it at the FIA World Endurance Championship event in Shanghai.
Now, just to be clear, this wasn’t a scientific test, this review is just my impressions as a working professional photographer on how the autofocus on the lens performed on the newest member of the X Series family compared to using it on the X-T2 and X-Pro2.
OUT IN THE WOODS
The first test was during one of my Woodland Exploration workshops I host in the Lammermuir Hills in the South East of Scotland. I use the 35mm in conjunction with a 16mm extension ring to allow me to focus a lot closer to objects. I had found some autumn leaves on the ground covered in dew drops so I decided to get some close up shots.
Normally I wouldn’t use AF for this type of shot, preferring to use manual focus due to the extremely shallow depth of field. However for this test I did switch to AF and I have to say it did perform really well. The lens did hunt, and it wasn’t always accurate which meant I had to fine tune the focus manually, but it was a lot better than the same combination on the X-T2. This test did point to a marked improvement in the AF speed and accuracy when using the lens on the X-T3.
IN THE PITLANE
During the set up day at a World Endurance Championship event I will spend some time in the pitlane talking to the teams and drivers and capturing images of the cars as they are prepared for the race weekend. The 35mm f/1.4 is perfect for this type of environment with its fast aperture and 44 degree angle of view. Again the AF was put through its paces taking pictures of cars as they emerged from garages being pushed by mechanics down to the scrutineering bay for the technical checks.
Even in the gloomy conditions after sunset, which the fast f1.4 was perfect for keeping the ISO as low as possible, the 35mm was still producing the goods.
Tracking a fast moving car from the side of the circuit is not a shot I would normally trust to the 35mm f1.4 but there is a spot at the Shanghai International Circuit where you can get close to the inside of a corner to shoot with this focal length. On an X-T2 the AF on the 35mm would struggle to keep up but on the X-T3 I was very surprised that it was precise and accurate. I panned with the cars as they emerged from the fast corner onto the long back straight, using the continuous AF to keep the car in focus. In the bright sunlight the lens had no trouble keeping up with the fast moving race cars.
FACE DETECTION AND EYE FOCUS
In the press conference I was able to use the X-T3 and 35mm f1.4 to test the new cameras updated Face Detection and Eye Focus. While the X-T2 has these features I found it to be too hit and miss for me to use on a regular basis but the X-T3 has changed my mind. It is very accurate and my hit rate when shooting driver portraits or in the pitlane is excellent. So I put the 35mm on the X-T3 and set the camera to Face Detection and Auto Eye Focus.
The artificial lighting in the press conference room provided an extra challenge but, like the pitlane, the X-T3 / XF35mm f1.4 combination rose to the challenge admirably locking onto the driver’s eye quickly and accurately.
The AF performance of the grandfather of the XF lens line up is certainly improved significantly when coupled with the new X-T3 body. The older AF motors still makes this a noisy lens, there is no getting away from that. I certainly wouldn’t use this lens for video work if I needed to shoot using AF due to the noise of the motors. However if you can accept that fact then the 35mm f/1.4 is a consummate performer in all other aspects.
At the end of the day the reason I use the 35mm f/1.4 goes beyond AF performance, I love the look of the images I get from this lens. However the speed and accuracy of the autofocus has always been a negative aspect of this lens in the past but now that issue has been negated for me and the XF35mm f/1.4 will certainly be getting more time on the camera in areas where I need to rely on the autofocus.