Fujifilm XF35mm f/2 R WR: 1st Impressions

Fujifilm has finally done it. Like the Leica M lens model, sell multiple versions of the same focal length but at different maximum apertures. This is a smart decision. Leica has done this and the formula has worked for them for over 60 years. Can Fujifilm pull it off? They can with the 50mm equivalent focal length of 35mm on a cropped APS-C sensor. The venerable XF35mm f/1.4 is probably the best selling prime lens in the Fujifilm x-mount line-up, and for good reason. It’s sharp, compact, and reasonably priced. With the announcement of the new XF35mm f/2 R WR, Fujifilm has matured their lens choices for prime lens shooters. For those who wish for a slightly lighter, slightly more compact, and a weather-sealed body at a 50mm equivalent (at a lower price point as well), the new XF35 f/2 R WR is a solid lens.

Let’s go over some of the technical details of this new WR prime lens:

-35mm focal length on a cropped APS-C sensor (53mm equivalent)
-9 lens elements in 6 groups with 2 aspherical elements, with Nano-GI coating to reduce  flare/ghosting
-weather and dust-resistant seals throughout the body and mount (8 seals on the barrel alone)
-maximum 0.08 seconds AF speed with silent internal focus with stepping motor
-9 blade circular aperture blade in 1/3 stops
-43mm front filter thread with screw-on shallow lens hood to reduce flare
-$499.99 CAD pricing and available in November 2015

To begin, I must mention that I had a pre-production model of the XF35mm f/2 R WR lens (from here on I will call this lens the XF35 WR). Because of this I can not publish full resolution images or provide RAW file images. My sample model had some AF issues in continuous mode (although I rarely shoot in continuous AF) and the front filter thread (or the screw on hood) had some attachment issues, but these are production models and these small issues are to be expected. The finish on the silver edition XF35 WR has not yet been finalized at this time. A firmware update will be necessary to optimize the lens with each body which will become available October 29,2015. I did notice a space to attach a bayonet style lens hood behind the threaded front filter area, so there may be an optional lens hood available in the near future. At the time of release, the threaded lens hood will be included in the kit.

Ok, now that all the boring stuff is out of the way, how did I enjoy shooting with this new prime lens? I loved it. Although the lens is designated WR, I actually enjoyed shooting with it mounted on the amazing X-T10. Although the X-T1 is the natural match with any WR lens, due to the compact size and weight of the both the XF35 WR and the X-T10, I found the balance and feel of these two felt more natural for me. Saying that, if WR is a major feature you are looking for in both a body and lens, then the X-T1 is the clear choice. For the rest of us who rarely shoot in the rain, dust, or -10 deg celsius, the XF35 WR is a great lens on any x series body. 

Forget the WR feature for now. This lens will render images differently. 9 elements in 6 groups with two aspherical elements is a very different design than the XF35mm f/1.4’s 8 elements in 6 groups with only a single aspherical element. At the same aperture (let’s pick f/4.0) both these lenses will render both the subject and background differently. I’ve done some critical testing on both lenses, and although I can not post pre-production images, I can tell you it looks different, and I like the XF35 WR better in certain situations. I also like the compact size with the much smaller 43mm front filter thread. Even the focus and aperture ring feels tighter, probably due to the WR sealing rubber seals. Attached to the X-T10 body, I can tell you that it seriously looks like a film camera. Bonus for all you hipsters.

The AF speed is something I rarely talk about because two different people with different shooting styles and subjects can use the same camera and body have two different opinions. Standardized tests for AF speed is in a controlled lab so real world results will be different. Because of my pre-production model, the firmware and the internal motor was not finalized so I can not go into too much detail about the AF speed or accuracy, but I can tell you it is pretty fast. Faster than XF23, XF35 and XF56 lenses. This is probably the new design for the next generation Fujifilm x series prime lenses. 

If you already have the XF35mm f/1.4 or if you are comparing the two 35mm lenses and are wondering about the depth of field difference between f/1.4 and f/2, I have done some critical tripod comparison tests for your viewing pleasure:

35mm f/1.4

35mm f/2.0

35mm f/4.0

As you can see, in real world shooting situations, you will barely be able to see the difference between f/1.4 and f/2 unless you’re pixel-peeping. If you need the extra speed for low-light shooting situations, then yes, the extra stop in speed is the difference between shooting 1/15th or 1/30th of a second, or ISO 1600 vs ISO 3200. For the rest of us, do you want the extra speed or the WR feature? In terms of size and weight, here are some sample images of weight and size:

You can see that the weight difference isn’t huge, and in terms of size, it’s a matter of aesthetics. I prefer the look of the XF35 WR, especially on the X-T10. Functionally, yes it makes sense on the X-T1. The squared metal lens hood looks sexy on the original XF35mm f/1.4, and since there seems to be a bayonet attachment ring around the XF35 WR, let’s hope there will be an optional hood available for it soon. Price? There’s a $200 difference, which can be the deciding factor for many. For $499 CAD (perhaps $449 USD) for a WR lens, it’s a bargain. 
Fujifilm assured me that I can post sample images taken with the XF35 WR if the image is low resolution and also post processed so there is no way anyone can pixel peep and see anything worth while. I have sharpened, upped the contrast, added filters, etc. so there is no way these two images are a reflection of the final image quality of the XF35 WR. If I get in trouble, these pictures will be taken down but I don’t think so (I’m in Hong Kong right now).

Final thoughts? I’m very excited about this new lens. With a new lens design, two aspherical elements and WR, this lens should be a workhorse lens. Once I receive a working production model, I will start to post unprocessed images for your viewing pleasure. For now, let’s hope that Fujifilm will continue the process of creating new lenses of the same focal length but with added features and different lens design. I am hoping for a new pro version of the XF18mm lens (perhaps XF18mm f/1.4 WR with pull-back focus), or an XF23mm f/2 R WR. The second would be the next obvious choice. 

Check out my video unboxing and first impressions of the XF35 WR lens and look for more articles and videos coming from Hong Kong in the next few weeks. All product images taken with the Fujfilm X30 on a tripod.

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