Manual Gear with the 7Artisans 35mm F1.2 & the Fujifilm X-T3: A Very Casual Review of a Rather Joyful Combo
Stuck in a rut? Yeah, I've been feeling that way a bit until recently. As I've quietly wound down the work I was pursuing with weddings (still love 'em) and focused on other elements of my life and career, finding inspiration and a drive to challenge myself hasn't been easy.
I was hoping, though honestly doubtful, that picking up the new X-T3 at release was going to be a big a big kick in the backside to feel inspired and discover some newfound glory. As you would expect however, not much changed in my sense of inspiriation despite loving the new camera and its improved feature set.
Fast-forward a few months to 2019 and I stumbled across the rather awesome and inspiring artist Alik Griffin. I spent many evenings in January reading his various posts about camera gear along with his approach to photographing various subjects. A few of his reviews really stood out for me as a Fujifilm user – the Mitakon 35mm 0.95 and the 7Artistans 35mm 1.2.
With a weekend trip to Paris on the cards I knew that there was a golden opportunity to test out a dedicated manual lens with my X-T3. Unfortunately my budget on a U.K. income doesn't readily permit the flippant purchase of things like a £400 'might be alright' lens so I instead threw down a more modest £97 on the 7Artisans 35mm F1.2 lens.
At the time of writing this post I've only had the lens for 6 days so take everything you read and see here a good pinch of salt.
So is it any good? Did it help break the rut?
In one word — yes!
In several words — Heck yes it did and every Fuji user should grab one of these nifty little manual lenses that are loaded with flawed character.
For all the pictures included in this post I have shared JPEGs using my customised Acros and Chrome settings. They were imported into LR and reexported in a more manageable size with ~20+ clarity on most images. Nothing else other than a possible crop on some was added. Spot metering was used throughout the capturing process.
After tinkering with the lens a day before my travels I got the camera set up right and started to get the hang of shooting at F1.2 manually (what other F-stop would you use?). There's a lot to be said about being challenged by your gear in this age of advanced AF systems that, if I'm honest, can make creating a bit of a brainless affair. I sure to love the X-T3's focusing system that breathed new life into my beloved XF56 F1.2.
I've found the lens extremely easy to get used to and have adjusted to its reversed focusing and declicked aperture rings (they're opposite to Fujifilm's) which are solid and easy to keep in place whilst walking around cities and streets. I've generally been able to nail focus in a prompt manner, however, I have found that some images, which I thought were in focus, simply aren't and the whole image just seems 'off' with no discernable focus point. I'll be investigating this intermitent issue further.
As far as the character of the lens is concerned, much like an interesting humanbeing, its the flaws that give it character and make it far more unique than what a lot of the photography industry is driven towards these days — perfection.
Is it soft up close? Yeah. Does it have a sweet spot? Sure does. Is it an inspiring piece of kit to go out and shoot with? Definitely!
In a time where many of us will bend over backwards to justify spening exorbatant amounts of money on that piece of gear there's a lot to be said with this lens and its price of admission. If you've been on the fence about purchasing one, just go and do it. If you're tinkering with vintage glass and adapters, go give this a shot whilst you're at it. Its compact size and features make for a fantastic combo that I'd like to think would inspire you like it did me. The folks at 7Artisans really nailed it with this bit of gear and I look forward to seeing what they come up with next.
I just have to say this outright. You folk here in the northern hemisphere, particularly out here in the U.K. are spoiled for good light, when it's out. Coming originally from Western Australia where the sun gives you about an hour each side of the day of pleasant light, it is such a dream with the sun sitting here around 45 degrees.
'Nuff of the whinge!
What's this new XF50 F2 WR all about?
It's a seemingly obscure focal length that doesn't have an older sibling with a wider aperture to usurp, and what kind of photographer would want it? Well, after shooting 1.25 weddings back in Australia with it and having a good few days on the streets of Oxford with it, I am damned impressed by it just as I still am with it's wider mate the XF35 F2, which is my go-to lens and has been since late 2015. It's a bit of a trip down memory lane, as it would be for many who've stuck a 50mm lens on a crop sensor camera so a 76mm equivalent focal length really isn't that unfamiliar.
For this 'review' I have only included small 3000 pixel JPEGS using Chrome, +1 colour, +1 sharpness, and strong grain. Why did I do this? Because it's just bloody brilliant! I have shot backup JPEGs with strong gain for many months now and I simply lovely the images it helps to produce, particularly when shooting into light - I'll get into that more down the page though. I think it also shows for a lot of folk who like what I shoot that they can achieve this look with no post-editing. If you're really wanting RAW/RAF files leave a comment below and I'll get some going since I now have real internet here in the U.K.
Let's take a look at some bokeh samples.
I'm not one to go hunting for this kinda thing and honestly, I am not sure I have the best eye for what good bokeh is but oh well! As you can see though, at F2 this lens has really lovely focus fall off and beautiful smooth background with nice round balls. With a minimum focusing distance of 39cm you can certainly get nice and close with this lens, further exaggerating background blur in many circumstances. It really does an excellent job at focusing closely too, picking what you intend to shoot quickly and accurately.
How about the AF?
It's snappy! Well freakin' snappy! Just as I LOVE the XF35 F2 for it's efficiency this guy is exactly the same in my experience. It handles itself very well shooting into strong backlight, tracks sensationally in CF mode, acts silently and stealthily, and I simply can't fault it. It's also a joy to handle and weighs next to nothing (200g) which I barely noticed during wedding shoots. Remember though, I am shooting with an XT-2 so older cameras may not be so gracious with regards to performance.
But what about the XF56 F1.2?
It's a tough call. The ol' XF56 1.2 has that stupidly wide, light eating aperture that melts away out of focus areas, but it's also an 'old' Fujifilm lens that can be a bit sluggish and offers no Weather Resistance. In truth, during the second wedding I shot in Australia recently upon owning both lenses, I switched over to the F1.2 and didn't switch back to the XF50 F2 WR. Why? Because with the XT-2 and at times with boost mode engaged, I didn't have any issues with focusing, and I sure appreciated the images it produced at it's widest aperture. On the other side of it though, the XF50 F2 WR is way more comfortable for day to day use and is a snappier, discrete, crazy sharp and silent lens that represents the latest in Fujifilm's tech. I'll get to a comparison blog post some time soon!
Let's finish up with a little chat about the grain function on the XT-2.
I am really hooked on this little add-on for how it helps gradients appear to the human eye and how it reduces the obvious transitions in colour banding in bright scenes. I find it also helps to produce really pleasing flares as well, and overall gives me +50 hipster points in my day to day photography life. You be the judge! I just hope Adobe gets grain happening in Lightroom that looks this good.
Some final thoughts
Fujifilm have produced yet another sensational bit of gear that's of the highest quality and performs exceptionally, further reaffirming my decision many moons ago to get into the X-Series.
I'm not sure that the XF50mm F2 WR will stay in my kit, as it's so close in focal length to my XF56mm F1.2, which still holds the overall crown for preferred lens out of the two. I also much prefer a 50mm equivalent like the XF35mm F2 WR for street usage and day to day shooting, with the XF23mm F2 WR being the next lens I'd like to get and probably stick with.
Truly, you cannot fault this lens and if I were a newbie to Fujifilm I would grab it in a heartbeat with the XF23mm F2 WR to start my kit off, as they're exceptional lenses for the money that have character and handle wonderfully, whilst producing consistently gorgeous images. Try it out for yourself and you'll see what I mean with the XF50mm F2 WR.