Bert Stephani is a commercial and editorial photographer from Belgium who specializes in creative portraits and lifestyle photography.
Bert aims to capture what makes someone unique in every portrait. In his lifestyle pictures, it’s all about authentic experiences rather than the fake glamour that is often associated with the genre. Although technical mastery is high on Bert’s priority list, his style is often a bit rough around the edges, just like life itself.
Bert is also passionate about sharing information and knowledge with others. Workshops, lectures and speaking engagements have taken him all over the world to meet inspiring fellow creatives.
The original XF35mm F1.4 lens was my first Fujinon lens and it has been my favorite lens for close to 10 years now. I call it my “life-lens” because through this magical optical device, I’ve captured the people I care about. I use different cameras and lenses depending on the job and the esthetics that I need. But I always return to the standard lens. It serves as a kind of reset button to remind myself that my work should be all about connection and authenticity.
There are only two things that have held me back sometimes with this lens: the autofocus speed and the lack of weather resistant structure. Sometimes I’d like to take my favorite standard focal length to shoot fast action. And although I’ve used the XF35mmF1.4 in some bad weather, there’s still that worry that I will destroy it in heavy rain or dust. So when I got the chance to test out the brand new XF33mmF1.4 I jumped to the opportunity because it fixes those two flaws in the original XF35mmF1.4.
The XF33mm is a little bigger and heavier than its older brother but it’s just a slight trade-off for more powerful autofocus motors and weather resistant. It’s still a light and compact lens that I’d happily carry around all day. The lens feels solid and all the rings have that perfect balance between being easy to operate without making accidental changes. The size and weight make it an ideal everyday companion. For this test, I wanted to visit some old friends, people I care deeply about but hadn’t seen for years. In this situation I don’t want the camera and lens to be a barrier between me and the subject. In order to get intimate portraits, I can’t use a big, intimidating lens. The XF33mmF1.4 fits my requirements perfectly for these authentic portraits.
Autofocus is extremely quick and confident with this lens. I don’t always need this lightning fast focus and I can usually get by with even the slowest lens. But it’s often a matter of brain power. With a slow focusing lens, I have to check focus, use pre-focused marks and that takes away my attention from the subject. I found the focus of the new XF33mm on the X-Pro3 extremely reliable, even in continuous autofocus and in low light. I did a shoot with a sporty friend and shot several moving portrait scenarios that would be a big challenge with the older lens. The AF didn’t skip a beat and I got almost all my pictures in focus.
On some of the other shoots where speed wasn’t so important, it still gave me a lot of peace of mind that the focus would be spot on. It’s just another thing that I don’t have to think about which allows me to form a better connection with my subject.
Bad weather often makes for great photo opportunities. And on a practical level, the weather in Belgium can just go any way without much notice. If I only shot in good weather, I would spend more time rescheduling shoots than to actually shoot. Most of my lenses are weather resistant these days, but until now I didn’t have a worry-free F1.4 standard lens that I in adverse conditions.
When the weather forecast called for a day of pretty crazy rain, I grabbed a couple of friends to shoot in the worst of it. We shot for many hours in pouring rain without ever protecting or drying off the lens. It was a bit scary to be honest but it’s better to test gear on the extreme end of the spectrum to learn how good it is. The XF33mmF1.4 didn’t skip a beat and it has kept working perfectly ever since.
The images from XF33mm F1.4 have an amazing sharp and crisp, almost three dimensional look. It looks almost like the images were made with a GFX-system. To me this is good news, as I often use the GFX- and X-system side by side on projects. The high quality look of the XF33mmF1.4 images makes it easier for me to mix and match the two systems. Also for images with a more “commercial look” and fine detail, the XF33mmF1.4 is a clear winner.
I was perfectly happy with the image quality of the older XF35mmF1.4. It may not be the most optically perfect lens but it has a very special look. The “character” of a lens is in my opinion too often overlooked. Measurable parameters are important, but I choose my lenses more on the look and feel of the images than on charts and measurements. The XF35mmF1.4 has character in spades and I was a bit worried that its newborn brother would lack that. But quickly after my first test shots, I was reassured that the XF33mm brings a great look to the pictures too. It’s a different look and character, that’s for sure. But in my opinion having options is never a bad thing. I will definitely keep both lenses as I don’t see the new one as a complete replacement for the good old XF35mmF1.4.
However thanks to the AF-speed, weather resistant structure and resolution, the new XF33mmF1.4 is very likely to became my new standard go-to lens.