I make a lot of pictures from planes, trains and automobiles, the byproduct of a life in perpetual transit.
I was born and raised in Singapore, and lived a decade and a half Australia. In 2013, I decided I had enough of a fixed address, sold everything I couldn’t carry with me, and began life as a nomad. I grew up inbetweener – culture, ethnicity and nation – without managing to inhabit one side fully for any amount of time. Accordingly, I am fascinated with how identity changes constantly, and affects our perspective of the spaces that we live in, move through, borrow, and own during our lives.
My still photo commissions include live event and portraiture, and video commissions include promotional and documentary films.
I use FUJIFILM X Series cameras and lenses exclusively for both still and video work.
The XF33mmF1.4: A Legend Reincarnated
Hearing about the new XF33mmF1.4 R LM WR, felt like finding out that Christmas in July was real.
There was excitement. Here after all, was the much debated, long awaited successor to the 35mm, that original, beloved classic Fujinon lens. And one that came with a real 50mm field of view on the X Series APS-C bodies.
There was lots of impatience. Once I heard about the project, I just wanted to get my grubby paws on the lens, and NOW. The wait was interminable, the “gimme gimme gimme” anticipation when you know you have a solid present waiting under the tree.
But there was also a bit of apprehension. The original 35mm has a decade of mythology around it in Fujifilm gear circles. Many have described it with words we use for experiences rather than things, like “magical” and “soulful,” and possessing that “special sauce.” I was fairly sure the new 33mm would be a great lens. But I did wonder: would this reincarnation really live up to its legend?
The classic XF35mmF1.4
I’m in my tenth year of using the classic XF35mmF1.4, which I got with the X-Pro1 in 2012. For several years, this kit was the only camera gear I owned. I’ve since used this same lens on the X-Pro2 and X-Pro3. I know this lens like no other glass I’ve ever used. It’s been around the world for many years, and had its fair share of rough handling! It no longer autofocuses very well… at times, not at all. It flares all over the place. Its focus and aperture rings get stuck regularly, and bits of it are starting to fall off. But it’s still going, despite everything.
My old XF35mmF1.4 has seen better days
The new XF33mmF1.4
The new XF33mmF1.4 is stepping into some mighty big shoes. How does it stack up against the original?
I’m a street photographer. Over the years, I’ve regularly photographed music festivals, done field work for aid organisations, shot weddings and picked up the odd portraiture commission. But right at the start, from the day I got my first camera, it was the streets that had my heart, and much of my professional practice is built on the practice of a street photographer. I move a lot on the job, while pointing my camera at subjects that are also usually moving, and frequently in all kinds of different directions. So I like my lenses fast, with capable autofocus performance, and ideally, all of that in a compact package that withstands a bit of abuse. The old 35mm delivered on most of those, but it sorely was lacking in the autofocus department, especially in earlier years!
When I finally got the XF33mmF1.4 in hand (Christmas in July!), these were my highlights:
1. Weather resistance — ‘Nuff said. This is always nice to have, particularly given the torrential storms that we have here in Singapore. I really enjoy shooting in the rain, but must admit that my heart has skipped a beat or three, when I happened to be out without WR gear, umbrella, raincoat, or anything to keep the water out, in a deluge. Rain won’t do me any harm, but electronics don’t stand a chance against a sustained wall of water, like we’ve had here.
2. Blazing fast autofocus — The new 33mm focuses with an internal linear motor, and it is really snappy. I pointed it at everything I could, from moving buses, trains and cars, in all kinds of light conditions, and it didn’t miss a beat.
3. Bokeh — The bokeh on this glass is mouthwatering. That gorgeous, buttery graduation from the in-focus to very out-of-focus areas is the kind of thing troubadours sing songs about (they would, if they were gearheads, I promise you). Be prepared to drool. A lot.
Of course, the image quality we’ve come to expect from Fujinon lenses hits all the marks. Fantastic contrast and colour rendition. Superb tonal graduation. I’ve never been particularly bothered about how sharp lenses are, as all Fujinon glass is plenty sharp for what I do. But for the first time, I find myself ogling the beautifully defined in-focus parts of images in post production. Paired with aforementioned bokeh… it’s a continual swoon.
My most-used lenses for stills are almost exclusively the older Fujinon primes (before WR was a thing) and the supreme responsiveness, speed, and accuracy of the new 33mm’s autofocus takes me aback in all the good ways.
In the few weeks I’ve had this lens, I’ve shot all kinds of things with it. Children, puppies and lots of photos from moving trains, buses and cars, trying to mess up that autofocus with erratic movement, reflections, direct sun in the lens and so on. And I didn’t manage to. With the X-Pro3, the 33mm nails it every single time. All errors are definitely human ones.
Build-wise, this lens is a fair bit larger and somewhat heavier than the original XF35mmF1.4. But it doesn’t feel that way while you’re using it. It balances nicely on the X-Pro3, and if anything, the longer, stouter barrel makes for more comfortable grip and operation. Anyone with large hands is likely to appreciate this.
The new XF33mmF1.4 is faultless, the perfect 50mm glass we’ve been waiting for.
A worthy successor to the legendary XF35mm.
Note: I have not talked about the XF35mmF2 in this piece, as it is not a lens I use frequently enough to compare against the others.