Jan 302013
 

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The SLR Magic 35 T 1.4 Lens on the Fuji X-E1

by Steve Huff

SLR Magic. Fuji. One new brand on the scene with some new and different but very cool lenses and the other a well-known and respected brand who has been kicking some serious booty these last 2-3 years with a comeback of sorts and a new line of digital cameras that are arguably the best yet in the history of the company (for digital). Of course I am speaking about Fuji, a brand I actually have a ton of love for. Back in the “old days” I owned ALL of their digital and even a few film cameras. The S1 Pro, S2 pro, skipped the S3 and owned and adored the S5 Pro during a time in my life when all I seemed to do was take photographs all day long. I would head out for a drive or hike, S5 in hand and escape my daily stress by pressing the shutter button.

That S5 Pro rocked with amazing colors and quality. The body which was based on a Nikon D200 was slow when compared to the Nikon counterpart but I did not care back then because of the choices that were available in digital, for me, the S5 was it. But not everyone loved the S5. Many Nikon guys would trash it and say it was garbage and why would you spend more on the S5 than a new D200 and then D300?

Well, to those who owned the S5, we all knew what it was all about and loved it for its charm.

The last Fuji digital DSLR, the S5 Pro – I owned it and loved it because at the time there was not much else out there, unlike today where we have a multitude of options in the digital camera world. 

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But this post is not for me to sit here and reminisce about the S5 Pro as it has been gone for a few years now. After Fuji stopped the S5 Pro the word was they would no longer be producing any DSLR’s but at the time, little did we know what they had in store.

Today we have the X100, upcoming X100s and the X “bodies” the X-Pro 1 and the X-E1. To those who have read this site for a while you know that I have criticized the X-Pro 1 for its AF flaws as well as the 35 1.4 lens. As beautiful as the 35 1.4 can be, for me it has underperformed in the usability dept (in lower light) when compared to other cameras. Does this mean I am trashing the Fuji X-Pro 1? HELL NO! If you read my review of that camera I praised it for its image quality and again when I used it on “The Cruise” I praised it some more. But even with those praises I can not sit here and lie and tell everyone that the AF rocks in lower light, because it does not. So to those who are sending me hate mail and comments saying I do not know what I am talking about, think again. Because I do. I am not insulting your camera, I am evaluating it so please do not take offense if I point out the weaknesses of it. I do this with all cameras just as I did with the NEX series AF issues or the Leica RF issues, etc.

I have a long history with Fuji digital cameras and have owned and shot with them all. Like I have said in the past, the X100 is one of my all time favorite digital cameras EVER. To me, that is the perfect Fuji digital right now and the X100s will be even better because it should have accurate and speedy AF. Finally. Fuji knows they are not the best in the AF dept and it is awesome to see them stepping it up to improve upon it. I expect the X-Pro 2 to rock it in all areas and this is when we will see the usability match the IQ. My crystal ball says so :)

So with that out-of-the-way and me stating clearly that I LOVE FUJI and when it is ON it is ON! The color, snap and overall feel of the Fuji JPEGS rock, even for simple snapshots:

The X-E1 and Fuji 35 1.4 in good light rocks :) OOC JPEG.

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With that,  let me get to this SLR Magic review :)

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The SLR Magic $279 35 T 1.4 Lens on the X-E1

1st, my thoughts on the Fuji X-E1 in a super quick  “shortest review ever”

The X-E1 and 35 T 1.4

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The Fuji X-E1 has been out for a while now and it has been reviewed to death. Amy Medina has also written about the X-E1 on this very site, and she LOVES her X-E1. You can read her review HERE. As for me, I will not be really reviewing the X-E1 in a big huge review as it is pretty much similar to the X-Pro 1, just smaller and more compact and without the OVF (optical view finder). The X-E1 has an electronic viewfinder and for that I say HALLELUJAH! That is one area that Fuji really “gets”. With Sony skipping the EVF in the beautiful RX1 at $2799 we have Fuji including one in their $999 X-E1 body. Viewfinders rock no way around it which is why I have the external on my RX1. There is nothing worse than being in full sun trying to hold out the camera in front of you to frame the shot and being blinded by the sun rays.

So the X-E1 wins in its design with the built-in EVF, square retro style shape and easy controls. The camera has some quirks though like AF missing at times (with some lenses), and the overexposure issue in which most people solve by shooting with some EV comp dialed in. But why should we have to do this?

In comparison to the X-Pro 1 I prefer the X-E1. It has a nicer size, and for my hands, it feels better in my hands. It has the same IQ as the Pro-1 as it shares the same exact sensor. I still prefer the older X100 for my tastes but for those who want interchangeable lens capability this is where it is at in the Fuji X line. Unless you really want that hybrid OVF/EVF in the Pro 1, this is the one to get and you save money as well.

Overall the X-E1 is a winner as for the price you can get some deliciously amazing IQ and for me, it is the color that really makes it with Fuji. The OOC JPEGS using Velvia simply knock it out of the park with their rich Fuji like colors. The IQ from the Fuji, when it nails it is astounding. I have seen some amazing pro work done on these Fuji bodies and it excels in the studio as well. Give this body good light and it will reward you with rich images and that Fuji color and look.

In any case, I have had an X-E1 on hand for a few weeks along with the Fuji 35 1.4 and the SLR Magic 35 T 1.4. I have also had the kit 18-55 Zoom, which has been great to AF BTW. Much quicker than the somewhat slow 35 1.4 . But this review will focus on the SLR Magic 35 T 1.4 lens which comes in at $279 direct from SLR Magic. Sort of a “budget” lens for a fast 35 but it is not perfect! Read on for the details…

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The Build

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The build of the SLR Magic lens seems VERY good. When you take it out of the nice box you will be pleased at the heft, solidity and smoothness of the lens. It feels like a $700 lens as it appears solid as a rock and when you think “I paid less than $300″ you feel it is well worth the cost just on looks and build alone. Also, just to mention, I have heard from a reader who purchased this lens and his had some wobble or slop that he said caused the focus to not be accurate. I tested my lens for this and have not seen this issue. My score for build: 8 out of 10 when you consider the cost of this lens.

See the video below of this lens next to the Fuji 35 1.4:

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The Feel

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The feel of the lens is nice. Smooth to manually focus and with a clickless aperture. This is a “cine” lens by design so no clicks when you change the aperture. I like it and it is the same with mostly all SLR Magic lenses. The lens feels nice on the camera and in the hand. Hard to imagine you are using a lens that costs under $300 when you are shooting with it. BUT when you use the focus ring you do hear some slight noise as in, it is not silky smooth like you will get with premium manual lenses. Score for FEEL: 7 out of 10.

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The Image Quality

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Again, a mixed bag. Some shots blew me away and some left me wondering what went wrong. Focusing the lens at 1.4 is TOUGH. Without focus peaking on the Fuji it can be a chore to nail the AF with any kind of speed. When I look through the EVF and focus I can clearly see when I am in focus but when I fire off the shot and look at the image on my computer screen I see that I am NOT in focus. 1st I though the lens was just soft wide open but take a look at the image below which was shot wide open..bitingly sharp:

click image for larger – this was shot at 1.4 with the X-E1 and Fuji 35 T 1.4! Amazing color and detail. 

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So while some of my shots were really sharp, some were a little off due to me missing the focus ever so slightly. I found that if I stopped down to f/2 all was cured and all shots were much easier to focus. So if you buy this lens I would consider it an “f/2″ lens because if you want to nail focus 99% of the time this is where you will need to shoot it. I am happy with that :) One thing with the IQ is that the color is a bit warmer than what you get from the Fuji 35 1.4. I used to call this “dirty” as I have seen in some lower cost lenses. It is not huge but in the Fuji vs SLR Magic test below you will see what I mean.

Score for IQ: 7 out of 10.

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Bokeh Quality

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SLR Magic told me that this lens is not about sharpness or detail but more about pleasing Bokeh.  This lens was designed to give you good results in all areas but especially with very smooth Bokeh. In regards to detail, it is a huge step up from their Toy Lenses, but a step down from their premium Hyperprime series. Again, for $279 this lens seems like a winner to me as long as you are not out to capture crazy detail wide open :) As for what they told me about Bokeh, YOU be the judge. I think it looks great but everyone has their own onions as to what makes for gorgeous out of focus qualities. My Bokeh score: 7.5 out of 10 as I have seen much worse but have also seen better.

The images below were all shot around f/1.4 to f/2 – click them for larger views. The last one was at 1.4 and you can see the softness or misfocus. Focusing wide open is a challenge. 

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What about the Fuji 35 1.4 vs the SLR Magic T 1.4?

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Well, these lenses are amazingly different from each other. One is auto focus, very sharp and crisp and is made by Fuji. The other is manual focus, a bit soft wide open and is made by SLR Magic. One is $599 and one is $279. When choosing between these two lenses you have to think to yourself what you want from a lens. If you want AF capabilities, go with the Fuji. If you want superior sharpness, go with the Fuji. If you want a hefty build, manual focus, slightly softer results wide open and to pay more than $330 less, go with the SLR Magic.

The SLR Magic will give you a less perfect view of the world, the Fuji, a more perfect and crisp view. The Fuji can POP. Think of the Fuji like a new 4K HD TV set and the SLR Magic like a 1080P set. :)

But to some, that statement will not be enough. Nope, you want to SEE the difference. Since I have both lenses here I decided to do a quick and simple test and will put the full OCC shots below in JPEG (since Adobe is not compatible with the RAW files of the Fuji and I use Adobe)

Take a look at the images below and click each one for full size. The 1st one is with the Fuji 35 1.4 and  the 2nd is with the SLR Magic 35 T 1.4.

1st up, the SLR Magic OOC JPEG at f/2.8 – notice the color differences between it and the Fuji lens – both at 1/4000s

Click image for the full size OOC file

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Fuji is sharper as you can see below in the Fuji shot at f/2.8 and 1/4000.  Click it for full size OOC JPEG

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Which do YOU prefer? Remember the SLR Magic is all manual and comes in at $279 right now. The Fuji is $599 or about $330 more expensive. The Fuji is indeed sharper and crisper, no question there.

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My final word on the SLR Magic 35 T 1.4 Lens for the Fuji X mount

When Andrew from SLR Magic emailed me and warned me that this lens is not designed for sharpness I was a little worried. I figured they just bumped up the price of their toy lenses to make more profit but I was wrong. When the lens arrived I saw that it was a very well made lens that appeared to be built well above its price point. When I started shooting it I saw what he meant as it could be soft at 1.4 but at the same time, I have also gotten sharp results with it which leads me to believe it is just my focus error. By f/2 this lens is sharp  and if you take your time and focus critically you can come away with some nice looking results.

The Bokeh quality is very nice and overall when you add in the way this lens draws, with a soft fat brush instead of a thin detail brush, you will then see what this lens is about. SLR Magic has been releasing some very interesting lenses lately. The Hyperprime 35 T 0.95 and now this little low-cost wonder, the 35 T 1.4. If the image quality you see here appeals to you then you will probably enjoy the hell out of this lens.

If it is crispness and sharpness you want though, I suggest the Fuji 35 1.4 as it can provide plenty of pop and detail. For the $279 intro price this SLR Magic lens is tough to beat. As usual with SLR Magic offerings, I really enjoy it and if I decide to keep an X-E1 around, this would be in my collection of glass.

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Where To buy the SLR Magic 35 1.4

This lens can be ordered direct from SLR Magic by emailing them at [email protected]  – Andrew has told me a new website is coming, and I sure hope so. Would make it much easier to buy these lenses :)

Where to buy the Fuji X-E1 and 35 1.4?

I shop at B&H photo for my Non Leica needs and they have the Fuji X-E1 body HERE. They also sell the 35 1.4 lens HERE and the kit with 18-55 Zoom HERE.  The kit zoom is really good BTW. Much faster to AF than the 35.

More images from the lens below. As always, click on them for larger views :) EXIF is embedded in all of them as well but seeing that this lens does not record aperture to the camera this number may be off. As always, thanks for reading!

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