This article was written for Fujilove Magazine, and originally published in March 2019. I had a regular column for the magazine for a year between 2018 and 2019, and am reproducing these articles here for posterity. All Fujilove archive posts
I talk about the XF35mm f/1.4 a lot. I’ve mentioned it in half the Fujilove articles I’ve written, which are about all kinds of other things/gear. I’ve written about its F2 counterpart, but I’ve never written about this: the battered, beloved lens that has been on all the cameras I’ve used for the last 7 years.
“I better do it now,” I thought, sitting down to write this post. But I couldn’t. I’ve had it for such a long time, that it’s become a part of me I can’t think about separately anymore. It’s like trying to write about your own fingers and toes in their ordinary states. You love them, because they’re there, do what they must, and life would be harder without them. But can you compare them to other people’s digits in a meaningful way? Not really.
So this is going to be a visual journal of the last 7 years, with the most precious and beloved lens I’ve owned since I picked up a camera for the first time.
I got the XF35mm f/1.4 in a kit with my X-Pro1, back in 2012. In many ways, the Pro1 taught me about the physical part of being a photographer – it honed reflexes, sensitivity to things happening, camera handling in general. The 35mm lens however, taught me to see in a particular way.
I went on a trip to the USA with the camera and lens, not long after I made the jump to Fuji. I hadn’t had my kit very long, and at that point, it was simply about making pictures of anything that moved. Learning about the way this particular glass handled light and color in combination with the camera.
This was a big year: the one I had sold up, and shipped out for. In January 2013, I left Australia, the country I’d spent the last 14 years in, to live life on the road. Photographically, it was a full year of what started in 2012, basically, “make pictures of anything that moves… or doesn’t.”
I shot all kinds of things with it that year – street, landscapes, music festivals, weddings – in many, many countries. I’d been using 50mm lenses on full frame DSLRs for some years before the Fuji, so I was used to the focal length (53mm in the case of the Pro1 + 35mm combination). What I wasn’t used to, was only having the one focal length.
I lost my father at the end of 2013, so I spent a lot of 2014 back home in Singapore. I hadn’t really been back there since 1999, so it was a time of getting to know all the things about my country I’d never paid much attention to during my childhood/teen years. At the beginning of this year, I had also become an X-Photographer (Fujifilm’s name for their brand ambassadors), so I was extra motivated to get out there and shoot!
By the time 2014 ended, my vision was set at 53mm – the focal length that the 35mm gives you on the X Series APS-C sensors. I acquired a 23mm f/1.4 that year, and it was useful for work purposes, but I could never bring myself to use it for personal work. All of my instincts were trained to anticipate a picture at 53mm with the XF35mm. I was always a certain distance from people or things I wanted to photograph (whether I was making a picture or not), Always observing how the light fell on things, anticipating how the 35mm would draw it in a photo. It appeared that my gear had trained me pretty well!
I’d used 50mm lenses on full frame DSLRs before I acquired the X-Pro1 and XF35mm f/1.4. But I’d also had other lenses, and I simply didn’t shoot that often, having had a day job and related aspects of a settled life that meant I only really went out and enjoyed photography on weekends. When I started travelling in 2013, all that changed. I went out and made pictures every single day, and only with the one camera and one lens. By the time 2014 rolled around, I’d given other bodies and lenses a spin, but my mental frame was so firmly pegged to 53mm that I didn’t really want to shoot with anything else.
This was the year I started using the my current kit: the X-Pro2, and with that same old XF35mm f/1.4. I had been part of the X-Pro2 promo project, and later got the fancy graphite version which I love a little more everyday, despite (or maybe because of) the dings and dents and scrapes that have marred its beautiful grey body over the years.
I’ve used the XF35mm lens for a very long time so it’s pretty beat up – its focus could probably use some recalibrating (as could my eyes, honestly), and a service to address its moving parts, which like damaged bones, sometimes take a while to get going.
This was the year I went someplace I’d been dreaming about for a long time: New Zealand. I’d been there on a 2 day stopover to the USA in 2012, and hadn’t been able to stop thinking about that gorgeous, gorgeous place. New Zealand was the highlight of my year, in general, and photographically.
I never really put myself to shooting landscapes until I got to New Zealand. But the wild, craggy coasts I enjoyed so much in the few weeks I was there, made me think there might be a landscape shooter in me after all. The light was so great all trip long though, that it was hard to not make pictures of everything, everywhere:
The previous year’s visit to New Zealand had started my love affair with landscape photography. In 2018 I spent a long time in rural Denmark. It snowed heavily the night I arrived, and I woke up a world blanketed in white. It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen, and given the previous year’s dabbling in landscape shooting, I started to apply myself to making photos of rural landscapes.
Photographically, 2018 was a black and white kind of year. I spent many months in Scandinavia during the cold, grey months (and loved it), so it was appropriate.
Which brings me to this year. And Iraq. In spring.
My XF35mm f/1.4 has been through a lot in the 7 years I’ve had it. It’s been dropped, banged around, figuratively dragged through the mud all over the world. I’ve cleaned that front element so much I may have damaged the coating because it flares like crazy. All that abuse is taking its toll on the lens… in the best way, in my opinion.. There’s all kinds of flare in any situation that involves a strong light source, be it sunlight, stage lights, torches, headlights… you name it. If it’s directional, I’ve got flare.
(In Fujifilm’s defense, all the flaring should probably not be thought of as what XF35mm lenses are like out of the factory. I’ve earned these special effects!)
As I write this, I’m settling into northern Iraq, taking a break from the last 6 years of moving around. I’ve got much more gear than the X-Pro body and the one lens I started out my travels with. But in a grab and run situation, the X-Pro and the XF35mm f/1.4 is still the kit that my hand is going to fall on, no matter what I’m shooting.
Viva la 35mm F1.4!