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In search of 3D pop with Fuji X

Once you have bought into a system, the grass tends to be greener on the other side of the fence. I have bought into the Fuji X system. Fuji X means APS-C sensor. APS-C sensor means less shallow depth of field (DOF) wide open than “full frame” (FF), given the same aperture, field of view (FOV), and composition. Less shallow DOF means less separation between subject and background and, as a result, less “3D pop” effect. I only noticed that I’m a sucker for this pop effect after having used the Fuji X system for some years. Sure, you can acquire shallow DOF and lots of smooth bokeh with longer lenses, like the Fujinon XF56mm F1.2 and the XF90mm F2. But at shorter focal lengths, especially at 23mm (35mm FF-equivalent FOV) or shorter, DOF is way less shallow wide open (F1.4) than with FF. You can also get closer to the subject, but that changes the frame, and for environmental portraiture you want some distance from the subject to get more background in the frame. At the same time, you want the background not to distract, so there should be significant sharpness fall-off behind, and possibly in front of, the subject. The sharpness fall-off you get with the XF23mm F1.4 is okay, but the separation between subject and background is often insufficient for the desired pop (depending on the distance between subject and background and the type of background). A FF camera with a 35mm F1.4 lens does a way better job at that. Of course there is the Fujinon XF35mm F1.4, which gives a reasonable pop at medium focus distances, but I just like the 35mm FF-equivalent FOV better than the 50mm because the wider angle gives slightly more depth to the scene and, therefore, enhances the pop effect.

What an APS-C system like Fuji X misses, is a large-aperture lens with a medium focal length that gives a similarly shallow DOF wide open as a FF lens with the same FOV. That would require a maximum aperture of around F1, which apparently is hard to design and manufacture. At the moment, there is an interesting solution for that: the Zhongyi Mitakon Speedmaster 35mm F0.95 (I own the Mark-II version of this lens). Yes, it has a 50mm FOV, but the DOF wide open is nicely thin and essentially the same as that of a FF 50mm F1.4 lens. A nice compromise, if you ask me. The Mitakon is a manual-focus lens, however, and although my manual focusing skills are alright after having used an analog system for many years, I definitely consider this as a limitation. That’s why I was positively surprised when Fujifilm recently announced the development of the XF33mm F1 autofocus lens (which has been rumored for years). I realize that this is a specialty lens and that it will be big, heavy, and expensive. Yet, I really long for it. According to Fuji’s current roadmap, the lens will only appear in 2020, but I’m sure it will be worth the long wait. In the meantime, the Mitakon serves me well. Although it challenges my manual focusing skills, it also prevents me from going full frame (at least for the time being).

Below are some sample photos I shot with the Mitakon. I like the dreamy 3D effect, the gradual sharpness fall-off, and the high-quality bokeh you can achieve with it. Some shots are even slightly reminiscent of medium format, but I guess I’m being delusional now.

Photos shot with the Fuji X-Pro2 and Mitakon 35mm F0.95 Mark II lens (all at F0.95).

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