This Ultra-fast Lens Never Fails to Put a Smile On My Face

This Ultra-fast Lens Never Fails to Put a Smile On My Face

I have long felt that perhaps too many photographers prioritize bokeh and blur more than they should, but now I am a hypocrite, because I fell in love with an f/0.95 lens.

On a crazy whim last year, I ordered myself the 7Artisans 35mm f/0.95 APS-C manual focus lens for my Fujifilm mirrorless cameras. It was a total gamble that ended up a creative jackpot, because the characteristics of the lens properly ignited a new creative fire in me and led to some of my favorite new work.

A low-light beast like the 7Artisans 35mm f/0.95 is well-suited for handheld street photography at night.

A 35mm lens is one of my favorite general focal lengths on the APS-C system, and I have been using the brilliant Fujifilm XF 35mm f/1.4 for years now. The lure of f/0.95 and the accompanying low-light performance, subject separation, and lovely bokeh were simply too strong for me, and I forced myself to forget about its lack of autofocus. I have plenty of autofocus lenses if I need them, and something in my gut told me this lens would be a riot. I could not have been more right.

Upon arrival, I was impressed with its all-metal construction and hefty weight. The focus ring felt smooth, and the aperture ring was not overly loose, though it was de-clicked. 

As soon as I received the lens and did some initial testing with it, I realized I wanted my first real world testing to be street photography. I especially love shooting at night, and by combining this lens with my IBIS-equipped compact powerhouse, the Fujifilm X-S10, I could easily shoot at any hour I wanted, even long after the sun had set. Moonlight and lamplight become viable light sources for handheld street photography with a setup like this, owed in part to Fuji’s excellent high-ISO noise handling.

This shot of my daughter enjoying fireworks is a great example of how powerful this lens can be when the light is dim.

I remember back when I was an autofocus-only kind of guy, and I couldn’t be bothered with manual focus, but I gradually eased into the market segment, with vintage lenses and the Rokinon 12mm f/2, which was top of its class for a value ultrawide when it was released. By the time I got my grubby little hands on this 7Artians lens, I was comfortable using the built-in focusing aid features like focus peaking and zoom magnification, and my ability to focus even at the paper-thin depth-of-field setting that comes with f/0.95 was fairly good.

The experience of shooting with the lens became a joy to me. Manual focus does what it always does: it slows you down. Some will stress that precious seconds will lose them that once-in-a-lifetime shot they could have gotten with autofocus, but I argue that the slow and careful workflow required to obtain sharp focus has more potential benefits to a shooter than drawbacks. Slowing down has always allowed me to hone my composition in an image and makes me think more about what I am trying to accomplish. The added flexibility of shooting handheld in low light and forgoing a tripod helps make up for lack of autofocus to me as well, as that flexibility and the compact nature of a kit of one body and one lens is very freeing. It is especially nice since I like to use my e-bike to get around during my street photography sessions, and the less gear I have to haul, the more I can truly take advantage of that extreme mobility.

The lens is not without its issues. Far from a perfect optical formula, pixel-peepers and technical obsessives may not be pleased, but I bought this lens for one reason, shooting f/0.95, and I knew I would deal with flaws and limits to its optical formula, but I was very pleased to find out those were outweighed by its wonderful character and incredible low light performance.

Street portraits taken with a careful emphasis on perfect focus pop out at you with awesome separation and bokeh, without looking fake or strange. Falloff is pleasant and not distracting. In fact, I found that with good technique and subject material, this lens makes it hard to deliver a bad photo, as long as you took your time to nail focus and compose well.

Portraits at f/0.95 can yield awesome results if you are careful with focus.

These days, I really appreciate lenses with flaws. I call them flaws, although I could easily call them “character,” but I choose not to delude myself. I could easily reach for my Fuji XF 35mm f/1.4, which I adore. I could also maybe pick the even more clinically flawless Fuji XF 35mm f/2 or the awesome new 33mm f/1.4, and so many other lenses that are truly awesome, but when I am shooting work that is not meant for my commercial photography studio, I just enjoy a low-tech yet artistic option like the 7Artisans lens. Sometimes, I like to toss it on my faithful Fuji X-T1 and really get that full manual experience. 

To top it all off, the results have simply spoken for themselves for me. If I mind my focusing technique and use the lens for an application it is well suited for, I certainly could use this lens for my professional work. At times, I do, but only when I am certain it's the right tool for the job. For my personal work, however, I reach for it often, especially when the light is low, because I will never not love wandering a city at night, and this lens is a performer for that purpose. 

I am very grateful for discovering this lens, and the wonderful doors it has opened for me. I realize it is not the kind of optic you reach for when you need pixel-peeping perfection, but I don’t really think that flawless optical quality is as important as some people seem to think. If nothing else, it is enough that I simply truly enjoy using it.

I am already looking forward to when I can head out to the city for another ride on my e-bike, while my tripod and other gear stays in the vehicle, I cruise the city with total freedom and mobility, letting my little Fuji and this ultra-fast manual focus lens do what they do best, and that is put a smile on my face.

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15 Comments
Stephen Dyer's picture

Thanks for the post. I must admit that I was unimpressed with this lens, but I have only taken a few shots with it. After seeing your images I might have to revisit.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

For me wide aperture is less about bokeh (ok, I lied here), but more about lower ISO which leads to better colors.

Robert Stevens's picture

This is a huge part of it for me too, in truth

chris bryant's picture

I bought this lens for a laugh and was very surprised how good it is, especially when you nail the focus. I have moved from FF to m43 (weight, size, age, health) and was looking for a bokeh lens for my OMD (if one actually existed). It is a bit of a weigh on my E-M1, but I love this lens. Using peaking I can place the focus any where I want and in places where AF would have difficulty. I bought mine for £150, will not part with it. A tonic for the jaded.

Robert Stevens's picture

These are aweosme!

Franz Leichduadle's picture

“Ultra fast” seems a bit hyperbolic. A 35mm f/0.95 APS-C doesn’t even have as narrow DOF as a 50/1.4 on full frame. You can get a Canon EF 50/1.4 for around $200 and it’ll have autofocus and plenty of character.

Richard Kralicek's picture

Well, on a full frame sensor it will. On a Fuji (with the right adapter) it would be a completely different kind of lens. I bought mine way back for a Canon 60D where it worked like a 80mm f/2.2 roughly equivalent lens. Fine, but a different angle of view.

For crop sensors it is ultra fast, and if you own that system, it doesn't help to compare it with another lens on another system you don't own.

Gary Pardy's picture

Not to be "that guy", but where shutter speed is concerned, f/0.95 is faster than f/1.4 regardless of sensor size. You are, of course, 100% correct in terms of equivalent depth of field.

Ruud van der Nat's picture

Also not to be “that guy” but with the larger sensor you can raise the iso a little bit more and things are equal again.

Mike Shwarts's picture

Also not to be “that guy,” but not everybody has a larger sensor. I have aps-c and m4/3, so wider apertures help with lower ISOs and/or slower shutter speeds. And sometimes shallow depth of field is kitsch. Shallow DoF sometimes falls under "just because you can, doesn't mean you should."

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Not to be that guy, but did you account for light transmission loss?

Ruud van der Nat's picture

Not everybody has a 0.95 lens and shallower depth of field is what you get when you put a 0,95 lens on your m4/3 or aps-c. The point was that with a full frame if you get a 1.8 lens (or 1.4) you get equivalent dof , but your shutter speed will be slower but you can raise the iso a bit more to compensate.

John Kane's picture

Not to be that guy, but we are all being that guy, lol. OK, at least I’ll admit to being that guy.

EDWIN GENAUX's picture

For those night shots with lit places keeping the ISO low as well a SS a little faster to protect the highlights like lights from a room in a building. Auto ISO at +100 and reducing zebras by clicking a neg 1 or 2. But sides of buildings can be washed out. Also if possible do bracketed shots +/- 1ev or 2ev that way you will get greater dynamic range when a sensor may not have as much a plus may get people out of the shot, results today are far better than the old HDR cartoon colors. If you can try the Haida filters that replace the rear part of the lens and use the Haida Clear Night filter colors will be cleaner and sharper. A problem at night is with the new LED lights yes clean white but the buildings and ground will have a blue tint non correctable even using the color picker in Lr or other program. A big help and a bothersome extra is using the datacolor spydercube yes two captures but synced for true colors you see/saw it even works in dimly lit caves to get exposure right after the fact, great for candle lit rooms to get best realistic exposure and colors with face tones. Just an small extra tool you can put on a selfie stick for a fast two captures at just the right angle. A plus is the gas colors in a starry night sky of atoms at high altitudes greens, reds some yellow but real and unseen with the eyes!!! Enjoy the night but capture what you truly see!!

Robert Stevens's picture

WONDERFUL images