In the past year and half I was divided by two cameras, like a “ménage à trois” romance, on one site I had the old school guy, the Canon 6D, a solid full frame camera, that you can always trust, yeah it’s bulky and heavy, but it delivers stunning quality, especially at high ISO, I already have plenty of lenses with that, it’s solid as hell, with integrated GPS and WiFi. It’s the camera that you take when you need to get the job done, even if I’ll probably have a very sore neck because it’s essentially as heavy as a brick.
On the other side I have the new kid on the block, now a Fuji X-T1, until a month ago the Fuji X-E1, different cameras for some features, but similar in weight and size, so it’s the same story at the end. The Fuji mirrorless are small & light, which are perfect to carry around without the need to see a physiotherapist after a while, even the lenses are tiny compared to the Canon ones, and they still pack a very good IQ. Yeah, the AF is not as fast as the 6D, the High ISO performances are not that good as well (even if they are quite close until 3200 ISO), and the body is not as tough too.
At the end, you can’t really compare apples with oranges, these two cameras have different purposes in my opinion, in some cases the best camera for you is a DSLR, in some other a Mirrorless camera is the best fit for you.
But for a while I wondered, these two very different cameras, with two lenses with a similar angle of view, who is the best and who is the worst? Is the image quality of the big one always the best?
So, one day I put a tripod on the balcony of my (previous) house, took my Canon 6D with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM, a lens that gave me so many great shots at gigs, which is always in my bag when I shoot a gig, and the Fuji X-E1 with the Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R, which thanks to the crop factor of x1.5 it has the angle of view of a 52.5mm compared to a Full Frame sensor, which it makes the “normal” lens for Fujifilm.
In this test I’m not going to compare things like the Bokeh, which can’t be compared because of the two different types of sensors, or AF accuracy, which it still depends on the body, but what I’m going to check if just the mere sharpness of these two lenses, combined with their related sensors.
But let’s talk a bit about these two lenses, to have a clear understanding of what we are comparing in this test.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4
This is one of the lenses currently sold by Canon with the oldest design, all the other lenses have been redesigned and updated over the years, while this one is still sold after its debut back in 1993, and part of the design of this lens it comes from the previous Canon FD 50mm f/1.4, which was made back in the 70s. But this shouldn’t surprise anybody, the 50mm is one the easiest and simplest lens to design in general. The micro ultrasonic motor looks a bit outdated if compared to its more modern siblings, but it still does the job quite well.It’s not the fastest, but it’s not that slow either, and if Canon sold this lens for more than 20 years now, there must be a reason.
Personally I love this lens, it’s cheap enough, it’s very light, it has a nice bokeh, and it’s a very versatile focal length, loads of my gig and portraits have been shot with this lens.
Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4
This was one of the lenses of the original “gang of three”, announced in 2012 when Fujifilm debuted with their X-System with the X-Pro1, which it sounds like yesterday, but in the Fujifilm world sound like a billion of years ago. Since then the quality of their lenses improved drastically, but to be fair they already started with a very good set of lenses, and the build quality of the Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4, while it looks a bit outdated if compared with the more modern lenses like Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 or the XF 56mm f/1.2, they are far better than many of other lenses build by their competitors. Actually for that price range, you don’t get that build quality from main brands like Canon or Nikon, they are just sturdy and beautifully designed.
The XF 35mm f/1.4 came out with a few small flaws, and possibly the only real problem you can point to this lens is the focus speed. It’s not terribly slow, it’s just not fast. But overall is a very good lens, and optically is superb, in the center is sharp enough straight from f/1.4, and the overall IQ is already very good from f/2.0, but you can read my review for the full details on this lens.
So to test these lenses I simply used the same tripod, my super trusty Manfrotto BeFree, took the photos at the same ISO, same aperture and same shutter speed on both of the camera, shoot in RAW (as always) and then simply converted straight away from Lightroom (version 5.7).
Down here I’m going to show you a 100% crop from the center and from the left top corner of the photos I took for any stop, from f/1.4 to f/16 (which is the minimum aperture for both of the lenses), as show on the picture below.
So let's start to see all the different crops to finally see who's the best and who's the worst.
Canon @ f/1.4
Fuji @ f/1.4
As you can see from the photo above, the Canon is quite terrible, the extreme corners are not even close to be usable, the center is extremely soft and with plenty of purple fringing, and compared with the 40 yo Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 (which I use on the Fuji), it's not that different.
The Fuji at f/1.4 is quite bad on the extreme corners, not as bad as the Canon, but both the lenses look like an argentinian telenovela in the 80s. But the center frame of the Fuji is a totally different story, I'm sincerely shocked by these results, it's extremely sharp for this aperture, and thanks to that, when you see the photo on its entirety, the one shot with the Fuji 35mm it gives you better perception of sharpness rather than the Canon one.
And then if you couple with the fact that most of the times, if you photograph at this aperture with this lens is mostly for portraits with shallow depth of field, you can almost forgive the lack of sharpness on the borders.
Now let's close down to a stop.
Canon @ f/2
Fuji @ f/2
Now, things get better for the Canon in the center frame, is dramatically better, there still a bit of purple fringing, but that's easy to fix in PP, while the corners are still pretty bad, the only improvement I can see here is less vignetting, which can be fixed again in PP, but such lack of sharpness can't be fixed.
The Fuji gets much better, still not great, but far better than the shot at f/1.4, less ghosting and much sharper, while the center of the frame improves more and you lose any trace of purple fringing while the sharpness is already excellent, as you would expect from a focal fixed lens.
Canon @ f/2.8
Fuji @ f/2.8
At f/2.8 the Canon on the corners is still very bad, it's getting better, but very slowly, you still have ghosting on the very edge, at the center is sharper, but you still get some purple fringing, and it looks a step behind from the Fujinon lens, which now at this aperture has a much better sharpness, not perfect, but to be honest it already beats all the lens I own or I owned in the past, maybe only the Samyang 12mm is better. The center of the frame looks almost identical to the shot at f/2.
Canon @ f/4
Fuji @ f/4
Now from f/4 to f/8 generally is the sweet spot for lenses with this aperture, is the zone where you hit the top of the performances for these lenses, where the aperture are close enough to give the maximum of the sharpness but not too close, so you don't get any diffraction.
The Canon is shockingly still pretty bad on the corners, yeah, it's much sharper, but still on the very edge is terrible. The center of the frame has still a tiny bit of purple fringing, but at least now it's very sharp, almost au pair with the Fuji, but still second to the Fujinon lens, which so far is the clearl winner, which at this point is tack sharp from corner to corner.
Canon @ f/5.6
Fuji @ f/5.6
While now for both of the lenses in the center of the frame we get almost identical results from the previous aperture stop, and again the Fuji it just look a bit sharper, the corners are a totally different story, the Fujinon is tack sharp, even better than f/4, the Canon 50mm is just slighly better than the previous aperture stop, which is still pretty bad, and these are results that you wouldn't expect from a prime lens at this aperture, it should be sharp as the Fujinon is, but clearly this is not the case. And I'm quite sad to see these results, because I love the Canon 50mm, I shot a billion of photos with it, but the Fujinon lens is simply superior and I can't really argue about it.
Canon @ f/8
Fuji @ f/8
Now, if you ignore the left edge of the Canon's corner, you can almost say "hallelujah, it's finally sharp", but it tooks 4 stops to get there, which is not great, and the center of the frame finally got rid of any trace of purple fringing. The Fujinon at this stage it's just watching with a bag of popcorn to see what the hell Canon is doing and enjoying the show, obviusly it has rock solid performances and it's as sharp as the previous aperture stops.
Canon @ f/11
Fuji @ f/11
At f/11 finally the corners of the Canon are sharp, and the center is as sharp as the Fujinon lenses, which is starts to suffer of a bit of diffraction, minimal, but we are starting to see a tiny bit degradation of the IQ, which is still excellent overall.
Canon @ f/16
Fuji @ f/16
This is possibly the only aperture speed that the Canon is slightly better than the Fujinon lens, where the latter suffer a bit more of diffraction compared to the first, which seems to control lens diffraction very well, or at least better than the Fujinon lens. Unfortunately f/16 is possibly the least aperture used with this such type of lens.
Well, there's not much else to say, the clear winner is the Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R, which is simply better at any aperture but f/16, and even there is not that much better, just a notch. Now, in defence of the Canon lens I can say that it's a very outdated lens, it's a 20 yo lens based on the design of a 40 yo lens, and I would have been surprised if the Canon was better than the Fuji lens, but I wasn't expecting that it was that bad either to be honest.
Also if I could test the new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art, which is a modern lens and on the paper it seems to be exceptionally good, against the Fujinon lens, I'm not sure who could win then challenge then, it would be interesting to see, just to have a more fair comparision in between two modern lenses.
Again, sharpness is not the only factor, there are other factors to take in account when you choose a lens, like the contrast, colour rendition, bokeh, etc... but it shows that we (photographers) should start to pay more respect to these little cameras and their lenses, which proved to deliver top notch quality, despite their size.
Full resolution files
If you want to see the full resolution files, you can find them down here:
|1/4000 @ f/1.4||Canon||Fujinon|
|1/2000 @ f/2||Canon||Fujinon|
|1/1000 @ f/2.8||Canon||Fujinon|
|1/500 @ f/4||Canon||Fujinon|
|1/250 @ f/5.6||Canon||Fujinon|
|1/125 @ f/8||Canon||Fujinon|
|1/60 @ f/11||Canon||Fujinon|
|1/30 @ f/16||Canon||Fujinon|