Welcome to the greatest battle among brethren in the history of Fujinon lenses. *drumroll*
After receiving the Fujinon 50mm f/1.4 non-EBC and playing around with it, I quickly found myself rather disappointed (until I started measuring the radioactivity at least). The lens performed really weak wide open, the colour cast in the glass swallowed 2/3 stops of light and it suffered from massive colour fringing even stopped down.
I quickly decided that I wanted to try the more recent version of this lens, with the famous if not legendary, Fujifilm EBC multicoating. So it came that I bought one on eBay the other day (read on in this article if you’re curious about other lenses I bought that day). When it arrived, I took some pictures and played with the focusing and aperture rings and instantly fell in love with this lens. If it weren’t for the rubber focusing ring, I might even prefer its handling to my Color-Ultron.
Now that I had these two lenses with the same optical construction, except for the tiny differences that are thorium dioxide glass in the older version and a special multicoating applied to the lenses in the newer version, I was, of course, curious to find out how the two would compare against each other.
Size-wise the non-EBC version is a bit shorter but it doesn’t feel less heavy. These are quite heavy lenses, but they offer amazing build quality and they handle really nicely. The non-EBC version has an all-metal construction with even the focusing ring made out of metal, whereas the newer one has a rubber band as a focusing ring. I’m not sure if this will last forever, but if you store it away from heat and sunlight, it should outlast you.
Both have the aperture ring rather close to the lens barrel, which makes changing the aperture somewhat fiddly on the 1Ds III. Also, on my non-EBC Fujinon, the aperture ring is a little hard to turn and I often end up skipping the half stops because it’s not as precise anymore. However, the newer version doesn’t even offer half stops, so the non-EBC certainly has an advantage there.
Both lenses come with a 49mm filter thread, which was very famous back in the days and you can get a LOT of cheap screw-in filters for that thread size. The lens caps come at 1 buck each and you can get cheap lens hoods too.
Now to the photographic comparison.
on a side note:
Unfortunately, I do neither have the radioactive EBC coated Fujinon 50mm f/1.4, nor do I own the non-radioactive non-EBC coated Fujinon 50mm f/1.4, but it would certainly be interesting to see how these two would fare in the comparison (as in, what is the role of the coatings vs. the role of the thoriated glass).
These lenses are simply too expensive to just buy all four, I’m afraid.
How do these EBC coatings look?
Unfortunately, not as cool as the single coating in the non-EBC version.
Check it out:
The Bokeh comparison
I know that most will want to know about sharpness, because that was my biggest disappointment with the non-EBC lens, but I’d rather have you check out the other stuff first.
When it comes to Bokeh, unfortunately Fuji did not see the need to improve at all. The EBC coated lens still comes with a 6-bladed aperture that already shows itself at f/2.
The Bokeh balls look identical for all tested apertures and the internal vignetting is strongly affecting their shape at f/1.4 as well as at f/2.
Images are not cropped and I developed the RAW files to my liking. (Contrast, Exposure, Clarity, Shadows, Highlights, Blacks and Whites have been edited, and I sharpened the image slightly. All Images have undergone the exact same processing!)
If you wonder about the brightness and the white balance, please don’t.. I forgot to put the grey card in the scene and used two flashes to light the lens and adjusted my exposure so that you could clearly see the LED lights in the background. (Meaning that the flashes were at 1/128 for f/1.4 and f/2, the shutter speed at 1/50s and the iso at 200 to make the LEDs visible)
Because I’ve got sunlight coming in through the window, I guess it somehow messed up my white balance for the large aperture shots (where the sunlight was visible in the picture) and didn’t have much of an influence on the smaller aperture shots (where the flashes overpowered the sun)
What about background blur?
I used a large mexican rug as a backdrop and took the same pictures once more. The rug was placed about 2m away from the camera and the lens/subject at 0,6m away.
That’s the pattern of my rug:
The non-EBC Fujinon at f/1.4
and the EBC version at f/1.4
I will redo this test with a messier background, adding some shapes and different colours and surfaces to it.
This test was conducted using a CREE flashlight (5 bucks on eBay, free shipping from China) with a rechargeable 3,5V AA battery and therefore putting out somewhere around 300lm.
I had to put the flashlight within the field of view to induce flares, otherwise there wasn’t anything visible.
The pictures were not edited, I simply adjusted exposure and set the camera profile to Camera: Standard
How do the EBC coatings help with flares?
They obviously really, really improve the lenses behaviour against flare!
You can see that the EBC lens suffers from less contrast loss at all apertures. Also, the blob next to the torch is very small here and the one in the opposite corner is far less pronounced with less reflections and a different colour.
The worst I could get from the EBC coatings was this, shot at f/1.4, with the torch pointing at the lens:
While the original lens already was quite good at handling flares, with the flare only setting in once the light source is within the field of view, the EBC coatings certainly make a huge difference.
Unlike the Olympus G.Zuiko, which behaves like this even with the light source set outside the frame:
Don’t ask me how the sudden cutoff of the reflections came to be.. I’ll investigate the flare issues when I do a conclusive comparison of all 12 lenses.
Sharpness and colour fringing
The most interesting test was saved for last. Here we go. You’ll like what you see, I’m sure.
About taking the pictures for this test
Light source: two flashes camera right and left at 45° each.
Processing of the files was done as follows:
Camera profile: Camera Standard
No sharpening, no changes in any values, except for white balance, which was set according to my grey card.
The image center
Comparing the sharpness in the image center, you will instantly realize that the EBC coatings do a great job at reducing the colour fringing!
While it’s still visible at f/1.4 it’s also clearly visible that the EBC lens is much sharper wide open. At f/2 the difference becomes more obvious, because the EBC lens renders better micro contrast and less colour fringing and therefore looks a lot sharper again.
Stopping down to f/2.8 gets rid of all the colour fringing in the EBC lens while the non-EBC still suffers from purple and green fringing around the letters.
At f/4 both lenses perform very nicely with the EBC lens rendering a bit more contrast. Also, the non-EBC lens suffered from rather massive focus breathing when stopping down. I reached minimum focus distance at f/4 and therefore couldn’t focus on “them” anymore. The focal plane lies on “over” for the left image.
Here’s a 100% view of the frame center where I focused on (only showing f/1.4 to f/2.8).
The image for the EBC was a little bit darker, because I had to adjust for the 0,2 EV light loss in the non-EBC lens and overdid it somewhat.
You can still clearly see the highly improved control of colour fringing and the superior sharpness and contrast that the EBC lens comes with.
Here’s an overview of the image borders. Yeah, it looks dire for both candidates.
I focused on the area where the outermost AF point is located. The reason being, while I don’t usually shoot landscapes, I do mostly compose after the rule of thirds when I shoot portraits. Therefore I use the outer AF points to place the eyes on and therefore I would want this area to be sharp too.
Focusing was done on the word “Death” using Live View at 10x magnification, NOT using the AF confirmation chip!
At f/1.4 the image shot with the non-EBC Fujinon is practically useless. It’s glowing as if everything was out of focus, even though you can see that there should be a sharp area somewhere on the text. You can see that going closer to the image center (below “measure”) there is somewhat sharp text to be found but not out on the image borders. The EBC lens looks a wee sharper but still unusable.
At f/2 the situation improves slightly and at f/2.8 I’d say you could use the pictures. Here you also see the colour fringing of the non-EBC lens versus no fringing on the EBC lens. (I figure it wasn’t visible at large apertures because there simply was no contrast whatsoever.)
At f/4 border sharpness of the EBC Fujinon looks really nice.
Here, too, I’d like to share the 100% crops:
You can see that the EBC lens is sharper by a lot at f/1.4 but still not really sharp.
At f/2 the contrast is much better and the letters look sharper but everything is still glowing somehow.
At f/2.8 sharpness has greatly improved and is okay, if you asked me.
The lens of my dreams would provide this level of sharpness in image borders at f/1.4…
How bad is it really?
And to make us feel a little better, I processed the pictures shot at f/1.4, removed the aberrations, pushed contrast and clarity and applied some sharpening, just to show what they could look like:
non-EBC Fujinon 50mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4
And here’s a 100% comparison of the center crop to marvel at.
Even though the non-EBC is significantly less sharp wide open, you can fix a lot of this in post processing and end up getting great results from it.
It’s obvious that the EBC Fujinon 50mm f/1.4 is clearly superior to its older brother, in almost every aspect.
While the radioactive lens clearly outperforms the EBC version regarding the beauty of its front element coatings, it also shares the same aperture mechanism and therefore they both suck at producing Bokeh balls when stopped down ever so slightly.
The EBC version, on the other hand, handles flaring much better and also delivers sharper pictures wide open. Not only is it sharper, it also offers more microcontrast and less colour fringing and therefore the pictures shot wide open look much better.
The EBC Fujinon is the clear winner of this fight.