Canon EOS 6D + 35mm f/1.4L vs Fuji XE-2 + 23mm f/2


I've been a Canon EOS user for almost twenty years, except for a brief foray with the earlier Pentax DSLR's (K10D and K20D) about ten years ago. My favorite camera for the past few years has been the Canon 6D full-frame, with the spectacular 16-35mm f/4L IS ultrawide zoom.

The 6D and 16-35mm f/4L IS is a large chunk of optics and electronics, and while it's the perfect travel combo, I have always been on the lookout for smaller alternatives. I did have a Panasonic GF2 five years ago (with the 14mm f/2.8 prime) and that experience nearly destroyed my opinion of mirrorless cameras.

Recently I was able to obtain a Fujifilm XE-2 (which is a circa 2013 body, but had a significant firmware upgrade in 2016) and the 23mm f/2 prime lens (equivalent to 35mm on full-frame). After overcoming the sticker shock (the Fuji lenses are almost without exception priced similar to Canon L glass) I figured it would be interesting to compare the XE-2 and the 23mm prime with the Canon equivalent - 6D with the famous 35mm f/1.4L.

I used a tripod, base ISO (100 on the 6D, 200 on the XE-2) on a sunny day. This resulted in 1/4000 second shutter on the 6D. For some reason the XE-2 also wanted 1/4000 ISO at the same aperture levels, even with higher ISO. Here's the entire image (the central and corner areas are highlighted):

Center Performance - Canon

I compared the Canon 35mm f/1.4L at f/2 (one step down) and f/4 (three steps down) with the Fuji 23mm at f/2 (wide-open) and f/4 (two stops down). I also threw in the Canon 16-35mm f/4L IS at 35mm and f/4 (wide-open).

Canon 35mm f/1.4L at f/2 - not very sharp, low contrast, and this is one stop down!

Canon 35mm f/1.4L at f/4 - sharper

Canon 16-35mm f/4L IS at 35mm f/4 (wide-open)

 A few takeaways:
  • the 35L is not sharp! no wonder the Sigma ART has soundly thrashed it
  • even the 16-35mm zoom is equal to or sharper then the 35L (at the same aperture)
  • it is possible that I have a bad copy of the 35L, since I bought it used
  • it's also possible that the 6D is mis-focusing with the 35L
  • seems the 35L's only value is for its bokeh wide-open, since the 16-35mm f/4L IS is equally sharp at f/4 and more versatile

Center Performance - Fuji

Fuji 23mm f/2 at f/2 (wide-open)

Fuji 23mm f/2 at f/4 (two stops down)
Maybe my eyes are fooling me, or it's that magic Fuji X-Trans sensor, but the 23mm f/2 even wide-open beats the Canon 35mm f/1.4Lstopped down to f/2, and in the center, where all lenses perform their best. Also, while the Fuji sharpens up at f/4 compared to f/2, there's not much difference (unlike the Canon, where the improvement going from f/2 and f/4 is quite obvious). I would even say that the Fuji 23mm f/2 beats the Canon ultra-wide zoom, which is a very modern design.

What about the corners?

Corner Performance - Canon

Canon 35mm f/1.4 at f/2 (one stop down) - corner

Canon 35mm f/1.4L at f/4 (three stops down) - corner

Canon 16-35mm at 35mm f/4 (wide open)

The Canon 35mm f/1.4L continues to underwhelm. The 16-35mm zoom continues to amaze.

Corner Performance - Fuji

Fuji 23mm f/2 at f/2 (wide open)

Fuji 23mm f/2 at f/4 (two stops down)
Again, Fuji performance is at par or better than the much larger Canon 6D and L lenses. Here closer to the corners however, the 23mm f/2 lens is visibly sharper at f/4 than wide-open. Overall, the Fuji has lower contrast in JPEG's than a Canon.


The Fuji XE-2 and 23mm f/2 prime is optically equal or better than (my copy of) the Canon 35mm f/1.4L (version 1) and Canon 6D at all equivalent apertures. And check out the size comparison:

The XE-2, even if it is quite a old body, is worlds away from the Panasonic GF2 in terms of usability. It turns on in half a second, has an excellent EVF (that is very usable even in the dark), and competently auto-focuses. The main LCD can be turned off with a function button to mimic DSLR behavior. The XE-2 does not AF as fast as the 6D but for most common photographic situations, it will do. The 6D focuses much faster and more effectively when it gets really dark, but in bright light the XE 2 and Canon 6D with the 35L (a ring USM lens) are effectively neck to neck.

An important caveat: all of these tests were done with JPEG, not RAW. And I used autofocus for both bodies; it's possible that the 6D was mis-focusing with the 35L, and manual focus with Live View would fix that. But nobody would use manual focus and Live View with the 35L in real life.

Furthermore, the Canon has automatic lens correction, and this was quite obvious with the 16-35mm f/4L IS, where rectilinear distortion was minimized. I believe the XE-2 also has some form of lens correction built in.

However, I think this use case (autofocus, JPEG) is a very common one for travelers and other casual users.

I must rent the 10-24mm Fuji ultrawide! if its performance matches the Canon 16-35mm f/4L IS, then that lens with the XE-2 would make the perfect travel kit.

If there's any disappointment with the XE-2, it would be
  • it doesn't turn on instantly like any DSLR does
  • the 23mm f/2 lens is huge (larger than a Canon 50mm f/1.8) - this is not a Summicron

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