More than six months ago, I purchased a Mitakon 35mm f/0.95 II lens for my Fuji X-T1 virtually sight unseen. I didn't know what to expect at all, I had never used a lens anywhere as fast as it. I struggled to use it at first, it's a quirky lens with some interesting characteristics which I'll get to shortly. Have a looked back since purchasing it? Not once, the Mitakon stays on my X-T1 95% of the time for almost every use. It's certainly not for everyone, but I'll try my best to break down its pros, cons, and how to use it properly. I'm not a scientist, I'm a photographer, so what shows up in my pictures is what matters to me most. Thus, I won't be conducting any MTF tests or any Ken Rockwell level analysis, because someone somewhere with way too much time on their hands has certainly done it already. In addition, at the end of this review you'll also be able to find some sample images to play around with for yourself and form your own conclusions.
First, let's get some background on the lens itself. It's currently the fastest Fuji X-native lens and one of a handful that lacks autofocus. Despite the $600 USD pricetag, it's made in China by a Chinese company. This can be a little off-putting for the average consumer, but the lens itself is top quality rivaling Fuji's own offerings. There are no awkward and uncomfortable creaks or rattles when using it, it's a solid piece of kit.
The only complaint I have about the quality has to do with the incredibly cheap plastic front and back lens caps that come with it. It makes the regular Fuji lens caps look like the pinnacle of quality, but in the grand scheme of things it's not something to worry about. On the rest of the exterior of the lens, the painted numbers on the lens's depth-of-field calculator and aperture ring are still as bright as they were when I first got the lens. In addition, both the focus ring and aperture ring still remain incredibly smooth and easy to use, there's no harshness or skipping at all. Thankfully the lens has somehow remained free of any exterior scratches at all, something I can't say for my scratch magnet of a 23mm f/1.4 lens. Despite this, the aesthetics of the lens, to me at least, is the least important part. Thus, I'll be focusing, no pun intended, much more on the optical performance and quality in real world applications.
As you well know by now, the Mitakon 35mm is the fastest lens in Fuji's lineup. For ultrafast lowlight applications, it's saved my ass more times than I can count. It's simply brilliant and lets me use my X-T1 to its fullest potential. In near complete darkness, this lens pulls out beautiful, detailed images at ISO 3200. Nailing the focus in these conditions is another story, but when you get the focus right it's just beautiful.
This leads me to my next point, that this lens has a certain Leica-esque character. I've been asked more times than I can count if I shoot with an M240, and it's honestly tough to tell the difference between a f/1.4 Leica lens and this. The Noctilux is of course a different story, but there's a certain classic way that this lens renders images that I just can't describe. The bokeh is smooth, and even soft images with missed focus are still very pleasing to the eyes. Again, when you nail focus with this lens, the subject separation is just something else. Simply put, it's the best native Fuji Xlens for static subjects at events. Crowds wandering behind cars are blurred into absolute unrecognizable oblivion. The same can be said for vehicles beneath foliage and trees which are dissolved into a pleasing yet interesting background. One of the best uses for this lens is for portraits and detail shots of course, where the eyes remain relatively sharp while the bokeh rapidly yet smoothly radiates from them at closer distances. This lens still performs admirably when stopped down, with sharpness dramatically increasing across the frame.
For as many positives as the Mitakon has, it suffers from equally as many negatives. First off, it's just plain hard and sometimes downright frustrating to use. The depth of field is so impossibly small, it's a great challenge to shoot static, let alone moving subjects. Focus peaking will quickly become your best friend, although it's never a guarantee that you won't move half an inch forwards or backwards out of focus. Portraits are absolutely stunning wide open, when and if you can lock your focus onto the eyes. The slightest movement for you or the subject can completely ruin a good image, a byproduct of the combination of incredibly dramatic bokeh and an atom's wide depth of field. Wide open, the depth-of-field scale on the lens is all but useless. I've tried many times to use this lens for street photography, and every time I miss virtually every shot. Action is just too much for this lens to handle, and having to stop it down defeats the entire purpose of getting this lens in the first place. I have no doubt that in the right hands this could be a powerful street photography lens, but those are not my hands.
The Mitakon's other biggest drawback comes with its wide open performance. It's not a lens for shooting into bright light and certainly not one you can really crop in. The latter may have to do more with my X-T1, but at 100% crop the images really are not pretty. It's very easy to see the softness wide open, which only exacerbates the difficulty of using a lens with this narrow a depth of field. If you are planning on heavily cropping your images, you should look elsewhere. Further, the lens suffers from rather dramatic chromatic aberration when shooting at very contrasty subjects such as bright lights and sunlight reflected off of cars. It's easy to fix in Lightroom these days with the tools we have, but it does rob some sharpness and detail.
On this topic, the vignetting is rather severe. It robs the corners of all detail and exposure, although I do like how it looks. Again, it's the weird character of the lens which first drew me to it. This is not a "get it right in camera" kind of lens, post processing is a requirement.
How to use it properly
This isn't a lens that you can rush with, you get out what you put into it. To use this lens to its fullest, you need to slow down, take your time as you would with a film camera. Without focus confirmation that many of us are used to, it's easy to just assume something is in focus because it looks right in our minuscule little viewfinder. Even when using focus check, it's still hard to tell for certain if something is in focus. I find myself taking 2, 3, or even 4 of the same shots with the focus slightly changed. This is especially true for paid work, where I really can't afford to miss an important photo. It's something you really have to live with when using this lens, it forces you to slow down and be a more calculated photographer. This isn't a bad thing, but it may turn many away from this lens because of its niche status. It's not for everything, but when you realize that, it becomes a very powerful tool. There's no lens like it in Fuji's lineup.
That brings me to my final point, is this lens still worth it 6 months later? I believe that it is. While it's challenging and has a very steep learning curve, the images you get are simply unparalleled from an APS-C lens. Like the Nikon 58mm f/1.4, you have to use it to believe the "hype" behind it. It's not as sharp as the other Fuji lenses for the same price and it lacks auto focus, but that's not the point. It's a lens that makes me feel inspired when I use it, it really feels like an extension of myself. That in and of itself makes it worth it for me, full stop. Beyond that however, it's a fantastic lens for low light, but that's really just the icing on the cake for me. The lens stays on my X-T1 most of the time, and even when I bring my 23mm I barely use it. The 35mm is just the perfect lens for me, even if it does have its quirks.
If you'd like to check out some images for yourself, here are a few raws you can download and play with to see how you like them. I'd suggest starting by adding some sharpening and removing the chromatic aberration. Feel free to email me what you did with them or send me a DM on Instagram @tjl_petrol! If you would like to purchase the Mitakon 35mm for your Fuji camera, you can do so at the affiliate link below. Amazon affiliate links help support content on this page and others!