Is it worth buying a budget prime lens? It's easy to assume that a $100 lens is going to suffer in quality compared to a $400 or $600 lens. I don't often buy new lenses so they are usually what I really want or need. But when we noticed the Neewer 35mm f/1.7 lens on sale in the UK for £59 (about US$75), we decided to give it a try.
Fujifilmers are already well served with 35mm prime lenses. The much-loved Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 was one of the earliest Fujifilm lenses for the x-series, supplemented more recently by the more compact, weather-sealed Fujinon 35mm f/2. I shoot with the f/2 35mm all the time. it's such a great all-round lens, focuses quickly and I'm happy using it for events, portraits and street.
So the Neewer has tough competition, but at the price (the f/1.4 is currently $600 in the US and the f/2 is $400) maybe it isn't really in competition with those lenses at all.
As you can see, physically the Neewer is smaller than even Fujinon f/2. Not a pancake lens, but not that far off. The mount is metal although the body of the lens is plastic. The focus dial and aperture ring both turn smoothly and it feels well constructed, although the lens cap is very thin and cheap.
Most significantly, this is a manual focus lens. You set the camera to 'no lens' and the camera takes no readings from the lens so doesn't even recognize the aperture being used, although can still adjust the exposure automatically if you choose.
Anyway, a few local test shots to give you an idea of how it looks (all with some minor processing in Lightroom and using Fuji's Classic Chrome film simulation):
You can see from the last couple of shots that the bokeh (out of focus area) is pretty smooth but also creates an interesting effect in the last image on the fence that I was shooting through. I've heard it described as 'busy' and I think that's a fair assessment. I don't find it unpleasant though.
This is one of the first shots I took with the lens, again through a fence, and the soft background focus seems nicely rendered.
I've enjoyed shooting with it so far, and enjoyed being forced to manually focus. It's a challenge sometimes but well worth the practice and I'll talk more about that in a future post.
The Neewer isn't as good as the Fujifilm f/2 and I would have been shocked if it was. I don't have any issues at all with the quality though, only that the Fuji lens has generally more pleasing bokeh, the option of autofocus and is weather-sealed which is a nice touch if you're using a weather-sealed camera body. For the price though the Neewer so far seems to be a bargain.