If you want photographers to take your camera system seriously, you need to provide lenses that go beyond the standard zoom and the long zoom that are mainstay of the entry and popular markets. Most of us have had one or both of these lens types, but as we advance and require more creative opportunities from the equipment we use, we begin to look for shorter zooms, fixed focal lengths and wider maximum apertures. The established camera systems, of course, have lenses for every occasion, but those building new mounts have to start from scratch, and it is very much the case that they will attract the customers their equipment deserves.
Fuji has done well to create a range of 12 lenses in the two and a half years since the company launched the X-Pro1, and the latest lens is designed to simultaneously deliver portrait photographers an ideal focal length and aperture, and the Fuji X system prestige and standing among the ‘serious’ photographic community.
Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R review – Features
Designed to be used with the APS-C sensors of the Fuji X system, the XF 56mm f/1.2 R lens provides a similar angle of view to what we might expect of an 85mm lens fitted to a full-frame camera. The lens uses 11 elements in eight groups, and includes a single aspherical and two low-dispersion elements – in the first instance to ensure sharpness and in the second to reduce chromatic aberration. Fuji has used its chromatics-controlling lenses directly behind the forward element – which is unusually small in relative diameter for a fast-aperture lens of this type.
As with nearly all fixed-focal-length X lenses, the XF 56mm is equipped with a satisfying aperture ring that clicks delightfully, if a little loosely, in 1⁄3 stops between f/1.4 and f/16 – there are no clicks between f/1.2 and f/1.4.
Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R review – Build and handling
With a lens cap of only 62mm, the XF 56mm is a nicely compact unit that is shorter, narrower and lighter than the equivalent lens from Panasonic’s G system – even though the Lumix G cameras use a smaller sensor.
The lens is built as well as we have come to expect from Fuji’s X-series fixed focal lengths, and the metal barrel and finely ribbed focusing ring feel very nice to the touch. I am disproportionally disappointed, though, that the lens comes with a plastic hood. The 60mm f/2.4 R Macro has a very nice metal hood and retails at only half the price. Perhaps the accountants are cracking down.
I found that the lens sits quite comfortably on both the X-Pro1 and X-T1 bodies, although the more substantial grip, both back and front, of the SLR-style X-T1 allows more secure and balanced purchase for the weight. Fuji places the aperture ring closest to the mount, so fingers of the supporting hand can find it with ease and without the photographer having to shift the holding position, whichever camera is in use.
There is sometimes a degree of whirring that goes on while an X-series camera focuses, and it seems the longer (or at least bigger) the lens, the longer it takes to focus. The 56mm on test here has more glass to move than any other fixed lens in the system, and I found that neither the X-Pro1 nor the X-T1 is especially deft at shifting it. While this is a test of the lens, not those cameras, the host body’s ability to make the lens work well has a definite impact on what all end users will be able to achieve.
In common with many compact system cameras, none of the Fuji bodies has a native ISO 100 setting, so the applications for getting use out of the f/1.2 aperture in daylight hours are somewhat limited.
Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R review – Image quality
Image: By f/4 we get good sharpness and still-shallow focus, but out-of-focus highlights are less rounded
Lenses with wide apertures tend to produce a lot of corner shading, and I fully expected to be talking at length on the subject in this test. While the XF 56mm does indeed exhibit evidence that its illumination is less than uniform across the frame, the effect is only really visible in images of flat, evenly lit areas. For most natural subjects, the fact that a dark doughnut expands from the middle outwards as the aperture shifts from f/1.2 to f/2.8 will go unnoticed.
Sharpness and detail are good, even when the lens is used wide open. The resolution of the captured image obviously increases as we close down, and I detected a peak between f/4 and f/5.6, and then a decline to an obviously poorer f/16. These comments are based on quite close focus, of the type you might encounter shooting a waist-up portrait. I found, though, that as the subject distance increases, sharpness and detail decrease, and by the time I was fitting full-length humans in the frame, my images were looking decidedly soft. Closer inspection of JPEG files suggests that the softness may be a result of fringing and a subsequent de-fringing exercise in-camera, or slightly missed focus at wide apertures.
The quality of out-of-focus highlights is a big deal to wide-aperture shooters, and I’m pleased to report that those produced by this lens are mostly pleasant. They tend to shift from round to elliptical as we head towards the frame edges, and from f/2 they are decidedly more heptagonal than circular, resulting in a less ‘creamy’ look.
Image: f/2 is perfectly usable, and delivers depth of field that lifts a subject from its background
Our MTF tests describe a lens that has high contrast, but an inability to define high frequency detail at wide apertures. Sharpness is best between f/4 and f/5.6, and edge and centre resolution only marry once the centre softens towards f/11.
Lab tests show visible levels of corner shading at the widest aperture, but that soon disappears with more or less even coverage by f/2.8. Even at its worse, vignetting from the lens is tolerable for most applications – and often actually of benefit in portraiture.
If you are going to have curvilinear distortion in a portrait lens, it is better to have the slimming effects of pincushion than to have the pounds piled on by barrelling. Although pincushion is present here, it isn’t really significant, and won’t be obviously noticeable where natural subjects are concerned.
Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R review – Our verdict
The Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R is an interesting lens and Fuji is sure to do well with it. It is an important focal length for establishing oneself as a serious camera brand, because it is one that ‘serious’ photographers will want to use – and it has the kind of gaping wide aperture that gets attention and people talking.
Lenses with this sort of specification are usually very costly, including the Canon example for full-frame sensors, and Panasonic’s Nocticron for micro four thirds, and, at around £900, this X-series unit is too. It is, however, slightly less well endowed with specialist glasses, in possession of a less rounded iris and less rounded out-of-focus highlights – things that are important to photographers who like wide-aperture lenses. It is, though, a good portrait performer, decent value for money, and will keep X-Pro1 and X-T1 customers very happy for a long time. Now Fuji needs to introduce shorter top shutter speeds and lower ISO settings to cope with the amount of light this 56mm f/1.2 gathers, so we can use it wide open outside too!