Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fuji 56mm f/1.2 Lens Review

I would like to think I have a good grasp of what I want/need in my photography equipment.  I always talk about minimum things a lens or camera must have before I even consider purchasing it. In the past, I have bought several things based on hype or convincing YouTubers and felt burned after spending hard earned money on something that did not fit my needs. The Fuji X-T1 is one example that breaks every rule and standard I have. It does not have “fast” controls (relative to what I am used to), it does not have in-body image stabilization, it has a low flash synch speed and the AF is arguable the slowest out of all the mirrorless cameras I own. Yet, I find myself picking up the X-T1 more times than not. 

My first time using the X-T1 & 56mm Combination under controlled studio conditions. The results definitely exceed my standards
I know what you are thinking, why am I talking about the Fuji X-T1 when the title of this post clearly states it’s a review on the Fuji 56mm f/1.2. In my humble opinion. I feel the 56mm lens belongs to the X-T1 and this lens truly defines the system as a whole. While I have had some time with the venerable 23mm and 35mm glass, nothing has stunned me more than this seemingly perfect portrait lens. 

All RAW files, with the exception to the studio shots, were first converted to TIF files via Silky Pix and then edited further in Lightroom. 
Before I go any further, I must qualify this review by stating one glaring issue if you are a heavy user of Adobe photo editing products, particularly Lightroom. Simply put, I do not like how Lightroom converts Fuji Raw files. There are work arounds to this and is something I have considered and implore you consider if you decide to use this system with LR. You can read my thoughts about Raw converters below. Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let’s carry on with the review.

My Final Thoughts on Capture One Pro 8

Raw Converters: Lightroom vs. Capture One Pro

Auto Focus Speed and Accuracy:

There is not much to say about this lens besides the fact that it is the slowest focusing lens I own. It is safe to say that all Fuji glass I have tried is slower than any OMD or Sony A7II glass (though I must admit I only have the FE 55mm and FE 70-200mm lens) I own. It does have a tendency to hunt in less-than-ideal lighting conditions, but it is mostly accurate. I qualify the accuracy of the focusing because I believe this is mostly operator driven.  Because the focal plane is so thin at f/1.2 and at close distances, the slightest movement can shift the focus from the eye to the eye lash or even the nose. I do feel in-body image stabilization would help for portrait work. As a general rule of thumb, I try to keep my shutter speed faster than 1/100th and I fully depress the shutter release as opposed to half pressing, waiting for the focus confirmation and then pressing the shutter release all the way. These “shortcomings” are by no means a deal breaker. I simply adjust my shooting technique to accommodate the “nuances” of working with a Fuji system. 

Image Quality:

This is by far the most important factor in my opinion and is highly subjective. I try to stray away from speaking matter of fact about image quality since I have a hard time quantifying or measuring the beauty of an image. Speaking only for myself, I am in love with the output from the 56mm. The quality of the bokeh is smooth and does not detract from the image. I have seen other lenses produce distracting and busy out of focus areas, but the bokeh with this glass seems organic and is pleasing to my eyes. Once you run the Fuji files through a RAW Converter other than Lightroom, the files are wonderfully sharp and have a nice pop to them. This lens defines the system and belongs with every Fuji owner. I would go as far to say this should be the first lens you buy if you are a portrait photographer.  I can go on with the superlatives, but I'll leave you with sample photos instead.

RAW file edited in Lightroom. Note: this did not go through the Silky Pix software.
 I believe the only filter I used was the Classic Chrome Fuji setting.

Hands down my favorite shot taken from San Diego Comic Con 2015

Build Quality and Weight:

To me, I believe good weight and bad weight exists in all things whether you are talking cameras, cars, computers and so forth. Size and weight is something mirrorless users tout as an inherent benefit of using this platform and I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment depending on the situation. If you like to hike and travel, every ounce start to feel like pounds after several hours trekking, so weight becomes an important factor. This lens, in my opinion, can be used for these applications, but is not what Fuji intended. More on that in the next section. A 1 pound (56mm = 0.89 lbs.)  lens on a 1 pound body (Fuji X-T1 = 0.97 lbs.) can feel a bit front heavy and unbalanced. The same can be said about most of Fuji’s new lens offerings. With that being said, the camera becomes more balanced and easier to handle with a vertical grip added. Although I don’t personally own one, I have handled the camera with one on and plan on adding it to my collection in the near future. 

Relative to my Olympus 45mm lens, this is heavy…and I like it a lot. Not only does it feel like a quality piece of glass, I find stabilizing the body easier. The additional weight can mask some poor shooting technique, of which I occasionally exhibit, especially when I push down the shutter release too quickly. Torquing or jerking a light weight camera is a prevalent issue with me so I welcome some heft. Overall, I am impressed with the build quality and believe the 56mm metal construction will last me a long time.   

Philosophy of Use:

I find that all of my cameras serve a very specific purpose and this lens is no exception. I think my Olympus OMD is the only camera I find that is my jack of all trades, master of none camera. While I believe you can get away with doing several types of work with this lens, my personal philosophy of use is portraiture work. I believe the AF speed on this lens precludes it from being a dedicated concert photography lens or an ideal tool for weddings, but it certainly can be done (and I have used it for both types of work). If I had to complain about anything, it would certainly be its focusing speed. Well, that and it has a fairly long minimum focusing distance of approximately 2.29 feet. For deliberate, controlled, portrait work with the Fuji platform, there isn’t a lens I can recommend more than the Fuji 56mm f/1.2. Without a doubt in my mind, this lens has made me a Fuji Fanboy and makes me excited to try/purchase other primes.   

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