Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 R Lens Review

Categories: Reviews Lenses

Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 R Lens Review

Mike Zawadzki
mikez@uniquephoto.com
www.mikezawadzki.com

Philosophy of Review

This Fujiflim 56mm f/1.2 R review is written from my perspective photographing my daily life, and in addition, some more professional work in the form of a senior session I tagged along with Tara Tomlinson Photography on. Some photos are from our downtime during evacuation from Hurricane Irma. Everything worked out ok thankfully, and I got to spend some more time learning how to use this delightful lens. (Can you tell that I'm a fan already?) I don’t post lens charts, pixel peeping crops, or brick walls. There is already plenty of that kind of information out there on the internet. I don't say this to be disparging either as it does have it's own separate value. It just isn't my area of expertise. In regards to the photos in this review; they were all shot in RAW, and processed in Adobe Lightroom. If you are interested in seeing any of the files as they were straight out of the camera, I am happy to send a few your way. Email me, mikez@uniquephoto.com. I did lightly edit my images for this review. Nothing heavy handed either, just enough basic adjustments to make the photos look presentable. I believe it is also important to note that I purchased this lens, and I am planning on using it for my portrait and wedding photography work. It is sitting next to me on my desk as I write, and was not a loaner lens from Unique Photo. I have included a nice variety of samples, but here is a link to a gallery of 50 images on my personal blog.

Introduction

It is no secret that lenses with ultra fast apertures like f/1.2 are regarded as exotic portrait photography lenses. They often carry high price tags, and older ultra fast lenses have somewhat of a cult following. When used properly, these lenses produce images that have a dreamy and signature look that can be difficult, or impossible, to replicate with slower lenses. This is the main reason why ultra fast primes have their niche popularity amongst portrait photographers. There is another version of the Fujifilm 56mm lens (56mm f/1.2 R APD) that has bokeh control similar to Nikon’s legacy 105mm and 135mm f/2.0 DC lenses. This feature intrigues me to a very limited extent, and phase detect (better and faster in challenging lighting) AF is not available on the APD version of the lens. As a wedding and portrait photographer who frequently works in dim lighting, it just wasn't a sensible option to me. In fact after some consideration, it was an automatic deal breaker. I am open to the idea of making a direct comparison in the future, but for my own work, I decided the APD’s extra bokeh control was not worth the loss of phase detect autofocus functionality. Fuji’s choice of the 56mm focal length may seem odd at first, but this is mostly a marketing tool. The 1.5x crop factor of APS-C format means this lens will have about the same angle of view as an 85mm lens on a full format camera. 56 x 1.5 = 84. So this lens fills Fuji’s ultra fast short telephoto prime category rather nicely. Labeling the lens this way makes it more relateable to photographers who are used to shooting on full format bodies.

Fuji 56mm lens photo by Mike Zawadzki

Fujifilm has a strong reputation for having high optical standards across their entire line of lenses, from the high-end pro lenses all the way down to the basic variable aperture kit zoom lenses like the 18-55 f/2.8-4. To be very upfront, the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 R is a fantastically sharp lens when used properly. However just like with any specialty, or fast aperture lens, there is a learning curve to achieve the best possbile results. This comes with careful attention to technique in focusing and overall camera technique. Even though I did get impressive results at f/1.2, there were times when I missed focus by just a hair, which was frustrating. This is the nature of using this type of lens, but there are ways to increase your keeper rate, that I will cover later. The 56mm f/1.2 R is not a lens that you can just pick up and shoot with wide open at f/1.2 on your first day of ownership with little effort. It takes practice to use correctly. I am happy that I decided to get a copy of this lens and practice several times well before ever having to use it on a paid job. I would strongly suggest this to others who are interested.

Photo by Mike Zawadzki Fuji 56mm Lens Review

Our New Kitten Lucie | f/1.2 1/500s ISO 2500 

Construction Quality

The 56 f/1.2mm R is a solidly built lens, but not a boat anchor like comparable full format mirrorless or DSLR 85mm lenses. It has the density of a healthy, small to medium sized red onion, and if you try to slice your 56mm with a knife, it will probably make you cry like an onion too. Like most professional lenses in 2017 the barrel and housing of the lens are made from a combination of both high-end polycarbonate (plastic) and metal. While metal used to be the hallmark of quality products, it can actually be a detriment in the field when photographing in extremely hot or cold conditions. The focus ring is smooth, and makes the somewhat jittery and unfavorable fly by wire manual focusing of the Fujifilm X system more manageable. Just like other Fuji prime lenses, the 56 f/1.2mm R features a clicked aperture ring that instills much confidence in use. It just feels right each time the aperture is adjusted. I appreciate this level of attention to detail in operation. There is no clutch to switch between manual and auto focusing modes, it must be done with a switch on the camera body. Though it may be a bit nostalgic and silly to some, using this lens did bring back fond memories of my early days in photography learning on manual focus 35mm film cameras. I really do enjoy changing the aperture setting directly on the ring of the lens. The 62mm filter thread is metal, and the included hood is a lightweight plastic, which feels a little too light in my opinion. I didn’t expect and didn’t want (weight, heat, etc…) a metal lens hood, but something a bit more substantial would have been nice. I have a feeling I may be replacing the lens hood a few times over the course of my ownership of this lens.

The lack of weather resistance in the form of a rubber gasket is my other criticism on the construction of the 56mm f/1.2 R. I am currently using the X-T2 camera body which is noted for having at least some level of weather resistance. I’ve also noticed that some of Fujifilm’s newest compact f/2 fixed lenses have a WR (weather resistance) designation on them. This is a bit disappointing considering Fujifilm put the thought into their newer, less expsneive f/2.0 prime lenses. It did not give me pause when buying the lens, I will just have to be extra careful with it if I want to use it in the rain or other adverse shooting conditions. Tara & I do a lot of work on the beach, but generally don't change lenses either. If there are any issues that arise over the next year or so, I will report back here. Overall, the 56mm f/1.2 is a professional quality lens that meets the standards that the Fujifilm XF lens lineup is respected for. This is a lens you can buy and use for a long time without needing to worry about it breaking down.

Senior Portrait with 56mm Fuji Mike Zawadzki

Senior Shoot with Tara Tomlinson Photography | f/1.2 1/1250s ISO 400

Deployment/Useful Information

Dimensionally the 56mm f/1.2 R is around the same size as a typical 50mm f/1.4 or 85mm f/1.8 lens is for full frame. In terms of weight, it checks in at 14.29 oz (405 g) and is significantly lighter than similar 85mm 1.4 options for full frame. The 56mm f/1.2 R balances extremely well on my X-T2 camera, with or without the extra battery grip. I have found that using the performance BOOST mode on the battery grip helps the AF speed of the 56mm f/1.2 R lens as well. I have always been weary of heavier lenses on compact mirrorless bodies. Not only is a heavy lens on a small body uncomfortable to use, it also negates the point of having a smaller mirrorless system all together. Angle of view changes across formats, but focal lengths do not. It is important to note this (and I repeat it often) because many refer to this lens as an “85mm equivalent” While this is partially true, there is a bit more that needs to be explained. The focal length of the lens is 56mm and that does *not* change regardless of the camera it is used on, no matter what. This is a 56mm lens, not an 85mm lens. So a lens like Canon’s 85mm 1.2L will still allow for more shallow depth of field because of it being a longer true focal length. That being said, I’m not sure I need or want less depth of field. One of my biggest struggles early on was achieving crisp and accurate focus at 1.2, almost always due to the depth of field just being so darn shallow. I mention this so no one gets disappointed when this lens ends up not being a direct replacement or “the same” as their Canon 85 1.2L lens on a full format body. Still it does fill the same needs, and I'm sure most Canon 85mm f/1.2L owners would be pleased with this lens. Especially conidering the weight to performance ratio. With a minimum focusing distance of 27.56”, the 56mm f/1.2 R is not a macro lens by any stretch, but still provides for adequate close working distance, which is nice for portraiture and weddings. I had no issues with the minimum focusing distance, and I used this lens for a variety of subjects ranging from tighter impromptu headshots to candid pulled back images of our kids/pets running around.

Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 R by Mike Zawadzki

Our family session got rained out, so we took some cool photos inside | f/1.2 1/45s ISO 800

Image Quality/Sharpness

The Fuji 56mm f/1.2 R produces razor-sharp images even wide open at 1.2, and is of course even sharper when stopped down a bit. I found the sharpest aperture to be f/4.0 with image degdraing diffraction kicking in at around f/8. Yet I rarely stopped down to f/4.0, as doing so somewhat ruins the "spirit" of using an ultra fast prime lens. Sure in my wedding and portrait (family) work I would probably shoot at f/4.0, but I imagine most readers here will be more interested in how the lens performs closer to, and fully wide open. As expected the corners are a little bit softer than the center, but this is generally irrelevant for portrait photography, as the edges of your frame will usually be blurred or out of focus in portraits. If you regularly plan on stopping down the lens past f/2.8, you may want to try a more versatile telephoto zoom lens like the XF 40-150mm f/2.8, which I actually hope to test next. The 56mm f/1.2 R still renders nicely stopped down, but in my opinion, the lens really does shine the most when used lens for portrait photography in the f/1.2-2.8 aperture range.

Cyrus having fun picking an apple! | f/1.2 1/800s ISO 200

Chromatic aberration was not an issue I experienced during any of my testing, even wide open at f/1.2. Most ultra fast lenses show some degree of fringing at their widest aperture, so this was a very welcome surprise. There is almost no distortion either, in both RAW/JPEG (corrected in camera) shooting. This is great news considering no lens profiles exist by default for the most popular RAW converters, Lightroom and Camera RAW. The “bad” news here is that vignetting is an entirely different issue. Light falloff is pretty intense and the edges of the frame appear to be about 2 stops darker than the center when shooting at f/1.2. This disappears almost completely at f/2.0 and is totally gone at f/2.8. I put “bad” in quotes because this effect can sometimes be a pleasing way to draw a viewer’s attention to your subject. If this is a true hinderance to your work, you can create a custom profile in Adobe Lightroom/Camera RAW to correct for the vignetting. It will take some fine tuning to get perfect, but will ultimately save you time. It is important to note that vignette corrections can add noise to images as the illumination correction is essentially just brightening the edges of your images in post. The difference in luminance is indeed noteable at -2EV, but the transition is smooth. I only corrected some of my sample images. As much as anything else is with specialty portrait photography lenses, this is a matter of subjectivity. I am merely trying to just provide as much information as possible so you can make the right choices for your own personal editing style and preferences.

Cyrus in field Fuji 56mm review Mike Zawadzki

Cyrus examines some grass | f/1.2 1/8000s ISO 200

The Bokeh in images made with the Fuji XF 56mm 1.2 R lens is stellar. It is as smooth and pleasant as you’ll get at this focal length on the APS-C format. In fact I was surprised to keep reminding myself that I was indeed shooting an APS-C body, and not full frame. Again I want to reference back to the format because it makes a difference. This lens will not render exactly like an 85mm f/1.2 would on full frame. In fact the rendering reminds me most of an ultra performance 85mm f/1.8 such as the Zeiss Batis for Sony FE cameras. Those looking to achieve even more shallow DOF on APS-C at a similar focal length, can look into the SLR Magic Noktor 50mm f/0.95 HyperPrime. It is important to note that the Noktor 50mm f/0.95 is a manual focus only lens. Personally I love the 56mm and wouldn’t bother with anything else for day to day use as a short telephoto prime, but I felt like it might be worth mentioning to help clarify/inform those who may be interested or seriously addicted to fast aperture lenses. Regardless of format, the light gathering at 1.2 is a great feasture, and enables faster shutter speeds and/or lower ISO settings which is beneficial in low lighting conditions.

Autofocus Performance and Technique

In normal lighting conditions, the XF 56mm f/1.2 R focuses swiftly and accurately regardless of focus settings. You can use some of the larger focus point or group focus area modes to get consistently pleasing results. I found this to be especialy true when shooting stopped down a little bit, around f/2.0. Again I think it is important to mention that I chose this version of the 56mm 1.2 R lens over the more specialized 56mm f/1.2 R APD variant, for the simple reason that the APD version does not allow for phase detect autofocus. In darker conditions, focusing with the 56mm 1.2 takes more work than a zoom lens or even a prime lens like the XF 23mm f/1.4 R which I also own and enjoy very much. I imagine the APD version of the lens would seriously struggle in low light. Again not worth it to me. There are sacrifices to be made when it comes to speed vs. accuracy. My Fuji X-T2 allows me to pick the size of focus points. As expected using a smaller focus point size is more precise, but slower to achieve and lock focus. I had mixed results with using face/eye-detection AF at f/1.2 in low-light, but for the most part I was pleased with my results using the eye detetcion mode on the X-T2.

Senior Session Tara Tomlinson Photography Fujifilm 56mm Mike Zawadzki

Senior Shoot with Tara Tomlinson Photography | f/1.2 1/1600s ISO 500

The Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 R is not a “grab and go” lens that you throw on your camera on the first day of ownership to use on a big job. Careful attention to detail and tehcnique needs to be taken when shooting at f/1.2. If your subject is moving and you are in a fast paced environment, you may want to set the lens to around f/2.0-2.8 to get a little bit more depth of field. This will also allow you to use a larger variety of focus area modes and settings that are better for tracking movement. The sacrifice made for accuracy is made up for in speed. However when it comes to shooting at f/1.2 and getting precision focus, it takes more time, and it is best to use a smaller focus point size. In this instance speed is sacrificed for better accuracy. It is up to you as a photographer to decide what your contraints are, and what is possible. When shooting portraits at f/1.2, I strongly suggest using the smallest focus point possible, and placing it directly over your subject’s eye, or the point you want to have in focus. I would also shoot at least 3-4 frames. I often found myself in burst/continous release mode when shooting at f/1.2. This is good practice for using any ultra wide aperture lens, regardless of brand or format. Ultimately much of my initial testing was done in dim indoor lighting, which amplified my frustration even more. My first day with the lens was challenging, but my keeper rate and has risen each time I have used the 56mm f/1.2 R. My first weddings with the Fuji X system will be in October, and I am likely to update this review or post a follow up afterwards.

Other Uses

Wide angle lenses tend to be the first thought for landscape photography, but for far away scenic shots, I prefer short telephoto lenses. From my point of view, this helps compress space in an interesting way, and also highlights far away subjects of interest. I especially like taking a series of 4-6 vertical images (on a tripod) and stitching them together to make a large panoramic shot to print large. Here are a couple examples I took in Blue Ridge, GA where we evacuated to get away from Hurricane Irma.

pano stitched images 56mm fujifilm mike zawadzki photography

Series of stitched vertical images made these epic landscapes possible. I could (and might) print them the size of a wall!

Conclusion

If you are a portrait photographer invested in the Fuji X system or interested in adding a Fuij X system camera to your arsenal, the 56mm f/1.2 R is a must have. It lives up to the hype and works as a top tier portrait lens with fantastic out of focus area rendering. It is sharp, contrasty, and I can confirm it has the “look” that all owners of the lens rave about. Here is a link to a full gallery of 56 1.2 samples on my personal website. Despite general high praise, the Fuji XF 56mm f/1.2 R is far from being a silver bullet, cure all, or magic lens. It won't make you a great photographer. You have to already be a competent photographer to make the most of this lens. Depending on what kind of phototgraphy genre you work in, another lens may be more appropriate. This is due to the limitations when focusing at f/1.2 in lower lighting. It takes patience and time. Additionally, for subjects that move quickly (again especially in lower light indoors), it takes careful technique and repetition to get consistently sharp results. A quick note for wedding photographer readers: From a wedding photography perspective, I would use the Fuji XF 56mm f/1.2 R for bridal/groom prep, outdoor ceremonies, and of course portraits of the bride and groom. I would generally avoid using it for motion in indoor ceremonies, and dimly lit reception parties. A speedlight or flash transmitter with an onboard AF assist beam would theoretically make these kind of scenarios more manageable. In fact I just picked up a Godox X1 Transmitter and Ving 860 II flash for Fuji, so be on the lookout for my thoughts on those units soon. The Fuji 56 f/1.2 R has my full endorsement as a top-notch portrait photography lens. Using this lens takes a lot of practice and patience. Meaning I wouldn’t go buy the 56mm f/1.2 R and shoot a wedding the next day with it. Take your time, practice hanging out with friends, do a styled shoot, use your family and pets as test subjects, etc… The investment you make in practice will be well worth it. Good luck, and if you ahve any further questions about this review or any other topics, please leave a comment here!

-Mike Zawadzki


 

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