Monday, February 2, 2015

Lens Review: Fujifilm XF56mm f/1.2 R APD

1/1100th sec f/1.2 @ ISO 400. Classic CHrome Jpeg

The Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 R APD is a great lens. It's not because it's the sharpest, or has the best colour or an array of other sought after features. It's great because it's unique. Not unlike much of the Fujifilm X series cameras and lenses, Fujifilm stands out as different and this gives their cameras and lenses an edge over every other brand. Why? Because when you shoot with most 85mm equivalent portrait lenses, everyone seems to be aiming for the same effect in the same exact way. Not Fujifilm. They remind me of Minolta in the 80s and 90s with their Dynax-Maxxum series of cameras and lenses. They were trend setters and made unusual cameras and lenses that puzzled many (9 blade circular aperture, programmable hold buttons on the lenses, flare cutter aperture, Smooth Trans Focus technology (apodization tech!), AF 500mm mirror lens, etc.) but had a huge legion of fans that liked their unique approach. 

In fact, this apodized lens by Fujifilm is the same technology that Minolta introduced on their 135mm STF lens in the 90's (although the Minolta could alter the secondary aperture to change the bokeh), further proving my connection between Minolta and Fujifilm. How effective is this APD technology, and is it worth paying an extra $500 to get it? Let's find out

1/240th sec f/1.4 @ ISO 800. Provia Jpeg. Yash of This Open Space
1/2900th sec f/2 @ ISO 3200. Provia Jpeg. Pablo of El Kartel.

So the first thing you need to know about this lens is that it's tricky to shoot with it on the street. It's great as a studio lens or if you primarily shoot portraits or headshots. I'm thinking wedding photographers and fashion photographers. Not that a street photographer couldn't have one of these lenses and find it useful, but I would recommend having either a second body or another camera to capture the wider stuff. But when you do find something or someone to shoot, this lens is AMAZING!! I love this lens. It's great. When the focus is right, the image is tack sharp, but try not shooting at f/1.2 while on the street as you'll misfocus 50% of the time (unless you're shooting things across the street). It's not because there's a problem with the lens or the autofocus system, but because the depth of field is so shallow that even an inch of movement from either you or your subject will make for an out of focus image. However, with a stable subject, I found I was happiest at f/2-2.8, and manual focus override on the new X series bodies makes it easier to make small adjustments. Also, since the X-T1 now has an electronic shutter that goes up to 1/32,000th sec speed, you can shoot wide open and still get the shot. Thanks Fujifilm.

1/350th sec f/3.6 @ ISO 800. Provia Jpeg. Amir, street photographer
I always use the standard XF 18-55mm lens as the benchmark and I found a few things. The XF18-55mm is quieter when focusing and it seems faster and more accurate. My guess is because of the huge amount of glass that has to be moved on the 56mm lens, it just takes longer and is louder. However, I found that comparing all the primes against the 18-55mm, I seem to find the same results. It's not that the AF and focus speed isn't adequate on the primes. I think it just points to how awesome the standard lens is. 

In terms of the apodization effect, you can see that it's subtle, but it's there. I like that Fujifilm wasn't too aggressive, although if they could have found a way to be able to adjust the APD effect like Minolta did with their STF technology, that would have been even better. For now, the quality of the effect is very good. Lenses should have character and a unique look, and it's value not just based on focal length and maximum aperture. The APD technology does change the technical aperture number and effect (f/1.2 isn't really f/1.2), but we'll talk about that later. Fow now, let's just say the lens is great and the APD technology is unique and effective.

1/125th sec f/2.8 @ ISO 1600. Classic Chrome Jpeg
Maybe it's just me, but I also noticed that using a medium telephoto lens, especially when shooting people makes me shoot vertical. I don't enjoy shooting vertical in my pictures, although it's not like I'm against it. I just don't think I do a very good job at it. I see things cinematically, like a movie. I don't see vertical. My favourite aspect ratio is 21:9 horizontal. However, when it came to shooting people, without thinking I would go vertical and be pretty impressed by the results. Just remember that with this focal length, you're a solid 8-10 feet away from your subject, which is something I'm not use to (I typically use my iPhone for street photography)... unless you want to capture someone's nose hairs (which you easily can with this lens). Below is a picture of Priscilla Yu (aka Brickgirl) and you can clearly see the pores on her nose and individual eye lashes, but the DOF is so shallow that her hair is out of focus, and that's at f/2.8 (although effectively f/3 with the APD filter).

1/320th sec f/2.8 @ ISO 800. Provia Jpeg. Priscilla Yu, artist
I also found this lens effective for shooting across the street to compress and flatten images, as well as shooting nature and urban landscape. I can see a really talented street style photographer (think Saul Leiter) do amazing things with this lens. For me, I would love to see Fujifilm expand this APD technology at other focal lengths, perhaps a 35mm f/1.2 R APD? Now that would be an amazing lens to play around with as a street photographer. You can get portraits and still get close street shots at that focal length. What do you think Fujifilm? 

Overall, I give this lens a big big thumbs up. If I am a dedicated Fujifilm photographer and I shoot portraits and care about the out of focus area, then this is the go to lens for you. If you already own the non APD version of this lens, you'll have to decide if its worth the extra $500. Both lenses will take amazing pictures, but the APD version will have more character and style. Straight of the camera jpegs will look like you did some LR magic. I didn't check the size and weight but they seem very similar. Also remember that the aperture number on the APD version is technically incorrect in terms of the equivalent amount of light allowed in, which affects the depth of field. If you go to B&H and have a close up view of the lens, you'll see there's two sets of aperture markings. The white is the technical f-stop (focal length to effective aperture diameter), and the orange gives you the real world aperture once you factor in the APD filter. It's not a big deal to most, but if you're choosing between the APD and non-APD version, this may make the decision for you.

One major complaint: I hate the look and feel of the plasticky lens hood. At least make it half metal and plastic, instead of all plastic. Even better, square it off at the front and give it some style, but do something. I was embarrassed to use it. Blah! Ok, let's move on...

1/28,000th sec (e-shuuter) f/1.2 @ ISO 400. Classic Chrome Jpeg
Moreover, as a prime lens shooter, if I were to chose only 3 lenses from the XF line lenses, I would take the 14mm, 23mm, and it would either be the 35mm or the 56mm. However, after playing with this APD version of the XF56mm f/1.2, I would surely take this lens. I love the character of this lens, and I'm sure your pictures will thank you for it too. However, I'll say it again, if Fuji comes out with a 35mm f/1.2 R APD lens....

Thanks to Fujifilm Canada for the loan, and I look forward to the upcoming release of the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR lens. Now this lens is going to be great with the X-T1 Graphite Silver! Have you guys considered a prime WR lens though? I have to mention it again for all my prime lens fans, including myself. 

Happy shooting everyone! Please enjoy my video review of the X-T1 Silver Graphite with the XF 56mm f/1.2 R APD lens at Jan Kath Vancouver in the Railtown Design District:

Check out my First Impressions of the XF 56mm f/1.2 R APD lens here

Check out my original review of the XF 56mm f/1.2 R here

Check out my full review of the X-T1 here


  1. When referring to a decade (70s, 80s, 90s) you do not need an apostrophe between the '0' and the 's' because it is not a possessive or a contraction. Basic English grammar.

    1. Thanks Anonymous. Thank you for your grammar lesson. I should know this stuff since I majored in English. However, like complaining about a bad wax-job on a sports car, how was the actual ride? Any constructive complements or criticism of the actual content of my review and/or pictures? If not, I will just assume you only look to tear people down and not build them up, which is cool, since I don't actually have to know you.

    2. While I think its better to suggest grammar fixes in private, email and all, a statement like "However, like complaining about a bad wax-job on a sports car, how was the actual ride?" ignore the fact that you are a writer in addition to being a reviewer.

  2. Thank you for your review, i really enjoy your blog and videos! keep them coming :)

    1. I appreciate it. It's hard trying to keep up with everything but I do enjoy doing it. I'm a few articles backed up but should be caught up by month's end. Thanks again and happy shooting!


  3. Hi BHT. No, not at all do I look to tear people down. No offence meant. I love what you are doing and appreciate it very much, especially as I have just dumpted all my Canon gear and joined the Fuji set, so stumbling across sites like yours is a blessing. Keep up the good work. But English is my major too so these things jump out at you. Sorry if I caused offence.

    1. Anonymous,

      I understand, no harm done. I appreciate comments, praises and criticism. Like I said, I did make the correction (thank-you). However, it is nice to know that grammatical errors isn't the only thing you found worthy of commenting about. I actually love a good counter argument. Thanks and I appreciate you writing back.

  4. See, we all make mistakes. :) I should check what I type before I publish. It should read "dumped".

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