Fujifilm 56mm, 56mm APD and 60mm primes plus 50-140mm, 55-200mm and 18-55mm zooms ~ compared.
Out of curiosity I have done a mini test with six Fujifilm X series lenses to better understand the characteristics of their images and the differences between them. I wanted to see how the clarity, contrast and bokeh compares. This is not laboratory science, it is a real world A/B comparison where the results are subjective and open to interpretation. I’m not one to read MTF graphs and I believe all professional lenses made today should be reasonably sharp so my attention as always turns to how pleasing is the rendering of the scene? I want to assess both the in and out of focus bits.
So I went off to the cold, dark, woods with my friend Charlotte and set up a tripod. I used a Fuji X-T1 camera. The images were downloaded and the file names changed to represent the exif info. They were normalised for exposure but other than that there were no other tweaks. The sharpening settings were 25, 1, 25 and there was no noise reduction. I used the Pro Neg S camera profile and synchronised the white balance across the files. Note: Clicking on the picture will bring up the corresponding full res jpeg.
The 60mm f/2.4 macro
The first Fuji X lens I bought was the 60mm Macro. I’ve always loved this lens and the images it creates. It is super sharp wide open and delivers a wonderfully uncomplicated bokeh. It does however suffer from a lack of contrast caused by flare and I developed this lens hood modification to combat this. At the maximum aperture of f/2.4 the 60mm lens delivers just enough depth of field to keep both eyes of my subjects in focus for all except tight head shots. The lens is incredibly small, light, and a joy to use. The early firmware algorithms for focussing with the 60mm sent it hunting and gave the optic a bad name for focus speed. This has since been addressed and the 60mm is now as good as one would expect from any mid telephoto macro lens. I know from experience that the focus travel of the Canon 100mm f/2.8 L and the Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 macro lenses is no faster. How quickly the lens achieves focus is very much to do with the camera body and the AF system in use.
The 50-140mm f/2.8 zoom
This is a game changer for me. I’ve been using the 60mm for three years and the 56mm for nearly one year and although they are a joy to use I do find myself needing to use a 1/250th second shutter speed to get super sharp hand held pictures. The 50-140mm has an amazing OIS and now I am able to use 1/60th for static portraits and 1/125th for animated portraits when I’m working hand held even at the tight end of the lens. The rendering of the bokeh and the sharpness are easily on par with the primes so I’m now planning to use this lens to handle my long lens portrait work. It will feel like going back to the time I used the Nikon and Canon f/2.8 tele zooms but neither of those lenses were tack sharp wide open so I shot at f/4 to get an acceptable image quality. This new Fuji lens is in another league.
Technical tip: The depth of field in a picture like the one above remains the same whatever the focal length of lens used as long as the subject framing is similar and the aperture is the same. The perceived background blurring changes dramatically but the depth of acceptable sharpness remains the same. Use the aperture setting to get the required depth of field and then select the focal length to give you the foreground/ background separation or background blurring you require. So to recap: A 24mm lens at f/2.8 will have the same depth of field as a 200mm lens at f/2.8 because the wide lens will need to be a lot closer to the subject to achieve the same framing. The wide lens will have more of the background in it’s frame so the apparent out of focus effect will be reduced. For the shot size above, taken at f/2.8 whatever focal length of lens you use the depth of field will be about 12cm.
The 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 zoom
I bought this lens on the day it was released and on the whole I’ve been delighted with it. Out in the landscape it has been a fabulous asset and has constantly delivered outstanding pictures. The sharpness drops off very slightly at the 200mm end when wide open but stop it down a click or two and it is stellar. Julie, my wife now used this lens on her African safaris along with the 18-55mm zoom and the 10-24mm wide zoom. This trilogy of lenses and her X-E2 fit in a Think Tank Retrospective 7 bag and cover nearly all her needs. That is until the super telephoto zoom comes out later this year ;)
When the 56mm lens was eventually announced with a two stop advantage on the 60mm I was expecting a more pronounced background blur effect. However there is little between them. I personally prefer the look of the 60mm bokeh and as I regularly shoot with the 56mm at f/2 or f/2.8 to give me a smidgen of depth of field there is no light gathering advantage for me either. It’s nice to know I have the f/1.2 option when light levels drop and this has to be the lens of choice for photographers covering events or shooting in dark places. I used my 56mm almost exclusively for short telephoto shots in 2014 so that I could really get to know its characteristics.
56mm f/1.2 APD
This is the same lens as the 56mm but with a radial gradient filter on an internal element. This filter has the effect of reducing the effective aperture of the lens at the same time as softening the edges of the out of focus elements. When I first got my regular 56mm lens I did a side by side comparison with my beloved 60mm lens and I came to the conclusion I preferred the bokeh effect on the 60mm lens. I found the out of focus areas more creamy and calmer on the pictures shot with the 60mm lens. So it came as little surprise to me when Fujifilm announced an alternative version of the 56mm in the form of the 56 APD. The differences with the APD lens are subtle and come at the cost of effective maximum aperture. In the test samples that I have posted here I shot portraits on the edge of the frame as well as on the third just in case there is some softening at the focal plane at the edge of frame as a result of the apodization. I’m sure that with pictures that include out of focus light sources like car headlights the effects of the APD filter will be more obvious but I don’t shoot those kind of pictures.
18-55mm f/3.5-4 OIS zoom
I got my copy of the 18-55mm lens with my X-E2 that became a back up for my X-Pro1 and I wasn’t expecting much from a ‘kit’ lens. It went on sale at less than £200 when purchased with a camera body and is the best bargain in lenses to date. I tested it against my 18mm prime and it far exceeded my expectations. It was better than the 18mm in almost every respect and I soon sold the compact wide prime preferring instead the 18-55mm zoom. Note: The OIS is incredible and ever so useful on a lens of this focal length. I can’t think why the new f/2.8 version of this lens will launch without OIS. I will stick with my fast primes until a mk2 fast zoom with OIS is released.
The lens that is missing here is the 18-135mm. I didn’t have access to one when I did this test. I’ve heard mixed reviews about it and until I get to try one for myself I won’t add to the debate. I don’t own one because I don’t have a use for it. However if the super-telephoto lens is 120-400mm as rumored, the 18-135mm will be a perfect partner. Julie can then still have three lenses to cover the range of 10mm – 400mm when she goes off to Africa on safari later this year.
My personal conclusions are borne out in my lens choice for the 2015 season:
14mm f/2.8 (until the 16mm f/1.4 becomes available)
50-140mm f/2.8 zoom
The 50-140 zoom really is that good. There will be times that I use the 56mm for low light interiors and I’ll be continuing to use the 60mm in the studio because it is great at f/16 and focusses as close as I want.
I’ll probably shoot most of my natural light work at 1/125th second and f/2.8 hand-held and adjust the ISO as required. If my subject is dynamic I’ll up the shutter speed and if I’m in the dark I’ll use a monopod and drop the shutter speed to 1/30th. When I shoot with flash on location I’ll use ND filters to allow 1/180th second, f/2.8 and ISO between 200 and 800. Having a technical strategy helps me concentrate on my subjects and composition.
Feel free to comment (at the bottom of the page) on your interpretation of my findings or discuss the lens choices we have been given by Fujifilm so far.
The f/4 comparisons:
The 18-55 zoom at f/4 is shown in picture 08 above.
The long shot challenge. In each case I set up the tripod to give me a full length shot of Charlotte. I let the zooms be at maximum reach to achieve as much separation and background blur as possible.
I hope this is useful to someone. I shot many more frames to compare but I don’t want to swamp readers with test shots. I was really surprised at how similar the shots were and all the lenses tested proved to be good performers. If you want maximum background blur effect in close up portraits then you have to look to the zooms, but for the long shots perhaps you prefer the look of the 56mm f/1.2 lenses or the calm 60mm. What conclusions have you made? After watching paint dry in my last blog I’ll be getting back to creative topics in my next one, I promise.