Fujifilm XF56mm f/1.2 R – Don’t Fear the Bokeh Monster

Fujifilm XF56mm f/1.2 R

Don’t Fear the Bokeh Monster

That’s right, I’m back with another look at one of my most used lenses! This time it’s my second most used lens in my kit, the Fujifilm XF56mm f/1.2 R. Unlike werewolves, vampires, and glitter,  I have no fear of Fuji’s Bokeh Monster!

As always, full disclosure time. I’m not paid, sponsored or endorsed by Fujifilm in any way. I purchased this lens with my own hard earned cash and as such the thoughts contained in this article are strictly my own opinion. This isn’t a paid advertisement, nor was I compensated by Fuji to write this review. 

Why the Fujifilm 56mm?

Before I made the switch to Fuji X Series cameras back in 2014, my go to lenses were the 50mm f/1.8 and the 85mm f/1.8 on my full frame Nikon dSLR setup. So it’s no real shock that the two most used lenses in my Fuji X Series kit are the 35mm f/1.4 and the 56mm f/1.2. Again, this isn’t a technical detail filled review of the 56mm, simply my opinions after more than a couple years of using it regularly. For all the technical details you can visit the Fuji X website right here. 

Most people will look at this lens and label it Fuji’s portrait lens. It’s super sharp, has that beautiful Fuji color rendering, and can create some dreamy background blur and separation for your subjects. I’ve used this lens for many a portrait in the time I’ve owned it, however, I absolutely LOVE using this lens in landscape and nature photography.

Wait, isn’t that a little long for landscapes?

I know, I know, I can hear it now. “Landscapes should be made at f/8 – f/22 with a wide angle lens!” While there are times I’ll grab my 10-24 and shoot wide landscapes that are tack sharp from front to back, it’s not how I see the world. Especially in the heavily forested regions of Northern Minnesota I call home. Rather, it feels more natural for me to shoot at f/1.2 -f/2.8 with the 56mm and be able to focus in on a specific portion of the landscape. It’s just how my eye and mind work I suppose.

The Technical Side

While nowhere near as big and bulky as many of the standard dSLR fast prime lenses, the XF56mm f/1.2 R is indeed a bit bigger than many of the smaller primes. Especially when compared to the newest line of f/2 weather sealed lenses, the 23mm/35mm/50mm.

With a full frame 35mm film equivalent focal length of ~85mm, the XF56mm f/1.2 R is that classic mid-range telephoto portrait lens. Here are the quick stats for the tech junkies out there.

  • Weight: About 405g
  • Overall dimensions(without the lens hood): 73.2mm in diameter and a length of 69.7mm. It’s a bit larger than the XF35mm f/1.4 R for sure.
  • Construction: 11 elements in 8 groups, including 1 aspherical and 2 extra low dispersion elements. Similar to the 35mm, it has a 7 bladed diaphragm with rounded blades.
  • Near focus limit: ~0.7m or roughly 27.5 inches.

Ok, tech junkies are satisfied so allow me to translate that to the real world. Basically, this lens is a beast. I don’t mean that in terms of it being huge size-wise, but in terms of performance.

It’s a little bigger than the 35mm but it feels really balanced in the hand and because of all the fancy elements and such, it’s a very fast lens that gives you some ultra creamy out of focus background blur when shooting wide open. Yep, it’s that dreaded word… Bokeh… and this lens I like to call the Bokeh Monster because of its fantastic creamy backgrounds!

Build Quality

As you would expect with most of the XF lens line up, this lens feels like a premium piece of glass. Very solid with size that fits perfectly in my hand. The aperture ring has a smooth yet satisfying click as you cycle through the various settings and it has a nice big focus ring on the front of the lens. Something that can come in handy to fine tune focus, especially when shooting wide open at f/1.2.

In terms of manual focus, the same thing applies here as with the 35mm, it’s focus by wire so your mileage may vary if you prefer manual focus. Though as we know, Fuji X Series camera’s give you some great tools to assist that process with focus peaking, etc. so this lens is no slouch in that regard.

Performance/Image Quality

Ahh, the fun stuff! I’ve seen it said that this is THE portrait lens for Fuji X Series cameras when it comes to their prime lens line-up. I tend to use this lens for probably 70% of my portrait work, if not more, because it has such a terrific look to it.

The fast f/1.2 setting with portrait work lets you work hand-held in fairly low lighting conditions, gives you great background blur and when you get to that sweet spot with this lens where you have a good distance between your subject and background/foreground, you almost get that feeling of medium format. Almost, but not quite, so don’t send me those angry messages about how medium format is WAAAAYYY different. I know, I get it. I said, ALMOST.

This lens is very sharp while also allowing for a nice balanced falloff from in focus areas to creamy out of focus goodness. Sometimes, portraits made with real long lenses can almost look like the person has been cut out in Photoshop and pasted onto a stock photo of a blurry background. It’s a matter of personal taste, but to me those images feel a bit jarring. The falloff in focus wide open on the 56mm is very natural, nothing jarring about it. It’s razor sharp focus bleeding nicely to creamy and soft. I know they contradict, but you’ll see what I mean in the examples below.

No lens is perfect, some things to watch out for.

A couple things to keep in mind with this lens when you shoot with it. Not necessarily negatives, just things that tripped me up a little when I first put it on my camera.

Because it’s fast at f/1.2 and can perform in lower light so nice, we forget to pay attention to solid low light shooting technique at times. This lens has no image stabilization so you’ll need to make sure you are holding steady when you shoot. As with any lens, the longer the focal length the more light you need because even the slightest movements are magnified when you have a longer focal length.

It’s by no means a deal breaker with this lens, but something to remind yourself to pay attention to. Besides, one thing that is always a benefit to your photography is maintaining solid technique as you shoot.

Also, be mindful of really watching your focus. When shooting wide open that plane of focus can be razor thin. Nothing ruins a good photo faster than a great pose, great light and the tip of the nose in focus instead of the eyes.

Sharpness

As with most lenses, wide open at f/1.2 the lens is very sharp, but gets sharper when stopped down a bit. By f/1.8 or f/2.8 this lens is unstoppable.  Like I mentioned in my review of the classic 35mm f/1.4, leave that minor difference in softness for the pixel peepers because when you have a lens like this at f/1.2 you don’t need to be afraid to use it.

When looking at sharpness on a lens like this it is important to remember that, for most people, the lens is not the issue. The most common mistake with a lens like this is to misinterpret user error for the lens not being sharp. It’s real easy to have the lens grab focus on an eyelash or the bridge of the nose instead of the eyeball itself and so people think the lens isn’t sharp. In reality, the lens is perfectly sharp, you just missed your focus point.

Regarding auto focus, this lens is a bit faster than the trusty 35mm f/1.4, but still has it’s moments where it will hunt a bit in low light conditions. Overall I find the AF performance to be pretty zippy and accurate, though I’m not shooting fast moving action or wildlife most of the time so your mileage may vary.

Is there any reason to NOT shoot wide open?

I mentioned earlier that I use this lens for probably 70% of my portrait work, if not more. It’s also my 2nd most used lens when I’m shooting landscapes or just walking around making photos around town or while I cruise backroads.

Maybe I’m strange, but I love shooting in this focal range with my landscapes. I mentioned earlier how at f/1.2 it lets me showcase points of interest in my landscape and nature photos that feels so comfortable to me. Coupled with some compression from shooting a slightly longer lens and it just feels right.

Of course, if you bring this lens to the f/8-f/11 range you’ll get amazing sharp images, but I still tend to shoot it at between f/1.2 and f/2.8 more often than not. I guess the Bokeh Monster bit me and turned me into a Bokeh Junkie!

Of course, as you would expect from one of Fuji’s flagship XF fast primes, it has those beautiful Fuji colors on lock down. From great skin tones to excellent rendering of blue skies it’s just smooth. As with the XF35mm there are some situations when shooting wide open in backlit conditions where you’ll get some chromatic aberrations, however those happen much less frequently than with the 35mm.

How about some more examples, shall we?

 

Final Thoughts

While the new 50mm f/2 MIGHT technically be a little faster and more accurate in the AF performance areas, there is just something special about this 56mm f/1.2. It has a look in the final images when shot wide open that is both wickedly sharp yet smooth and creamy, which I really love. There’s a reason it’s my 2nd most used lens! It’s a rock solid performer, AF is fast enough for most situations and visually it’s stunning.

My only nitpicks about it are that it can feel a bit front heavy at times on my X-T1 but not terribly so. I’ve heard that adding the battery grip to the X-T1 will balance that out, but I don’t own one and honestly I’m not sure I want the added bulk.

The only reason this isn’t my most used lens is the focal length. It’s still pretty versatile, but being the equivalent of an 85mm lens, it’s not always great when you’d like to get a slightly wider point of view. So it loses a point in the versatility ratings vs the 35mm for me. Color, sharpness, speed and performance are all top notch. Exactly what you’d expect from a premium prime lens like this.

So who is this lens for?

Well the easy answer is anyone that shoots portraits. It’s an outstanding lens that all portrait photographers should have in their bag.

But it’s also for those that like to shoot with shallow depth of field in their landscapes. Those that like to isolate details while out walking the streets and anyone that loves to blow out the focus of the background for some of that tasty bokeh.

It’s a great way to get a bit of that telephoto compression in your images without jumping up to a telephoto zoom, such as the 50-140mm or 55-200mm lenses currently in the Fuji lens lineup. I don’t own the 50-140, I’d love to but money IS most certainly an object for me, so I have to pick and choose lenses that not only fit my needs but also fit my budget.

Since I own the 55-200mm from Fuji, I just can’t justify the cost at this time to upgrade to the 50-140mm. Of course if Fuji would like to send me one I’d be happy to accept the gift, but we’ll talk about the telephoto zoom lenses in another article when I break down my thoughts on the 55-200mm. It could be one of the bigger hidden gems in the Fuji lens lineup.

For portrait shooters this is a no brainer, for landscape and day to day shooters it may not be as obvious of a choice. But if you have the budget, you won’t regret having this lens in your toolbox, it’s simply that good.

 

 

Gear Notes

All photos of the lens itself were created with a Fuji X-T1 and Fujifilm XF35mm f/1.4. It’s my workhorse, remember!

The remaining examples from this lens were created with both a Fuji X-T1 and a Fuji X-T10 using the Fujifilm XF56mm f/1.2 R.

Images all processed in Lightroom Classic with primarily Rebecca Lily Premium Color Grading Pro Set IV system, but also a few were processed with various Mastin Labs Preset packs as a base to my editing workflow as well.

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