The Fujifilm 56mm f1.2 vs 90mm f2 lenses; which is better?

In Cameras, Reviews, Words by Ben

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Fuji 56mm f1.2 lens at f10 for 6.5s, ISO200 – Fujfilm X-Pro2

I preferred the Fuji 90mm f2 lens personally. But the 56mm f1.2 is more versatile. Your needs will define your ‘right’ choice. In this article you will learn the main differences between them, what they are like to actually use and be able to download RAW files and Jpegs,

Fujifilm kindly lent me the X-Pro2 camera and both lenses for the review. No-one is paying me for this comparison nor is there the expectation that I praise them. Actually I was asked, ‘just to talk about (my) experiences using the X-series’ but enough amazing photographers have already done so in glowing terms so I though that comparing these two lenses would be the best way to add value to the community.

I asked to borrow the X-Pro2 in part because I am considering moving to Fujifilm from Nikon. That hands-on use plus the spurious benefit of internet clicks is my motivation here; so you can be assured that this review is my true opinion and not a naughty advert.

I make this proviso because I really enjoyed using both lenses, and that will come across in the review. Fujifilm has a family of excellent glass and they make a compelling reason to buy into the X-Series. Their range and roadmap for lenses is sensible and has a few particular gems, and has persuaded a few colleagues to choose Fujifilm over Sony, and in a couple of cases recently, over Canon and Nikon too.

That’s largely because they are designed for the smaller APSc sensor with its 1.5x crop factor compared to the full 35mm frame. This means that the lenses can be smaller so your gear bag is lighter and more compact; particularly useful for travel, street and destination wedding photographers.

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Fuji 90mm f2 lens at f10 for 1/200s, ISO200 – Fujfilm X-Pro2

Both lenses also seem to be designed with a compact size in mind too. They are well machined and share a 62mm front filter size, which works out cheaper than the 77mm and even 82mm set of filters that we have to buy for full-frame lenses. Both lenses are metal and include plastic lens hoods.

Interestingly the machined grip for the focussing is really well done. It’s not something that’s quantifiable but they feel very good in hand; worth trying the lenses in a store for this. I’ve had the normal rubber grips get sticky and loose and eventually fall off on top Nikon and Sigma Art series lenses after a few years of professional use. It is reassuring that Fujifilm lenses seem better built to last in this respect.

The ‘fly-by-wire’ electronic manual focussing was less appalling than in previous years. In fact it was pretty smooth, and the camera/ lens combination is now fast enough to essentially eliminate the lag of previous implementations. I still miss the smooth, dampened feel of a proper manual lens and the calibrated hard stop at infinity focus.

That nostalgic moan aside, focussing manually is something that I actually did quite often by choice with the Fuji X-Pro 2, something I’d rarely consider with the pro Nikon dSLRs. The resolution of the electronic viewfinder and especially the various configurations available for focus peaking plus the ease of zooming to check critical focus made the whole process of focussing manually a joy. I can see why photographers adapt classic lenses for mirrorless cameras.

The manual focus tension seems better on the 90mm f2, and the stiffness of the aperture ring is noticeably better on the 90mm. The 56mm f1.2 aperture ring is looser, which is good for changing aperture with one hand but also means that you can jog the aperture by mistake.

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Fuji 56mm f1.2 lens wide open for 1/18000s, ISO200 – Fujfilm X-Pro2

Overall I preferred the feel and build quality of the 90mm lens. They’re very similar but the 90mm has the edge. It’s also apparently weather-sealed, so combined with Fujifilm XT1 or XT2 makes a great combination for outdoor shooting in inclement weather.

I couldn’t get used to using the optical viewfinder on the X-Pro2 with the 90mm and relied upon the evf (electronic viewfinder). The 56mm was doable but not ideal; the X-Pro2 optical viewfinder is ideal for wider lenses than these like any rangefinder, and it was great to have the option of the evf built in. I’d recommend the XT2 or XT1 with the 90mm though.

I also preferred the 90mm f2 lens for portraiture. The perspective was more pleasing for people. I imagine this is because it’s around the classic 85mm portrait lens on full-frame. Of course the field of view from the APS-c sensor is equivalent to 135mm, which has been great for tighter portraits. The 56mm f1.2 in comparison with its 84mm equivalent field of view seems to slightly distort the perspective so works better with certain faces for headshots. People generally have a ‘most flattering’ focal length which depends on their face shape.

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Fuji 56mm f1.2 lens at f1.6 for 1/125s, ISO200 – Fujfilm X-Pro2

The 56mm f1.2 is far more versatile for everything else though. It’s still quite a telephoto perspective for a general lens but I tend to leave an 85mm on the full-frame camera so it’s a familiar focal length. The f1.2 maximum aperture is very useful beyond its obvious my-lens-is-faster-than-yours bragging rights. The depth of field isn’t so shallow as to be ununusable while still allowing a marginally faster shutter speed for low light work. It’s about equal to a 85mm f1.8 on full frame.

Fujifilm has two versions of the 56mm lens. The normal one, which I have been reviewing, and a new (and significantly more costly) APD version. This uses an extra lens element to vignette the edges of the aperture so the circles of confusion (the circles created by out-of-focus lights in the background) fade at their edges. This makes transitions in the bokeh smoother and creates a more pleasing look. It reduces the light transition of the lens a bit, which is why it’s been used with this fast portrait lens with its large aperture and emphasis on bokeh quality.

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Fuji 56mm f1.2 lens at f11 for 1/60s, ISO200 – Fujfilm X-Pro2

I’ve only tried the other lens briefly so I can’t say which is better, but I would recommend printing any comparison pictures taken with both lenses that you can find online, marking them on the back and then choosing which you prefer, if either. I’ve read that the autofocussing is degraded by the APD element and of course the new APD lens is more expensive, if that helps your choice.

Chromatic aberrations and purple fringing; well there’s something I’m not going to talk about. Modern prime lenses of this calibre have so little to worry about, and software fixes are well developed anyway. It’s often discussed just because it’s easy to see, and is an objective standard by which to differentiate lenses. Incidentally this ostensibly ‘professional’ reviewing is why some of the Sigma Art lenses sacrifice subjective rendering for objective sharpness, and compact size for maximum aperture.

They are important though; reviewers with expensive testing equipment ensure that manufacturers keep high optical standards and can also let you know which apertures offer the best performance. I would recommend looking for a lens review with proper test equipment if you’re curious about MTF charts for these lenses for example. For portraiture I don’t find sharpness to be so important. Actually I’ve been looking at Tiffen’s gold diffusion filters precisely to reduce the clinical sharpness of modern lenses. If sharpness is most important, I’d recommend a macro lens.

From my perspective actually using these, and a working comparison with the excellent lenses I’m already fortunate enough to own like Nikon’s 85mm f1.4, both lenses were definitely sharp enough. I found them best, as is usual, stopped down one stop from their maximum apertures, which made the 56mm ‘better’ at f2 for example (but only at f2). I certainly had no hesitation using either lens wide open though.

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Fuji 56mm f1.2 lens wide open for 1/500s, ISO400 – Fujfilm X-Pro2

More important is the weather sealing of the 90mm lens; feeling comfortable photographing in a bit of rain is going to make a much greater impact on the pictures than absolute sharpness; or the lighter, more compact size of the 56mm over the 90mm, although the difference of 135 grams isn’t really relevant in real world use.

I also noticed that the 90mm was slightly faster to focus, which is just as well considering its longer focal length. It is fast and accurate with little to no hunting even in relatively low light levels. It’s effectively silent too. After noticing the autofocus difference I had a look on Google and sure enough the 90mm has a ‘Quad Linear’ autofocus motor. Well, it works.

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Fuji 90mm f2 lens at f3.6 for 1/1000s, ISO200 – Fujfilm X-Pro2

Bokeh, the Japanese word for the character of the defocus which has thoroughly entered our photographic language, is lovely on both lenses. And considering that these are two speciality lenses from a highly-esteemed lens maker that are very likely to see a lot of portraiture work, this is to be expected. The seven bladed aperture does give shaped bokeh balls when stopped down a bit on the 90mm f2 which some people won’t like as much as more rounded and more aperture blades, but for me this was an irrelevance.

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Fuji 90mm f2 lens at f5 for 1/280s, ISO200 – Fujfilm X-Pro2

The 90mm focuses slightly closer which makes a noticeable difference to the depth of field and rendering. The combination of sharpness wide open plus the perspective of the 135mm equivalent field of view with its beautiful bokeh gives the images a distinct three dimensional appearance that I loved. Will it compare to the Nikon 85mm f1.4 on full-frame? Not really but it’s close enough and the lens itself feels better.

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Unedited – Fuji 90mm f2 lens wide open for 1/2000s, ISO200 – Fujfilm X-Pro2

I do miss stabilisation with this lens though, which the Sony A7rii or Pentax K1 have in-body for example. I think stabilising the lens itself may slightly reduce the crystalline optical quality and increase the size (and cost), so I hope that Fuji has plans for in-body stabilisation in the future. The 90mm f2 lens is a worthy investment even before then but the 56mm f1.2 does have a slight edge in low light.

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Fuji 90mm f2 lens at f3.2 for 1/125s, ISO200 – Fujfilm X-Pro2

So overall the 56mm f1.2 is the more practical choice. It has the bragging rights of the f1.2 aperture for an instinctual appeal, that f1.2 aperture makes low-light photography easier short of stabilisation in either lens or the curent X-series bodies, and finally the 85mm equivalent focal length is a lot more versatile if you’ll have the lens on your camera a lot.

But oh! that 90mm… It’s just such a seductive jewel and its hard to block your ears to its siren call with mere practical concerns. Of course objectively it is weather-sealed, works in sub-zero temperatures, no vignetting or distortion and is just amazingly sharp. But it’s also the warmth that it gives to skin tones and the micro-contrast rendering that gives a look to your images that’s hard to describe. My advice is if you don’t think you can afford it, avoid trying it at all costs; it’s impossible not to be seduced.

And here are some bonus RAW files for you to check sharpness/ rendering etc. Feel free to download and edit them, but please don’t use them for anything except to judge the lenses. Would love to see your edits! https://mega.nz/#fm/dcVCnJKY