The inspiration for the images in this review came from our love for the outdoors and the New Zealand bush. We have spent a lot of time hiking around the country and have been pondering how to capture what we see and how we feel while on an adventure. Capturing atmosphere is not an easy task!
Luckily the new 56mm APD lens from Fujifilm arrived just in time for Christmas, giving us two whole weeks of uninterrupted experimentation throughout the silly season. The 56mm (85mm equivalent) focal length is the perfect portrait companion and with the APD promise of extraordinary bokeh, a real crowd pleaser. With the lens too big to fit my Christmas stocking, it was shaping up to be the perfect tool for capturing the New Zealand summer bush experience.
The entire self assigned mini campaign was constructed using only natural light and a reflector to preserve the natural tones of the Forrest. We worked with the dappled patches of light, shimmering through the canopy, and made great use of the environment's natural features to maximise compositional intrigue.
Before we begin, lets get one thing straight, we LOVE the standard 56mm lens! I hate to say it, but the APD evolution is going to have to be pretty special to rock the foundations of our existing relationship.
Even after reading what wizardry lies within the 56mm APD lens, we still do not fully understand or comprehend how it was achieved. But for all practical purposes, the technical terms used to confuse us and describe the magic are meaningless if the promise of STUNNING bokeh is a lie!
If you are interested in this lens, then you will understand why we chose to make all our review images with an F1.2 aperture (the lens's maximum). For those who need a quick bokeh tutorial, are confused about aperture or need to brush up on some basics, we recommend reading 'The Art of Bokeh' post before continuing on,
You simply do not buy this lens unless you are obsessed with Bokeh! In combination with the X series electronic shutter and the supplied ND filter (freebee with the lens), there is no reason to twist the aperture ring off F1.2 (unless you are in the studio). The further away from F1.2 you go, the smaller the difference between the image created by the standard 56mm and the APD evolution becomes.
So, if you are not a large aperture photographer and are not in search of the ultimate bokeh experience, the standard 56mm lens will still fulfill your wildest dreams and satisfy many clients! Keep that in mind, because there is a significant price difference between the two lenses.
Before we get too carried away, lets quickly mention the build. It is the same and comparable to the rest of the X series range, so to sum it up in one word, EXCELLENT!
In fact, if it was not for the additional red f stop numbering on the APD model, it would be very easy to mistake the classic 56mm for the APD model. They share the same lens hood and the overall size and weight are the same. If you have played with or already own the standard 56mm lens, the APD model feels the same.
Fujifilm have broken the laws of conventional lens design and have raised the bar once more. View the image of the ferns above at full screen, look at how the lens performs in the corners at F1.2! A lens wide open at F1.2 is just not meant to be this good!
The standard 56mm lens is sharp, but the 56mm APD is sharper still, but not by much. Corner to corner, we noted no performance anomalies across the entire focus range. The lens is incredibly consistent.
Large aperture lenses focus slow, it's a fact! When the 'in focus' plane of an image is only a few mm, the camera will take time to lock onto the set point, and the situation only gets worse in low light situations.
The 56mm APD has one significant drawback (other than the price), the changes to the lens design have resulted in a loss of light transmission throughout its glass elements. Sadly, phase detection auto focus no longer works. Not an issue for portrait work, but if you are a speed freak and are frequently at the races, we expect the classic 56mm lens will outrun the 56mm APD. We are not sport or action photographers, so any loss in focus tracking has not been tested.
Also, we did not perform any extensive low light focus tests. While working in the forrest it never really got that dark. Focus speed and accuracy has never been an issue for our pursuits (user error aside). There were a couple of strong back light scenarios, but the lens focused first time, every time.
The extra dollars behind this lens are meant to pay for bokeh, and great bokeh costs if you have not picked up on that. And that is where you find the crux of the issue, how much better than the standard 56mm can it really get? Does the 56mm APD lens deliver on its bokeh promise?
The standard 56mm lens always was and will still be a stellar performer, if you have ever used one, you will know. But the 56mm APD does push the bar for APSC sensor cameras, not by much, but it's there.
Photographing in a forrest is a bokeh challenge for even the best lenses. The wild, erratic and random branch placements in the background really push and test a lenses bokeh performance.
The image below is a great example of a bokeh forest scene. The background pine forest has melted delicately despite the full length crop of our model (not easy for the 56mm focal length). The graduations between the sunlit patches and the dark tree trunks is very pleasing and does not distract from the main point of focus.
Although the bokeh difference between the standard 56mm and the 56mm APD is not exactly black & white, the devil is in the details. If you look closely you will see what we are trying to describe.
Probably the most obvious yet still subtle difference between the standard 56mm lens and the 56mm APD is the out of camera contrast. The blacks are notably richer. A fantastic quality and achievement for an F1.2 aperture. Deep blacks help add a dimensional quality to an image which injects a little pop.
Also, when a lens has poor contrast, it gives the impression of poor sharpness, even though this may not be the case. The slight increased contrast at the maximum aperture of the 56mm APD lens probably contributed to the sharper look of the images (see earlier comment).
One of our goals was to capture the scattered light patterns burning through the forest canopy and spilling throughout the landscape. We purposely set out in the middle of the day to take advantage of the bright sun, frequently placing our model into small light pockets to draw attention from an otherwise very busy frame.
Very direct and strong lighting techniques are not something we often employ. But in order to portray the look and feel of how we see the New Zealand bush, it was key for selling the story.
Unfortunately, whenever deep shadows are mixed with strong sunlit elements you run the risk of nasty colour fringing and all sorts of rainbow effects. A problem amplified with large aperture lenses. Thankfully none of the design changes in the 56mm APD lens have compromised aberration performance.
We challenge you to look through all our review images and find any signs of aberrations! We could not find any unwanted or unexpected colours where there shouldn't be (no software aberration corrections applied).
Lens quality has a big impact on image colour. If a lens has weak contrast the colour will appear washed out. On the flip side, if there is ample contrast, you get what we describe as crunch. We prefer our images a little 'cruchy' and welcome the slightly warmer tone washed through the image files.
The added warmth bring portraits alive and adds to the character of the lens. Lenses built to be cosmetically perfect are boring! Perfection is sterile and leaves little to the imagination, in our opinion every lens design should be proud to be different.
If you are a studio photographer and never go below F8, then this is not the lens for you. Save your money and buy the standard 56mm (you will not be disappointed). The same goes for action photographers requiring the additional phase detection focus speed.
However, if you are like us and love to bokeh, take a no compromise approach to bokeh performance and can see the devil in the details, then look no further! The new 56mm APD delivers cleaner bokeh with the bonus of a smidge more contrast. Probably the best 56mm (85mm equivalent lens) we have ever used.
Is it worth the asking price? We think so, but then again, we are also infatuated with the focal length....
Behind the Scenes,
The BTS gallery shows some of the beautiful landscapes we had access to for creating the images used in this review. For those interested, we were at Goldies bush in Waitakere and off the beaten track in Riverhead!
A special thanks goes out to Auckland based model Rose Halfpenny for making the effort and following us into the bush. Without your commitment and dedication these images would not have been possible.
Last but not least! Thank you again Nick Depree for assisting, snapping the behind the scenes images, picking up the slack and keeping the afternoon on track.
Please take a minute to stop by and visit both Rose and Nick's independent websites, each are busy creating amazing work and pushing the boundaries.