The 90mm F2 lens (135mm in 35mm format terms) is the latest portrait warrior from Fujifilm. The optimal focal length for everyone who prefers a slightly more compressed look to their work. We have always enjoyed the slightly longer focal lengths for their shallower depth of field and tighter field of view.
Thankfully, on this occasion we got a couple days notice before getting the lens. It was just enough time to plan two shoots in order to form an opinion and create some sample imagery. It would have been a shame to rush the opportunity, and we are grateful we didn't have to. So we organised a street model for Saturday and a martial arts enthusiast to swing his sword on Sunday.
When photographing full length (head to toe), we definitely prefer the telephoto focal lengths. Even though the 56mm is our desert island lens, the 90mm produces a cleaner full length image thanks to the added background compression. Backgrounds are just as important, if not essential to image making, especially when working on location where stray geometric patters can ruin an otherwise perfect image.
If you use the 90mm lens without the lens hood you can force some creative lens flare if you position the sun carefully. The image above and to the right had the sun sitting just out of frame (top middle) and the lens flared. In this particular case, we managed to turn on the lens flare ON & OFF by removing the lens hood. But why would you use the lens hood when the flare look is vintage soft? The only other Fujifilm lens with such a mellow flare impression is the X100 series 23mm.
Bokeh quality and contrast sit somewhere between the standard 56mm lens and the 56mm APD. For those of you who are lucky enough to own both, or have used both, you will have some idea of how this lens performs. For those who haven't had the pleasure of the 56mm APD, rest assured it is hard to fault the optical quality of the metal wrapped glass which makes up the 90mm lens. We have said it before and will say it again, Fujifilm lenses were designed to be used at their maximum aperture, they perform stunningly well with little to no improvements when stopped down.
One of the downsides to the 56mm lens is the slow focus speed, especially noticeable if you are swinging the APD version around. Not an issue with the 90mm F2. It is quick to lock and won't let go until you are ready to make the shot. The image we made above is a great example of focus speed. We waited until the wind was at its peak and caught a mini sand storm swirling over the top of the mound. Combined with trying to time a powerful pose, in a situation where we could not communicate with our talent over the wind, the camera and lens combo had its work cut out.
Since this lens is being released around the same time as the v4.0 XT1 firmware (the camera body we use for everything), we should mention that the new ZONE focus is AWESOME and really works. Even in low light, strong contrast situations and harsh backlight scenarios, the camera locked on without issue across multiple focus points. A feature which we plan to incorporate into our workflow immediately!
Compared to the Fujifilm 50-140mm F2.8 zoom lens, the 90mm is a lightweight. Although it looks long (with the lens hood attached), it is well balanced. The 50-140mm lens is a little front heavy without an additional grip (especially noticeable after long day at a wedding). The 90mm could easily become a walk about lens for anyone who enjoys large aperture telephoto focal lengths. Probably a little short for wildlife work, but for people and indoor spots it is ideal.
One of the biggest surprises from this lens is the minimum focusing distance. The 56mm does not focus impressively close, it performs averagely for the focal length. But the 90mm really does push the boundaries in this department. It would have been interesting to see what the 90mm could do with one of the extension tubes, but we had to give the lens back before getting the chance.
One last thing, the 90mm is sharp! Wide open, stopped down, flared, focused close or far, no matter how you use this lens it will leave even the most pedantic pixel perve speechless. So now comes the age old question, the one which has been bugging us since we started writing up this post: should you buy one?
If you are a prime lens photographer like us, no question about it. It is the best telephoto lens currently available and will be for quite some time. After all, no other telephoto prime lenses are on the road map. We also happen to own the 50-140mm lens, a superb all rounder but trust us when we say, at 90mm, they are worlds apart.
Not only did we write up this review for anyone who enjoys to read, but also to suss out in our own mind if we should add another to the kit. Considering there has been not a single critical point which had to be mentioned, the decision is easy.