I dub you the 'BOKEH MONSTER' - FUJINON 56mm F1.2 Review

Its official, I dub the FUJINON 56mm F1.2 king of the hill and knight thy lens as one official BOKEH MONSTER!

FUJI XT1, 56mm, F1.2, 1/1600s, ISO200, Velvia

85mm equivalent (after taking the 1.5 crop factor into account on the APSC sensor sized FUJI X series) is the stock standard focal length when it comes to portrait photography, hence there will be many dusting of their microscopes examining prints and pixel peeping to see if this lens sings our tune.

85mm has always been my favourite, I shot an entire Euro trip with the single Canon 85mm F1.2 in my kit . If this does not illustrate my passion for this field of view I do not know what will. The announcement of the 85mm focal length with a juicy aperture of F1.2 made this one hot tamales and object of desire world wide. I have been itching, tossing and turning for nights awaiting its arrival and finally it has landed on our shores!

Lets consider the price, although it is currently the most expensive prime in the FUJINON lens range, there really is not a lot to complain about when you examine how much glass you get for your coin. Looking at the competition in both the Canon and Nikon camps, a lens of this calibre will easily set you back 2.5x the price of the FUJINON.

FUJI XT1, 56mm, F1.2, 1/2000s, ISO200, Velvia

However, with low cost (relatively speaking) comes the anxiety of performance. Luckily the recent prime lens releases (14mm f2.8, 24mm f1.4) from FUJINON have been singing a tune sweeter than the high notes a alter boy hits during mass. We can only pray for history to repeat itself with the new release of the 56mm!

The design boasts a respectable 62mm lens opening (like the 23mm f1.4) flaunting its gorgeous front elements to the world like a model on the cover of sports illustrated. Granted this is to be expected, the size of the glass elements required to achieve an aperture of F1.2 are directly related and do not make them subtle (they are BIG!).

Everyone who is familiar with large aperture lenses will know there are tradeoffs, nothing comes for free! Typically these lenses when shot at their maximum aperture (sucking in as much light as possible, hence helping make exposures in dim surroundings),

  • Do not have the best centre sharpness (corners of the frame are typically even softer)
  • Exhibit low contrast throughout the frame
  • Suffer from bad CA (chromatic aberrations)

FUJI XT1, 56mm, F1.2, 1/300s, ISO200, Velvia

Examining one of the street portraits captured with this lens (no corrections in post, straight out of camera .jpeg) of the lovely lady and her batman headphones illustrates perfectly how the wizards at FUJINON have overcome some colossal challenges. Historically the above listed imperfections were very capable of ruining your work if not heavily treated in post (unless that was the look you were aiming for of course).

The 56mm at F1.2 has maintained beautiful blacks and brilliant sharpness throughout the frame at the same time rendering true to life skin tones. These optical challenges are usually tackled during post production with tedious slider manipulations in Photoshop or Lightroom and I have no complaints with the out of camera rendition! 

FUJI XT1, 56mm, F1.2, 1/2200s, ISO200, Velvia

Hand on heart this lens has got me stumped, I do not know how it was achieved technically let alone for the asking price! This lens is truly a worrier worthy of the 'BOKEH MONSTER' crown.

If you examine the image below of the golden coffee pots, the shape and beauty of the bokeh can be accurately observed. Take note, the lighting was very harsh and the scene is well under exposed (black in the image is a shop illuminated with standard fluorescents which fell completely away). Even though the bokeh balls are a little bright in places (around the edges) the colour depth and contrast in focus fall off is astounding.

FUJI XT1, 56mm ,F1.2, 1/150s, ISO200, Velvia

Although a little beefier than the rest of the prime lens range it balances perfectly on the XPRO1 and the XT1. It is definitely not a one trick pony and focuses just as fast as any of the other lenses in the range. Compared to the Canon 50mm/85mm F1.2 lenses this one is more of a jet fighter than a glider.

Large aperture lenses do require a little more care when focusing and setting a custom point is crucial. Luckily the entire X series camera range which will accept this lens have a completely customisable focus system where nothing short of a 100% hit rate can be expected when setup correctly.

85mm pulls your subjects closer, produces subtle subject isolation, frames beautiful head shots and with the rocket fuelled focus motor has far too many uses to be listed. A very very impressive tool which straight out of the box felt right at home. A true professional product and focal length I have severely missed since completely shifting to the X series.

- Sven