The latter group have made a smart decision by opting to craft high-quality prime lenses in lieu of more beginner-friendly zooms. While many are designed to be as small and affordable as possible, a few excel in the pursuit of pure photographic performance.
Lenses like the Carl Zeiss 24mm f/1.4 for Sony E-mount and Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron for Micro Four Thirds stand out for their exceptional sharpness and beautiful bokeh. While typically quite expensive, these lenses serve as "halo" products, showcasing what each manufacturer's system is capable of.
Fujifilm's halo lens is undoubtedly the Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R (MSRP $999.99). This ultra-bright prime lens features a classic portrait focal length and one of the widest apertures you can get in an autofocus lens. It proved its mettle in our labs, but with a $1,000 asking price, is it worth the cost?
Who's It For?
The Fujinon 56mm f/1.2 R is a wide-aperture, medium telephoto prime lens that's designed primarily for portrait photography. Designed for the APS-C sensors used in Fuji's X-series cameras, it has a full-frame equivalent focal length of 84mm to go with its f/1.2 max aperture—a classic combo.
This kind of focal length helps to isolate your subject, effectively compressing the background while blurring it away with shallow depth of field. It's the best way to make your subject pop, ensuring all eyes are
For its part, the XF 56mm stands out by offering an f/1.2 maximum aperture and autofocus. While f/1.2 on an APS-C sensor doesn’t yield quite as shallow a depth of field as it would on full-frame, it’s not far off. Anyway, precious few lenses achieve this kind of max aperture, regardless of sensor format.
As you'd expect given the specs, the bokeh is the star of the show. In a word, it's superb. But if it's somehow not quite good enough, you can opt for the “APD” version of this lens. It’s virtually identical, but for an extra $500 you get slightly softer bokeh—especially when you have lots of points of light in the background.
Look and Feel
Like most Fujifilm X-series lenses, the XF 56mm f/1.2 R features an all-metal build with a large focus ring and a physical aperture ring.
The aperture ring feels decidedly old-school with its proper click-stops, but it's not mechanically coupled. Instead, it controls the aperture electronically, telling the camera what setting you want to use. Most shooters will probably just set the dial to “A” and use the camera command dials to adjust aperture, but old-school shooters will appreciate being able to go full manual.
The focus is also by wire, meaning the ring doesn't actually move the lens assembly. Still, it's quick and accurate, and has plenty of throw—even if it's virtual. The focus ring offers a pleasant level of resistance, but there are no hard stops at either end of the focus range. Still, thanks to Fuji's considerable focus aids—peaking, magnification, etc.—manually focusing is a breeze.
That’s important, because on even APS-C it can be a pain in the neck to nail perfect focus with an f/1.2 lens. The autofocus system works well, but if your camera gives you the choice between contrast and phase detect AF, we recommend contrast whenever possible to ensure the most accurate results.
The Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 R is a classic fast portrait prime. What does that actually mean? For one thing, it renders out-of-focus areas as beautiful blurs, isolating your subject wonderfully. It's especially good at this at f/1.2, where you get very narrow depth of field with a very naturally, aeshetically pleasing falloff.
It's that f/1.2 max aperture that sets this lens apart from its peers, promising excellent low light image quality, even when shooting handheld. Unfortunately our lab tests revealed that the lens didn't pick up fine details very well at f/1.2 or f/1.4. The center is acceptable, but the corners are blurry even when they should be in focus.
Once you move down to f/2, however, this lens really begins to prove its worth. The center from this point on is downright excellent. By f/2.8 the rest of the frame begins to catch up, and by f/4 this lens is truly pin sharp from corner to corner.
Perhaps more impressive was the XF 56mm f/1.2 R's correction for both chromatic aberration (color fringing) and geometric distortion. Photos from this lens will require very little work straight out of the camera—simple exposure and contrast adjustments should be all you need.
Ultimately, this lens can be used in two modes: At f/1.2, where it's soft but produces world-class bokeh, and from f/4 to f/8, where it's remarkably sharp from corner to corner and ideal for landscapes and street photography. While we'd like to see sharper performance at f/1.2, this is truly a pro-quality piece of kit.
Below you can see sample photos taken with the Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R mounted on a Fujifilm X-T1. Click the link below each photo to download the full-resolution image.
If you enjoy shooting with fast prime lenses, the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 is an absolute blast. It provides exceptional bokeh and superb sharpness (under the right circumstances), and the control necessary to get the most out of that combo.
The classic fast portrait lens is one of my personal favorites, so this lens was right up my alley. From the handling, to the build quality, to the extras like the physical aperture ring, this is a lens that will speak to true photo enthusiasts. It doesn't have weather-sealing, but neither does most of Fuji's cameras.
Just about the only competition this lens has in Fuji's system is its own APD variant. You can find samples from this lens online, but the major difference is that it produces even softer, better-rounded bokeh. On the downside, it doesn’t work with phase-detect autofocus and costs $500 more. On top of the $1,000 you’ll pay for the “vanilla” version, that's a pretty tall order.
Of course, if you don't need razor-thin depth of field you can also consider the super-sharp XF 60mm f/2.4 R Macro, which also doubles as an excellent portrait lens and costs just $550 at major retailers. The major drawback is slow autofocus, but if you're shooting someone sitting for a portrait, that's basically a non-issue.
In the end, the Fujinon 56mm f/1.2 R is one of the best examples of a classic portrait lens that you’ll find for any mirrorless system. There are sharper lenses wide open, and there are definitely cheaper ones, but this is a superb all-around performer that Fuji can be very proud of.
The only Fuji owners who won’t have this lens at the very top of their wishlists will be people who already own it.
When evaluating any lens, we focus on four key areas: sharpness, distortion, chromatic aberration, and bokeh. A perfect lens would render the finest details accurately, wouldn’t distort straight lines or produce ugly fringing around high-contrast subjects, and would create smooth out-of-focus areas.
The Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R isn't a perfect lens, but it's certainly on the right track. It's a little soft even in the center at f/1.2, but it quickly comes into its own and by f/4 is possibly the sharpest lens you can get in Fuji's system. Combine that with superb bokeh, near perfect control of chromatic aberration, and minimal distortion, and you've got a killer all-around lens. The price is high, but so is the performance.
A lens's sharpness is its ability to render the finest details in photographs. In testing a lens, we consider sharpness across the entire frame, from the center of your images out to the extreme corners, using an average that gives extra weight to center performance. We quantify sharpness using line widths per picture height (LW/PH) at a contrast of MTF50.
At f/1.2, we weren't overly impressed with the 56mm f/1.2's sharpness. It's acceptable, but softer than we'd like in the center and struggles mightily in the corners—not uncommon with ultra-bright prime lenses. As you stop down, it quickly sharpens up, reproducing as many as 2,260 lines in the center and 1,550 in the corner by f/2.8. It gets even better from there, cresting over 2,300 lines at f/4 in the center.
The sweet spot for this lens is definitely between f/2 and f/8, where center resolution consistently exceeds 2,000 lines—fantastic for this system. The midway regions are still a bit soft at f/2, but they're nearly as sharp as the center from f/4 to f/8.
The corners remain comparably soft until you hit f/2.8. By f/4 they're catching up, and at f/5.6 and f/8 the lens resolves more than 2,100 lines across the entire frame. While many lenses are said to be sharp "from corner to corner," this is one of the few that actually delivers.
We penalize lenses for distortion when they bend or warp images, causing normally straight lines to curve.
There are two primary types of distortion: When the center of the frame seems to bulge outward toward you, that’s barrel distortion. It's typically a result of the challenges inherent in designing wide-angle lenses. When the center of the image looks like it's being sucked in, that’s pincushion distortion. Pincushion is more common in telephoto lenses. A third, less common variety (mustache distortion) produces wavy lines.
The Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 R is well-corrected for geometric distortion. In our testing, it only produced 0.3%—a mix of mustache and pincushion. That's a fantastic result, placing it alongside similarly excellent portrait primes like Canon's 85mm f/1.8 USM.
When we discuss chromatic aberration, we’re generally speaking about the various types of “fringing” that appear around high contrast lines, such as leaves set against a brightly lit sky. This usually appears to be green or magenta and, while it’s relatively easy to correct with software, it can degrade image sharpness irrevocably, especially near the corners.
Good news, folks: This lens produces virtually no visible chromatic aberration, even wide-open at f/1.2. In the most demanding conditions (tree branches against a blown-out sky, etc) you can force some colored fringing to appear, but in the vast majority of our test shots it was barely perceptible. You can't really ask for more.
It's possible that Fuji is making some software CA corrections in-camera, even to RAW shots, but this is one of the best-performing Fuji lenses we've tested regardless.
Bokeh refers to the quality of the out of focus areas in a photo. It's important for a lens to render your subject with sharp details, but it's just as important that the background not distract from the focus of your shot.
While some lenses have bokeh that's prized for its unique characteristics, most lenses aim to produce extremely smooth backgrounds. In particular, photographers prize lenses that can produce circular bokeh that’s free of aspherical distortion (or “coma”).
Given that Fujifilm decided to release a second version of this lens specifically designed to produce good bokeh, you'd be forgiven for thinking there's something wrong with the original.
That is definitely not the case. While the APD version produces softer, more pleasant-looking out-of-focus points of light, this "poor" man's 56mm f/1.2 is no slouch.
It's phenomenal, if just a hair short of perfection as out-of-focus points of light can take on a warped, aspherical look near the corners. More naturalistic backgrounds come out much better, with a creamy quality that makes virtually anything just melt away in a wash of color.
Best of all, however, is the rapid focus falloff that you get. The combination of an f/1.2 aperture and an APS-C sensor yields shallow depth of field on par with even full-frame primes. In both samples above you can see this in action, as details begin to fade away just an inch past the point of focus.
Meet the tester
TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.
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