Fujifilm recently released the XF 50mm f/1 R WR, a lens they are affectionately calling “The One.” With its extreme maximum aperture of f/1 and a price tag to match, it has been dividing comment sections ever since its release. Is it worth the extra cash? What does it offer over Fujifilm’s existing fast lenses? What does it give up? Let’s find out.
Since this is quite an interesting lens with plenty of details that may make or break your decision to purchase it, I have decided to split this review into two shorter (although still quite long) pieces. In this first section, we'll look at the lens' physical properties and autofocus performance. In the second section, we'll spend quite a bit of time on the optical characteristics of the lens. Let's dive in!
What Actually Is This Lens?
There has certainly been plenty of hype around this lens being the world’s first autofocusing f/1 lens for mirrorless cameras. Thanks to Fujifilm’s clever use of clarification here, they are certainly correct. While that in and of itself is quite an achievement, what the lens actually translates to in 35mm full-frame terms is a 75mm f/1.4. This is worth considering, perhaps, if you’re choosing between APS-C and full frame cameras.
While the certainly gathers f/1 worth of light, the depth of field is not quite as shallow as some of the faster f/1.2 or f/0.95 lenses for full-frame systems. That’s not to take away from this lens, but to put it into perspective. This is Fujifilm X-System users’ entry into the full frame depth of field and ISO performance. The extra light means lower ISO values and, as such, lower noise. The ultra-wide aperture gets APS-C cameras in the realms of full frame 50mm or 85mm f/1.4 lenses when it comes to depth of field. More on this when we consider its value proposition.
Fujifilm produces premium-feeling products, especially at their high end, and the 50mm f/1 is absolutely no exception. With all that metal and glass in hand, you’re certainly going to feel like you’re holding a $1,500 lens. Both the focus ring and aperture ring have somewhat less resistance to turning than some other high-end Fujifilm lenses, but both still feel of excellent quality. If you plan to manually focus, the throw is extremely long and allows for precise manual focus despite the fact that it is a focus-by-wire system. As we'll see below, you may never even need to manually focus this lens.
The lens itself is made up of 12 elements in 9 groups to deal with all the aberrations that come with an aperture of f/1. We’ll talk more about autofocus performance below and image quality in the next installment of this review, but for now, I want to mention one thing. Fujifilm’s bodies do a quick cheap as you switch them on, and that involves moving around a few lens elements. In this case, starting the camera up is actually significantly slower than with other Fujifilm lenses. This equates to about 1.5 seconds before the camera is useable, unlike the sub-one-second times for most other lenses. No big deal, but something to be aware of if you’re planning to switch the camera off and on between shots while hoping to catch moments.
Size and Weight
When I first saw this lens in the hands of a few photographers at the Fujifilm presentation, I was instantly turned off. It looked like something Sigma might produce for a full-frame system (not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly bulky and heavy). It looked far too big and heavy for the Fujifilm bodies. However, after holding it for myself, I found that it is not nearly as bulky or heavy as it would initially seem when mounted on the camera. Certainly, it’s not a walkaround lens for one-handed photography, but that’s not where its strengths lie.
For those concerned about balancing the body and lens, just as with the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 or XF 8-16mm f/2.8, an X-H1 or a gripped X-T body will make your right hand more comfortable. As for me, I support and carry larger lenses with my left hand anyway, so the extra weight on the front end hasn’t really been noticeable in day-to-day shooting.
The one thing that did bother me a little was that this lens doesn't fit well into many of my bags. Since switching from Nikon DSLRs to Fujifilm X cameras, I have downsized much of my kit, including my bags. I was expecting it to fit where my XF 16-55mm sits, but alas, with the hood attached, it can be a difficult lens to squeeze into smaller shoulder bags like the Think Tank Photo Retrospective 6.
Accurate focusing is crucial for a lens with such a shallow depth of field, and the good news is that it doesn’t disappoint. So far, I haven’t seen the lens miss focus at all, even with the smallest focus points that are needed for pinpoint focusing. Of course, if the camera or the subject moves, all bets are off, but the lens itself does a great job.
The speed of the autofocus, on the other hand, does leave a little to be desired. While it is certainly good, it has a couple of downsides that definitely need to be considered if you’re thinking of purchasing the lens.
Overall, in a single focus (AF-S), the lens focuses reasonably quickly in most light. To my eye, it’s almost on the same level as the 56mm f/1.2 or 35mm f/1.4 on the current crop of bodies like the X-T3 and X-T4. If anything, it is a little slower to acquire final focus than those two lenses. While not quite up to the lightning-fast standard of the red-badge zooms or small f/2 primes, it is still fast enough for most applications.
The lens does hunt back and forth quite a bit before locking focus, even in the best light. This may mean the difference between hitting and missing a shot when working wide open. Even a slight subject movement will be enough to throw things out of focus, so you’ll need to be extra careful. Hopefully, the pulsing is something that can be improved with autofocus algorithms in firmware, as we’ve seen in some of the older lenses.
When it comes to continuous focus (AF-C), I have not found a single perfectly reliable setting for use with this lens. While I certainly wasn’t expecting the continuous focus performance you’ll find on the lenses with linear motors, I was expecting a little better at this price point. Even in Fujifilm’s own marketing materials, you can see the limitations when using AF-C with this lens. The pulsing never really goes away.
For my simulated tests, I set the camera up on a tripod to give the lens a stable base from which to focus and set my drive to CH on the X-T4. I ran the tests several times with differing AF-C Custom Settings. In the end, Set 1 (General Purpose) and Set 3 (Accelerating/Decelerating Subject) were most effective. Remember that you’re rarely going to have a subject continuously walking towards you and want to photograph them at f/1 in any sort of real-world scenario. This is a stress test to see what the lens is capable of.
When used wide open, the lens is able to keep up with a subject walking at a casual pace towards the camera reasonably well at longer subject distances where the lens doesn’t need to move the glass quite so far. I found that while using AF-C and eye detect AF, I was able to get around 9 out of 10 images in acceptable focus with the subject at 2-5 meters from the camera. As they got closer than that, the hit rate dropped to around 5 out of 10. Again, keep in mind that this is basically the worst-case scenario for a lens.
When stopped down to f/2 for that little bit of extra leeway in terms of depth of field, the 2-5 meter range got me a 100% hit rate. Again, closer than that and the lens can’t move the glass accurately and quickly enough to keep up. I was back to about 50% in focus.
I did the same tests with face detect turned off and used Fujifilm’s Area AF setting with a 3x3 focus box set up. With these settings, results were much worse than with face detect turned on for the human subject. However, in another test, these worked very well to track a truck coming at full speed down our local main road. When less than pinpoint accuracy on an eye is required, good results can still be achieved with these settings.
Using this lens in the real world, I found these results to be fairly comparable. At a family session, I was able to use AF-C to track a family slowly walking towards me, but the lens failed miserably when it came to tracking fast-moving children. For that, even the 56mm f/1.2 does a better job, but realistically, you’d want to use a lens with a linear motor like the f/2 lenses or the red-badge zooms.
This is a lens that I had honestly expected to hate by this stage in the review. I figured it would be a large, clunky, slow, hulking beast of a lens and I was pleasantly surprised by how Fujifilm managed to pull all these extreme elements together into a lens that, while large and heavy, still feels like it belongs on a tiny X-T4 body. This is just the beginning of the story, however, and we'll look at optical performance in the second half of this review. So far, it's a great lens.
What I Liked
Better-than-expected autofocus performance
What I Felt Could Be Improved
- Hunting and pulsing during autofocus
- AF-C performance quite subpar