In the previous section of this review, I looked at the physical qualities and autofocus capabilities of Fujifilm's brand new XF 50mm f/1 R WR. In this second piece, I'll be looking exclusively at its optical characteristics. There's a lot to unpack here as well. So, let's get started with the juicy stuff!
The XF 50mm f/1 is a sharp lens, really sharp. There is a lot of detail rendered from corner to corner, even wide open. Unfortunately, contrast is a bit lower, and other aberrations like coma mean that it doesn’t quite perform at peak sharpness when used at f/1, but we expect that. From f/1.4, however, things improve significantly, and by f/2, it is sharper than both the XF 50mm and XF 56mm at the same aperture. In many situations, I've found myself keeping the wide-open shooting for when you want the mood this lens produces and then stop down, even just by one stop, for extra detail when needed.
Let's take a quick look at a crop of the face to see what I'm talking about above. As you can see, there is a slight amount of coma around edges such as the eyelashes that give the f/1 image a bit of a softer feeling. The second image was made at f/2 and is about as sharp as you'd need an f/2 image to ever be. Aside from this slight issue, there really isn't much to fault this lens for when shooting a portrait wide open.
The vignette produced by this lens is significant. At f/1, it makes its way from the corners almost all the way into the center of the frame. The far corners lose a little over a stop of light, and this gradually fades towards the middle. By f/1.4, it improves significantly, and by f/2, it is all but gone.
Personally, I have really enjoyed the pulling power that this vignette has towards centered subjects. It draws the eye in nicely without the need for any post-production. For images where the vignette is not required, it is easily corrected in software.
As we expect from lenses with extreme apertures, there are plenty of longitudinal chromatic aberrations to be found in the images that come from this lens. Purple and green fringing is extremely noticeable at f/1.
In comparison to the 56mm f/1.2, the fringing from the 50mm is slightly more significant when used wide open. However, by f/2, the lenses are almost equal in the amount of fringing they show, and by f/4, it is almost completely gone in both except in extreme circumstances. This is certainly not an area of large distinction between these two lenses.
If using either of them, cleaning up CA is easy with software like Lightroom, but Capture One’s tools for fringing are much less aggressive, so keep that in mind. It may be an extra step in other software to correct for this if you’re a Capture One user.
When working wide open, small light sources such as street lights in a cityscape or stars do not render clearly with this lens. As you can see from the example below, the point sources are surrounded by a halo and have points extending towards the corners of the frame. This clears up completely at f/1.4, and the lens begins to produce its characteristic sunstars around lights slightly from this point on.
I tried really hard to make this lens suffer. I put the sun in every position I could try to elicit some flare or ghosting. On several different occasions, I tried shooting right into the setting sun, placing it in the corners of the frame, and placing it just outside of the frame. All of this was done without the hood to see what I could do to break the will of Fujifilm’s lens designers. The lens is very well corrected, especially considering its extreme aperture. With anything less than the blazing bright sun, it controls flare and ghosting almost completely.
When flare does occur, the reduction of contrast is pleasant, much like that of my favourite Nikkor lens, the 58mm f/1.4. The ghosting that can be produced, on the other hand, behaves much like the XF 56mm f/1.2. It produces somewhat obnoxious red circles with green trails protruding from them. If you can place these in an area of your frame where they can easily be cloned out, you can still shoot towards the sun. However, it is best to avoid shooting towards the sun altogether if that’s not something you’re willing to do.
I was pleasantly surprised the first time I saw the sunstars that came from this lens. They are much smoother and more defined than the ones I usually see coming from Fujinon primes and I feel like they could be used effectively in both night scenes and for having the sun in your frame (while being careful of that pesky ghosting, of course).
Now that we’ve got through all the boring stuff, it’s time to talk about the feature that really makes you want an f/1 lens: the bokeh. This is a complex topic for this lens, especially when we’re considering its value proposition over existing lenses in Fujifilm’s lineup. Rather than presenting you with how I feel about the rendering, I have decided to give you several samples (including some comparisons to the XF 56mm f/1.2) for you to judge it for yourself.
First and foremost, since we’ve had some beautiful autumn foliage while I’ve been testing this lens, we’ll take a look at how a natural scene might render. This would also be my primary use for the lens as I’ll likely use it with couples and families most frequently. From the same camera position, it produces a smoother rendering than the 56mm f/1.2 wide open. In fact, I’d say it looks a lot more like what you’re likely to see from the equally priced XF 56mm f/1.2 APD. Edges of out-of-focus foliage show up in a much more defined manner with the 56mm lens.
As a real-world example, here you can see the lens in use at a recent family session. Autofocus performed well for a scene like this, and I didn’t have to worry about missing moments, even though this was shot before the sun crested the mountains surrounding our location. Looking at the bokeh, however, you can see that there is still some definition that is reminiscent of the above 56mm shot. But, for most of the frame, it is smooth and what some might call “buttery.” This is certainly a great lens for working in nature and giving a beautiful look to foliage in the background.
In a night scene, such as the one below, we start to see some interesting and perhaps undesirable characteristics. While the highlighted edges of the “bokeh balls” that were a feature of the XF 56mm f/1.2 aren’t present, there is a significant onion-ring effect on city lights such as these. If you looking for huge, perfectly smooth bokeh balls like those from some extreme telephoto lenses, this may not be your choice for making those happen.
This lens has quite a complex value proposition, and that is why I titled this view “The Emotional Lens.” Technically, while it is extremely good, it’s not the best optical performer. There are several aspects of the way it renders that might not appeal to those looking for optical "perfection." It also doesn’t have the fastest autofocus and won’t appeal to those looking for a small and light mirrorless setup. It does, however, produce beautiful images when used in circumstances that play to its strengths rather than expose its weaknesses.
After more than a month with this lens, I feel like it begs to be used wide open all the time. It is a lens that you feel a little dirty for stopping down. It pushes you to make interesting rather than perfect photographs. It invites you to play and explore how it can render scenes in its own unique way. Once you stop it down, however, you snap out of this reverie and wish for the XF 50mm f/2’s tiny form and feather-light weight.
This is a lens for those who want to make images wide open and don’t mind about the aberrations that come with that. It offers a less-than-perfect image that doesn’t try to compete with Fujifilm’s other offerings but instead throws its own unique character into the mix.
My Personal Conclusion
For me, personally, this lens is still sitting on the fence waiting for me to invite it into my kit or send it back the way it came. It’s a tough call because with my heart, I know I want to keep it and break it out for those times when I really want to add a little secret sauce to a given composition. However, with my head (and my back, let’s be honest), I know that 99% (a perfectly accurate figure) of the time, it won’t make a difference to the images I make at this focal length.
The other question I have is how much my clients will even notice. I'd be kidding myself if I believed someone would notice the difference between the 50mm f/1 and the 56mm f/1.2 on a family shoot. Even if they did, it wouldn't be what concerned them in the final images. Why should it? The reality is, all of the optical elements I mentioned above are really only applicable to photographers when they compare lenses. So, again, we come back to whether or not these characteristics can form an emotional attachment that outdoes Fujifilm's other excellent lenses.
As the pandemic situation here in Korea improves, I will have more opportunities to work with this lens on engagements, at corporate events, and editorial shoots. If there is anything more to report or if I have a massive change of heart when it comes to my current indecision about this lens, I will be sure to report back here. As it stands, however, the jury is still out on this lens for me. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Is this a lens you'd consider adding to your Fujifilm arsenal? Why or why not?
Things I Liked
- Ultra-fast aperture gets you that 85mm f/1.4 feeling we know from full-frame systems
- Bokeh is very smooth in most situations
- Heavy vignette can work very well for centered subjects
- Sunstars are better than many Fujifilm lenses
Things I Felt Could Be Improved
- Chromatic Aberration
You can purchase the 50mm f/1 lens here.