XF56 1.2 Review

The Fujinon XF56mm F1.2 R WR | Simply Bokehlicious

Note: This review is one of a total of four reviews on the second generation Fujifilm X lenses, namely the XF18 1.4, the XF23 1.4, the XF33 1.4 and the XF56 1.2. Some statements are therefore shortened in some of the articles, as they are dealt with in great detail elsewhere.

Prologue

It’s a bit strange to start the review of a new lens with the opinion about its predecessor. However, I’m going to do it this way anyway. For one thing, I never wrote a review about the old XF56 1.2. For another, it might explain why I wanted to upgrade in the first place.

The new XF56 on the left, the old version on the right

The old XF56mm F1.2 R

I won’t beat around the bush. The “old” XF56 1.2 was never my favourite lens. Not because it is a poor performer optically – quite the opposite is true. It is definitely an optically excellent lens with the ability to produce what many expect from such a fast lens: the possibility to isolate objects with a very soft bokeh at the same time.

The old XF56 1.2 was and is very popular with many photographers for use in portraits, weddings, detail shots and the like. Of course, I also used it here and there for these “typical suspects”.

I never found anything wrong with its imaging performance. Nevertheless, I usually had little use for this lens. In fact, it is one of the least used lenses I own. A decisive reason for this is certainly my well-known preference for the wide angles. I could rarely find much use for lenses with a focal length of more than 85mm (35mm equivalent). And even this 85mm focal length (i.e. the 56mm here) was almost a bit too long for me. In the Fujifilm universe, the longest focal length I normally use is 35mm.

This preference for the short focal length is not the only reason for my rather undercooled relationship with the old XF56. I think it’s largely due to its AF performance, which is often kind of annoying. Not that the AF is particularly slow. Due to the amazingly compact design, the AF is actually fast – just not very reliable, unfortunately. The lens’ AF keeps “pumping” back and forth rather hectically – especially in low light situations. This may be OK with still subjects, but very difficult with moving objects. The use of the AF-C mode was thus already very limited.

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The new XF56mm F1.2 R WR

The name of the new XF56 1.2 WR has hardly changed; only the WR in the name indicates the eagerly awaited weather resistance.

Fujifilm Fujinon XF56 F1.2 R WR

In contrast to the XF10-14 WR, where “only” the aperture ring and the sealing have been revised, here we are also dealing with an optically all-new construction. And this one really delivers!

Optical performance

Sharpness

From my point of view, the already very good resolution of its predeccessor has been improved even more. This lens is razor sharp even at open aperture and the sharpness drop-off towards the edge starts much later and is also less pronounced than with the old XF56.

Optical aberrations

In terms of optical aberrations, I can actually be quite brief – at least when it comes to what you can see and therefore might bother you. Here I am talking about chromatic aberrations in particular. Longitudinal and lateral chromatic aberrations (CA), or LoCA and LaCA for short, were already very well corrected with the predecessor, but with the new XF56 this is even better and both are hardly present.

The new XF56 @f/1.2 (without correction in LR); CA are very, very well controlled

Purple fringing

Please do not throw chromatic aberrations into the same pot with so-called purple fingering. They may play a role in the latter, but not necessarily and especially not only.

Normally, chromatic aberrations and/or purple fringing are not visible with this lens. It’s not even that easy to cause them intentionally and without effort, as the following example shows.

Which, by the way, doesn’t mean that you can’t make everything look bad if you just “try hard”. I can produce images that look terrible and flawed with pretty much any equipment. I can easily do that even with an expensive and excellent medium format lens… 😉

However, I can’t actually show a true, useful image example where these optical aberrations would visibly appear – they simply don’t occur in real-world use.

For a lens like this with 13 elements, two of them aspherical, there is no need to mention that spheric aberration is not a problem. This naturally leads to the excellent rating for sharpness. Anything else, however, would be intolerable in this price segment.

Coma and astigmatism are of course present to a certain extent, but that’s OK. If you want to correct this properly, you quickly end up with MUCH larger and MUCH more expensive (special) lenses. That can’t be the point here…

Bokeh

The bokeh is perhaps even a little better as with the old version, especially when stopped down. The eleven(!) aperture blades certainly play an important role here. Round objects outside the plane of focus thus remain very round… which, together with the virtual absence of “onion rings”, help to make the bokeh generally smoother.

Of course, these circles remain quite perfect only in the centre of the image. Towards the edges, as with all lenses, the circles tend to take on the shape of lemons, but even these are pretty regular.

Points of light outside the focal plane over the entire frame @f/1.2

To cut a long story short, what really matters most of the time – the transition from sharpness to blur – is fantastic overall and gives very beautiful results.

Minimum focusing distance

The new XF56 also solved a (sometimes not so) small disadvantage of the old XF56: its modest closest focusing distance. 0.7m would be good for an 85mm lens, but for a 56mm lens that’s rather not that great. The new version has now shortened the minimum focus distance to 0.5m. Much appreciated!

All in all, I can keep this very short: the XF56mm F1.2 R WR is optically a true high performer. Period.

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Autofocus performance

Umm, yes, it’s OK… but actually rather not really great.

This, or something similar, could be my verdict in absolute brevity. The reason for this is that I consider the AF of the old XF56 to be the biggest shortcoming of the lens. And now the new version is coming out and I was hoping for a similar performance (increase) as with the fast trio XF18/XF23/XF33 – and was unfortunately somewhat disappointed.

It’s not even so much the lack of speed of the AF, but rather its behaviour. The new XF56 doesn’t “pump” quite as badly as the old version, but really smooth is different. It feels like the lens often takes three steps: an initial twitch, then the bigger jump towards focus followed by a minimal fine tuning. This makes the movement of the focusing lens group a bit bumpy.

The lack of a linear motor (why, actually?) doesn’t make the overall impression any better. The AF is not very loud and not as clattering as with the first X lenses, but it is still audible. It’s not all that bad and the AF isn’t terribly slow either, but I had honestly expected more.

All what has been said here already refers to the use in combination with the brand new Fujifilm X-T5.

The argument with “all the glass” that the AF has to move also applies to me only to a very limited extent. The lens and its elements are not that huge, and it seems to work with other lenses, such as the XF90. And here I would refer you to Sony, whose 85mm F1.4 and 135mm F1.8 may be very huge and heavy, but I think they are much better at AF.

At least in my eyes an opportunity has been missed… without being a real showstopper.

Mechanical quality

After the small disappointment with the AF, here I can open another positive chapter. The build quality of the new XF56 is absolutely impeccable. It feels very robust and valuable and is fortunately not excessively heavy at 445g. And of course, like all the new lenses in the X series, it is weather resistant.

I am also very pleased that Fujifilm seems to have finally solved the “issue” with the very different qualities of the aperture rings. In contrast to the old version (and also some other older lenses), the aperture ring here is mechanically absolutely first class. Not too loose, not too tight, and the apertures click into place with a rich, but not loud, click – and noticeably different at full apertures. That’s how it should be…

Size and weight

One thing I really appreciated about the older version, though, is its compact size and small weight. Especially when using the square lens hood of the XF23 1.4 R (which works perfectly!), it’s very inconspicuous. That’s a bit different with the new version, unfortunately…. especially with the lens hood, it looks significantly bigger. It’s a pity that there is no smaller square hood available at the moment. On the old XF56 1.2, the metal hood of the old XF23mm F1.4 fitted perfectly.

But to be fair, though, the new XF56 isn’t that huge either. While its shape is more reminiscent of typical 85mm F1.4 lenses, its size is only reminiscent of those of the old days. It is, for example, far smaller and lighter than a current Sigma Art 85mm F1.4 for full frame. On an X-Pro3 it doesn’t look that huge and intimidating… you don’t scare people off that much with it.

I would still be happy about a smaller and more robust lens hood though….

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Usability

Here I have a bit of a hard time. The reason for this is that I don’t really like the longer focal lengths. This new XF56 1.2 will remain more of a niche lens for special tasks for me. In many cases, the new XF33 1.4, for example, will be the more universally applicable lens on my list. But as I said, this is very subjective. I think that for many other photographers it will be the lens of choice for portraits and weddings, to name just two very typical fields of use.

In this respect, I’ll simply hold back in the category of usability… and I’ll report whether it will be my least-used lens again.

Pros and cons

As usual, also graded from (++) to (- -)

What I like

  • Exceptional sharpness/resolution (++)
  • Excellent build quality (++)
  • Very smooth bokeh (++)
  • Very nice transition between sharpness and blur (++)
  • Almost round aperture with 11 diaphragm blades (+)
  • Great aperture ring (+)
  • Decent size and weight (for its performance)

What I don’t like

  • The so-so autofocus performance (-)
  • The slightly noisy DC AF motor (-)
  • The large plastic lens hood (-)

Verdict

The new XF56mm F1.2 R WR is a very good lens, all in all. Despite my grumbling here and there, it leaves a more than solid overall impression. Optically it is an absolute gem, mechanically it is also excellent, and it is still small and light enough for its performance.

The only downside is the not 100% convincing autofocus (in terms of speed/user experience) and the lack of a linear motor. I think I can manage quite well with it. However, photographers whose domain is model shooting and whose working method is taking fast photo series in AF-C and eye detection should better try it out first. I have slight doubts that this lens can really do that well…

Highly recommended! (Exceptional in terms of rendering and resolution; maybe less suitable for photographers with extremely high demands on a fast AF)

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There is always light somewhere – go out and shoot!

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