Living with the Fujinon 56mm f/1.2 Lens

Over the past year, I’ve been using the Fuji 56 f/1.2 almost exclusively in my photography. It’s easily the best lens I’ve ever owned, bar none. The other night, during the lunar eclipse, my wife and I travelled to a remote spot away from the city lights. We were still close enough to the city to see the faint glow of some streetlights, signs, and stoplights. I dialed the 56 mm lens down to an apurture of f/1.2, pointed the lens in the direction of the glow, and tilted the camera’s LED panel so that my wife could see the display on the back of it. “It looks like it’s daylight! Wow!” was her response. She suspected that I really had some sort of night-vision camera I hadn’t told her I had purchased.

But no, the camera was the same old Fujifilm X-T2 I’d been toting around for a couple years. The 56mm Fuji lens could just gobble up the light. It worked pretty good for the moon, as well. The lens has some nagging little drawbacks, however, notwithstanding the fact that I’ve put it on a crop sensor camera (the X-T2) – and the effective focal length is a hefty 85 millimeters. It means I often have to back away from my subjects (what is sometimes called sneaker-zoom). But, that’s not the downside for me.

It’s the manual focus that’s the nagging point with the 56. It can hit the focus spot-on perfectly, with patience. It almost seems to have two different focus points, meaning that as you turn the ring, the focus gets to a point that is almost spot-on perfect, but if you turn it just a little bit further, it seems to go thru a less focused bit, and then is finally perfect. Sometimes I am tricked into stopping at the first “almost spot on” turn of the ring. Maybe the “less focused bit” is only in my imagination, because we’re really splitting hairs at that moment.  Maybe it’s my old eyes, my incorrect perception, or just a funky copy of the lens, but to me and my eyes it’s what it seems to be doing. 

Still, I want the best the lens can deliver, so I fuss with it until I have the perfect focus.  There is a lot of turn right at the point of focus, which means I tend to go back and forth, trying to get it absolutely perfect, instead of having a single turn position that is the best focus position.  It takes more time, but with patience you get there.

Maybe it’s backlash? It might be, because the issue seems to get better if you “come into” the focus from the opposite direction.  So, I have learned to turn past the focus point(s), and return slowly from the other direction. Anyway, with patience enough to continue to the perfect-focus spot from the “almost perfect” turn position of the focus ring, one can get spectacular results.

I make a big deal about the focus, but really – in spite of that nagging little detail – this is the best lens I’ve ever had.  Its IQ (image quality) and low light performance and color are outstanding enough to offset the focus taking more time.  It wouldn’t work (at least for me) for fast action wildlife in manual focus mode.

When, I slap my wide angle lens onto the camera, I get a serious degradation in quality (my wide angle IQ is far inferior to the 56). But, I am always happy to see the fast-focus to near-perfection, with no mirage in between, when I use the wide angle lens. It’s soooo much less tedious than the 56mm in this way.

I find myself using the 56 mostly for people shots.  It seems to be a focal length that works well for people shots, albeit I have to back away from them sometimes in order to not show quite as much detail.  The 56 mm Fuji lens is talented enough to make that a consideration!  All in all, it’s a keeper, even with the focus being such that it’s more time consuming to use it.  Maybe Fuji will come out with a slightly improved focus, or maybe I can trade mine for another copy.  It’s probably more trouble to do the latter than what is needed, based on the overall picture.  Either way, for the right purpose, ya can’t go wrong with this lens, IMO.

As Fuji 56 owners already know, this lens is built like a tank.  It makes many of my other lenses seem pretty wimpy in that regard.  One final thing I should add is that I take a majority of my shots with the aperture wide open or close to wide open, rarely above f/3.5, and that may be a factor in the focus situation.  I’m usually working with a shallow DOF.  Perhaps at higher apertures, the situation would change.

 

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