I never understood why a lens with a large maximum aperture opening is called “fast”. Is it a reference to race cars? The fascination regarding large aperture lenses sure seem to mimic that of exactly those aforementioned race cars. Just like race cars, are they particularly handy? Not really. Are they particularly well suited for daily tasks? Not really. Are they finetuned marvels of engineering, that perform better than anything else out there when put into the right environment? Oh he** yes they are!
(EDIT: Apparently the sarcasm in this little intro got lost in the vast empty internet space. I know quite well why these lenses are labeled as fast, and I’m also quite aware that it has nothing to do with racecars – Note to self: Ease up on the sarcasm, Jonas)
This is my first look preview of the “fastest” autofocus lens currently in production *by the time of writing, September 2020* by any camera manufacturer for any camera system. Just like my fellow camera geeks out there I get a little giddy when I see that f/1 moniker. So let’s get this thing started, ’cause I have a lot of things I want to share about the
The Fujinon XF50mm f/1 R WR.
But before we get going as always, I’ll be courteous and write down my usual disclaimers.
Feel free to skip everything but number 3
Disclaimer 1: I’m an X-photographer. That’s spelled brand ambassador for Fujifilm. I don’t get paid for doing these write ups (and I have been doing them even before getting involved with Fujifilm). This means that I’m just about as biased as I can get, and whether you choose to believe my views or not is entirely up to you. I expect you to be adults, capable of forming your own opinions based on presented information.
Disclaimer 2: All the images in this article has been shot using an early prototype of the XF50mm f/1 R WR lens. Image quality might therefore not be final, although I have been told that it is.
Disclaimer 3: All shots with- and of the product has been shot by me, and is not to be used without my explicit permission.
A brief bit of history
A couple of years back Fujifilm decided that they wanted to push the boundaries within their existing 35mm focal length lens lineup. The 35mm on APSC has the same FOV as a 50mm on a full frame system. The standard wide aperture lens for such a system has always been the 50mm f/1.4. If Fujifilm wanted to get the same equivalent FOV and DOF on their APSC X-Series system they would have to make a 33mm f/1 lens, which is exactly what they set out to do.
Along the way I was shown a prototype or two, and the lenses were abysmally large! In their later iterations they became so big that Fujifilm put a standard tele-photo-lens tripod mount on them! Grotesque! – Needless to say that the engineers of Fujifilms optical division ended up being limited by sheer physics in their pursuit for high IQ perfection.
But instead of totally abandoning the idea of a really fast wide maximum aperture lens for the system, they explored other focal lengths. Their efforts and size/performance ratio analyses brought them to where we are today with a 50mm f/1 lens. A medium length telephoto lens comparable to the Leica Summilux 75mm f/1.4 or the Voigtländer Nokton 75mm f/1.5 in terms of FOV and DOF for full frame.
When presenting this new focal length lens to the public back in January in London, the reactions were of course mixed. People had expected a fast allround’ish 33mm, instead they were presented with a more portrait oriented 50mm lens in a segment where people already have the choice of the XF56mm f/1.2 APD or the regular XF56mm f/1.2. There’s also an XF50mm f/2 in the lineup already that marvels with fast autofocus and weather sealing.
I was definitely one of the dissapointed ones, but over the course of these past 2 months my mind has definitely changed regarding the raison d’etre of this lens.
With a lot of Fujifilm camera- and/or lens releases I can avoid the technicalities a bit. I always touch on it a little bit, but I always make a point of my previews being more about the images that I produce with the gear instead of going page up and page down about the engineering of the gear.
That’s NOT to say that I don’t have any interest in it, or knowledge about it. I just feel that there are other places where people could find that information in a more contextually fitting manner. But with the ultrafast wide aperture lenses, that is just not an option! I gotta get my geek-mode on. So here we go! 😀
Above you can see the lens diagram of the XF50mm f/1 R WR lens. Some things to note from this diagram is:
- 12 lens elements in 9 groups
- Concave front element
- Small focusing group at the back of the lens
- 1 aspherical lens element at the back of the lens
- 2 ED elements at the front of the lens
Now, there are at least a couple of those bulletpoints that are very interesting indeed if we want to examine the image quality and features of this lens in greater detail. Now let me tell you something that was passed on to me from Fujifilm in Tokyo.
Usually in a modern lens construction with so many elements it is kind of unusual to see just 1 aspherical element. Fujifilm has done it a couple of times in the past, most notably with the XF56mm f/1.2 and the XF35mm f/1.4
The ASPH elements of a lens make sure that the light is “bent” differently depending on the site of entry on that lens element. This makes the focused image sharper since you control exactly where the light gathers on the focal plane. Another way to say this is that the ASPH elements lessen the amount of spherical abberation.
But if Fujifilm is just using 1 ASPH element, does that mean that the lens is soft?!
– See this is where it gets interesting.
Fujifilm chose to control the spherical abberation in the foreground/subject focusplane with the 1 ASPH element, but leave some of the spherical abberation in the background, instead having that portion controlled/handled by the ED elements near the front of the lens.
This means that you get super sharp images with very soft and almost gloomy bokeh in the background!
You don’t believe me? Let me show you an example below. Look at how the usually sharp-edged “out of focus specular highlights” (often referred to as bokeh-balls! :D) seem to have a slight glow around them, giving them a much softer appearance. In daylight scenes where you have overlapping foliage in the background, you will get supersoft bokeh. It really look quite astonishing!
You know that “magic” that everyone is refering to when talking about the old XF35mm f/1.4? Part of that “magic” is from exactly this feature. The focus on making a character lens instead of a “perfect” lens. And that is EXACTLY what the XF50mm f/1 R WR is. A lens full of character, but not a perfect optical creation.
Another type of abberation very frequent in large aperture lenses is the chromatic abberation. This type of abberation causes purple fringing around very contrasty scenes, eg. backlit foliage, branches etc. Although they couldn’t get rid of it completely, they did a very good job of minimizing it quite a lot. I really found that I had to force the lens into the most extreme backlit situations for it to occur, as you can see in the image example below. I’m really surprised at how well it is handled. Any of my Leica lenses shot in the same manner would exhibit much more fringing. So well done, Fuji!
As is no secret this lens isn’t exactly small. It’s a hefty piece of equipment for an APSC system. It’s a lot larger allround than the XF56mm f/1.2, and fatter than the XF90mm f/2 while retaining about the same length. It weighs a whooping 845g. Something that you will definitely feel when lugging this lens around town for a day. It’s definitely not a travel-lens! Compared to equivalent modern fullframe offerings it’s about the same. But this lens wasn’t made for being compact, it was made to to shoot shallow DOF images. And that, my friends, result in larger lenses. You just can’t bend physical laws.
The XF50mm f/1 R WR has 9 rounded aperture blades, something not a lot of lenses in the Fujinon XF lineup has. Off the top of my head I can actually only remember one, which is the XF60mm f/2.4 R.
The aperture clicks in 3rd stop increments all the way from f/1 to f/16.
Minimum focusing distance is the same as the XF56mm f/1.2 at 0.7m. I wish it would focus closer, but I guess you can’t have it all.
A big concern with such a big lens and its size & weight parameters would surely be the speed of the autofocus. Moving those massive elements would require big motors with massive torque and momentum to achieve acceptable speed of focus. That is, if you chose to move the big elements…..
But Fujifilm constructed this lens so that the focus group is the smallest lens elements at the back of the lens. This means that the big heavy front elements remain completely stationary, while very fast autofocus can be achieved while keeping the size of the autofocus motors to a minimum.
But this is all cheap talk when put in writing. The proof is in the pudding, as the british people say. So let me give you some examples of just how crazy it is to be able to hit critical focus with a big 50mm f/1 lens at wide open aperture.
There are many more examples from the skatepark in the huge sample image gallery at the end of the article, so you can find them all there. All images can be downloaded in 2048px sizes by clicking the link in the bottom right of the gallery view.
I think it is extremely impressive how well this lens focuses. The Eye-AF mode is spot on as well. Very fast and very precise. Comparing it to the older XF56mm f/1.2, the latter doesn’t stand a chance. This is a huge one-up in the AF department.
The added light gathering from the XF50mm f/1 also makes it even easier to focus on the modern XF bodies. it can easily and securely focus with PDAF down to -7EV on the X-Pro3 and X-T4 cameras. I dragged it along at night time for a couple of nights in Aarhus, and I must say, I’m seriously impressed with the speed and accuracy of this lens.
Build and feel
Another welcome addition to this lens is the weather resistance. With most of Fujifilms current lineup of cameras being weather resistant, the system definitely need a lens of this caliber to be weather resistant. And of course it is. At this point in time, I would expect nothing less from any new pro-grade lens from Fujifilm.
The lens is built to usual Fujinon XF lens standards. This means metal barrel construction, metal mount, smooth dampened focus ring and nice clicky aperture ring. Regarding the latter I would love for it to have been a little tighter to the click, I often ended up pushing it slightly to f/1.1 without noticing. It’s about the same firmness as the XF56mm f/1.2. Mind you that I have been shooting a prototype version, so this could have changed a bit for the final version. As I mentioned above, the aperture ring stops in 1/3rd increments all the way from f/1 to f/16
When using the focusing ring to manual focus, you get a very long focus throw for very precise manual focus control. This is especially useful for those critical closeup portraits, where the f/1 DOF is so shallow that even a deep breath from the model or the photographer can offset the focus a little bit.
The big concave front element makes this lens look very very brutal on the camera. This also means that you have to use a 77mm Ø filter. Indeed a very hefty lens in all aspects.
As always, when writing about optics, this is the most important part. As I mentioned further up the XF50mm f/1 R WR has not been created to be the perfect optical performer. It is built to have character. That is not to say that the IQ is subpar, because it isn’t. It’s a stellar performer, that is incredibly sharp wide open as well as stopped down. It has very minimal vignetting, and you get great corner sharpness.
So much so, that Fujifilm isn’t hesitant in putting the XF50mm f/1 at f/2 up against the XF90mm f/2 R WR.
At f/1 the lens will add something completely unique to the X series system. It renders the smoothest backgrounds I’ve yet seen in any Fujinon optics to date, even besting the XF56mm f/1.2 APD!
At f/1.2 the XF50mm f/1 is equal in rendering to the XF56mm f/1.2 @ f/1.2 and at f/2 it almost equals that of the XF90mm f/2.
This is the way the XF50mm f/1 has been constructed. So in reality you get a variation of different looks and characteristics within just one lens. Hows that for brilliant optical engineering?
My all time favourite lens from Fujifilm is the XF35mm f/1.4R – In my eyes it’s the perfect lens. There have been many wordings about that lens, and one thing that keeps on popping up in discussions is that it has a certain something that no-one seemto able to define. It always end up being labeled as “magic” which is silly.
The reason for its look is found in the optical design, a design that Fujinon decided to continue into the XF50mm f/1R WR. And that makes the images coming from this lens extremely appealing to those who like the look of the XF35mm f/1.4.
The images coming from XF50mm f/1 R WR has those exact same undefinable traits that makes me love my XF35mm f/1.4 so much. The sharpness that is sharp, yet not overly sharp. A flattering kind of sharpness that seems more rounded, organic and less digital/clinical. A bokeh rendering that is soft, delicious and very calming to the eye, and a color reproduction that gives a very lovely depth to especially warm color tones.
In other words, the XF50mm F/1 R WR is the portrait lens version of the XF35mm f/1.4 R!
Wide open at f/1 you will have a little vignetting. Not much though. I would say about half a stop near the corners if even that much. Obviously most pronounced when focused at infinity. At f/2 there’s no vignetting at all.
But rather than me writing about how good I find the image quality, why don’t I just let you look at the sample photos. I have shot many different thing, materials and situations. Many different scenes. I’ve shot far, near, fast, slow. I’ve tried to shoot this lens in every possible aspect of my photography, and it looks great no matter what I throw at it.
I have made a zipped file with some unedited images of the various f-stops, comparisons with the XF56mm and XF56mm APD as well as bokeh examples at apertures from f/1 to f/5.6.
I have also made a folder with full resolution files from my portrait session with Brian (and a couple of shots of Nanna). Those have been edited, but they are full resolution. Some are cropped a bit. But not resized.
Concluding thoughts and samples
The XF50mm f/1 R WR is not just an engineering marvel from one of the worlds best optical companies. It won’t just deliver narrow DOF. It’s a lens that has tons of character, and has very fast focusing for such a large lens. It has great build quality and it handles very nicely.
The optical specifications means that this lens has so many different unique traits, that it can actually give you different looks depending on how you stop it down. I wouldn’t have thought it, but this lens is actually quite an allround lens with gorgeous image quality.
Below you’ll find a lot of images in the sample gallery. I tried to use this lens as much as I could these past months, so the sample gallery ended up quite big. This also gives a good indication of just how versatile this lens really is in day-to-day use.
All images can be viewed by clicking the gallery below. Download them at will and look at the EXIF. Everything is there. Knock yourselves out.