85mm Scalpel

March 08, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

For most of my recent career I have made much of my living with an 85mm f/1.4. I love that lens, it has been updated and remodelled by the manufacturer but I hold onto my original, it holds sentimental value. It has shot commercially on three continents and produced some of my most popular images, in short I love the 85mm focal length.

Since moving back to the UK from the US my life has changed somewhat. I teach now and also no longer regularly shoot commercial fashion or portraiture, now my love is extended projects (whether you call them art, documentary, it's a process of love and exploration and enriches my soul more than commercial fashion). I still shoot fashion and portraiture, heck, I teach it, but it's not now my mainstay. So, surely the 85mm focal length is now forgotten? That focal length is a portraiture lens right? Humbug, a lens is a tool, certain focal lengths have "historical" context but all lenses are tools for our vision and imagination.

So, here we are, I still have my old faithful 85mm f/1.4 but now it is joined by the young upstart, the Fujinon XF56mm F/1.2R.

Fuji know a thing or two about quality glass and as such this most anticipated lens was worth waiting for. Yes it's big (it's F/1.2, hello, thats a lot of glass), and yes it's quite heavy (all relative of course and we aren't talking dSLR equivalent heavy here) but it's bootiful!

On the XE2 it certainly looks a beast. The combo may lesson one handed shooting overall, but a two handed grasp feels just right. Focus is assured and snappy and the lens is buttery smooth (and this would be butter churned by dusky maidens with long limbs and faultless skin smooth). And the bokeh, well it's a Fuji lens with a max aperture of F/1.2, it's fujilicious. 

So, with my recent shooting why am I so excited about this lens? Surely the 35mm F/1.4 would be more exciting. Well, as good as the Fuji X-Trans sensor is (and it's amazing), ultra low light shooting (i.e. out and about when only Vampires should be roaming the streets) every little helps. Composition and framing are key to me and neither the 35mm or 50mm work sometimes. Also, that extra lil help of F/1.2 is very welcome.


After a long day teaching I quickly snapped this (handheld ISO 1250, 1/60, F/1.2) before heading home. Technically it stinks, but as a test, well. Btw, this is a straight out of camera jpeg. Now, see that lobby area and flat screen TV on the wall?

Don't know about you, but I am impressed! 

So many (pretty much all) of my colleagues and professional friends are quite astounded when they see my last project work (and grabs from current project) to find they were taken with an X Pro1 and XE2. Large prints, shot at night and basically noise free with great dynamic range. It's when they invariably ask "How do you handle the tripod on the streets at night?" that I smile as I watch their jaws drop when telling them Everything is hand held. 

As superb as the X-Trans sensor is, it needs good glass to compliment its magic. The 50mm (Fujinon XF 35mm F/1.4R) is a superb lens, but this 85 1.2, just wow! And I'm not just talking about the added .2, the build quality is improved, the focus nicely dampened and the feel is as premium as any lens I have used before.


Roll forward a couple of days and I was out shooting my book project for the first time with the 85.

Now, I am shooting on the streets but am not completely "street shooting", in the typical understanding of the genre. So 85mm may sound an odd focal length, but sometimes not having to stand in the middle of the road at night to frame and compose is desirable, thus 85mm is another tool. Focal lengths can produce different aspects to an image (WA distortion, Tele compression etc.) but all are tools in the photographers arsenal to be used and each has it's place.

The difference between the 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm F/1.2 you might imagine is mostly just one of focal length, I mean what can F/0.2 really change, quite a lot it turns out. The 85 locks focus (on XE2 at least) much faster and more assuredly, renders beautiful out of focus areas and is Samurai Sword sharp. I was truly impressed in a way I was not expecting.


XE2, 56mm F/1.2, iso 800, 1/60, F/1.2

All the images here are more "tests/grabs" and straight from camera jpegs using NegH.

The low light (read extreme conditions) capabilities, colour rendering, swift focus and sharpness of this lens is beyond impressive in my opinion.


XE2, 56mm F/1.2, iso 800, 1/100, F/1.2

This is the first working outing with the 85 and I am overjoyed with it's performance. YES many will buy this lens for portraiture (after all 85mm is a classic portraiture focal length) but don't dismiss it's further capabilities. Shooting in such harsh conditions, dark, crappy artificial light, hand held, speed of focus requirements, this lens excels. And if it can conquer such extremes, imagine how it will coast through less taxing situations.

With each new offering from Fuji they get better and better. This lens has been a long time coming and many have been waiting patiently for it's availability. The good news is, as far as I am concerned, the wait was so worth it!

As per, although I am an Official X Photographer, I am neither asked nor expected to write glowing praise about Fuji products. These are my own personal and honest findings with this lens. 


And one last grab, I stumbled upon this very happy and alcohol infused gentleman. I think he's quite possibly the newest Fujinon XF56mm F/1.2R fan ;).


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