So yes, the rumours were true: Fujifilm has announced a new, different version of their stellar XF 56mm f/1.2 R lens — the XF 56mm f/1.2 R APD. I’m stressing the word different as opposed to better and I’ll explain why in a bit.
APD stands for apodized. This is a process by which an optical filter is introduced inside the lens assembly to modify the way it renders out of focus areas — specifically, to make them smoother. And because this filter gets gradually darker at the edges, it also adds a slight vignetting effect. And I do mean slight: light falloff more than any real darkening.
I was fortunate to again be hired by Fuji to shoot samples for this version as I had done for the previous model last winter, along with my Canadian colleague Nathan Elson from Calgary (his stunning images are here; very cool shoot). But the deadline and turnaround were a lot tighter this time and I barely had a few days with it.
The lens Tokyo sent in was a prototype with nothing but a yellow sticker to distinguish it from my own “normal” 56mm. Since it wasn’t anywhere near a production model, this isn’t a review at all — just a look at the photo shoot and a few personal notes. And btw, these images aren’t the same versions you’ll find on the official product page: we send in unprocessed raw files for sample use. No retouching, no sharpening. Nada. It’s a humbling experience if there ever was one. The photos here were processed in LR5 with my usual methods (although Capture One was used as well for some of these; more on that eventually).
I didn’t reinvent the wheel on this shoot; part of it was due to time constraints but I also meant to retain a certain visual filiation with the original 56mm sessions. Everything was shot with my own X-T1 — no special firmware needed this time around.
SB-900 in Elinchrom Deep Octa (+ silver reflector on #3). All shot at f/1.2 except image #1 (f/1.8).
Single Elinchrom BX500ri strobe fitted with barn doors and shot through a gobo. All shot at f8 except #1 (f11).
Change of scenery
Shooting in August as opposed to January made it a teeeeensy bit easier to go outdoors… Like 40+ degrees easier. So we did a few. All natural light with a large silver reflector positioned in front and slightly to the left of Frédérique. Last image was done indoors using straight up window light. All shot wide open at f/1.2.
Soft & Softer
It's hard to tell what exactly is going on and how much of an effect the APD process has on the actual results without a direct comparison. Below are two shots taken about 30 seconds apart — the first with the standard 56, the second with the new APD version. Keep your eyes on the bricks in the background (top left) as you switch from one image to the next: you'll notice a bit more blurring breaking up the pattern. There's also a very mild darkening at the edges.
So given the slightly more pleasing bokeh (it's no use, I'll never like that word), common wisdom would dictate that the APD is the better of the two right? Well, I’m sticking with different. Because there actually are trade-offs with the apodization process:
- Less light gathering capabilities at the same aperture (I’d say around 1 stop but I didn’t measure it). Note: I compensated for this in post in the comparison images.
- No phase detection AF, resulting in slower focusing. Because of the internal filter and how it interacts with the light, the camera can only use contrast detection.
These are not faults, they’re predictable and unavoidable byproducts of this type of lens construction. So it really comes down to what you value most and what you need in terms of performance/aesthetics. The APD is indeed the new King of XF Bokeh, but it does its thing at a price — monetary yes, but technical as well.
Some lenses have something… This hard to define quality that isn’t necessarily about sharpness or chart performance; something which coats images in a few stray drops of magic. The XF 35mm f/1.4 has it. The 23mm consistently flirts with greatness. I’ve loved everything I’ve shot with the original XF 56mm f/1.2 lens since the moment I unboxed the prototype in December of last year. It simply floors me day after day after day and has never once let me down. From what I've seen, this version carries on the legacy.
Does this mean you should immediately sell your 6 months-old standard 56mm? Well, I won’t — and I certainly won’t feel cheated. What this amounts to is choice, not replacement, upgrade or deprecation. As far as I’m concerned, neither can disappoint.
These are siblings...
Blood brothers — in lightning, thunder and magic.