The Fujifilm 90mm f/2 lens is the one that many portrait photographers have been waiting for, 135mm in 35mm full-frame terms equivalent, and a serious f/2 version at that.
This lens is one of the big hitters for me in the Fujifilm range. A lens that could well draw in a whole new range of photographers to Fujifilm cameras, and that is studio portrait photographers. The is the 50-140 f/2.8 lens currently that covers the range, but there is nothing like a good large aperture prime portrait lens.
I was able to borrow this lens for a little while, and I’ve had it for around 4 weeks now and used it in a variety of scenarios. This isn’t a loan from Fujifilm so don’t think I’m under any obligation to say nice things, not that I ever was, or did, which is probably why I’m not as much in favour as I once was there! I’ve always been up front and honest about something when I thought it wasn’t right. I hope that has come through in my various reviews and write-ups. I don’t necessarily participate in forums, but I know there is a lot of criticism around online that I’ve read myself when negative aspects of products are ignored by a lot of people. I admit that it’s becoming harder to find things that negatively affect the performance and use of the latest Fujifilm products though!
I didn’t want to write about this lens until I’d had a proper chance to shoot it in a studio environment, which I have just done. This isn’t a technical review, it’s just how I’ve found the lens in day-to-day use in a variety of situations that a ‘normal’ photographer who shoots a lot of personal stuff and some commercial stuff would use it. I’m guessing that the majority of people buying and reading are regular photographers like me and not full-time pro’s, so I hope this write up helps you out.
The XF90mm is quite a heavy and large lens for the X-Series compared to many of the others, but that is not unexpected given that it is a wide aperture long prime. Build quality is excellent and it is a WR, weather resistant, lens to withstand the elements and a gasket around the lens mount to seal between body and lens, so when used with the X-T1 and X-Pro2 you have a full sealed system.
The 90mm has a large round hood, which helps significantly outdoors in reducing flare and improving contrast in sunny conditions. It’s a little disappointing that it is plastic as the metal hoods of the older lenses gives a more quality feel, but I guess even with professional level lenses from other manufacturers they are all plastic hoods too. I know Fujifilm do some after-market metal hoods for other lenses, I don’t believe there is one for the 90mm.
The huge manual focus ring is beautifully damped and a pleasure to use and the aperture ring on the lens is typical of the more recent Fujifilm lenses with just the right amount of resistance and ‘click’ so that it isn’t knocked accidentally, but not too hard to turn between a finger and thumb.
Auto-focus speed is surprisingly quick and people I’ve shown it too have also been surprised at how well it focusses even in low light. At f/2 it can be very hard to get critical focus on something when close up, but the new AF+MF override focussing mode on the Fuji’s works excellently for this. Using face-detect and the eye priority focus is also a good trick. At f/2, focus and recompose isn’t a great idea as the focus point shifts as you move the camera, so you’re better off moving the focus point to the part you wish to focus on.
In the studio I used the X-T1 and tethered it to a laptop so I could check exposure and focus on a larger screen – that’s one of the things the X-T1 tethering capability is great for. I’m not sure if the X-Pro2 has that capability or not?
The close focussing ability of this lens is one of the great features. You can get right up to your subject and very close in, although you may find that your subject won’t thank you for that given how bitingly sharp this lens is! I don’t know what the exact distance is, but below is a test shot (X-T1, f/6.4, ISO200) I did to see just how close I could get. This image is the entire frame, not cropped and straight out of the camera.
That’s pretty damn close for this type of lens. I recall when I had my D800 and 85mm f/1.4 that the fact that it couldn’t get in very close at all was something I was frustrated with. I think that’s why many portrait photographers opt for 105mm macro lenses, but those have their own issues – being a macro lens, the focussing tends to be quite slow.
The close focussing doesn’t just have to be useful for portraits, and I think it would suit child and pet photographers very well. A shallow depth of field (f/2.8 for the grass and f/2 for the snowdrops) can make for some lovely images of nature. With the lens being extremely sharp even from wide open at f/2, there is no need to stop down to get better image quality as with many lenses.
The XF90mm does not have image stabilisation (OIS), which does mean that if you are using natural light then hand-holding this lens ideally means a minimum shutter speed of 1/200th, I would even suggest faster than that if you want to be 100% sure of getting zero camera shake, especially if you have the new X-Pro2 with the higher megapixel sensor. When you’re shooting in the studio with flash then of course it isn’t an issue as the flash duration will do the job of freezing the subject for you. If you do a lot of low light hand-held shooting then the XF50-140mm zoom with OIS is most likely your best bet.
I did manage to shoot some inside a church and still get sharp images as as low as 1/80th, but it was a push, and if you look closely it isn’t as sharp as it really could be. The f/2 aperture does help in this respect as it does allow you to shoot with a reasonably fast shutter more often.
There is something to be said for getting the 50-140mm with OIS instead of this lens. My personal issue with that is that in my favourite camera bag that I use for travelling (ThinkTANK Hubba Hubba Hiney) I can get the 50-140mm zoom in it and nothing else. With the 90mm, I can get the X-T1 with a 35mm lens attached, the 23mm f/1.4 (or any of the other Fuji prime lenses!) and the 90mm in it. That’s a body and three lenses in the same space as one zoom lens. If I’m carrying smaller lenses I can even get a 4th lens in there when stacked! Perhaps combined those items may add up to more weight, but for my own taste I prefer that combination for this one reason… Say I go out for a walk around, I could leave two of the lenses in a hotel room and just take say the 35mm out with me, the next day I take the 23mm out, or the 90mm. I’ve got a nice compact camera to carry around all day. Even if I take all three lenses out, they still fit in a nice small bag. Now if I’d taken the 50-140 with me, yes I have a nice versatile arrangement, but I’ve got to carry the 50-140mm with me all day everywhere every day with no choice! The 90mm is also considerably cheaper at a street price of around £619, where the XF50-140 is £1099, although accepting that it covers more focal lengths so potentially offers better value for money when compared to buying several primes.
The only downside I found to this lens, and this is very much a personal thing, is that when you want to get more than head and shoulders in, you have to stand an awful long way from your subject! I know that may sound obvious, but in reality it can be surprising when you’ve been used to shooting with 35mm and 56mm lenses previously. You stand where you normally would by default and all of a sudden the frame is completely full! I prefer to stand closer to the person I’m shooting, yet some of the studio images I shot that are in this piece I was standing at the limits of what was not a particularly small studio space just to get the shot framed as I would have wanted. For a home studio that may cause some issues for some people. In that respect, the 50-140mm lens does make sense. On the other hand, I like to be forced to move myself around because it often results in me seeing something that I wouldn’t necessarily have done if I was rooted to the spot and just using the zoom ring to frame the shot.
I would caution one thing. Whilst the lens may be 135mm ‘equivalent’, that is only in terms of the field of view. This is a 90mm lens, with 90mm lens characteristics, so will not give the same ‘look’ as a genuine 135mm lens on a 35mm full-frame camera. I’m not saying this as a criticism, or that it is a bad thing necessarily, just something that I think a lot of people forget and something you should be aware of. If you want the look of an even longer lens for portraits then you may be better off going for the 50-140mm f/2.8 zoom.
The XF90mm lens is a genuine stunner. Wide open it is as sharp as anyone could ever possibly need, simply incredible. The close focussing is unique amongst portrait lenses. Wide open it creates a beautiful bokeh, and f/2 gives you the ability to shoot in natural light without having to push the ISO up too high. Whilst 90mm (135mm) is traditionally thought of as a portrait lens, and that’s kind of what I’ve billed it as here, it’s also very versatile and can be used for a wide variety of subjects. Close focussing makes it a pseudo macro lens and it works beautifully for nature. If the weather had been better I would shoot landscapes with this lens too.
Choosing between the XF90mm and XF50-140mm for portraits is something I think a lot of people are debating. I’ve set out my reasons why I would choose the 90mm in this write-up, it’s not only smaller and fits more with the X-Series philosophy for me, it is significantly cheaper too.
I will be very sad to give this lens back, and it is definitely one on my list to purchase in the future when I am able to.