Fujinon 56mm f1.2 R APD v Fujinon 90mm f2 R LM WR

A lens evaluation; for fashion, garment, and catalogue photography what are the advantages of the Fujinon 56mm f1.2, in either standard or APD version? And what are the pros and cons of the Fujinon 90mm over the shorter 56mm lens?

Executive Summary: If portraiture is part of your thing, the Fujinon 90mm is fabulous. It weighs 540g. The Fujinon 56mm f1.2 is a very good choice for ad-hoc, low light photography and 405g.. For garment photography the Fujinon 60mm Macro is 215g, small, and with a genuine x0.5 magnification, a more versatile choice. All of these lenses are supremely sharp.

At Assero we began to use Fuji X Series cameras for one reason, their excellent rendering of fabric without moire. At the outset the Fuji team’s design choice was to create a novel filter array in front of the camera sensor. This meant they could leave out the typical anti-aliasing (AA) filter necessary with conventional RGB Bayer filter. The result is that we, as users, don’t have to worry about moire anymore.

The other benefit of no AA filter is greater sharpness. Combined with Fuji’s mastery of acuity and pleasing tone curves from their decades as photographic film manufacturers, we find that Fuji .jpg’s require little post-processing. And the result as a photography package is small, lightweight cameras that can be used professionally.

As a designer one often has to choose expediency over preference, farming out photography to a reliable photographic studio which leaves more time to design. But what this gains in terms of productivity it loses in terms of flexibility, ad-hoc speed, and design refinement.

We use photography throughout the design process. In the creation of whole garments to see a new design in a photograph supports objectivity. Things we didn’t notice “in the flesh”, perhaps the line or drape or the silhouette or a cuff detail, a zipper alignment, a seam color, become apparent. So as soon as we have made something we photograph it to see what it looks like.

As a designer, I have a stong belief that long-term testing lies at the heart of good product design. It’s worth a separate discussion. In my experience to develop motorcycle garments properly takes twelve months. If one doesn’t spend this time, it shows. And in our case, testing means riding a bike which means travel and, when we are happy with a product, photo-shoots.

All of which favours a high quality, low weight approach to our camera gear. I use a camera everyday. Design photography, product photography, photos for the website and, even, here. So anything we put into our photography bag must offer something new. Which begs the question, what do we use?

Let’s clear up one thing first. I prefer prime lens over zooms. Don’t know why but that’s how it is. If you prefer zooms, you are not alone. All of the top tier camera manufacturers make wonderful zoom lens. But for me the discipline of using a fixed focal length lens is probably the most important aspect of choosing it. Not the sharpness (which exceeds practical needs anyway), nor the light weight. The discipline.

To photograph fabric weaves, garment fittings, stitching detail, seams, et al. I use the Fuji X-E2 (firmware rev 4.0) and the Fujinon 60mm Macro lens. It’s fabulous. Why? Because, at 565g, it is light enough to carry everywhere. By way of comparison my previous camera, a Canon 5D with a 90mm Macro lens, weighed 1.46kg. And it wouldn’t fit in my carry-everywhere bag. As an alternative the Fuji is sharp, fast enough (remember, my subject isn’t moving, at least not much), and it has a real Macro capability at all times. The Canon is unquestionably better at anything that requires catching fast moving subjects. But for fashion and garment work, the Fuji is just right.

So having heard about them, I was curious to see how Fujinon’s 56mm f1.2 and 90mm f2 lenses might compare. This what I found.

Photo taken with Fuji 56mm f1.2 R APD
Photo taken with Fuji 56mm f1.2 R APD

The first lens I tried was the 56mm f1.2 APD. It focussed more quickly than the 60mm Macro on my X-E2. It was very sharp. And it handles well. It feels balanced, if you like. It is a big chunk of glass but it feels good. Would I carry it all day? I’d prefer not.

Fujinon 90mm f2 R LM WR
Photo taken with Fujinon 90mm f2 R LM WR

By way of comparison, the Fujinon 90mm was big and heavy. There is no way I could carry that lens in my soft case every day. Optically it is extremely sharp. And the background blur, the bokeh, at f1.2 and f1.8 is more convincing than the 56mm APD (see above). If portrait photography is the majority of your work consider the Fujinon 90mm. And perhaps use a tripod at all times. (It is a little strange that such a lens doesn’t come with image stabilization.)

Which short-telephoto would I buy? For professional use, the Fujinon 60mm Macro does everything we need. The only feature I would like to see is weather sealing since most of my work is done in humid environments. Fungus will inevitably get into the lens (I speak from previous experience from using both Canon and Zeiss lenses in South-East Asia).

Which lens of the 56mm and 90mm would I buy just for the hell of it? The 56mm standard prime, with no APD filter. Why? First, the APD filter only offers an advantage between f1.2 and f2.8. After that, the background comes into focus. Second, the APD (apodization) filter trades an out of focus background for a loss of light. In real terms the lens is equivalent to f1.7. So the standard 56mm f1.2 lens seems to me to be more versatile, it will focus better in low light, and it costs 30% less than the APD (c.$700 v c.$1100.)

What Fuji means:
R = Aperture Ring
LM = Linear Motor
WR = Weather Resistance
Ducati Desmosedici RR

How to take sharp photographs with Fuji X-Series Camera

To take sharp photographs with a Fuji X-Series camera, or any camera using an APS-C size sensor, use a fast shutter speed. Think in terms of four times the focal length of the lens. For example, for a 60mm lens use a 1/250s shutter speed.

Fujinon 60mm Macro, 1/750 @ f2.8

Explanation: The high pixel density of APS-C format cameras and the lens’s x1.5 equivalence with 35mm lens focal lengths magnifies the effect of camera shake. In the days of 35mm film, the old rule was to use a shutter speed that was the reciprocal of the focal length. In other words, a 50mm lens required a minimum of 1/60th, a 125mm required a 1/125s shutter speed, and so on. Now, with an APS-C equipped camera, multiply the focal length of the lens by four. For example, a 24mm lens should be used with a shutter speed above 1/100s (eg 1/125.)

At the beginning I struggled to get sharp photographs from my Fuji X-E1. Not anymore. Thanks for this advice from the photographer Damien Lovegrove. Pass it on.