New Magic? First Look With the Fast Fuji 50mm f/1.0

  • Post category:Photo Gear

(Note: This is part one of an ongoing review. Part two (f/1 vs. f/4 comparisons appears here, part three (bokeh samples) appears here, and part four (comparison with 56mm) appears here.)

The new Fuji 50mm f/1.0 lens is here—what is it like?

With any super-fast lens your expectations are that it will be huge, with a triple-digit filter diameter. And the lens is big, just not that big.

One of the hopes and dreams of the Fuji-X system, since they went with a slightly smaller sensor than other manufacturers, was that the lenses for the system would be Leica-M small. Pop a handful in your pocket and go walk around. And Fuji did deliver in this regard, the highly regarded Fujicrons (I have them all) and they are small and you can pop them in your pockets, depending on your pockets.

I was amazed as I hiked around the Mojave Desert last year on a multi-week residency that I could, on many days, just have—as far as any observer could tell—just a camera on a strap around my neck, and nothing more. Yet I was carrying a full camera system, 35mm lens on the body, a 16mm, 50mm, and a 23mm in the pockets of my hiking pants. You couldn’t tell. Having all that capability but without the drag of the weight and the hassle of dealing with lenses in a backpack gave me a liberating feeling.

The Fuji 50mm f/1.0 is not one of those lenses. If you put this thing in a pocket—if you can even get it in a pocket—you will not only find it difficult to move your leg but you will bruise yourself in quite short order.

However, its bulk and weight are not out of line at all with Fuji’s other lenses. I pulled out three to compare it to, the 16-55 zoom, the 80mm Macro, and the 8-16 super-wide angle. They are about the same size, for all practical purposes, and they are of similar weight.

I held each, the fast 50 in one hand, each of the other lenses in the other hand, and then switched hands and did it again. My results? The 16-55 zoom is noticeably lighter than the fast 50 but you have to give it a second to be sure. The 80 and the 8-16 results varied. One time I thought the fast 50 was the heavier, other times I thought they were tied or the fast 50 was even a tad lighter. I handed the lenses to my daughter and we ran the test again. Same result. A clear winner on the 16-55, mixed results (which changed when you changed hands) on the others. I looked up the specs at B&H and the fast 50 is listed the heaviest of the four at 1.86 lbs, then the 8-16 at 1.77 lbs, the 80 at 1.65 lbs, and the 16-55 at 1.44 lbs.

It seems when the weights get that close factors such as balance become important in the sensation of mass.

On the camera the lens balances well. The 8-16 always seems a bit front heavy, and doesn’t like to be carried on a strap as much as it should. The fast 50 quickly becomes invisible, in as much as its weight allows. I hiked five miles with it yesterday with a strap around my neck or shoulder and have no particular memory of it being an inconvenience. I’ve carried the 16-55 many times for long distances over long periods of time and I see no reason why the fast 50 will give me any trouble.

The front of the lens requires a 77mm filter which is fine since I already have filters in that size—the 16-55 has the same diameter. What’s a little off about the front of the lens is that the glass doesn’t curve outward like every other lens I own, like an eye, but curves inward, like a bowl. Aside from being visually novel I don’t know of any practical difference this will make in the images.

The lens has two controls, a focus ring and an aperture ring.

The focus ring is of the infinity-type, like almost all lenses today, where there are no markings on the lens and it can spin freely in one direction or the other forever. This has a practical advantage of allowing the camera (and your chosen settings) to determine which direction you’d like to focus from near-to-far in. (Canon shooters have been mistrained since birth to turn the focus wheel in the wrong direction so it is good to see a little charity from Fuji here.) It also allows you to tell the camera to differentiate between fast and slow movements over the same rotation angle, allowing you the ability to move quickly from near-to-far (fast movement) and then make micro-adjustments with great precision (slow movement) rather than having a rotation change the focus in a predetermined amount.

The focus ring is easy to turn, with no wobble or rough spots, as easy as a well broken-in Nikkor in the film days, although I never favored them that way. The ease of turning may have been a contributing factor to causing my viewfinder, when in manual focus mode, to zoom into pixel-for-pixel magnification, like I needed help in focusing—but I had already focused and was framing the shot. My finger must have (repeatedly, all day) touched the focus ring ever so gently. I hope I can change that in the settings or I adapt to not touch the ring when I don’t want the focus aide.

The aperture ring is marked in f-stops—thankfully Fuji has ended its brief experiment in not marking f-stops—and clicks cleanly at third-of-a-stop intervals throughout. As you pass f/16 the sensation is a sliding one without clicks before it reaches “A.” The auto-aperture function kicks in just as you start the slide rather than waiting until you’ve moved the ring all the way to the end, which is nice.

My strong personal preference is for more of a tactile “bump” as you cross over to “A”—nothing like a lock, where the photographer would have to unlock the thing to move it into the manual range—but just a bump to signify that you are set on “A” and to better prevent an accidental rotation of the ring. Fair warning, I’m one of those guys who loved the older Hasselblad lenses where the aperture and shutter speed were always coupled and you had to pull back on the locking tab to change either of them independently. Sigh.

This new fast 50 joins a host of other lenses in the Fuji line-up that are at or close to the same focal length. I’ve already highlighted the 16-55 but I also have here a small 50 (one of the Fujicrons I mentioned earlier), a 50-140 zoom, and some of the other zooms they make cover 50mm as well. There’s nothing wrong with that and those other 50s do very different things, despite being the same focal length. The small 50 goes in the pocket, the 50s on the zooms are, well, part of a zoom with a range of focal lengths, so obviously a very different beast.

The one lens that creates a puzzle—and a challenge—is the one I haven’t mentioned yet. The 56mm f/1.2. I have the regular version but briefly owned the APD version of the 56 last year. It is said to offer better out-of-focus blur characteristics, but I could see little difference and it didn’t focus as well as the regular nor gather as much light as it should have.

“Magic” is how I describe the regular 56. The magic 56 is just that. Point it at anything, anywhere click the shutter and you probably have an interesting photograph. Heck, put the camera on two-second self-timer, toss the camera into the air and you’ll probably get an interesting photograph. (Note, if you also set your camera body to Eterna or Acros film simulation modes before tossing then you are guaranteed to get a good photo, no probabilities about it.)

This is a lens where the designers put away their test targets and worried not about internet-forum photographers making “tests” with brick walls and cat photos and just made a lens that is alive.

The new lens, the fast 50, is in many ways a potential replacement for the magic 56. So now I need to take the lens out on a walk, nothing special and nothing planned. Just a walk about the neighborhood, a walk about the house, to get a sense of what it does, how it behaves. I already took it on one evening hike. Another day will do it, for a first impression.

Or I could just give it the ultimate test, put the body on self-timer and toss the whole thing into the air.

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