I have heard it said, that painting is the art of inclusion, because as a painter, you are free to rearrange and even add elements to a scene to create the vision you see in your mind’s eye. Photography, on the other hand, is said to be the art of exclusion, because, at least until the digital age, we were unable to modify images except for tonal changes, cropping and sharpening.
So acquiring great photographs, is often about composing the image in a way that eliminates distracting elements and captures only that which defines the story you wish to tell, or the feeling you wish to convey. And often it is easier to achieve this with a telephoto lens.
I think it is easy, as a landscape photographer, to slip into the habit of shooting in the “mid-wide” to “normal” focal lengths. I know I do. I periodically forget that longer focal lengths can often be used to make compelling landscape images. In fact, when I go out, armed with such lenses, I find that my ratio of “keepers” to “duds” tends to increase. I’ve written on this before.
Recently I was reacquainted with this effect when I purchased the XF 55-200mm lens which stayed on my X Pro 1 for some months. But now it has been wrapped in its pouch, and placed back in my photo bag. I have replaced it with the new Fuji XF 56mm f 1.2.
Now there have been lots of reviews of this optic. It is almost universally recognized for what it is, a very fine portrait lens.
Most formal reviews find the newest 56mm to be sharp in the center even wide open, then extremely sharp across the entire frame by f2.8. The 56mm focal length translates in to an 85mm field of view given the X cameras APS-c sized sensor. Rendering of out-of-focus elements is generally thought to be smooth. Though these attributes are generally associated with portraiture, they also make for a lovely landscape lens.
Despite its wide aperture it’s not a huge lens. There is a large front element which is thankfully somewhat recessed for protection. It uses the same lens hood as the 55-200mm zoom, which is rather large, perhaps unnecessarily so. It handles quite nicely on my X Pro 1.
First, here’s an obligatory portrait.
The image was shot in fairly low light@ f2.8 and demonstrates nicely how nicely the lens isolates the subject, with enough but not too much detail. The speed of the lens allows me to shoot in situations where I would otherwise have to pass. I am eager to get it into the studio.
I have been shooting it in the field, generally accompanied in the bag by my 35mm equivalent X 100s, which makes for a nice mix of focal lengths. What I find particularly unique about this lens is the detail it can render, detail which really “pops” the elements of the images one chooses to focus on.
Backgrounds are nicely smoothed, especially at wide apertures and a distance; at narrow apertures OOF portions of the scene are slightly coarser.
Shooting at 85mm FOV makes you scan your surroundings somewhat differently. You must think in smaller, tighter vignettes, or stand further back to frame a scene, keeping in mind the magnification of distant objects that occurs with telephoto lenses. Most of the time, the effect is flattering.
I used the lens for some street shooting during Wilkes-Barre’s Fine Arts Fiesta, held every May in the city’s Public Square.
Longer lenses have a great advantage in this situation, as they allow you to frame scenes from a longer distance than you would for instance with the classic street shooting 35mm focal length. This allows you to shoot more discreetly, and capture spontaneity.
This is another wonderful lens. I am thinking that along with the 14mm, 23mm and the 35 mm XF lenses, they will reside in the bag in which I carry the X Pro 1, forcing me to shoot primes when I travel with this camera (I’ll keep the zooms with the XE-1).
Given this purchase, I’m finally content with the camera and lens selection that I currently have available for the Fujifilm system. The upcoming splash proof zooms aren’t of much use to me without a weatherproof body like the new XT-1.
Hmmm… an XT-1
It just never ends.