Monotony: a good word to describe the landscapes encountered in late summer. The forest interiors are uniformly green, with the occasional crimson cardinal flowers erupting from the stream beds. Farm fields are either devoted to pasture, or to row upon row of mature corn. Untended fields this time of year are generally uniformly yellow from the blooming goldenrod. There are still weeks to go before the first hint of fall color emerges from the verdant surroundings.
A lens with a wider field of view, struggles to find interest in this season.
Perhaps then it is fortunate, that I recently acquired a the Fujifilm XF 90mm f2.0 prime. This lens has possibly the best online reviews of any Fujifilm XF lens. It is parked for now on my X Pro 2 and I have been shooting extensively with it. I’m not a natural 90 mm (135 mm field of view equivalent) shooter when it comes to landscape photography. Fairly long telephoto lenses as such as this force me to visualize the scenes I encounter in a way that for me is not entirely intuitive.
Non-intuitive, can sometimes be good.
When the background is monotonous, long focal lengths allow you to pick out the little unique vignettes that occur here and there in the landscape. They allow us to find interest where at first glance, there is none. I sometimes have to force myself to remember this.
The XF 90 mm f2, like the previous Fuji lenses, is a substantial piece, with good weight and a fine build quality, reminiscent of the XF 56 mm f1.2 with which it most closely compares. Befitting its relatively wide aperture, it has a large front and rear objective. Is a heavy lens, relative to the other primes that I use, and it feels best on the X Pro 2 versus the smaller,lighter cameras in my possession.
It comes with a long deep lens hood, and the same felt pouch as all of the earlier lenses.
The focus ring has a buttery feel, and the aperture ring like most of the earlier lenses has a smooth action with distinct detents. And although it looks similar to the XF 56 mm lens, unlike that lens it is said to be weatherproof, a nice bonus.
There have been a lot of reviews of this lens, done by more technically oriented bloggers than myself. They are available here, and here, and here. Most testers are finding the exact same results, namely that this lenses extremely sharp, pretty much from wide open to F 11, when diffraction sets in. In fact the folks at Imaging Resource claims that this is the sharpest lens they have ever tested. Their customary “blur chart” even at f2.0 is a uniform light purple, denoting maximal sharpness from edge to edge. I have never seen that before.
I find the lens’s characteristics similar to the 56 mm in terms of sharpness and bokeh. This is to say that the lens is bitingly sharp when in focus, even wide open. There is also wonderfully smooth rendering of out-of-focus elements.
I have several issues with this lens however. As mentioned above, the field of view of this lens is not intuitive to me, and sometimes limiting. 135 mm is long enough to close in on smaller static subjects within 5-10 feet, but unhelpful for instance, for that goldfinch sitting on a milkweed pod 15-20 feet away.
In landscape photography where there is generally plenty of light, a sharp telephoto zoom lens, even with a tighter aperture, is far more versatile. Up to this purchase, I have tended to use the XF 55–200mm f3.5-4.8 in this role. This lens does not test as well as the 90mm nor does it have the quality of bokeh. But in my experience it to has very pleasing image quality (except perhaps at the longest focal length of 200 mm where it struggles slightly).
The zoom has one other advantage to the prime. I have noticed that I am going through memory cards at a rapid rate with this lens. I believe this is because of the lack of image stabilization (the 55-200 zoom has very fine image stabilization). Intuitively, when shooting the 90 mm, I “let her rip”, the shutter set on continuous-low, obtaining a longer series of captures while avoiding multiple finger stabs which might cause camera motion.
In fact, this tends to be good practice; compared to shorter focal lengths, even using a monopod, I find on review that a substantial number of shots have evidence of camera movement. In this situation the lenses acuity in some ways works against it, in that it allows you to appreciate motion blur that would not be as obvious on lesser optics.
I don’t know what it would mean in terms of lens size/weight/cost, but I think this lens would be far more versatile if image stabilization was incorporated. Or I suppose I could use a tripod. Rangefinder-type cameras to me however, feel like they should be shot handheld.
Once again let me say that this is a brilliant lens, but I suspect one that will have only modest usage within my kit given my style of photography. This is in part because of the excellence of the 56 mm f1.2, which is faster, very nearly as sharp, and I think much easier to handhold. As good as this lens is, I need to watch out for it becoming a “cabinet queen” and if it does, consider selling this lovely tool to someone who can make better use of it.
Or , if I’m smart, I’ll let it teach me to be a more versatile photographer.
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