Continuing the blog serialisation of my popular X-Pro Series lust/hate/love story:
Part 42: The X-Pro2 Review: The XF56 F1.2R APD: Part1
The XF56 F1.2R APD.
This is a lens that I’ve wanted to have a play with for a long time! Conceptually I really like the idea of what Fujifilm were thinking with the design, and I wanted to know how the images I like to take would work out with it.
I’m a big fan of subject isolation photographs, (with the caveat of course that the subject has to suit the style, you can’t just go around shooting everything wide open and expect that every image will turn out well!)
I did briefly have the regular 56, and I enjoyed it very much… However to be able to afford the X-Pro2 (a great many) things had to be sold, and as stellar as the regular 56 is (and it is) the fact was; I just couldn’t justify keeping both the 60 and the 56, as I do use the close focusing of the 60 quite regularly… That combined with the blunt fact that the 56 had more residual value, meant the 56 was the lens that had to go.
Did this make me sad (to lose the 56)? Yes of course, but I haven’t regretted getting the X-Pro2, and this wouldn’t have been possible without selling the 56.
First world problems 🙂
But I have to say… When I interrogate myself; when I remove ‘man maths’ from the equation and GAS – all that stuff we use to justify what we buy… One thing was clear to me.
The “”problem”” I had with the 56 was that it wasn’t the APD version, that was the one that I had set my heart on, and I ended up being seduced by the cost saving and apparent greater versatility of the regular 56.
Before we get into the story of the APD, perhaps we should take a few moments to examine what exactly the APD is, and what it does differently (from the regular 56); and most importantly from a personal point of view, why I was/am so excited by it.
If you want the official spec and details of the XF56 F1.2 APD, you could do a lot worse than start at Fujifilm’s official product page, which you reach by clicking here
In short, the 56 APD differs from the regular 56 in 2 areas:
Fujifilm give you a ND8 Neutral Density Filter in the box with the lens
It has a APD filter built into (ie it cannot be removed) the lens body.
APD is short for apodization, the best way I can think of to describe it, would be a circular, graduated ND filter. Starting at its darkest at the edges, and getting progressively more transparent towards the centre. The centre of the APD filter is clear, so that its effects are most relevant at the edges of the image.
Conceptually, the APD filter looks and works like the image above. It’s darker at the edges, transitioning from dark to lighter before finally reaching clear at the centre.
If you read the Fujifilm product page (that I linked above) you’ll see that Fujifilm claim (and I quote)
“Apodization filter delivers more creative portraits”
And also that:
“The built-in APD filter, the pinnacle of Fujifilm’s nanotechnology, produces even smoother bokeh, making the subject stand out even more and enhances creativity, not only for portraits, but also on a wide range of other subjects”
I think it’s also worth mentioning that Fujifilm state that this is the first lens in existence with an APD filter AND auto focus.
So… A world first in terms of auto focus capability on a lens designed to give a unique look to the images, by using physical technology (not elec-trickery) and all on a lens with a aperture so wide, that only a handful of lenses beat it (yes I know that several lenses match it, but I said beat it)
Perhaps you’re beginning to see my attraction to this lens?
Now, (obviously) I’m not the first reviewer to cover this lens… There’s (as ever) a decent write up and comparison to the regular 56, on the Fuji Vs Fuji website and Rico’s stand alone review of the lens is a good read.
The APD is most frequently cited as a portrait lens, and indeed it is.
So most reviews of this lens centre around portraits (makes sense)
Also the APD component of the design, is (quite correctly) referred too as ‘smoothing out bokeh’
So most reviews of this lens, seem to focus (or not as the case maybe – yes that was a bokeh joke) on portraiture against busy backgrounds and how round the balls are in specular highlights.
It’s useful info.
But the problem is… As they say; there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and for what the APD gives us in IQ variation against the regular 56, it also takes away in terms of AF performance. (I’ll be covering AF performance, later on in the review)
So, as a net result of this… We tend to find that when the Fuji-centric Facebook groups and forums are faced with the inevitable Hey guys, I want a portrait lens, should I go for the regular 56 or the APD? question…
…The answer is ALMOST always unequivocally:
The regular 56 is better – it costs less money, the auto focus is faster, and there’s not that much difference between the IQ with the APD
Don’t get me wrong, that’s sound advice. Especially if AF is a lot higher up your importance list, than what shape your bokeh balls are 🙂
But for me… Well I’m not sure than the APD is really all about the balls, I think that it’s more about the blurriness, in fact I think that what this lens is truly about – is the RELATIONSHIP between what’s in focus and what is not.
Let me try and explain.
You see we often talk about, look at and sometimes complain about; sharpness in our images.
What sharping settings did you use? What are the best sharpening settings? I think that you’ve slightly missed focus in that shot – it’s not sharp
But in my mind (and not just mine, I’m well aware that many others think of it like this) when we look at the composition of an image, when we look to what’s sharp and what is not – we’re actually looking at contrast.
For example; how often do the terms ‘micro-contrast’ ‘3D rendering’ ‘pop’ get bandied about as some sort of holy-trinity of a great photograph?
But these 3 things, these very real yet intangible things* are EFFECTIVELY implementations of contrast.
(*their existence in certain shots maybe be debated, their lack of existence as quantifiable data is certainly true; but at the end of the day – these are regularly used terms that describe how good images look)
So I’m not excited about the APD because I like my balls to be round and busy back grounds to be a little more blurry. No. I’m excited by the concept of this lens for the rarity value it could possibly apply to contrast.
In my OPINION, for the way I like shallow DOF images to look, the contrast should ramp up towards the subject, then disperse like a mist behind.
This is a look that I want to see in my subject isolated photographs.
I’ve made the graphic above to try and demonstrate what I’m taking about. The black circle in the middle represents the subject.
The shaded hourglass shape represents contrast. I want contrast that draws the eye to the subject, building up before and falling off behind.
You’ll note that the way I’ve visualised contrast, is not dissimilar to how the APD filter works.
If you cast your mind back to the start of this piece.. You’ll recall me selling everything I could to buy the X-Pro2.
So dropping that amount of coin on a 56 APD isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
So you can imagine my excitement when Fujifilm Portugal offered me the chance to borrow a 56 APD for 10 days.
But how did I find it? Did it deliver to my expectations? Was the AF so bad that the APD became meaningless?
Did I get to realise my “contrast dream”?
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