Fast Fuji Primes: Worth the Cost?

fujifilm_xf_56mm_f_1_2_r_1021630Don’t get me wrong – I love Fuji lenses, and I can well understand why so many reviewers own or would like to own at least half of the 23 or so lenses in Fuji’s catalogue. Their build quality is on par with or even better than Zeiss. They are all metal and glass, and come with aperture rings, something which most manufacturers seem to think photographers no longer need. And as a whole, Fuji lenses have outstanding optical quality. However, with some of Fuji’s faster lenses, resolution climbs very slowly as the lens is stopped down, and wide open, neither center nor  edge sharpness are anything to write home about. Ideally, a lens should reach peak performance when closed down two stops. Some lenses in the u43 system even attain their highest values wide open. Yet many online reviewers make claims for the fast Fuji primes that simply aren’t supported by the MTF charts I’ve seen. I’m not saying resolution is the sole criterion for judging a lens, and what is satisfactory for one person may not be for another: in fact, I recently viewed some stills from Fuji’s 50-140mm  f/2.8 wide open, and thought they looked fabulous. For example, it takes closing down some three stops for the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 to achieve its highest resolution, the first time I’ve seen such a result in a prime lens. But that the lens manages to have at least three stops where resolution is sensational is without question an excellent result. What I’m getting at is, that unless you consistently use their fastest primes wide open, it is a useless expenditure, because if you regularly shoot at say, f/4 or f/5.6, there will be an insignificant difference between the primes and one of the slower zooms. And this goes for any lens lineup, including my favorite u43 lens, the Leica Nocticron. Some will argue that resolution is not as important when shooting 4K video as it is for still photography, and the legendary cinema lens company Cooke Optics even published a document which claims that any good lens produced in the last thirty years will be adequate for 4K, as after debayering, cameras can output at most 35 lines per millimeter. This does not mean however that you won’t see a marked improvent in image quality when say, stopping down from T1.5 to T4. And stopping down also corrects for chromatic aberration, barrel and pincushion distortion, and vignetting. Finally, the newer, slower Fuji f/2 primes are not only less expensive, they are also smaller, have weather sealing, and sport faster, silent auto focusing.