TIM KAUGER
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Welcome to my pedestal. 

The right gear: Fujifilm 56mm f1.2 Review

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There's an adage that we photographers bludgeon each other, and hapless beginners, with: "Your camera gear won't make you better".

Sorry. That's horseshit. You need to buy the right gear.

That said, there is no universal "right" gear. There's camera equipment that's plenty capable and can be used to shoot Netflix shows, but unless it lights that cliché little fire inside your chest, it'll just collect dust and you won't get any better. 

I beg friends who are on the cusp of this hobby to go to a camera store and try out their selections. Then, they should pick the one that feels right; my own recommendations only go so far. If all goes well, one of the cameras or lenses will have a friendly chat with their subconscious. It's sometimes hard to articulate and even harder to rationalize the price tag, but if that nebulous bit of kismet happens, they'll keep picking that piece of kit up, they'll keep shooting with it, and they'll get better.

I practice what I preach, and picking up a used copy of the Fujifilm 56mm f1.2 did just that. It's making me pick up my camera and shoot photos, and it's extremely enjoyable.

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If you're new around here, I don't go into exact weight/size, sharpness tests, or any of that soulless minutiae that you can read elsewhere from a dozen sources. So, first impressions, then? It's built like any of the finest glass I've ever spent money on from other camera manufacturers (read: Nikon). The focus ring is dampened with what feels like cognac, milk, and honey, making it a breeze to manually focus with. The aperture ring, while tactile, could use some of the focus ring's magic; it's a little too easy to bump it, which could crucially affect your images at the wide end. The plastic hood does its job well enough, but it's also hell bent on making you wrestle it on and off, to the amusement of your friends or passerby. Finally, the lens isn't weather-sealed, but I'm not convinced that weather-sealing is necessary just yet. If I fry my camera while shooting with this in the rain, I'll bake up a nice humble pie for myself. – BUILD: 8/10

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Okay, we're off to a good start, but here's where things get a little quirky. Well, one thing: the autofocus. It's no secret that some of Fujifilm's older lenses are starting to get a little indecisive on newer, faster camera bodies like the X-T2. As an example, the full-sensor autofocus option (which can draw from the most autofocus points) will induce some significant hunting. Accuracy, though, is rather good, as the lens typically lands on your intended focus point. I unintentionally found a workaround for this: not realizing I was on single-point autofocus for about three weeks. It's really for the best, too; pick the center point, focus, and recompose. In low light, doing so will probably take a fraction more time than having the lens hunt for you, but you'll almost always land on your target. When the going gets really rough, the X-T2's brilliant manual focus peaking is more than willing to take up the task. Even wide-open at f1.2, nailing shots is a breeze. Thus, that's something to be mindful of if you're looking to get this glass for an older Fujifilm body. – PERFORMANCE: 7/10

"Here's where he says that the image quality more than makes up for its shortcomings", I can hear you saying. Sorry to be trite, folks, but that's exactly what I'm saying. I'm not the most traveled photographer when it comes to gear, but I've handled my fair share of wide-aperture lenses -- this thing is completely tack-sharp when shooting at f1.2. I think I laughed when I first reviewed the images, as if I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing. Not many other pieces of kit can do that, especially at this price point. Granted, there's some vignetting while shooting wide-open, but this is pretty par for the course and it works for my style. Color rendition is perfect, which isn't a measurement; it's fine, so don't worry about it. As with any lens, stopping down to about f2.8 and smaller will produce slightly sharper images, but given how good this thing is wide-open, I can't imagine many scenarios for doing so aside from bright light or for video purposes. – IMAGES: 10/10

It's not perfect, but neither are interpersonal relationships, your favorite sports team, or 99.9% of Alfa Romeos. You may need to tinker with it, and even compromise a bit; meet its infidelities in the middle, and you'll have a lens that'll produce addictively-good results.

But hey, that's just me. Try it for yourself. 

For me, it's the right gear.

GearTim K.Comment