Fujifilm XF90mmF2 Review

Introduction

I was a little lucky when I purchased my Fuji gear because I had the opportunity to get a fairly broad range of lenses in a relatively short period of time thanks to the sale of my Nikon gear. This has allowed me to spend some time getting to grips with all of my lenses.

The nice thing with a catalogue like Lightroom, is that over a period of time you can look back at your photo and filter by lens. I tend to find this longer term approach gives you a real reflection of your lenses. You can look at what worked, what didn’t and why. Unlike my 70-200 f/2.8, when I got the 50-140, I knew the I would need a portrait lens. Whilst the DOF on the XF50-140mmF2.8 is fairly good, there is the odd occasion where you need paper thin DOF, and with the XF90mm you’ve got a portrait lens to cover it.

There will be some picture repeats from my previous articles so I apologise. I wanted to take some of the XF90mmF2 photos I have taken over a period of time and incorporate them in this article.

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The XF90mmF2 is part of the newer breed of Fujicron F2 lenses. These are sold by Fuji under the banner of improved AF, waterproofing and razor sharp performance wide open. Today we’ll look at whether they’ve achieved it with the XF90mmF2.

When I was looking at portrait lenses, I had a choice between the XF90 and the XF56mm and the primary thing that swung me to the XF90mm was the AF speed. As someone who takes photos of small kids, Auto focus speed is critical. It was this exact reason that my Nikon 50 f/1.4 was largely unused. I’d heard the AF on the XF90mm was on a par with the XF50-140mm and that sold me.

Packaging

Premium lens, premium packaging. It’s pretty much on a par with all the good stuff from Fujifilm or any other brand. I do like the approach that Fujifilm have with the 60mmF2.4 box, but I don’t think it’s necessary for boxing of gear.

The lens comes with the usual Fujifilm accessories: A hood, lens cap and a soft cover to store the lens in.

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Fujifilm X-T2 – XF90mmF2 – 1/210s – f2 – ISO200

Construction

How do you explain the construction on the XF90mmF2? For anyone that has seen Fuji’s premium lenses, it’s no different. It’s a beautifully crafted metal lens with top of the range construction that is almost impossible to fault. The Aperture ring is stiff enough to ensure you don’t accidentally move it. The focus ring is nice and smooth. Overall, it’s a 9.5 out of 10.

The weight and size is a little large if you are used to the 23, 35 and 50, but I’ve come from Nikon full frame so anything is small compared to that. I personally see it as a reasonable size and weight for a portrait, it’s not going to give you sore arms walking around with this on your camera.

Any flaws? Sadly, like the majority of Fuji’s lineup, the construction is let down by a cheap plastic hood design. It’s not that I expect a metal hood (although it would be a nice touch), it’s just that the plastic is flimsy and seems poor quality compared to a lot of the brands I’ve seen and used. It’s not as bad as the XF50-140 but it’s not great either. It’s a small part of the lens but it’s also something that I think Fujifilm could easily have got right.

The Fujifilm bag that comes with the lens offers no protection against bumps but it does a good job for what is needed. I guess you have to consider whether you want something padded to put in a bag that takes up more room, or something soft that protects it from scratches but doesn’t added the bulk of the padded versions.

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Fujifilm X-T2 – XF90mmF2 – 1/210s – f4.5 – ISO200

Pricing

The pricing on the XF90mm is on the premium end of Fujifilm’s pricing and this may scare prospective buyers away.

I personally feel that the pricing is perfectly reasonable given the construction, optical quality and AF characteristics of the lens but I can understand how this may scare prospective buyers away. It’s a simple case of you get what you pay for. Comparing it to comparatively priced full frame lenses and it’s easy to see why the pricing is where it is. Construction is better, optical quality is better, and AF performance is well beyond any of the portrait lenses I’ve tried on full frame in the past.

My advice for those who find it out of reach, is to wait for a good quality second hand lens or the annual cashback specials as these may bring it back into an acceptable range.

Sharpness

I don’t think there is much more you can say on this. There is a reason this is considered to be Fujifilm’s sharpest lens and it shows. This lens is sharp as a tack wide open. If you want to check the lens charts, there are plenty of sites to do it, but from a sharpness perspective, I cannot complain find anything to complain about.

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Fujifilm X-T2 – XF90mmF2 – 1/1000s – f2 – ISO1250

Lens Flare

I’ve heard some comments on lens flare with the XF90mm so I’ll give my thoughts here. Personally, I haven’t encountered these, but I always use the hood outdoors. The hood is fairly long so I think if you are using the hood, any lens flare issues will be minimised.

It is not to say that there aren’t lens flare issues. The hood is frustrating and I understand how people may leave the hood at home, and this could potentially raise the issue of lens flare.

Autofocus

I don’t normally expect much from portrait lenses when it comes to autofocus but given there was talk about how fast the 90 AF was, there was some level of expectation before I purchased it. As someone who takes photos of kids, the idea of a lightning fast portrait lens was more than just slightly appealing. Fortunately my expectations have been met and exceeded and I haven’t had much to complain about.

As the photo below shows, even tracking on a swing with shallow DOF provided acceptable outcomes, and this was done without pre-focussing on a spot.

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Fujifilm X-T2 – XF90mmF2 – 1/900s – f2 – ISO200

OIS – The missing link?

I’ve heard many complain about the lack of OIS on some of the Fujifilm lenses, but I’m not one of them. I lived without VR on my Nikon 24-70 for many years and the only place I had and used VR was my 70-200 where it helped on the longer end. OIS is nice, but I think people have become reliant on it unnecessarily and there haven’t been many occasions where I’ve thought to myself “Damn, OIS would be nice”. There is no sacrifice for correct low shutter hand holding techniques and there are plenty of instructions that cover this. I can imagine people will be quickly to point out that I haven’t posted any photos with shutters lower than 1/320 but I have shot this lens at 1/60 with more than acceptable results and I’m happy to post some of these examples if people don’t believe me. The reality for me personally is that I don’t like many photos at lower shutter speeds, not because of lens shake, but due to the movement of the subject in the images. The challenge with OIS is people forget that it can also adversely affect image quality, particularly if you don’t give the OIS a chance to stabilize the image (as shown in the image stabilisation article by photographylife) so I’m willing to bet that some people are actually worse off for image quality without realizing it.

Does it mean I will shoot at 1/60? No, I’d still rather shoot at 1/90 or higher if possible, because  OIS doesn’t eliminate subject movement.

That aside, I will try put together a separate article on low light shooting when I get time.

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Fujifilm X-T2 – XF90mmF2 – 1/200s – f5.6 – ISO200

The 90 vs 56?

I’ve seen this argument come up many times and the only way I can explain this is that you will be extremely happy with both options. They both have strengths and weaknesses but these are more of a reflection of what the lenses are suited for rather than the inherent weaknesses of the lenses. In an ideal world, you would probably have both, and I think in this case, the overlap is limited enough that having both isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unfortunately I don’t have both so I can’t give you a side by side comparison of image quality.

The easiest way to explain it is like comparing it to eating at an amazing restaurant where you aren’t sure what to order. You’ll be happy with your order irrespective, but you’ll secretly be wondering whether you should have ordered what your partner ordered.

So what would make you pick one over the other?

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Fujifilm X-E2S – XF90mmF2 – 1/500s – f2 – ISO400

1. Low light

If you are shooting in low light where ISO noise is going to be critical, the 56 has an aperture of f/1.2 which is always going to win in low light because you are gaining 1.5 stops of light by shooting at f/1.2 instead of f/2. That’s the difference between ISO4800 and ISO12800 which could be the difference between a usable photo or not.

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Fujifilm X-T2 – XF90mmF2 – 1/6000s – f2 – ISO200

2. AF Speed

The AF speed of the XF90 provides a massive advantage over the XF56. The XF56 has never been known as having the fastest AF speed whilst the XF90 is capable of tracking most sports or children with relative ease. It’s not perfect and it’s not a dedicated sports lens but it’s pretty damn close to it. I say children because I find children more challenging than sports from an AF and technique perspective. Generally speaking, the challenge with AF is twofold, having the AF keep up and being able to keep up with the camera. In most cases, sports people are predictable. More often than not, you know where they are going to go so you can pre-empt movement. With kids, you don’t know where they are going to go, how much they will speed up or slow down, and in most cases, they don’t either.

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Fujifilm X-T2 – XF90mmF2 – 1/320s – f2.8 – ISO2000

3. Focal length

The challenge with the 90 is whether the 90mm APSC (135mm full frame) works for you. I can’t tell you whether the 56mm or 90mm fits your workflow better. For me the 90 is perfect but my perfect may be your imperfect.

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Fujifilm X-T2 – XF90mmF2 – 1/500s – f2 – ISO400

Conclusion

It’s hard not to like the XF90mm no matter how hard you try. Yes, it’s larger than the XF56mm and for many, sadly, the decision may be one made solely on size. The XF90mm deserves to be looked at further than just that. Every person who I have let trial the lens walks away impressed and wanting one, even those with the XF56mm, and they’re often torn between them. I don’t blame them, I want the XF56mm as well, but I won’t give up my XF90mm to get it.

If you are torn between these lenses, you’re not alone, they’re both good and despite it being difficult to justify both, the ideal solution is to have both.

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