Putting together the ultimate Fujifilm X Series Lens Kit. Kirk's case for overkill.

Don't screw around with making arcane and nonsensical choices in the lens world. It's frustrating and counter productive to limit yourself too much.  Just get every lens you think you'll ever need for your favorite system and then you'll never have to worry that you were such a cheap bastard that you hamstrung yourself on an important project just to save a few dollars to buy Sanka in retirement...

Never mind that my final exit strategy is to either swim out a little farther into the ocean than I think I can swim back (or, alternately, to build a raft, lined with full gas cans, grab a bottle of Milam Bourbon to soothe the transition, and then have friends and family take out lifelong frustrations with my eccentricities by shooting flaming arrows at the raft until someone gets it right. What a photo opportunity....). But..... 

...since we're all still here let's discuss a lens buying strategy for a person who makes photographs with Fuji X series cameras. 

First off, remember that life is short and we don't get as many second chances as we might want, so plunge right in and get what you really want. So many people who read the blogs are so financially conservative they're probably reusing teabags to squeeze out the most value. If you are going to buy into a system and you are serious about getting your work done. Just splash out the cash. 

Last year I thought I would buy the Fujifilm X-T3 as an adjunct to my rather fulsome Panasonic system and, since it would be a secondary camera, I would just pick up the well loved kit lens (18-55mm f2.8-4.0) and call it quits. I'd have a really nice "take everywhere" camera and lens that was light weight and which could be counted on to create great images and video. But after doing some side-by-side tests, couple with self-hypnotism, I convinced myself that the Fuji files had more promise for my style of portraiture and I rushed to throw myself down the Slippery Slope. 

Now, less than six months into my "Fuji Exploration" the Panasonics are out the door. Gone. Gracing someone else's camera bag with their unique charm, and here I am with a (literal, not figurative or virtual) shopping cart with twelve or thirteen different lenses I can hang on the front of five different Fuji cameras. Crazy? Sure. But what the hell? Altogether it's cheaper than buying a new German car or getting a mistress. And guess what? I can actually use at least a few of these to earn some money for beer and cigarettes. (No, I don't smoke. And I rarely drink beer. Or Ale.). 

But I do like having just the right lens for just the right subject matter and since I have no other costly vices I decided to sink the proceeds of my Panasonic sales into Fuji stuff. Could have been Nikon or Canon mirrorless. Not interested in the Sony stuff ---- I've already been there. My pinkies are still recovering....

I found that I don't really have to care if the lenses are stabilized or not because I much prefer to use one of my three Fuji X-H1 bodies for photography and they all have damn, damn, damn good stabilization built right in.... which means all of my lenses are, de facto, stabilized. 

Here's what I'm using, in no particular order......

I had a store credit at my favorite camera shop and Fuji must have known that because they put the 8-16mm f2.8 lens on sale at just the right time. I don't particularly like the whole idea of super wide angle lenses but then again I've never given the very best ones a good try. I got close with the Panasonic/Leica 8-18mm for the m4:3 cameras but I figured I'm playing out the clock here, society may just cancel traditional photography altogether and I might as well buy one top of the line ultra-wide angle zoom lens before I sign off or decide to abandon photography altogether to give Ian Rankin and John Sanford a run for their money as a brilliant novelist. Frankly, I haven't mastered this bad boy yet. It kind of feels like someone just handed me a fine violin and said, "Show us what you can play!" even though I've never had a lesson. But I did put the lens through my exhaustive, subjective testing and it sure seems super sharp and (with help from the cameras) very well corrected. 

"Oh, you'll never have a use for this lens..." Well, the first thing I thought of was the handful of times I had to shoot inside smaller, corporate jets. You know, "hard working" attorneys sitting in (cramped but..) plush leather seats, eager to show the world: "Yes. I fly in private jets. Doesn't everyone?" Then I thought of the hotel brochures we did in the 1980's and 1990's with the tiny rooms and the art director begging me to, "Show everything and make our guest room look as big as a suite at the Four Seasons! Please!" I also thought of all those tall buildings downtown and how, if I could just get high enough in a building across the street to be at the mid-point of the target building, I could make glorious architectural photos without the need for shift lenses or Photoshop correction. 

These situations reflect promises I'm making to myself for future projects. But hey, the 8-16mm is one of the "Red Badge" lenses so at least other professionals who shoot with Fuji will be somewhat impressed that I shelled out the big bucks to get something totally cool, and mostly unnecessary. 

If your camera bag feels a bit light you should get one of the these. It's heavy enough to keep your camera bag from floating away......

7Artisans 55mm f1.4 MF lens for Fuji. 

And, at the opposite end of the spectrum, I am a sucker for a fast, cheap, normal-esque lens that I can play with and affect the nonchalant attitude of a "gifted photonic artist who just doesn't give a shit about brands...." Like every super fast, super cheap, manual focus lens coming out right now for mirrorless cameras it is not super sharp when used wide open but.... like every competitive offering it's plenty fine when used at f5.6 or f8.0. Which begs the question: "Why?" I would answer: "Because you can only buy so much coffee with your spare change...." And, I am an absolute sucker for anything fast and near normal. I just like the look. Especially when I convert to black and white. But I'm pretty well covered when it comes to the 75mm equivalent focal length (again, based on FF hysteria), I've got that focal lengths (55mm) on both normal zooms, two cheap MF lenses, the short end of the (extremely great) 50-140mm f2.8 zoom, and nearly covered by a converted Zeiss 50mm f1.8 as well as the Fujicron 50mm f2.0 WR. No real possibility that an art director will ask for this focal length and find me unable to deliver...

Cute and small. 

I'll explain my compulsion to buy all three of the current "Fujicron" f2.0 WR lenses. It's because I have the silly notion that one day I'll buy a bus ticket and travel coast to coast on a Greyhound bus, taking images everywhere I end up,  and I'll carry just a backpack, one small camera (X-T3 or X-E3) and three carefully chosen but very low profile lenses that are clustered (by focal length) around some classic, old, popular film standards. Like the Jack Kerouac approach to traveling "On the Road." I tend to like a 50mm equivalent (normal, normal) lens better but everyone, EVERYONE, always tells me that the 35mm is their favorite focal length so for the last four decades, no matter what system I'm shooting with, I try to always buy the 35mm lens for that system so I can try as hard as possible to have an epiphany and learn why this focal length/angle of view is so damn popular. So far I am striking out. But you can't fault me for continuing to try. 

This lens is nice and small, well behaved, sharp and docile. It's always in the bag but rarely responsible for prize photos. I do love the aperture ring on all three of the Fujicrons, it's tactilely happy. 

and then there is: "AHHH. THIS FOCAL LENGTH IS JUST RIGHT!!!!"
who would need anything else?

The 35mm (52mm equiv.) goes in the bag all the time and it's the lens that will be on the camera as the bus pulls into Norman Oklahoma and I make embarrassing photographs of the people who live near and  around the bus station, before moving on to Salt Lake City. When these lenses go on sale you should buy one so I know that other people feel the same way. 

14mm = 21mm Super Angulon. Pretty much. 

21mm is the (equivalent) shortest focal length I was ever able to get cozy with in my old film days. This lens promised me the same look and feel and it has delivered on the implied promise. I bought it because I was able to get a very, very good price on a brand new one and everyone in the world spoke highly of it's on-sensor performance (native vignetting aside). When I bought it I was absolutely not considering buying anything wider but then the 8-16mm came along and scuttled my plans and aspirations for being practical, logical and thrifty. But I'm keeping the 14mm because it is small and light, has a manual focus clutch mechanism, and it really is just sharp as a box full of Exacto blades. If you like to shoot with Fujis you might want to grab one of these as well. It's a cult-y focal length, and product, and all the other kids will think you are really cool when you use it as your "walk around" lens. 

The is the lens that started it all but I'll leave it to the thousands of others who have reviewed it over the years to give you the technical low down on its performance. I keep it because it is optically great, small and light, and has built-in image stabilization which makes it a perfect anywhere for fun lens on a small and light camera like the X-E3 or the X30. Usually cheap when included in a kit and pricey when bought alone. Best to rummage through the used market if you don't need a new camera too...

the 50-140mm f2.8 "Red Badge" zoom. 

This is the lens (just above) that initially opened my eyes to just how good the pricey lenses from Fuji could be. I bought it when I made the decision to replace the Panasonic stuff with all Fuji all the time. I used it for live theater work and was blown away by the resulting images mostly since I was getting stuff at the widest aperture that I thought was sharper and more nuanced (tonally) than the Nikon or Sony equivalents I'd shot with when I was younger and wiser. I love using it in the studio for business portraits because I end up working around f5.6, the lens is sharper than snake's teeth, and the tripod mount makes working vertically a treat. After using this lens a lot I started drinking the Kool-Aid about the Red Badge series of f2.8 lenses. That led me down a slope so slippery you'd think it was lined in Teflon...  It has: a focus limiter (yay! less hunting). A removable tripod mount (yay! nothing in my way when I shoot handheld). And, it has image stabilization that works in conjunction with the I.S. in the X-H1 body (just a general, "yay!"). 

the Silliest Lens I've ever bought. But it also turning out to be one of the most fun....
the Fuji 100-400mm zoom. 

Big, heavy, expensive and expensive. It's everything we ever wanted in a lens; right? But, I had the idea that I wanted to shoot more swimming competitions and more compressed landscapes and this is really the only long zoom in the Fuji line up. It's something M.J. and others would never think of buying but...at a swim meet I can be on the other side of the pool and get almost a tight head shot of a swimmer racing when I'm zoomed out near the longest focal length. This thing is a 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 zoom with three dozen or so rare, radioactive glass elements (kidding, kidding) that works well and delivers great, compressed telephoto shots. I don't use it often (yet) but when I do I'm impressed by the images I'm able to get out of the lens. It's normally one of those lenses that you think long and hard about getting but recently Fuji temporarily dropped the price on it from $1999 to $1399 and that was a big enough drop to make me sit down and consider all the ways I could use it. Sad that Ben is no longer running cross country....

Bad reviewers tried to give the lens a reputation for being "soft" at the long end but they were, of course, wrong. Like all those people in 2010 who told me that LEDs could never be useful to real photographers. Or the people who told me in 2009 that mirrorless would never, ever replace DSLRs. They either have different criteria or they don't know WTF they are doing with their gear. The lens is nicely sharp everywhere. Just be sure to pick a high enough shutter speed to hand hold this well and make good use of a tripod if you really, really want to see what the optics can return. Everything else is a user fail. 

90mm. f2.0. Simple. Elegant. Alluring. Frightfully expensive.
Sharper than any 135mm you've ever used on full frame;
Leica and Zeiss included. 

I was sitting here one day trying to organize files. What to keep and what to throw away. A lot of the work was on film. I came across a box marked, "Rene".  I looked inside and it was filled with dozens and dozens of contact sheets and pages of 35mm negatives I'd shot of Rene Zellweger a long time ago. I also found a few work prints of one image of her that had always been my favorite. It's (of course) black and white and the composition, compression and focus fall off were just ---- perfect. (I was so much better at photography thirty years ago....). I flashed back to the day we shot the image. She was lit by one 500 watt tungsten light pushed through a yellowing, tattered white umbrella and I shot it with a 135mm soft focus lens that Canon made for FD cameras. You could use a ring to go from soft to sharp but I liked it somewhere in the middle because of how that setting affected the out of focus areas.

Anyway, I looked at the prints and at the contact sheets with adjacent, similar images and loved the look. After a short bout of consideration and a quick bit of research I stood up, walked out of the studio and headed up to Precision Camera to purchase, at full price, the 90mm Fuji lens. I don't regret it even for a moment. It's wicked sharp but does beautiful out of focus areas. I use it as a reminder that at one time I had portrait mojo and if I ever re-captured my mojo I wanted to make sure I had the ultimate portrait tool close at hand. I pull it out when I want to shoot stuff that's perfect. Even at f2.0 everything that's within the depth of field of the focus plane is tantalizingly perfect. It's the kind of lens you just want to carry around looking for things that you want to render perfectly. Addictive? Yes. All terrain? Nah. It's more of a specialty lens. But if I spent all my time taking portraits this lens would probably never come off the front of my camera.
I have the "kit" lens; the standard zoom, but I figured, "what the hell?" I've heard so much about the 16-55mm f2.8 I might as well buy one. Here's my take after using it for several events and three national advertising shoots. It's better than any standard lens I've used since the amazing, underrated, under appreciated Nikon 28-70mm f2.8 from the early years, near the turn of the century (a much better lens than any of the later Nikon 24-70mm lenses. Believe me. Why would I lie to you?).  It's chubby and heavy but it goes from somewhere near 24mm to somewhere close to 82.5mm (based on full frame speak) and it's sharp at or near wide open at every one of those apertures. 

this is a really good lens. It's the 60mm Macro. 
It's a slow to focus lens. I don't care because it paints an image as well as
Leonardo da Vinci.  It's beautiful. Everything is detailed without beating one over the head with the concept of sharpness. It's got nano acuity everywhere and harshness nowhere. 
It's my constant second choice (after the perfect 90mm) for portrait work.

If you need very fast focusing or good manual focusing then this lens is not for you. It's a bit slow even with the latest firmware and the latest Fuji cameras (also with the latest software). But it does eventually get what you want in focus and when you do the lens is delightful but not in the way that lens testers seem to love. It's all sharp enough and detailed enough but instead of drawing with hard edged acutance the lens seems to have an endless range of tones between colors and steps of tone. Not the overly accented intersections between colors but an almost neutral rendering that seems more... lifelike. 

It's one of the older lenses in the Fuji line but I am glad I grabbed one and tried it. My first job with it was a promotional marketing shoot for the "Hedwig" play at Zach Theatre and the close ups were worth the cost of purchase. The client agrees. It also does "macro" but only to 1:2 size, not 1:1. No tiny ant legs today. 

There are three lenses missing from this list that I use with the cameras but I forgot to photograph them and I'm running out of steam to write more about these things. The lenses are the Contax 50mm f1.8 I previously mentioned, the Fujicron 50mm f2.0, and a quaint and squirrelly 7Artisans 35mm f1.2. I'll write about them separately. Unless I'm having too much fun with the 90mm --- and then all bets are off...

It's Mother's Day. Go buy yourself something really nice (a lens?) and give it to your spouse as a gift. Maybe she'll let you use it. Maybe she'll consider it such a thoughtless gift that you end up divorced. Look at the bright side, you'll probably get to keep the lens. Well, wait... never mind. 


Frank Grygier said...

You forgot to get the 23 F2 stuck to the brown covered lens holder.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if this is what you intended Kirk, but this neurotic ramble had me in hysterics. It was a convincing demonstration that with enough skill and determination, one can justify damn near any lens purchase -- especially if it will be mounted on the front of a Fujifilm camera. And I say this as the happy owner of an X-T3. Don't ask me what lenses I own though. One ramble is enough for one day.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Mr. Gordon Lewis, I intended for people to read this with a sense of humor and understand that it's both real and zany at the same time. People spend too much time infinitely "researching" the "one true lens." It's like a crowd sourced search for the Holy Grail. Or the Fountain of Youth. If we can't laugh about it then we're too close to the problem. Thanks! Kirk

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Get off my lawn to I can get back to enjoying my Sanka and finish clipping coupons for frozen dinners....

Don Karner said...

One of your most enjoyable posts Kirk. And that is saying a lot. I'd like to see you give Sanford a run for the money!

MB.Kinsman said...

Thanks for the humorous, witty and at the same time real musings on a great line of lenses. Its always nice to start the day with a smile reading your blog while enjoying my morning coffee. Your observations on these lenses is spot on. Some of my favorite photos of my fair city (Chicago), were taken with the lovely 14mm, while standing near a film crew shooting B roll for a Transformer movie. Even caught the eye of one crew member who came over to talk about gear for a few minutes...he liked what he saw through the viewfinder too - ;-)

John W said...

Dear Mr.T;

You are such a gear slut. Hilarious too ...

Where exactly do you hide all this Fuji goodness? And is there a convenient window near by?

Your earliest response would be appreciated.


PS - My lust runneth over!!

Unknown said...

I did what you said, I bought a lens on Mothers Day, for me not for her. But then this morning I read the blog and I have a new tactic for next year.
I bought the 50mm Fujicron, I have the 35. I've always had a 35mm type lens for every format I've shot and this time I decided to buck my own trend. I don't regret it. I find as I age my eye has gotten tighter and I like longer glass. I rented the 16mm 2.8. I liked it but Wish it was a new 18mm. I've rented the 90, I'll buy one someday for sure.
The Xpro2 is kind of an experiment for me. My main gear is Nikon, big stuff. I'm leaning toward the small lenses in the Fuji world.

So my wifes birthday is coming up. Got any ideas what I should get for myself for her birthday?


Craig said...

I have yet to be disappointed by any of Fuji's XF lenses. The 14mm is particularly amazing because not only is it sharp as a razor, but it has essentially no geometrical distortion, which is rare in ultra-wide lenses. And like you, I love the Fujicrons. I'm also pleased to see your remarks on the 18-55mm f/2.8-4 kit lens. For my first year with my X-E1, that was the only lens I had for it, because it kept producing such nice images that I didn't see the need to buy anything else. But of course, curiosity got the better of me after a while.

I haven't tried the 7artisans lenses, but their low prices are certainly attractive and I've read some good things about them (not only from you!).

The Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 is also nice for ultra-wide mavens. Inexpensive, and manual-focus only, but quite good.

The 8-16mm and 100-400mm are very tempting but I'm trying to avoid spending a lot on lenses these days. Though I could certainly use the 100-400mm at my daughter's high-school concerts... but then again, she's graduating this month and I don't know what the venues will be like when she goes to college... I've been using old manual-focus zooms from the film era (a Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm and a Minolta MD 75-200mm) for those events, and they've done well for me.

reidwolf said...

I may see you on that Kerouac bus myself with my Fuji bag also. I would have my 16, 56, and 90 (my holy grail) but of course also the Crons since they take up so little space.

MikeR said...

You must be in heaven. That 8-16 even says "nano" on the lens itself.

Ray said...

KT sez: many people who read the blogs are so financially conservative they're probably reusing teabags to squeeze out the most value

Now you've gone from preaching to meddling. My second cup of tea tastes just fine, thanks.

I've settled in with a very nice UWA zoom and a pleasant but pedestrian "kit" quality normal zoom, so maybe I am "financially conservative", who knew?

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Ray, that second cup sounds awfully weak. Yeah, active meddling. I'm also making house checks to see which of my readers has sufficient gear, and of a certain level.... Tea? Really? Have you tried coffee? If you haven't run out and spent hard earned money on ill considered gear then I have to peg you as financially conservative. It's just the rules...