Sunday, June 7, 2015

Fuji XF 56mm f/1.2 R APD lens -- a hands on review

My favorite full frame lens for shooting lifestyle is an 85mm wide aperture. On a Fuji X camera this translates to the 56mm f/1.2.  A main reason for this choice is that I want to keep the background very soft so it doesn't interfere with the main subject, while at the same time retaining some story-telling detail in the out-of-focus area. I am often afraid of using full frame lenses at a full aperture of f/1.4, since it often means sacrificing some detail in the focused area. The Fuji 56mm lens is different. I find I can use it at f/1.2 with no loss in sharpness in my main subject.

I have already posted a full hands-on review of the Fuji XF 56mm f/1.2 R lens. Since it is the same lens used to create the APD model, I will spend my time here in discussing the only difference between the two models, the effects of the apodization filter, and refer the reader to the other review for a fuller explanation of the similarities the two lenses share. 

The profile of the APD version of the 56mm f/1.2 lens is identical to that of the standard R version. Looking pretty nice here on an X-Pro1. 

The only way to tell the two lenses apart from the their profile is the writing on the lens barrel. The new APD adjusted aperture markings are in red below the actual diaphragm markings, and the lens is marked with a red "APD" next to its size. 

The newer iteration of this lens, the APD model, is the exact same lens as the R model, except for the inclusion of a special apodization filter inside of it next to the diaphragm. They probably would not have done this had they not started with such a good lens. 

The main reason this lens works well with a softening filter is that it remains optically sharp at f/1.2 where it is focused. I regularly use my standard 56mm R lens wide open at f/1.2 even when photographing close-up portraits. The APD filter performs its magic with a wide open aperture. To help maintain f/1.2, even in bright light, the lens comes with its own 3-stop ND filter. A red scale beneath the white aperture ring indicates the effective aperture value caused by the APD filter as it relates to depth of field. 

The background blurs gradually melt into one another creating a softer transition than a standard aperture lens. The sample images below tell the story better than words. 

The softer bokeh effect caused by the APD lens is due to the graduated neutral density of the apodizaiton filter along the edges when the lens is used at it wider apertures. This effect gradually diminishes as the lens is stopped down and disappears totally by f/5.6 at which point it behaves like the regular 56mm R version. 

The shape of the aperture will be echoed in the out-of-focus blurs. If the aperture were star-shaped, the blurs would also assume the star shape. Because the aperture is made up of individual metal blades that form a circle the shape of the blurs are circular when the aperture is wide open.  As the aperture closed the shape becomes typically six, seven, or eight sided depending upon the number of aperture blades.

The out-of-focus blurs with the APD lens are smoother in their transition, but they are also smaller because at f/1.2 the APD is actually f/1.7 due to the addition of the darkening caused by the ND softening area around the aperture, and f/1.7 is almost a full stop closed down from f/1.2. That is going to affect both the exposure and the size of the out-of-focus blurs.

Note the differences in the sizes of the out-of-focus blurred shapes. The apodization filter inside the 56mm APD lens causes the aperture to be smaller (f/1.7 instead of f/1.2) resulting in smaller shapes to the blurs. On the other hand, the blur shapes from the standard lens have a harder edge to them, while those taken with the APD version have a much softer transition at the edge. This is what this filter is all about. Note also how both images are tack sharp on the model's face even with the wide open aperture.   Download a high res version of this image here.

In the photo below with the aperture stopped down to f/2.8 the blurs take on a seven-sided shape because the Fuji 56mm lenses have a seven-sided aperture.

This file shows the bokeh effect at f/2.8. Download a high res version here.

Both images shot wide open at f/1.2. Compare the softness of the blurred circles caused the by the apodization filter in the left image with the harder edge of the blurred lights with the standard aperture lens on the right.    Download the high res version here.

This lens works particularly well for portraiture when we want a sharpness to the face but a high degree of softness in the background to minimize distracting details.

Even in very close the lens is very sharp at full aperture. In this photo the model's eyelids and eye lashes are completely sharp as the rest of the image drifts off into a soft blur. 

Moving in tight while still at f/1.2 the lens shows off its abilities to juxtapose sharp detail with soft bokeh backgrounds. 

The wide open aperture of this lens completely blurred the very distracting background in this close-up, candid snapshot, while leaving the girl's face very sharp. 

Lens used at f/1.4. 

Working at f/1.2, even pulled back to include more of the subject, keeps the background soft enough not to interfere with the subject, but with enough detail to tell the story. The lens maintains sharp detail in the subject even with this wide open aperture. The ability to maintain focus while moving along with the model and  the model moving directly towards the camera is always difficult, especially at f/1.2. For these walking shots I had the X-T1 set to face recognition mode, and it seemed a good job of returning mostly in-focus results. 


This specialized lens is not for everyone. It performs its best magic when used wide open and when the background is mottled with light. The standard R lens will still provide a very soft bokeh effect but the transition edges will be a little harder edged.  If you require a sharp lens that can maintain an ultra smooth transition in the out-of-focus area, then spending an extra $500 for the APD version might be worth it to you. One trade-off is that it does lose almost a full stop of light wide open.

I think the image samples above tell the story better than words. If this ultra-smooth blurring effect is important to you, then this lens may be for you. Otherwise, the standard R lens still does a magnificent job of creating pleasing softness while remaining super sharp at wide open apertures.

The price of the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 APD lens has recently been reduced to $1374.60, but is still $500 more that the standard R version, which has received a similar price reduction.

If you are planning on purchasing this camera or lens, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

The Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 R APD lens is available for ordering at:   BH-photo  Adorama  Amazon

If  you are content without the extra softness offered by the APD filter, the standard R model is now available at a 15% discount for $840.80:

The Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 R lens is available for ordering at:   BH-photo  Adorama  Amazon


  1. This is the best explanation/example of the difference between the two that I have come across so thank you Tom. Consider me illuminated!

  2. This review is so indightful, thank you.