The lens that 'salvaged' my Fuji Escapades!

December 12, 2020  •  4 Comments

CleansingCleansingChild being washed for Thaipusam Ceremony, Batu Caves, Malaysia, 2019 'Cleansing' - Child being washed for Thaipusam Ceremony, Batu Caves, Malaysia, 2019.  Fuji X-T2, Fuji XF 90mm @ F2.
I was watching a YouTube clip recently, and they made mention about choosing one’s favourite Fuji lens.  It got me thinking seriously, and wondering if I had to make the same choice, what would I decide.  After much rumination, I resoundingly came to the conclusion it would have to be Fuji’s 90mm F2.  Saying ‘favourite’ is not the same as the most useful, or the most used, because that is much different.  The lens that is most prolific and takes the majority of my images is of course my 16-55 zoom.  When I go overseas on an extended trip, or shoot an event back home here, I always come away with about 1/3rd of images from the 90mm and the other 2/3rds from the 16-55.

Also, if I had to choose only one lens on a paid shoot or to travel the world for a year, of course it would the irreplaceable 16-55.  You can read all my other blogs about this lens, but it is truly a once in a lifetime hunk of glass.  It is equally as sharp as my 90mm, and with better contrast and sharper than most of my ‘FujiCrons’.  However, that is another story for another day.  I chose the 90mm as my favourite lens, because Fuji only have one lens (for me), that can do what this lens does, and it does it so well it blows all other lenses away and they have to line up for second place!  In other words, it is so unique and special, that if I couldn’t use this lens, then there would be a gaping hole in my arsenal and I would have ‘baled’ from Fuji long ago.

Golden GirlGolden GirlStreet market vendor selling jewellery, streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2020 Golden Girl - Street market vendor selling jewellery, streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2020.  Fuji X-H1, Fuji XF 90mm @ F2.
A brief Recap

I don’t want to ‘flog a dead horse’ here, and go back over what I have written at length about in my other blogs.  However, very briefly, I swapped over to Fuji mirrorless about 5 or 6 years ago now.  I have less than zero interest in shooting scenery/landscapes/macro/still life – my absolute passion, and bordering on obsession, is photographing people.  I think that’s why I’m a school teacher - I just love being around other human beings.  The thought of camping alone in a forest for a week to get a photo of the Red Rumped Kingfisher, or the Frosted Tit, would drive me nuts. 

With my Nikon D3X system I photographed Asia for years.  The full-frame system suited me perfectly.  As I only ever shoot my lenses wide open (to blur the background and make my subject stand out), I revelled in the lack of depth of field and it was a veritable breeze to get my subjects with a ‘creamy’ background.  All was well in my little warm fuzzy photographic world, until I started getting a sore back from lugging around huge amounts of Nikon full frame lenses and cameras that could double as self-defence weapons.   After research, I started with a Fuji X100, then slowly eased into a full Fuji system, where all of my Nikon gear was finally sold off.  However, little did I know I had a huge shock waiting for me!

Temple BeautyTemple BeautyEarly morning worshipper, Thien Hau Temple, District 5, HCMC, Vietnam, 2020 Temple Beauty - Early morning worshipper, Thien Hau Temple, District 5, HCMC, Vietnam, 2020.  Fuji X-H1, Fuji XF 90mm @ F2.
A major crop sensor flaw!

I had read and was vaguely aware that one of the negative aspects of crop sensor cameras, is that they give you better depth of field than a comparative lens on a full-frame camera.  However, I didn’t give it much thought and I sunk my funds from the Nikons into buying Fuji lenses that would suit my style of photography – street/travel/environmental portraits and events.

It wasn’t too long and I was starting to struggle in getting the look that I so easily achieved with my Nikon full-frame system.  The first contender was Fuji’s kit lens.  I have written about this at length so I won’t re-state what I really think of this ‘apparition’.  Suffice to say, after 3 different samples and months of experimentation, I finally realised that it was a cheap and nasty kit lens and that’s all it was ever was going to be.  I then purchased the 55-200, with the hope that I could start to blur my backgrounds a little better.

I’ve also written about this at length – I didn’t like the 55-200 lens much at all.  It is an extremely sharp lens, with beautiful images, but I just couldn’t live with its other downfalls (read my other blogs).  At that time, I had a long trip coming up in Asia so I was looking for a lens to fill in the increasing gaping hole in my camera bag.  After much research, I got the 18-135.  This was not as sharp as the 55-200, but the other things about the lens were much easier to abide.  However, this is not a constant aperture lens.  When I zoomed out past about 90mm, it would suddenly now become a 5.6 lens – which is basically useless for getting ‘creamy’ backgrounds and isolating subjects.  Having said that, I did get some gorgeous shots on this lens - from Bali and Myanmar.  These images grace my website now and they are pictures that I will always love.  However, in the situations that I needed to get a subject isolated from the background, this lens could not ‘cut the mustard’.

I was fast running out of options.  By this time, I had discovered the truly marvellous 16-55 lens, and this was certainly rocking my boat for all my wide-angle and mid-range shots.  The pictures were beautiful and they never disappointed.  However – and remember it’s not the job of a 2.8 zoom lens to do this – but it just couldn’t get those blurry, creamy backgrounds that I was used to in full-frame.

That Which Was LostThat Which Was LostMusicians, Temples of Angkor, Cambodia, 2018

Loss - Musicians, Temples of Angkor, Cambodia, 2018.  Fuji X-T2, Fuji XF90mm @ F2.

Do I jump ship again?

This may sound very extreme, but for somebody like me who eats, breaths and lives photography, I was so disappointed that I couldn’t get the look that I was used to getting.  Some of my pictures didn’t look as good, and I had exhausted all avenues for Fuji lenses. They had the 55-140, but there was no way I was ‘strapping’ that huge contraption on my ‘T’ cameras and carrying around a giant ‘brick’ again.  I was actually thinking of baling out, selling my gear off and going to another system.  Believe me I wasn’t hankering - I was satisfied with my Fuji gear, except for that one thing.  I certainly didn’t have GAS, and my wife would have ‘killed’ me if I had to spend all of that money again.  What to do?

Smoke and PrayersSmoke and PrayersThien Hau Temple, District 5, HCMC, Vietnam, 2020 Smoke and Prayers - Thien Hau Temple, District 5, HCMC, Vietnam, 2020.  Fuji X-H1, Fuji XF 90mm @ F2.
Help Arrives

It was actually on one of my other blogs that somebody made a comment that I should try Fuji’s 90mm lens.  I had vaguely considered it before, but only for a few moments.  I knew that this lens is a 135mm equivalent (and unlike my other zooms, had no OIS) – which in my book is a telephoto lens.  Telephoto lenses can only be held in fairly bright light, and anything less they need a tripod.  I don’t even own a tripod and could not stand lumping one around.  I shoot in a lot of dark monasteries and places in Asia, and a telephoto lens would be hard to hand hold there in that dim lighting.  I was using two Fuji X-T2’s at this stage, and we all know that they do not have IBIS – neither is the 90mm blessed with OIS.  However, out of desperation, I decided to give the 90mm lens a try.  They are very expensive in Australia (1,400 AUD), and we have no return policy in our country, like you folk in the States do – once we walk out that shop door, it’s ours whether we like it or not.  With this in mind I tentatively ordered my new 90mm lens, and held my breath!! 

Holy GroomingHoly GroomingApprentice Monk brushing dog with a toothbrush, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2018 Holy Grooming - Apprentice Monk brushing dog with a toothbrush, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2018.  Fuji X-T2, Fuji XF 90mm @ F2.
A sublime lens!

You will see from some of my samples that I have posted here, that this lens produces simply stunning images. Right out of the starting blocks, I knew I had a keeper.  Beautiful sharp faces and eyes, crisp colours and incredible clarity, definition and contrast in the images in spades.  However, and more importantly, I was able to easily isolate my subjects from the background and produce beautiful creamy bokeh.  Coupled with the 16-55 ‘strapped’ onto my other X-T2, I had a fantastic kit for travel, street and events.  However, all was not perfect.  I was finding that anything under about 1/200th second, my images were not quite sharp and a little bit of motion blur was being introduced.

The WaitingThe WaitingPlaying two-up, Goldfields, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, 2018 The Wait - Playing two-up gambling, Goldfields, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, 2018.  Fuji X-T2, Fuji XF 90mm @ F2.
Enter the Fuji X-H1

Around this time Fuji introduced the X-H1.  I tried it at a camera shop and didn’t like it too much – I thought it was a little heavy.  However, I ended up selling one of my X-T2’s and swapped it out for a X-H1.  That camera went straight onto my 90mm lens.  The difference was remarkable and I got used to the X-H1 so quickly, that I soon sold off the last X-T2 and ended up with a brace of X-H1’s – now no more blurry images.  When I’m shooting these days, I have my 16-55 around my neck on one of those neoprene straps.  They are truly great and because they are stretchy, it makes it feel as if you are holding half the weight.  I also have the ‘Think Tank’ belt around my waist with a couple of their small bags attached.  I sit the camera and lens with the 16-55 on top of the bag where my belt buckle is (balanced with the strap around my neck).  This way I can walk all day long with the full weight of the camera and lens supported by that small bag and there is zero weight around my neck.  The second body with the 90mm F2 is over my shoulder on a Black Rapid.  It just hangs by my side, but can be grabbed and deployed in a split second.  I love this setup and I can walk all day long and I have all my focal lengths covered, and having such top-quality glass attached – I normally come home with the ‘bacon in the bag’.

Tree HuggerTree HuggerLunar New Year preparations, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam, 2020 The 'Tree' Hugger - Lunar New Year preparations, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam, 2020.  Fuji X-H1, Fuji XF 90mm @ F2.
All is not perfect

Like I tell my kids at school, we should not expect perfection in anything, or we are setting ourselves up for a big fat disappointing life.  The weather is not perfect, our health is usually not perfect, our friends and relationships are never 100% perfect, and neither usually are our jobs or colleagues.  In other words – just about everything in life is about compromise.  Finding out what has the least number of cons, and accepting that as your “close to perfect” is about the best you’ll ever get.  It really is about adjusting our expectations.  So too with the 90mm F2 lens.  Yes, the images are usually flawless and second to none (I think they can even match Leica), and the lens is beautifully made and a joy to handle. 

However, there is one issue I still struggle with and seem to have no answer for.  It’s only ever in bright outdoor light when I’m usually shooting a crowd or a moving event.  Wide open and in any autofocus mode, it sometimes has issues locking onto the person I’m pointing my green square at (whether ‘zone’ or ‘single’ or AFS and AFC).  It will then do its little ‘death march’ – grind back and forth for the full throw of the autofocus range.  This is so frustrating and I do miss some shots this way.  It’s really bazaar because it never does it in dull light, only ever in full bright light.  I have no answers for this and I just put up with it because it doesn’t do it too often.  I even sent my lens to Fuji for them to check and calibrate.  It also does it on both of my X-H1’s, so it’s not a camera issue.  I always laugh when so many people write that the Fuji 90mm F2, is Fuji’s fastest focusing lens – oh no it’s not.  For me it is my 16-55 or perhaps one of the little Fuji ‘Crons’.

Mr Hot ShotMr Hot ShotKid playing pool, Brick factory, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2018 'Mr' Hot-Shot - Kid playing pool, Brick factory, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2018.  Fuji X-T2, Fuji XF 90mm @ F2.

Perhaps the only change I may make in the future is to try out the X-H2 – if it ever arrives.  If the focus was better, then perhaps it could fix the issue with my 90mm trying to grab focus in bright light on moving ‘targets’.  The X-T4 with that useless selfie screen would only be a misery for me.  Also, in Australia they are over $2,600.  There is no way I’m going to spend that kind of coin on something that has the same sensor as the X-T3 - and I do zero video. 

Because I shoot 60/70% of all of my photos from the hip, I need a camera with the simple flip out screen.  It is much more discreet for my street photography and I’m not poking a camera in people’s faces.  We are quite blessed with Fuji.  They give us lovely small little cameras, with beautiful image quality and a choice of lenses, that even the most discriminating photographer should be able to choose a ‘brace’ of lenses from.  I’m just grateful that this small piece of glass and metal, ‘saved’ my photographic hide.  If it were not for the 90mm F2, I would have baled from Fuji long ago, and would have regretted losing such a small and powerful quality image making system that is a joy to use – and horror of horrors, I may have even ended up with a Sony! 

Cheeky SmileCheeky SmileIndian boy during preparations for Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Malaysia, 2019 Initiation - Indian boy during preparations for Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Malaysia, 2019.  Fuji X-T2, Fuji XF 90mm @ F2.












Great love letter to the 90mm and fine images to back your assertions. As an aside, I used M43 for quite a while. Olympus has a 75mm/1.8 lens (150mm eq). That lens is about half the size of the fuji 90mm and sharp as a tack. Man did i get some keepers with that lens. Oly bodies all have great ibis too, and M43 iq is right up there with fuji. But unfortunately all of the olympus cameras are fiddly as hell and the menu/set up process is a complete nightmare. I always felt like i was fighting the camera, or trying to remember how to do something simple (unlike my xt1 which is solid and totally controllable and predictable). But even given that, man do i ever miss that Oly 75mm and it's a constant temptation to reacquire M43 gear mainly because of that lens. I'm tempted by the 90mm but put off by its size and lack of OIS. I would never want something as big as the xh1 and feel as you do about the xt-4 screen.
Hey Philip!

Long time no hear, many thanks for your post with beautiful images (as usual ;-), I really enjoyed the read! Yes the XF 90mm F/2 is a wonderful lens already having enough compression to be a real telephoto (the XF 56mm F/1.2 has maybe even a nicer bokeh but then you tend to be too close for discrete portraits and it ain't weather resistant)

Take care & stay safe, wish you all the best in these tough times, cheers

Philip Sutton Photography
Thanks DJ for the kind words - much appreciated! Philip
Great photos. For someone want to photograph people, our Fuji kit is everything you need--just look at your wonderful photos.
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