Wow, it’s been more than a year since my last blog post and boy has a lot happened since, during that time, I became a dad, Donald Trump became the most hated person in the world (overtaking Kim Jong-Un) and Fujifilm released a number of goodies such as their medium format GFXs and the long-awaited XF80mmf2.8 Macro lens. So for my first post for 2018, I going to talk about the XF80mm, prior to its release there was much hype and was probably one of the most anticipated lenses to hit the rumour mill, however, after release, it was met with mixed reviews. One particular article had me intrigued claiming that it was too sharp for portraiture. This got me thinking, is it really that sharp to the point that it will become it’s Achilles heel?
Most of the lens comparison reviews out there all talk about sharpness and how certain lenses are better than others in terms of producing tack sharp images, so how is having a sharp lens now become a bad thing? Some may argue the point that it may show flaws in the subject’s skin and that it’ll add unnecessary steps in the workflow during post process as they tone down the sharpness. But then others argue that it’s better to have the extra detail there to work with, you can always tone it down but can never restore sharpness to a blurry image. Regardless, I reached out to my contacts at my local camera store (digiDIRECT – Melbourne) who have been amazing over the years, if you’re a Melbourne local, definitely hit them up, anyway, they hooked me up with the XF80mm and so my quest begins.
I’m not going to go over the build quality or the design, everything on the Fujifilm line up has been of top-notch quality, no different here. It actually looks similar to the XF90mm but slightly longer and has a bit of weight behind it, which is expected with the addition of the OIS. While handling the lens you will notice some movement internally, I wouldn’t stress too much.
Performance and Image Quality
The XF80mm is a macro lens through and through and as the only 1:1 ratio macro lens, this will replace the XF60mm for those serious about their macro photography. The images this lens produces are stunning, producing crisp clean images and are some of the best I’ve seen. It can be tricky trying to nail the focus at times especially as you inch closer to your subject be it a flower or insect, you’ll most likely find yourself shooting around F8 when you’re up close, even then, the DoF is still quite shallow so a steady hand (preferably a tripod) is required. If you’re expecting to shoot those honeycomb eyes from your insects, just note that you’ll need more than just this lens to achieve that, a sturdy tripod, macro slider and extension tubes are a must for those types of shots.
During my trip to Fiji I dedicated one morning walking around the island looking for some close-up flower shots, in one instance I stumbled across a leaf spider wondering from leaf to leaf. It was quite a challenge trying to track the critters sporadic movements, eventually, I found a way to pause his movements with a simple tap on the branch he was on stopping him in his tracks for a few seconds enough for me to take my shots. An effective technique is to set the focus to its closest focal distance, switch it to manual, set it to Continuous High (CH) and rock back and forth then spray and pray and hope that one of them is in focus. Using this method, I managed to capture one shot of the leaf spider about half a meter away with it looking directly into the lens.
A review of a macro lens is not complete without images of flowers, here are some sample shots were taken from Fiji.
XF80 vs XF90
My main goal in this quest is to really pit the XF80mm against the XF90mm, Macro aside, I wanted to really see whether the 80mm could double as a portrait lens, after all the hype around its sharpness, it made sense to compare it with the 90mm. This comparison isn’t done in a lab nor was it intended to, essentially I wanted to see how these two compared to general everyday use. So what better way to do this than to have someone dress up with scary facepaint on a warm Sunday morning 🙂
Just to reiterate, there is nothing scientific in our tests, besides setting up some strobes and softbox with remote triggers but that’s it. We shot some portraits and some close-up macros with the two lenses, both were pretty much on-par with each other in terms of image quality, without changing any camera settings, the 90mm has a slight advantage with it’s f2.0, you can see in the image below that the 90mm is more brighter. When it comes to close up shots, the 90mm can surprisingly get quite close to its subject, you see in the sample images below of the close-up shots, that both produce sharp images, if you look closely you can see the contact lenses on the eye.
In terms of focusing, there are three settings on the XF80mm, FULL|0.2m – 0.5m|0.5m – infinity, when set to FULL the AF is at it’s slowest as it hunts the full range, things improve once switched to 0.5 – infinity. AF continuous tracking was also impressive, before today, the XF90mm considered the fastest prime in terms of AF speed. During testing, it’s difficult to really notice much of a difference when out on the field, but I would say the XF80mm was marginally quicker than the XF90mm but nothing to really lose sleep over.
The XF80mm is more than capable of shooting portraits but will this replace the XF90mm as a dedicated portrait lens? I highly doubt it, one main reason for this is it’s price, with a premium price of RRP $1,750AUD~ compared to the XF90mm which you can buy for approx. $950AUD after Fujifilm cashback deals ($750 pre-owned), that’s almost half the price of the 80mm.
The XF80mm is an amazing lens, it can double as both a dedicated macro lens as well as a portrait shooter. The OIS is extremely handy in both macro and portrait shoots, during my testing while shooting with the 90mm, I had more keepers using the 80mm compared to the 90mm (when pushed to the limits). If you’re a macro shooter first and dabble in a bit of portraiture, then I would recommend this lens. However, if you’re planning to get this purely as a portrait lens because of all those articles claiming to be the sharpest lens out there, then I would probably tell you to save you money and get the 60mm and 90mm instead, you’ll even have leftover cash to buy filters etc.
I can’t really fault this lens, if I’m to nitpick, then I would say the weight, size and price would be its drawbacks.
In terms of the XF80mm being too sharp for portrait, I’m still not sure what to make of this and personally feel it’s more of a click-bait than anything. If you’re on the fence about it and have deep pockets, I say go for it, you’re not going to be disappointed, the alternative option is to go with the 60mm + 90mm combo, whichever you decide you’re going to get some great images regardless.