Which Lenses We Use And When

It was our first encounter with the original Fuji X100 back in 2011 that triggered a major shift in our approach to photography and prompted our adventure with the X-series cameras. For the last few years we have been shooting exclusively with the X-series. After the X100 it was the X-Pro1, X-E1, X100S/T and finally the X-T1. Of course, there is a plethora of reasons why we like working with Fuji cameras and you will find them all in other articles on this blog.

However, it is not just the camera that is our rationale for shooting pictures with Fuji. The main reason is the Fujinon lenses. You can have the best sensor or camera in the world but without high quality lenses all the technological advantages are simply being wasted. To paraphrase a famous election slogan: It’s the lens, stupid!

And what lenses they are! Since launching the X-Pro1 and three original XF lenses (XF 18mm F2, 35mm F1.4 and 60mm F2.4) things got even better. Over the last few years Fuji has managed to build a truly impressive lens line-up. There are more than 20 lenses to choose from now, from wide-angle and standard to telephoto. No wonder we receive numerous inquiries about lenses: which lens to buy first, which wide-angle lens to choose, etc?

Indeed, choosing the right lens is much more important than many realize. It is especially important to those who have just started in photography and are taking the first step to learn this craft.

Of course, for many, the technical quality of a lens is important but there is much more to it. In order to answer your questions, we decided to share with you our lens selection, why we chose these lenses and most importantly when we use them. Please note that these are our personal choices based on our way of “seeing” and years of practice of shooting with the X-series cameras and lenses. It doesn’t mean our approach and lens choice will work for you. Ultimately it is YOU and YOUR way of seeing that must guide your lens choices. Hopefully, we can help.

 

Special Case: XF 23mm F2 (X100S/T)

Although this article is about the lenses we use, I have to write about the XF 23mm F2 – the lens paired with the X100S/T. Those of you who read our blog know that the Fuji X100S/T is our favourite, never-leave-the-house-without-it camera. Over the last five years we have used the X100/S/T almost daily. As a result, our eyes are trained to see the world through the 23mm lens (35mm in FF terms). It is considered a wide-angle lens, so it requires much more scrutiny when composing than the 35mm F1.4 lens (50mm in FF terms).        

If you are serious about learning photography and want to buy a camera-lens combo that will be always with you – get the Fuji X100S/T. Not only will you get an amazing camera but also a fantastic lens all in one package.

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When do we use it?

Since the XF 23mm F2 lens and the X100S/T is one unit, we take it everywhere.

It is the first camera that goes into our bag. The majority of landscape/travel/street images on this blog were taken with this camera-lens combo. When travelling, the X-T1 and other lenses stay in the trunk but the X100S/T is always inside the car ready for the unexpected. On road trips when we stop briefly for something of interest, we always reach for our X100S/T first.

And when walking around towns, villages and ghost towns, this is the camera-lens we use most of the time.

When Kasia and I go to a festival, event, parade or just walk around our city – this is the only camera-lens combo we take.

When visiting friends, having a barbeque or photographing a birthday party, this is the camera we choose.

Finally, when we shoot weddings or events this is one of our cameras (I always carry two). With the 23mm F2 lens on our Fuji X100S/T and the 56mm F1.2 on our X-T1 I, we can cover 99% of situations.

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P.S. But how about the XF 23mm F1.4? We don’t have this lens because it is exactly the same focal length as the Fuji X100S/T lens.  

 

XF 35mm F1.4

It was our first XF lens for the X-Pro1. A classic 50mm focal length roughly matches the field of view of the human eye. This is important because photography is the art of seeing and for many people this pairing is exactly what they need to start. The spectrum of situations and subjects you can cover with this lens is unmatched. You can photograph your family at play, craft a beautiful portrait, capture a landscape or do some street photography – you name it.

The fact that the XF 35mm F1.4 lens is small and light is very important, especially for aspiring photographers. You often see newcomers with huge zoom lenses attached to their big heavy cameras. Unfortunately, this gear-related enthusiasm can burn out very quickly and after the initial excitement, the camera and lenses stay at home (they are just inconvenient and heavy). It won’t happen with this lens. It is small, light and on your shoulder all the time. 

Not only it is versatile and light but this lens is very bright. With the F1.4 opening you can photograph where others simply cannot. A birthday party, a dark church, in the early morning or just after sunset – there is no situation when you would have to stop.  

Finally, this is one of the most affordable lenses.

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When do we use it?

If I have to leave home with the X-T1 camera (interchangeable lenses camera) and just one lens – this is the lens I take with me. When Kasia and I go to a party or family dinner with low-light situations (restaurant, house without windows, late hours) we go with this lens (otherwise we would take our X100S).

When travelling light (assuming we don’t have our X100S), we attach this lens to our camera.

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Note: Fuji has just released a brand new XF 35mm F2 lens (review here), which we haven’t had a chance to work with yet.   

 

XF 14mm F2.8

Well-made, super sharp with a very little distortion – it is one of the finest prime, wide-angle lenses on the market.   

It is a must-have lens for every landscape and travel photographer. However, it is one of the most difficult focal lengths to shoot with (if you want to learn more click here). For this reason, you should NOT buy this lens as your first lens.

However, when the time comes and you add this lens to your bag and learn to compose with it, the results will amaze you and your friends.

©osztaba_mission_ID_20130118__DSF1376-Edit-2  

When do we use it?

When travelling, this lens is always in our bag. Whether shooting amazing landscapes in Utah, photographing ghost towns in Montana or seascapes in Oregon, we use this lens.

Indeed, photographing an old fire truck in the ghost town of Shaniko required the XF 14mm F2.8 lens. We had to approach our subject closely, at the same time making sure the edges of the image remained clear and uncluttered.

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XF 56mm F1.2

This is the best of the best of the XF lenses. Not only is this classic portrait lens super-bright and sharp but its out-of-focus area (bokeh) is creamy and smooth. It is a classic portrait focal length.

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When do we use it?

Whenever there is low light, this lens is with us. For example, while photographing couples we usually start with the XF 50-140mm F2.8 lens. Once it gets darker and our camera demands higher and higher ISO, we switch to the XF 56mm F1.2.

We often use it when shooting commercial events. Last summer we covered the four-day conference of a large organization. The majority of events took place in dark conference rooms so we shot most of the event with this lens (along with the XF 35mm F1.4).

When travelling light, this is the lens that goes with us as a portrait lens (along with the X100S and XF 14mm F2.8). For example, we are now planning a trip to Cuba where we hope the XF 56mm F1.2 will allow us to capture some great portraits.

©osztaba_okanagan_20140908__DSF5006

        

 

XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS

This is the latest addition to our XF stable of lenses. When we tested this lens for the first time we were impressed by the quality and image rendition but its size and weight dampened our enthusiasm.

A few months passed and we had another opportunity to shoot an engagement session with this lens… and this time we fell for it. The versatility of this lens and the image quality were excellent but it was its Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) that truly impressed us. While photographing couples we always look for an uncommon perspective and we shoot from the hand. Indeed, the image stabilization system in this lens works flawlessly, helping us to produce a sharp image even with slow shutter speeds. It’s no wonder we use this lens during our family and engagement sessions and weddings.

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In terms of our travel and landscape photography there are situations when this lens plays in an important role, for example, when we were capturing the beauty of the Palouse region. Photographing this “Elysian Fields of visuals” requires thoughtful and meticulous framing. You cannot just walk into somebody’s backyard to capture the scene so this is when this lens comes in useful. In fact, the plethora of patterns and shapes that the Palouse offers asks for very careful composition. You must eliminate elements from the frame one by one and in doing so you don’t have much freedom to move (shooting from rural roads).

We encountered a similar situation when driving south along Highway 22 in Alberta.

When going on our road trips this lens travels with us without being a burden. However, it is an entirely different story when we travel by plane and have to hike or walk extensively. In that case we wouldn’t carry this heavy lens with us but we’d take the XF 56 F1.2. 

In summary, this lens serves a certain purpose and it should be viewed as such. You don’t have to carry it with you all the time.

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Here is a summary of the lenses we carry with us in different scenarios:

  • Walking around the place where we live (street/ family/ documentary): Fuji X100S/T (XF 23mm F2)

  • Road trip (landscape/ travel/ documentary/ portrait): Fuji X100S/T (23mm F2), XF 14mm F2.8 and XF 50-140 F2.8 paired with the X-T1.

  • Long trips, plane trips when weight matters, (landscape/ travel/ portrait/ family): Fuji X100S/T (23mm F2), XF 14mm F2.8, and XF 56mm F1.2 paired with the X-T1.

  • Wedding and engagement sessions: Fuji X100S, XF 50-140 F2.8 and XF 56mm F1.2 paired with the X-T1.

  • Family birthday and celebrations, etc. (indoors): X-T1 & XF 35mm F1.4.

  • Family birthday and celebrations, barbeques, etc. (outdoors): X100S/T.

  • And what’s always with us when we leave the house: the Fuji X100S/T.

 

 

2015 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

 

 

15 thoughts on “Which Lenses We Use And When

  1. Pingback: miXed zone: Anticipating the X-Pro2 design :: 35mmF2 reviews :: RAW Vs. JPEG (by Kevin Mullins) :: Macro Ring Flash deal & more! | Fuji Rumors

  2. Have you ever thought about including a little bit more than just your articles?
    Imean, wnat you say is fundamental and everything. But think about if you
    added some great pictures or video clips to give your plsts
    more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with images and
    clips, this site could definitely be one of the gredatest in its field.
    Very good blog!

  3. Pingback: Which Lenses We Use And When | Olaf Sztaba

  4. I always look forward to and enjoy your blogs enormously but, what a tremendously insightful and well composed article this is……thank you! Perfect for folk like me who just don’t get enough time behind the view finder.
    Ian
    England

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this column. I’m buying into the Fuji system right now, with some trepidation because my experience is when it works, it’s better than anything, but when it doesn’t….
    Anyway, these recommendations are very helpful.

    • I’d say there are two stand-out things to take from this blog post, that might be important to you:

      1. A more considered way of gear acquisition: research, buy, learn, pause. Repeat if necessary

      2. Often, fewer equipment options produce better results

      The important point is that deliberate learning process. Fuji’s camera system, like every camera system, has its flaws and its weaknesses and its limitations. You learn through the process of taking pictures what those shortcomings are and how to overcome them or even harness them for your own creativity. It is only if the camera’s shortcomings cut too deep into your specific style of photography with no possible workaround that you should consider that camera system a dead end for you (hence ‘research’). Otherwise, those shortcomings are obstacles that you overcome by becoming a more skilled photographer.

      Flash is a perfect example of this. Fuji’s current flash system is dreadful and a generation behind all the other Japanese camera brands. And yet some of the best exponents of off-camera flash use Fuji. Why? Because in not relying on a wireless TTL system, they have to do it the hard way with fully manual flash. You learn how to ‘work’ the flash and in so doing your flash photography generally improves. That doesn’t let Fuji off the hook in its need to produce a flash system that brings us into the 1990s, but it does show that the ‘it doesn’t do X… so I’m out’ mindset in many cases reflects limits in the skill set of the photographer as well as limits in the camera system.

      There is a tendency to get ‘G.A.S.’ and quickly end up with a camera bag full of things the photographer doesn’t really know how to use because they never get used. There might be times when overlaps are useful (the justifications for owning a 56mm and a 50-140mm here are entirely valid ones, for example), but only when you know your system well enough to understand why and when you need such overlaps and, perhaps more importantly, why and when you don’t. You can’t do that if your credit card is still humming from the rapid fire purchase of half the Fuji lens line-up.

      It’s also worth noting each person approaches photography with different aims and objectives. Some might need two bodies, with a 23mm attached to one and a 56mm attached to the other, and this will form their entire system. Some might find the 14mm too restrictive for their imaging and go for a 10-24mm zoom, a 35mm and a 56mm. An old-school photojournalist might have just three fast lenses in their bag – 16mm, 23mm, and 35mm. A sport or wildlife photographer might have a 50-140mm and the new teleconverter as their only current lens (although in that case, I think most wouldn’t be using Fuji right now). Each approach is a valid one, a different one, and one born out of knowing what you want from a camera system.

  6. I use mostly a Sony with a fixed Zeiss zoom lens (optically corrected) and an aps-c sensor of ten megapixels, it´s quite old but if I would have a more modern camera I´d go for a fujifilm, the lenses rely in optics and not in software corrections (as seems the case with the Sony of these years and even brands as Leica). Sadly there is not a similar offering to my Sony; a time I had a Fuji X-E1 with the wonderful XF 35mm f1.4, so flexible because if I wanted a wide vision I photographed twice and stitched in home, and if I wanted more a tele rendering I just could crop enough. But I use a lot of fill flash and, as an amateur, a lot of the zoom so I ended giving this camera/lens I loved so much to my younger brother.

    Quite beautiful work with the Fujinons in your hands and art with your eyes.

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