f/2.8: fast or bare minimum?

Shooting with the Fujinon XF60mm and XF18-55mm lenses

I recently posed this question to colleagues because I have been experiencing the benefits of shooting wide open with one lens and the trials of relying on the variable aperture of the zoom lens. These experiences have led to results with which I’m really happy (portraits shot with the 60mm) and an unhappy photographer (me with the 18-55mm).

Let me back up a bit. When the X-Pro 1 arrived on the scene last year, I purchased the three available prime lenses. For what I use them for, I have been very happy with all three. Of the three, the 60mm lens has been used far less than the 18mm and 35mm lenses, restricted to portraits, some close up work and more portraits. That said, despite the focusing quirks of the lens, the results have been very good and recently, as I have better understood how to use it, the results have been outstanding.

Having used all three lenses on the X-Pro 1 for work and freelance gigs, plus the X100 on occasion, I was feeling that I needed/wanted to have the 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 zoom lens to shoot events. The zoom simplifies, to one way of thinking, lens and camera choice and since I shoot with flash indoors and don’t have to worry about a fast aperture shooting outside, you would think that this is the ideal event lens. Well, I’m not so sure about that.

Staff Awards 2013

Earlier this week, I shot an indoor event, an awards dinner and presentation for a freelance client. The end result was that the photos turned out well and I rarely missed a shot, but it wasn’t the best shooting experience. And I have to take a good portion of the responsibility for the poor experience part. I will give all of the credit for the good shot results to the lens and camera.

Staff Awards 2013

So what went wrong you ask? Since I shoot with primes most of the time, using the zoom complicated things. It did give more reach or a wider field of view than with a prime, but I felt like a klutz most of the time. Also, the variable aperture is a pain. Tempting as it might be to set the lens to f/2.8 at the wide end and let the lens stop down as I zoomed to the 55mm end of things, this plays havoc with exposure when I’m shooting with a non-TTL flash. Instead, I set the aperture between f/4 and f/5.6 and left it there, no matter which zoom range I was in. Again, this worked well and I have no complaints with the results, except for those rare occasions when the ambient light was right and I switched off the flash and tried to shoot as wide open as I could. Then, the ISO zoomed to uncomfortable levels, which wouldn’t have happened if the lens had a constant aperture of at least f/2.8 or better. Couple this with needing to shoot with the EVF most of the time rather than the OVF and using Auto Focus instead of Automated Manual Focus, which is my preference, it was a frustrating night of shooting.

Staff Awards 2013

Poor me you say? Well you might. The AF worked as well as can be expected of any lens in the dim light of the event, but it wasn’t street fast, which is what I wanted this to be. It wasn’t rangefinder fast. So, therein lies the problem. The 18-55mm lens is a really good all around performer (I have made some gorgeous long exposures with it) but not as easy for me to use. There, let me put it this way, the problem is really me and I know it.

OK. I really like the XF18-55mm lens for long exposures!

On a happier note, at least for me, I think I have figured out how to get the most out of the 60mm lens shot wide open (I know, the lens wide open is f/2.4, but I have been shooting portraits at f/2.8). In a word, tripod.

AS

As you may remember, I have used the 60mm lens for portraits of my work colleagues. During an initial period of portrait shooting, I would hand-hold the X-P1 with the 60mm attached and attempt to shoot as wide open as I could, but found that unless I was shooting at f/4 or smaller aperture and a reasonably fast shutter speed, I was getting blurry results too often. The fault was not jittery subjects, but rather that I couldn’t keep the camera still enough while shooting.

TK

In a recent round of portraits of my co-workers, I have mounted the XP1 + 60mm on a tripod and opened up to f/2.8 with great results and nearly all shots are crisp and sharp. This has made the process of shooting portraits even more fun, because I feel in better control of the results. Add to this the fantastic window light I have available and shooting portraits with the 60mm lens at f/2.8 is truly rewarding.

SH

I can’t end this post without speculating about the release of the 56mm f/1.2 lens next year. As far as shooting portraits with a shallow DOF, this might be the ticket, particularly if it has the same optical qualities as the stellar 35mm lens. Hope that it’s reasonably affordable; I don’t have much old gear left to sell in order to finance many more lens purchases. Perhaps when the time comes, I will have to see about off loading the 18-55mm to someone who likes and knows how to use a zoom lens!

And, I suppose, this answers my question. F/2.8 is definitely the bare minimum and only just fast enough. So Fuji, Zeiss and anybody else who cares to, bring on those f/2, f/1.4 and f/1.2 XF lenses please. And the zoom? I better practise a bit before the next event!

9 comments

  1. I use Nikon, manual focus, lenses on my Fuji x-E1 and am very happy with the results. Focusing is usually not a problem at all.

  2. Pingback: f/2.8: fast or bare minimum? | Don Craig | Fuj...

  3. gunston

    have you tried Zeiss 35mm f2 biogon quick sharp.

    • Gunston, since I have the Fujinon 35mm already, my fav lens actually, I don’t think that I need another 35mm lens. However, I would love to try the Zeiss lenses on the XP1!

      If I had had a second body, I would have shot with two primes and skipped the zoom entirely. I am waiting on the x100s, which I hope to use as my second body and put something longer on the XP1.

  4. Pingback: f/2.8: fast or bare minimum? | almaphotografica...

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  6. Don,

    If you don’t mind MF should try Minolta or Konica zoom lenses, you won’t run into issues when zooming in or out as many of them are constant 3.5. I have been using these zooms with fantastic results. You can see here 24-35mm 3.5 ( http://blog.ikphotography.com/?p=2242 ) and here 35-70mm 3.5 ( http://blog.ikphotography.com/?p=2197 ).

    BTW, i found you via Patrick’s Blog…

    Cheers,
    Kelvin

    • Kevin, thanks for the suggestion. I would love to try other lenses on the XP1. That said, I know that it’s me and not the lens when it comes to using the XF18-55mm lens. I do use it very happily for other types of work, but find, with an indoor event, I want to be able to react quickly, which I feel more able to do with primes. I have shot with two bodies and different primes on each before, but only have one body right now. So, the zoom actually saved my butt, if you know what I mean.

      Also, thanks for mentioning Patrick’s blog. Really great stuff there. Always worth a visit.
      Don

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