I got some heat on my last article about choosing a Fujifilm camera for not listing every Fujifilm camera and every photography genre. That wasn’t my intention! My intention was to help you through the practical thought process to make your own decisions based on the factors that are important. And that’s what I’m going to do here with the second part of this series, choosing a Fujifilm lens.
I’m not going to compare the image quality and technical specifications of the 35mm f/1.4 and 35mm f/2, for example. There are plenty of articles out there that do this. Because how do you even know you need a 35mm prime lens in the first place? That’s what we’ll look at here.
Fujifilm lenses, like all lenses, have some alphabet soup in their names. You can read more about what all of the different Fujifilm lens abbreviations mean in this article. This’ll help you make sense of some of the features found in these lenses as we go through the article.
I’m going to limit this article to mostly Fujifilm lenses; not many third-party lens manufacturers have made lenses for the Fujifilm X system up to this point although they’re starting to spring up now. All focal lengths will be listed for APS-C sensors.
Let’s talk Primes vs Zooms
Primes are better than zooms.
No, zooms are better than primes!
Ah, a timeless argument that’s been going on for decades in the Internet forums. Thankfully (or unthankfully?) there’s no correct answer. It’s all subjective and dependent on the photographer’s needs.
Where primes excel
A prime lens is one that has a fixed focal length, or field of view.
Because of this, engineers are able to design & build it to be optimized for that one focal length, rather than needing to cover a range of focal lengths like zoom lenses. This type of construction gives it many advantages:
- Small size & weight
- Much larger maximum aperture vs comparable zoom lens (for more shallow depth-of-field and working in low light)
- Sharper all-around, particularly on the edges and corners of the image
- Clearer contrast & color rendition with less fringing/aberrations
Some folks also say that prime lenses have more “character” than zoom lenses. For example, I absolutely love the contrast reproduced with the Fujinon 16mm f/1.4. It is noticeable when you compare it to Fujinon zoom lenses.
The optical characteristics may have you enthusiastically saying, “yes, primes are better and I need a prime!”
For the most part, these characteristics are really only noticeable if you’re looking for them, comparing two photos of the same thing using different lenses. Remember, that’s not how people view your photos. All I’m getting at is, don’t feel like you need to get prime lenses for better pictures. Fujifilm makes some amazing zoom lenses, some of which are better than primes.
Where zooms excel
A zoom lens is capable of covering a range of focal lengths, from ultra-wide to wide, wide to telephoto, telephoto to extreme telephoto, and everything in between.
Because these lenses need to cover a range of focal lengths, the optical design can’t be optimized for just one focal length. There’s a little give-and-take to get the best possible quality out of the entire zoom range. With that said, the sacrifice is worth it for many people for the following reasons:
- No need to change lenses to get different focal lengths
- Can carry fewer lenses (sometimes just one) to cover a wide focal range
- A much more cost-effective option to buy one zoom rather than several primes
As mentioned earlier, Fujifilm makes some great zoom lenses. So even though, in theory, the optics are better in prime lenses, you’ll be hard-pressed to notice degraded quality in their zoom lenses unless you’re looking for it.
However, this can make a big difference for high-end commercial & portrait photographers.
Lens purchasing philosophy
If you remember from Part 1 of this series, I recommend making your main investment in the lens rather than the camera body. Camera bodies come and go, but you’ll have the lenses forever.
The 16-55mm f/2.8 has been my primary travel & documentary lens from the X-T1 to the X-T4.
Look at your entire budget. Get the best lens you can while having some money left over for the minimum camera that meets your needs. Upgrade the camera later if you need to, not the lens. All Fujifilm cameras rock, you can’t go wrong.
Along that note, don’t be afraid to buy used either! These lenses are constructed extremely well. They hold their value. I’ve never had a problem with a used lens. If buying a used Fujifilm lens can save you a couple hundred bucks to afford a better lens, another lens, or a better camera body, then go for it! You can buy from the used departments at B&H Photo, Adorama, or even on eBay.
Like with the cameras, try to avoid buying a lens for no other reason than, “this guy likes it, so I’ll get it to.” There’s got to be other reasons! We will discuss many of those reasons in the next section.
For those of you who have been photographing for a while, what were your favorite lenses in your previous camera system? Wouldn’t the equivalent lens transfer over to the Fujifilm system? If you use Lightroom Classic or Photo Mechanic Plus, you can use the Library filters to show you which lenses you’ve used the most.
And finally, getting back to the primes vs. zooms discussion, really take a minute to think about how you’ll be using the lenses. Will you be traveling light with a minimal kit, in damp or dusty environments, not wanting to change out prime lenses all the time? Then you’ll probably want to keep a good zoom on your camera. But if you’ll be in a controlled environment, like a studio or doing outdoor portraits, then maybe you won’t mind changing between a couple of good primes.
Buying the Fujifilm lens(es) for you
So now let’s get into the details, looking at Fujifilm lens features and your photography style to figure out which Fujifilm lens is right for you.
And again, there is no way I can go into deep-dive lens comparisons for every single lens in this article. This is simply to get you started.
Please note that all of the links are affiliate links as bloggers do; if you make a purchase I’ll get a tiny percentage of the sale to keep this website going.
Based on lens characteristics
Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) is a great feature for photographers who will be doing a lot of handheld photography in low light. If you’ll be at slower shutter speeds and using a tripod is impractical, this can be a great feature. Keep in mind that some Fujiifilm cameras have this built in to the body, so that can take the place of an OIS lens. The photo below was taken with the 18-135mm lens at 41mm (equiv 65mm), handheld, at 1/2 second. Pretty dang sharp for a half-second exposure handheld!
Weather resistance (WR) is a must-have for photographers who will be in austere conditions. If you’re constantly photographing in damp ocean environments, dusty wind-blown deserts or beaches, rainforests, etc., this is a great way to protect your investment. All Fujifilm lenses are constructed very well and offer some degree of protection. But I’ve been amazed at some of the places I’ve been able to take a WR lens without any dust or water intrustion at all. Just keep in mind you’ll need a camera with weather sealing as well (X-T1/2/3/4, X-Pro1/2/3, X-H1).
Size & weight is an important consideration for folks who travel or go on backpacking trips. One zoom lens might be larger and heavier than a prime, but you’ll need to carry several primes to cover the range of the one zoom.
The maximum aperture is something you’ll want to look at if you’ll be photographing in very low light (astrophotography, indoor events) and/or you need that extremely shallow depth of field for portraits. In these cases, you may want lenses in the f/1.4-f/2.0 range. Otherwise, I wouldn’t worry too much about the maximum aperture.
Based on your photography style
Travel & documentary photographers
Photographers who are on the move in fast-paced environments, who are capturing different types of scenes and don’t have the luxury of time to swap out lenses, are most likely going to want a good zoom lens.
As previously mentioned, the Fujinon 16-55mm f/2.8 (“Red Badge” series) is on my camera most of the time when doing this kind of photography and I’m perfectly happy with that. It has weather sealing but no stabilization (that’s a moot point after the X-T4 came out). Alternatives:
- The 18-55mm f/2.8-4doesn’t go quite as wide on the focal length, doesn’t have weather sealing, and has a maximum aperture one stop smaller when zoomed in. But it is significantly smaller, lighter, and cheaper than the 16-55mm f/2.8. It does feature image stabilization, making up for the fact that the maximum aperture isn’t fixed at f/2.8.
- If 55mm doesn’t offer enough on the telephoto end, the newer 16-80mm f/4lens will give you some extra reach. This lens is also cheaper and smaller than the 16-55mm f/2.8, but the barrel does extend quite a bit when zoomed. This lens also features weather sealing and image stabilization. Article: Fujinon 16-55mm vs 16-80mm.
- Maybe 80mm isn’t enough zoom for you either. The 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6covers the focal range that any travel/documentary photographer could want in one single lens. It features weather sealing and image stabilization. Article: Review of the Fujinon 18-135mm.
Nature & wildlife photographers
If you’re maintaining your physical distance from your subjects but still want to get “close” photos, you’ll need a longer zoom lens to get that reach. Having zoom lenses, rather than primes, for this genre also gives you the flexibility to recompose based on the changing distance of your subject.
There are an overwhelming number of options for Fujifilm lenses for nature & wildlife. Choosing one will depend on your budget primarily, but also your distance to your subject. The pricey 100-400mm f/4-5.6 would be good if you’re maintaining your distance but want to be able to zoom in really close. And if you have almost $2,000 to spend.
You might want to look at the 50-140mm f/2.8 – it’s a very versatile lens for many different subjects – and you can throw a 2x teleconverter on it when you need to multiply the focal length for some extra reach (it becomes a 100-280mm f/5.6). This combo can be a very versatile solution.
If those lenses are out of your budget, you also have the older 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 and the newer 70-300mm f/4-5.6. While these lenses are smaller & more affordable, the optical construction isn’t quite as superior. Still, they’re great options. The 55-200mm won’t work with the teleconverters.
All of these lenses feature optical image stabilization and weather sealing, with the exception of the 55-200mm lens, which does not feature weather sealing.
I enjoy zoom lenses for landscape photography, like the 16-55mm f/2.8 or the 16-80mm f/4. Wide enough for most of what I do, though I still do enjoy also having a longer zoom for tighter, compressed photos (see telephoto zooms in the above section). It’s good to have WR lenses if you’re outside most of the time.
For many landscape photographers, 16mm isn’t quite wide enough for those sweeping landscapes and massive skies. Fujifilm does make some great wider zooms. There’s the more expensive 8-16mm f/2.8 and more affordable 10-24mm f/4. Neither of these are very small lenses; keep that in mind if you’ll be carrying your kit for long distances.
You could also get a wide prime, and for that my favorite is the Samyang/Rokinon 12mm f/2. This is a manual-focus third-party lens, but it’s very affordable, small, and phenomenal for landscapes and astrophotography. It’s manual focus only, but that shouldn’t be a problem for you with Fujifilm’s manual focus aids.
Portrait photographers tend to prefer prime lenses with wide apertures, helping them throw the background more out of focus to further isolate their subjects. Primes are often great in these scenarios since you can easily move closer to or further from your subject to alter the composition (zooming with your feet!).
There are numerous Fujifilm lenses for portrait photography out there, but you’ll want to look at three primary factors when choosing them:
- Focal length
- Maximum aperture
As far as focal lengths are concerned, beware of going too wide. You’ll get some distortion, especially if you’re close to your subject, giving them big noses and such. While these wide focal lengths (like 16mm) are great for environmental portraits, where you’re also grabbing your subject’s environment, they’re not ideal for your standard portraits.
Most portrait photographers start with a 35mm lens, and over time, add a 23mm lens and a 50mm or 56mm lens. Fujifilm makes numerous lenses of the 23mm, 35mm, and 50-56mm focal lengths with maximum apertures ranging from f/1.0 – f/2.0. The wider the maximum aperture, the larger & more expensive the lens will be.
A 23mm wider lens will have more background in the picture, which can be a problem if the background is distracting. The “background blur” effect won’t be as pronounced due to the wider focal length, especially if you’re far from your subject.
A 50mm telephoto lens will “compress” the scene, narrowing what’s seen in the background, which can greatly reduce those background distractions. It can also really throw that background out of focus more, especially if you’re doing a close-up.
Also, don’t feel like you need that f/1.0 or f/1.2 lens to get background blur. You’ll be just fine with an f/1.4 or f/2. The problem with these f/1.0-1.2 lenses is that the depth of field is too shallow for many. If you’re not on your game, eyelashes can be in focus while the eye pupil is out of focus. Hell, this happens at f/1.4 and f/2 also, so beware.
Street photographers also tend to choose prime lenses, but for different reasons.
Imagine casually walking around the city, capturing pictures of strangers, with a 50-140mm f/2.8 on the camera. You’ll stand out like a sore thumb with that massive piece of metal in front of your face! You’ll intimidate the people you approach as you request to capture their photo. Not to mention the fatigue of carrying it for a few hours.
Inconspicuousness is the theme here, and small primes like the ones mentioned above are the best bet. I personally prefer a 23mm to 27mm focal length since those approximate the human field of vision. 35mm is also a popular focal length for street photography.
Event & wedding photographers
If you only have one camera for these events, you’ll primarily want to use a standard zoom like in the Documentary section above.
You might also want a prime like a 35mm to switch over to for a mini-portrait session within the event, and if you have a secondary camera body, you can keep this prime lens on your other camera.
Choosing Fujifilm lenses for your kit
Apologies for not covering every single photography niche and reviewing every single Fujifilm lens, including third-party lenses. That’s not what I wanted to do here – I wanted to provide you with a thought process for choosing a Fujifilm lens. A thought process based on:
- Your budget
- Where you photograph
- What you photograph
- How you photograph
I truly do believe that you should budget and consider your lens before the camera, as discussed in Part 1 of this series.
All Fujifilm XF lenses are good lenses. Get the best one(s) you can afford, that suits your style, and you’ll have them forever. Because they’re so good, don’t be afraid to buy used Fujifilm lenses either!
And don’t fall for the “Fujifilm XF50mm f/1.0 Is The Best Portrait Lens” articles. That lens is a huge, expensive beast of a lens and is tricky to use at f/1.0 – and may not be the best for you. The same caution applies for any article that says “get this lens if you want good photographs.”
You build your kit based on your own situation and let the soul of your photographs do the talking. I hope the approach outlined in this article helps you do that. Because in real life, people won’t be analyzing your photo pixel-by-pixel and critique your choice of the 35mm f/2 instead of the 35mm f/1.4. You can learn how to make the best of these lenses in the courses included in my Fujifilm X Photography Course Membership.
You can read Part 3 of this series, Finishing your Fujifilm kit with accessories.
About the Author
John Peltier is a Lake Tahoe-based photographer and educator. He is an Air Force veteran and a pilot by trade, but he has found his passion for photography and recognized its power. John is an accredited associate at Photographers Without Borders, he has completed photodocumentary projects for a handful of humanitarian and environmental conservation groups around the world, and he is a volunteer on two search and rescue teams when he is home. Between photography projects, he also teaches photography lessons both in-person and online. You will find more of John’s work and find out more about him on his website, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. This article was also published here and shared with permission.