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Fuji X-T1 50mm Portrait Shootout – Day 2 (XF 56mm vs Leica Summilux-M and Zeiss C-Sonnar

Fuji, Leica, Zeiss

I previously posted my experiences comparing the new Fuji XF 56mm 1.2 R. In that post, I noted that I found the Fuji to be in a whole other league when it comes to sharpness on the X-T1 – no M-mount option available for less than $4,000 came close.  However, the lens is large – in terms of volume, it’s roughly double the smallest contender, the Zeiss C Sonnar, which also exhibited a pleasing bold color rendition and a clean, pleasant aspect to its bokeh. This led me to question – if price were no object (well, almost – even when dreaming big, I couldn’t bring myself to plunk down the roughly $300 it would take to rent the new 50mm APO Summicron ASPH, or $400 to pick up the Noctilux), is there any other option which might blend the best of both worlds? Something that could match the Fuji’s sharpness while approaching the Sonnar’s diminutive size? Enter the Leica 50mm Summilux ASPH, with a wide maximum aperture of f/1.4, and a reputation for killer sharpness and creamy bokeh.  Available on lensrentals.com today for a rental price of $159 for five days, if there were any lens out there that could be had for less than the price of a decent used car, this would be it.  That said, at $4,250 used, my original justification for considering M-mount options – worries that with mirrorless in such flux, I couldn’t count on sticking with the current X-mount for long – really no longer applies.  For that price, even without ebay, I could switch systems four times buying a new 85mm equivalent each time and still come out ahead.  So don’t consider today’s post a financially prudent one, rather a desire to see if there were something out there that could give the so far excellent Fuji glass a real run for its money.

First off, let’s start with an attempt at reproducing the test scene from last post.  Once again, I’ll let you look through the photos without labels, then you can mouse over the images to find out which is which. 

Leica Summilux @1.4 
Leica Summilux @1.4 CROP

Fuji @1.2
Fuji @1.2 CROP

CZ Sonnar @ 1.5
CZ Sonnar @ 1.5 CROP

These were all shot at the lenses’ respective maximum apertures.  Once again, you can find these examples and a few more at other apertures on Flickr.

As you can see, at four times the price, we finally have a contender that can match the Fuji for center sharpness at 100%!  All those little dog hairs do seem grosser with a sharp lens! And once again, the Zeiss lags behind for sharpness, but unlike the other two, you don’t see the green cast to the fine details in the pattern on the pillow.  Promisingly, the character of the bokeh in the Leica image does not show the worried, almost double edge that the Summicron showed.  Let’s look at some more images to see if we can’t make some judgements when it comes to how the three lenses render bokeh in various scenarios.  This time, I focused on plants and leaves, which with their repetitive patterns and complex edges I generally find to make for the most distracting backgrounds, which makes them an important test subject, especially given their prevalence in the natural world. Here are some more shots, this time taken in my back yard, once again, at each lens’s respective widest aperture.  I framed each shot by manually setting focus to the minimum focus distance and getting as close to the subject as each lens would allow – 0.7 meters for both the Fuji and the Leica and 0.9 for the Sonnar.  Given the different focal lengths, this gave the Fuji the greatest magnification, follwed by the Leica, then the Zeiss Sonnar.

Leica Summilux-M 50mm ASPH

Leica Summilux @1.4 - rocks
Leica Summilux @1.4 - wall weed
Leica Summilux @1.4 - shrub1 
Leica Summilux @1.4 - shrub2
Leica Summilux @1.4 - flower buds 

Of the three, the Leica had the smoothest bokeh, apart from the highlights where the edges of the aperture blades can be seen in some spots, made particularly obvious because in those cases, you can see that the blades aren’t perfectly rounded when wide open. 

Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM

Zeiss Sonnar @1.5 - rocks
Zeiss Sonnar @1.5 - wall weed
Zeiss Sonnar @1.5 - shrub1
Zeiss Sonnar @1.5 - shrub2

The Zeiss exhibited harder edged, but perfectly round highlights. I found the greater prevalence of identifiable pupil artifacts more distracting, but in cases where they might be unavoidable like lights at night, it’s nice to see that the aperture blades are rounded perfectly for shooting wide open.

Fujifilm XF 56mm 1.2 R

Fujifilm XF 56mm @1.2 - rocks
Fujifilm XF 56mm @1.2 - wall weed
Fujifilm XF 56mm @1.2 - shrub1
Fujifilm XF 56mm @1.2 - shrub2

With its close focus distance and wide maximum aperture, you really notice the shallow depth of field with the Fujifilm lens.  In terms of bokeh, it seems to split the difference between the Leica and the Zeiss – it’s not as creamy as the Leica, and exhibits frequent highlight halos, but its aperture blades are cleanly rounded.  I’ve since returned the lens, but looking back, I would have liked to have done more testing at other apertures – the lens has clicks for 1.4, 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 to see how things changed.  If I had to pick between the three for bokeh, I think I’d have to go with the Leica for its smoothness, but the Fuji at 1.2 is perfectly pleasing.  For its stylized look, I can see plenty of uses for the Zeiss Sonnar as well. 

Conclusions

Well, it took a lens costing 4x the price, but I think in the Leica Summilux-M 50mm, we’ve finally found a match for the XF 56mm in terms of sharpness, and perhaps more than a match in terms of rendering a smooth and pleasing bokeh.  Is it worth 4x the price? Even considering its smaller size, wider compatibility and arguably better bokeh, I think the answer is going to have to be a no.  Wider compatibility can’t really be an argument when you could easily buy another three comparably priced lenses and still come in under budget compared to the Leica.  The XF 56mm also has the extra 6mm reach and a wider maximum aperture, allowing for even narrower depth of field, along with the advantages of being a native lens – autofocus and built in software corrections, along with being able to take advantage of Fuji’s frequent software updates.  All that said, there’s still the romantic, aspirational appeal of owning a Leica – somehow owning M-mount glass makes the idea of picking up an M3, M6 or even a digital M seem closer.  I haven’t pulled the trigger on any of these options yet – I still have my trusty Nikon 85mm 1.4 AF-D Nikkor for when the need arises.  However, I have a fair amount of upcoming travel this summer, so picking up a portrait option for my X-T1 is tempting.  I’ll update again with a final choice if and when I pull the trigger.

2 Comments

  1. […] tuned for part 2, where I’ll take a look at the cream of the crop – the Fuji XF, the Zeiss Sonnar with its […]

  2. […] M-mount adapter.  I finally got a chance to post sample images and write up my thoughts here and here. Bottom line – only the 50mm Leica Summilux ASPH could even keep up! At 1/4 the price of the […]

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