Although I don’t identify myself as a street photographer, the majority of the images I share here on FujiLove can be categorized as such. Whenever I receive a new camera or lens to review, it’s easier to hit the streets and start photographing. I don’t need a studio, I don’t need a model, I don’t need strobes or props; all I need are my sneakers and a walking route. Up to this point I have yet to review a third party lens for this magazine, so here’s my first. The Viltrox 85mm f/1.8 STM for Fujifilm X-Mount intrigued me because it works like a native lens: it has autofocus, there’s no need for adapters, EXIF data communication and works well with the X- H1’s IBIS system. I also heard good things about this lens from my colleagues within the Fujifilm world, so I was curious how this lens would work out for me and my photography. Follow along as I walk my favourite streets through Chinatown, Strathcona and Gastown with the mighty X-H1 and the beastly Viltrox 85mm.
The first thing to remember is natively this is a full-frame lens (there is a Sony E-mount version), so it’s decently large and heavy (1.4 lb / 636g). The 72mm filter thread conforms with the Fujifilm ecosystem since many native lenses also have this filter size (XF10-24mm, XF16-80, XF50-140, etc.). This all metal lens feels well built and compares well to the XF80mm f/2.8 and XF90mm f/2 for comparison. The large and well dampened focus ring is a pleasure to use, especially when in AF mode and you need to fine-tune the focus by doing so manually.
The autofocus on this lens is also solid. It’s quick, quiet and accurate with the STM focus motor, similar to Fujifilm’s own focusing mechanism. This is still a focus-by-wire lens, but this is preferable for this particular lens and feels very natural in hand. Since the lens is large, it does balance nicely on the X-H1 body. I can see studio and wedding photographers preferring this lens over the XF56mm f/1.2 for the extra compression. I did test the IBIS with this 127.5mm equivalent focal length, and it was good even down to 1/7th of a second (the opening image of the article was captured at 1/27th sec, f/2.8 @ ISO 800).
Going back to my initial ramblings about not being a street photographer, I did decide to test this lens on the streets mostly. I would guess most wouldn’t use the Viltrox 85mm the way I did, but my experiment worked out nicely after getting use to this field of view for this style of photography. 127.5mm equivalent field of view for full-frame is considered a short telephoto lens, great for short-distance action sports like basketball or tennis, but also for portraits. If you do decide to use this lens for street photography, I did find that I had to look further ahead than I’m use to. 50-100ft for classic street images or 15-25ft for street portraiture.
However, what you gain is beautiful compression (background looks closer to the subject due to perspective distortion since the camera is further away from the subject, making the background appear to be closer to the subject). I did find that this further working distance for street photography did make me feel more detached from the scene, something that took some time getting use to. My ideal street photography focal length for APS-C is between 16mm-23mm. However, if you spend the time to make this focal length work for you (Saul Leiter often shot at 90mm-135mm for his abstract street work), then you will be rewarded with a unique look.
The 1:8 macro on the Viltrox is okay for medium distance flat-lay product photography (minimum focus distance of 2.62’ / 80cm), but I would recommend the XF80mm f/2.8 1:1 Macro as a dedicated macro/product photography lens which can also double as a short telephoto with OIS. Since I have yet to test the XF90mm f/2 from Fujifilm, I can’t really compare it against the Viltrox; but I would say that this third party lens is a good economic alternative to the native Fujifilm lens at more than half the price ($399.99 USD) with little compromises. The electronically controlled 9 blade aperture blades (no dedicated aperture ring) give beautiful out of focus focus blur, and the image sharpness is what I would expect from native glass from Fujifilm. The only optical weakness of this lens is some purple fringing when shooting during the day and wide open; but this is easily remedied by stopping down or removing the aberration in post-processing. For my night photography, I could not see (or at least notice) any purple fringing at all. My guess is Fujifilm’s EBC multi-coating is superior to Viltrox’s standard coating on the main front element to control optical aberrations.
Moreover, my thoughts on the Viltrox 85mm f/1.8 is very positive. The size and weight of this short telephoto lens befits the specs and optical performance. The price of this lens is attractive for those who want a high performance lens for their Fujifilm X Series cameras without many compromises. As many reviewers who did back-to-back tests between the Fujifilm XF90mm f/2 and Viltrox 85mm f/1.8, the native Fujifilm lens does perform slightly better in AF speed/accuracy and optical performance; but at more than half the price, the Viltrox is an attractive alternative for those on a budget. As the X Series cameras evolve and new features are added (additional IBIS equipped bodies as an example), the Viltrox lens has a micro-USB plugin port on the lens mount to upgrade the firmware in the lens to future proof the 85mm lens for years to come. Thank you Pergear for sending me the lens to review. I will revisit the Viltrox 85mm f/ 1.8 lens for a long term review. Let me know if there are any other third party lenses you wish for me to review or compare against. Thanks for reading and happy shooting.