Shooting live music with the Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2
A couple of days ago, I had the pleasure of shooting a live concert dedicated to the memory of a famous Greek urban folk music singer (a genre of music know as "laiko" in Greece). The venue (Passport ) was great, as well as the sound and performances and I really enjoyed it.
What made this job special was that I decided to test, in real life conditions, my most recent acquisition for the Fuji-X system: the Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 lens.
By now everybody knows this is a phenomenal lens, easily among the top 3 for the system, and probably among the top portrait lenses in any system. But my question was, how well could it perform in this certain environment?
My staple for concert photography is the Olympus E-M1, coupled with a number of fast primes, sometimes along with the Four Thirds 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 lens. Concert photography is much like photojournalism, in the sense that a photographic moment happens only once, and you have to be there to capture it. Lighting and framing difficulties also call for specific technical demands: perfect metering, good burst mode capability (in order to catch change in expressions and lighting), deadly accurate AF, etc. This is why the E-M1 is, in my view, ideally suited for it; the IBIS also helps a lot with lower shutter speed shots, keeping the ISO in check.
This time I had the 56mm mated to the X-E2, as a second camera, keeping it for "portrait" type shots. I put it in burst mode and often made use of AE-lock as well. Looking at the EXIF data, most of the shots were in the range of f/1.2 to f/2.5.
In use, once I got accustomed to the camera/lens combination (remember: I only had it for a few hours!), it was sensibly easy to lock focus and get the shots I wanted. It was arguably a little more difficult while shooting wide open, but not by much. I never had to resort to manual focusing, which says a lot, given the difficult lighting conditions in concert photography. Handling was a pleasure, as is the case with all XF lenses, and I found the lens balanced very well on the X-E2 (which was an initial concern, given it's a hefty piece of glass).
And then there were the results: in one word, fantastic. Color and tonal rendering with this lens and the X-Trans sensor are majestic. I habitually keep the camera on auto-ISO (3200ISO upper limit), but even at higher ISO images exhibit a nice pattern and are devoid of color noise. Of course, the icing on the cake was the out of focus rendition, especially at large apertures. In general, extremely happy with the results, and ended up with literally dozens of keeper images. The whole experience had me thinking about how much better the X-T1, with its higher burst rate and possible faster AF could perform in this environment.
I will be posting more on the 56mm in the near future, mainly in its more mainstream "comfort zone", namely portraiture. We are still early in the honeymoon phase, naturally, but I've already fallen in love with this marvelous piece of glass.
Following is a small gallery from the event. These were developed from RAW in Lightroom, using quite minimal processing. Should I have the time for more involved processing, they might be even better, but, when on assignment, time is a pressing matter (please see a previous article about RAW processing for the X-Trans sensor). Hope you enjoy!