I’m not into portraits but I always buy a wide aperture 85mm prime lens for every camera system I’ve owned. I have no idea why I do this as I rarely use the focal length for anything. The reasoning I use is always, “just in case I want to shoot some portraits,” and yet I never do. However, in this case it may result in a different story.
For the third time in my life I’ve purchased an 85mm equivalent lens with no real intent to shoot portraits. This time is a little different though; I fell victim to hype rather than some innate desire to own a portrait lens. Usually the 85mm, or equivalent, lens offered on a system is one of their best lenses optically due to its popularity for portrait photography. The Fujifilm GF 110mm ƒ/2 is no different in this regard.
Despite being one of Fujifilm’s first 3 lenses for the GFX system when it was released in 2017, the formula still holds up. The hype surrounding the GFX 100’s release last year also caused a resurgence in this lens’ profile and popularity. It’s reputation has reached near mythic proportions and for good reason: this is an excellently performing lens. It’s not without its flaws, but it has the right combination of flaws to give it character.
I originally thought this lens was over-hyped, getting its reputation because of a distinct lack of large aperture lenses in Fujifilm’s lineup. I felt this way back in 2018 when I first considered the system and still felt that way when I bought into it in 2019. Only once I owned it did my opinion spin 180 degrees and this is despite my preference away from portraiture. I’ll return to this in a bit but for now let’s define the lens.
This lens is huge. If you think the Canon EF 85mm ƒ/1.2 is large, you’re in for a shock. Physically, it is nearly identical to the Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art for DSLR in size and weight. At 12.6cm long, 9.4cm in diameter and weighing in at 2.23lbs, this lens is a beast. There’s a 77mm filter thread, weather sealing, linear focus motor and no stabilization. At 110mm, the equivalent field of view is 87mm on 35mm. The body is a mix of magnesium and polymer sections with a nicely dampened, rubberized focus ring and aperture control ring with lockout for shutter priority and command dial settings. This ring has nice and clicky detents in 1/3rd stops. There’s a rubber ass gasket for the bayonet to complement the sealed construction. What it doesn’t have: buttons, switches or a tripod foot.
Very quickly about the lack of tripod foot: the GF 100-200mm lens weighs only 40g more and has a foot so I don’t see why the 110mm doesn’t. It’s extremely unbalanced when mounted on a tripod and so the lack of tripod foot seems a bit misguided. The 65mm bayonet of the G-mount system may be robust but the 1/4”-20 tripod nut isn’t.
Using this lens on my GFX 50S results in some amazing results. They say that gear has nothing to do with results but this lens makes a case against that adage. Everything you photograph with this lens just looks better. Colors are better. Contrast is better. It’s soft where it’s supposed to be and razor sharp in the spots you expect. Results are on the edge of hyperrealistic without falling into the uncanny valley. There are no weird aberrations a lens like this usually generates. Usually 85mm portrait lenses are a bag of compromises; either they’re too soft to use for anything else or the bokeh is compromised in some way (either nervous, swirly or misshapen) to obtain critical sharpness.
Speaking about the bokeh, it’s smooth. No nervousness or swirl. It rolls in and out of the focus plane with a well controlled graduation and specular highlights present well formed with no aberrations. Chromatic aberrations are virtually non-existent. The only knock would be the progression of “cat’s eye” toward the edges of the frame at wide open, caused by choice of front element size compared to the aperture opening.
There’s obviously been some compromises made to get this combination of results but Fujifilm’s dealings with the devil haven’t resulted in any critical flaws. A slight softness wide open is tamed by ƒ/2.8, though it’s the right amount of softness that portrait shooters will appreciate. By ƒ/5.6 the lens become critically sharp. Other 85mm ƒ/1.4 (and equivalent) lenses never sharpen up, have excess chromatic aberrations, focus slowly, etc. but not the GF 110mm.
Minimum focusing distance is nearly 1 meter. For portraiture, there’s no need to focus that close but for macro, that’s a different matter. With a 48mm focusing tube, you can bring that down to about 6” from the front element. And that’s the point: macro photography requires critical sharpness and this is a portrait lens that you can absolutely use for macros. Tighten up the aperture to ƒ/5.6 or 8 and not only will you benefit from a larger depth of focus, you’ll achieve sharpness to rival the GF 120 ƒ/4 Macro. I have no real use for a dedicated portrait lens but one that can pull double duty as a macro lens? Yes, please.
That’s what’s so amazing about this lens. It’s a portrait lens that emulates the 85mm field of view and ƒ/1.4 depth of focus, but is sharp enough to use for macros and landscapes. I do wish it had optical image stabilization. It’s a wonder it doesn’t when you compare its size to the GF 120mm ƒ/4 Macro that does. Regardless, I’d rather have the versatility offered by the 2 more stops of light through the iris.
$2799. Of course not everything is perfect. You’re getting a lot of versatility for the price but it’s still a lot of money, especially for a short telephoto prime with no image stabilization. You also have a few options that are all cheaper, too. There’s the GF 100-200mm ƒ/5.6 that has OIS, is more versatile and is only $1999. There’s the GF 45-100mm ƒ/4 that doesn’t reach 110mm, but it’s not much shorter, has OIS and is only $2399. Then there’s the aforementioned GF 120mm ƒ/4 Macro that’s still less at $2699 and also has OIS.
So, you have 3 options from Fujifilm that are all cheaper and all have image stabilization but the 110mm has a rendition that’s incomparable. I wouldn’t blame you for choosing any of the other 3 lenses for their value. I also wouldn’t blame you for choosing the GF 110mm ƒ/2 over them because the rendition is unmatched.
Getting direct to the point… When it comes to wide bore 85mm lenses, the Sigma Art DG for DSLRs is unrivaled. Only the Zeiss Otus can outdo it but it forces you to sacrifice autofocus, and $4000, for the pleasure. It’s the best combination of compromises that creates excellent portraits. Despite this praise, results from the GF 110mm are visibly better than the Sigma’s. Rendition is objectively better in every aspect. It’s not that the Sigma renders poorly; it’s an excellent lens but the 110mm is just so much better. Rent them both, do a side by side and you’ll see it like I did. The real question is if the GF 110mm is $1600 better than the Sigma 85mm Art for you.