Fujifilm GF 55mm f/1.7 R WR Review: Astonishing Image Quality

Fujifilm gf 55mm f1.7 review

Last fall, Fujifilm unveiled its newest medium format camera, the Fujifilm GFX 100 II along with its first tilt-shift lenses and a new fast prime: the Fujifilm GF 55mm f/1.7 R WR.

A special thank you to Lensrentals for providing the Fujifilm GFX 100S and Fujifilm 55/1.7 for this review. The company’s complete list of available gear for rental and sale can be perused on its website. Author’s personal note: the yearly subscription for Lensrentals HD is well worth it if you rent more than three or so times a year.

The new 55mm is the fastest lens in Fujifilm’s medium format lineup, alongside the Fujifilm 80mm f/1.7. It is approximately equivalent to a 43mm f/1.3 (in terms of depth of field and overall light gathering), which is unique — the closest full-frame analogue I can think of is the Sigma Art 40mm f/1.4, which is a monster of a lens compared to this. To my knowledge, the GF 55mm f/1.7 and 80mm f/1.7 are the fastest first-party medium format lenses ever made.

I happen to love the 40-45mm full-frame equivalent focal length, perhaps more than any other. It is the perfect “normal” focal length, and Fujifilm is even calling this lens the “New Standard” because its 55mm focal length happens to precisely mirror the 44x33mm sensor’s diagonal — just like 43mm does on a 36×24 full-frame sensor.

Many, including Fujifilm, claim that it creates an angle of view similar to the human eye; I think that’s excessively simplistic because our visual acuity is not constant across our visual field, there are no hard boundaries (we can perceive motion, but detail progressively deteriorates away from the fovea), our macula (where visual acuity is highest) is equivalent to only about 150-170mm, and our eyes are constantly moving and scanning, among numerous other complications. I will concede that a full-frame equivalent of about 40-45mm seems to correspond generally to our resolvable visual field at middle distances. Perhaps that’s why I, and many others, like it so much.

So, how does this wide-aperture, normal focal length lens perform? Let’s dive in.

Fujifilm GF 55mm f/1.7 R WR: Build Quality and Handling

Authors Note: Apologies for the subpar product photos. I used this lens while on a trip and did not have my usual setup.

The Fujifilm GF 55/1.7 feels incredibly well-built in the hand. It’s hefty at 1.7 pounds (780 grams) and feels quite dense as it’s not enormous — 3.9 inches (99.3mm) in length by 3.7 inches (94.7mm) in diameter at its widest point. So, it’s a beefy lens, but nothing that any medium format owner would find off-putting, especially considering its fast f/1.7 aperture. In fact, it’s nearly identical in size and weight to the GF 80mm f/1.7. So, if you already own that lens, you know exactly what to expect.

The lens itself is relatively spartan in design. It features a 77mm filter thread, a rubberized focus ring, the clicked aperture ring, and a button to lock the aperture ring into auto mode. Most, if not all, of the GFX cameras feature a dedicated switch to quickly jump from auto to manual focus, so I didn’t feel the lack of such a switch on the lens was an issue. I do wish there was an option to declick the aperture ring, which you can do on some Sony and Viltrox lenses, for example. This won’t be an issue for most users but given how much Fujifilm is leaning into video features — even in its medium-format cameras — it means that videographers would surely appreciate the option.

The lens barrel is all metal, which certainly bolstered my impression of its build quality. And, as the WR in the name suggests, the lens is weather-resistant, which Fuji claims “confidently repels water, dust, and low temperatures” via weather seals in nine different places. I wouldn’t trust it in a monsoon, nor did it ever get exposed to anything other than winter temperatures during my use, but I’m sure it’s sufficiently sealed for some light rain and dust. Fujifilm says it will operate in temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 Celsius).

Fitted to the GFX 100S (with the Fujifilm MHG-GFX S Handgrip), it balances extremely well and doesn’t feel front-heavy. I suspect it would feel less comfortable on the GFX 50R without some add-on accessory grip, but users of any other GFX camera should find it very pleasing.

Fujifilm GF 55mm f/1.7 R WR: Autofocus Performance

The lens is fitted with a DC motor for autofocus and further includes a high-precision GMR (giant magnetoresistance) sensor for “fast, flawless [autofocus] performance.” Fuji also claims the “vibration-free” DC motor is “near silent.” Unfortunately, neither of these claims are true.

Keep in mind that I used this lens with the GFX 100S and not the newest GFX 100 II — it wasn’t available for loan at the time — with which performance might be a bit better.

I think most of the shortcomings here relate to the lens’s DC motor, among other factors. Unlike the superior linear focus motors that Fujifilm (and many others) employs in most of its red-badge APS-C lenses, the DC motor in the GF 55mm is decidedly not silent. It’s audible in a very unsubtle way, especially when the lens makes significant distance adjustments. But, perhaps more importantly, it’s definitely not fast and flawless. Before I give the impression that this lens has abysmal performance, let me clarify that it is more than sufficient and extremely good for medium format.

In the daylight, focus was almost always quick and accurate. A few times — primarily when focusing on areas without neighboring areas of significant contrast differences — it would hunt for half a second or so before locking on. But in general, I never found it to be irritating or a hindrance. Eye autofocus was also very good in the daylight, though there were many instances of front-focused results. Backlit portraits produced mixed results; sometimes, it was surprisingly fast to lock on, and other times, it either hunted for a while, failed to lock on at all, or decided to focus on the background.

I did some testing with face detection/eye autofocus for a moving subject, and the results are undoubtedly mixed there. It did pretty well with someone walking but not with someone running, especially toward the camera. So, in good light, it’s certainly usable for active events (weddings, children possibly, etc.) and portraiture, but not action like sports or wildlife — not that you’d be likely to reach for this lens for such situations anyway.

At night, things become less positive and were once again a mixed bag. If you’re focusing on something with high contrast, it’ll lock on quite quickly and accurately. If you’re not, the lens will rack back and forth, hunting until it locks focus or fails to do so entirely. So, depending on the lighting and subject, this lens may require patience. To reiterate, this is absolutely unsurprising for medium format, and older GFX lenses likely would fare far worse, but it is disappointing given Fuji’s marketing claims. I’ll also point out again that if you have the newest GFX 100 II, you’ll likely have a better experience, though how much I cannot say.

Personally, I’d recommend taking several safety shots or doing a burst if you’re shooting wide-open at closer distances as it may mean the difference between an eye in focus rather than an eyelash. The biggest pitfall of this lens in terms of focus accuracy is also its primary appeal: the fast f/1.7 aperture and shallow depth of field, exacerbated even further by the incredibly high-resolution sensor.

I didn’t have an 80mm f/1.7 on hand to compare, but based on my past experience — also on a GFX 100S — the focus is improved, but not as much as it would have been with a linear motor, which is capable of moving large mass at high speed and acceleration. I suspect the use of the DC motor again is because of two things: 1) Fuji can reuse/repurpose parts from the 80/1.7, and 2) a linear motor would have required either compromise in the optical design or a not-insignificant increase in size, weight, and price. This is understandable given the lens’s optical design, including the sizable focus groups.

Fujifilm GF 55mm f/1.7 R WR: Image Quality

Author’s Note: All images were shot in 16-bit lossless compressed RAW and edited in ACR + Photoshop. The rooftop photos of San Francisco with crops simply had the Astia simulation applied, shadows boosted +25, highlights pulled down -25, and white balance adjusted with the eyedropper tool, then saved as Quality 12 JPEGs.

The lens design is a very complex formula with 14 elements arranged in 10 groups, with two aspherical elements and two ED (extra-low dispersion) elements to minimize axial and spherical aberrations.

Credit: Fujifilm

Eleven rounded aperture blades, which Fujifilm says is a first for a GFX lens, create very pleasing bokeh stopped down and even stopped down, they’re as near circular as you get with any modern lens. Fujifilm also notes that “aperture adjustments are also coordinated with the front and rear groups, which maintains consistent levels of aberration correction regardless of the focus position.” This is marketing speak for a floating element design, which compensates for aberrations at various focus distances by changing the axial distance between elements and groups (and, consequently, the diaphragm).

Credit: Fujifilm

Image quality is where this lens truly shines. It is, in a word, stunning.

The GF 55mm f/1.7 is razor sharp, even wide open on the GFX’s very demanding 102-megapixel sensor in the center; there’s slight falloff in sharpness toward the edges and corners. Stopping down to f/2 to f/2.5 improves the periphery of the image significantly, while the center gets a hair of a boost. By f/2.8, it’s performing with extreme consistency across the entire frame. Microcontrast is likewise stellar wide-open and follows the same pattern, peaking somewhere around f/4. You’ll start to notice diffraction kicking in around f/11 or so — nothing surprising there, that’s just physics.

f/1.7, ISO 100, 1/180. Click for full-size image.
Center crop at f/1.7
Edge crop at f/1.7
Center crop at f/2.5
Edge crop at f/2.5
Center crop at f/4
Edge crop at f/4
Center crop at f/5.6
Edge crop at f/5.6

Basically, shoot this lens at whatever aperture you want if you go into it with the right expectations. Unless you demand perfection corner to corner, pick your f-stop based on the depth of field or light gathering you want or need, and don’t worry about the rest. If you do desire ultimate performance, stop down to f/2.8 or smaller, which I suspect most landscape photographers will be doing anyway. I’d avoid stopping down beyond f/11 due to diffraction, if possible.

Color transmission is very close to neutral, erring slightly on the cool side. The light falloff from vignetting is quite reasonable and easily fixed in post with the lens profile; it clears up almost entirely around f/2.8. I tend to consider vignetting the least concerning optical flaw, and I’d rather that a lens prioritize size and correction of other issues. Barrel distortion is present but extraordinarily minor and, again, fixable with the click of a button.

While this isn’t likely to be the first choice for astrophotography, it is certainly still possible to use it for such — and I did, though I will admit to being a very amateur astrophotographer. At any rate, there is some coma present at f/1.7 in the outer periphery, but in general, the lens turns in very good performance here.

Corner crop of above at f/1.7

Bokeh is phenomenally creamy and smooth, with a very pleasant transition from in-focus to out-of-focus areas. Scenes are sharply sliced with abrupt (but not harsh) transitions from the focus plane, something I find to be a hallmark of highly-corrected lenses such as the Zeiss Otus, Sigma Art, Nikkor S, and Leica ASPH lenses. This aids the “3D look” that many photographers extoll but can never seem to define; the complete lack of spherical aberration likewise makes for incredible performance. There is some optical vignetting (“cat’s eye bokeh”) away from the center, but it’s not objectionable, and outside the new Nikon 135mm f/1.8 Plena, there are few (if any) fast lenses that don’t suffer from this.

Lateral and axial (longitudinal) chromatic aberrations are virtually non-existent. You may see some light fringing in very challenging scenarios (tree branches against a bright sky, for example), but a quick checkbox in post will take care of it. The correction of axial CA is so good that the GF 55/1.7 could arguably be worth an APO tag.

If there’s one foible with the lens, it’s the flare performance. It is by no means awful, but put a strong light source in the frame or just outside the frame, and you’ll be greeted with colorful ghosting and/or veiling flare. It’s not poor performance, but it isn’t on the level I see from modern Zeiss or Nikkor S lenses, for example. I don’t really consider this an issue — it’s easily avoidable — but it is worth mentioning, nonetheless.

A Stunning Lens with Extraordinary Image Quality

Whatever Fujifilm has done with the optical design of this lens is extremely impressive. It improves on the Fuji GF 80mm f/1.7 in essentially every way, particularly with its stellar chromatic aberration suppression.

Perhaps some of the highest praise I can give this lens is that it is remarkably transparent. It doesn’t impose any kind of look or “character” (a nice way of saying “full of aberrations”) — it simply gets out of the way and lets you do the rest. I love character lenses — they’re fun to play with and highly preferable in specific scenarios (filmmaking, for example) — but for most work, I want transparency, and the GF 55mm f/1.7 gives you precisely that.

Combined with the 102MP sensor in the GFX, cropping to a 170mm equivalent still leaves you with a sharp and usable file

The lens actually reminds me a lot of the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO; it’s not quite as consistent across the frame wide-open, nor does it have the flare resistance or coma correction of the Otus, but it is very close. I’d be really interested to see an A-to-B comparison since the Zeiss covers 44×33 sensors. But the difference is incredibly minor either way, and given that the GF 55mm is smaller, lighter, cheaper (though not cheap), and has autofocus, it’s truly a remarkable achievement (though, of course, the Otus is half a stop faster). The fact that I am even positively comparing it to the Otus is a statement in itself.

It isn’t perfect — there’s some coma, flare resistance isn’t ideal, and its biggest flaw is that autofocus is very slow in low light, and even in daylight it can sometimes take a second to lock on. The autofocus motor is also far from silent. But the image quality is among the best I have ever seen, and any GFX user shouldn’t hesitate to pick it up if the specs appeal to them.

Are There Alternatives?

Aside from adapted vintage manual focus lenses or adapted full-frame SLR lenses with sufficient coverage — such as a Zeiss Otus 55/1.4 — neither of which I would call alternatives, there are few options, and none are perfectly analogous.

The closest would be the Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster 65mm f/1.4, which, while a native Fuji G mount lens, is manual focus without any electronic contacts. Approximately equivalent to 50mm on full-frame, it’s close but still lacks the everyday versatility I associate with a 40mm lens. While I have not used the lens myself, other reviews suggest it is not remotely in the same league as the GF 55/1.7. The primary appeal is its $799 price (on sale at the time of publication for $599).

Otherwise, the Fujifilm GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR and the Fujifilm GF 50mm f/3.5 R LM WR are the closest options. They’re both considerably smaller and lighter, a result of them being 50/2.2 and 40/2.8 FF-equivalents, respectively, versus the 43mm f/1.3 of the GF 55mm. If the wide aperture isn’t a sticking point for you, either of those (particularly the 50mm f/3.5) will be smaller, lighter, and cheaper alternatives. They also probably focus more quickly due to their lesser mass and a linear motor in the case of the 50mm f/3.5.

Should You Buy It?

Unequivocally, yes. If you are a Fujifilm GFX user who wants a fast, standard focal length lens, the Fujifilm GF 55mm f/1.7 R WR is the one to get. Image quality is unsurpassed in its class, even wide open, and build quality is exceptional.