16 mm, is it enough for portraits?
Hi, thank you for the opportunity to be part of this magazine again! This time we will focus on portrait photography with the Fujifilm XF 16mm f/2.8. In the past, I had an XF 23mm f/1.4 and a Samyang 12mm f/2.0. After 2,5 years of shooting with these lenses, I found that I needed a change to be able to shoot what I really want. First I bought a Mitakon 35mm f/0.95 and about a year later the XF 16mm f/2.8. Mitakon is my favorite manual lens of all time, because what it can do during sunset/sunrise light is magical!
A little more to my current gear. I have a Fujifilm X-Pro2 + XF 16mm f/2.8, and I recently bought a used X-Pro 1 and have been using it with the Mitakon 35mm f/0.95 ever since. I think that the X-Pro 1 and Mitakon are a perfect match! A lot of people try to get the latest/newest equipment, but I don’t think that’s always necessary. After 2 months of taking photos with the X-Pro 1 and X-Pro 2, no one knew the difference.
Of course, the X-Pro 1 is slower and it can be seen that the quality of camera production between X-Pro 1 and X-Pro 2 has advanced significantly. On the other hand, with the Mitakon it is the most pleasant combo I ever had. Rationally, X-Pro 2 is better at everything, but the feeling when shooting with X-Pro 1 is better for me. The only thing I miss on the X-Pro 1 is the slot for a second memory card for backing up photos.
Now to the main topic of this article. Most of the portrait photographers shoot with long lenses, but in the environment where I take pictures is this often not possible. My usual photoshoot takes place in the middle of forests, on rocks, in swamps or water. It’s demanding for the models, for me and for the equipment. For some time I took pictures with the mentioned Samyang, but it was too wide for most of the portraits. I considered between the 16mm f/1.4 and the 16mm f/2.8. Eventually won the lighter and smaller lens.
For wide photos, I do not need such a shallow depth of field, for this type of photos I have Mitakon. I bought the lens blindly because a few weeks after the release there were no sample photos of portraits. Even today, the lens is not surprisingly used by many people. After I got the lens and unpacked it, I thought it was a toy. The lens is really light and very small. It looks robust, albeit a little plastic. However, after 5 months of use, the lens convinced me of its build quality.
Photographing portraits with such a wide lens has certain specifics. One has to watch out for model distortion and reality distortion in general. Unless, of course, it’s your purpose.
I always try to find some new and unprecedented angles. Thanks to the wide range, one can be very close to the subject. It took me about two photoshoots to get used to it as a photographer and also models aren’t used to it, so sometimes it takes a while. I often take pictures in places where there is not much space and this is where this lens stands out. When you stand on a rock above the model and have space to do less than half a step, you will appreciate the width of this lens.
Otherwise, if you are lying on the ground and the subject is above you, this lens is also very useful! With a suitable background and light, the lens’s bokeh is really beautiful. The only thing where this lens does not excel is in the harsh light. Combining sharp light in the sky and tree branches/trees is not ideal for this lens and I try to avoid it. However, this is a problem with most wide lenses. Apart from this reproach, the lens is perfect for me and my portraits.
As I wrote above, I really like the Mitakon and if possible I take my pictures with it. However, there are many situations where it cannot be used. I made some „rules“ when I use the 16mm lens and how I take pictures with it. I try to think about the following:
Pre-thought out photos, where I try to use lens distortion. The model may have longer legs, hands, or a larger head compared to the body. It always depends on negotiating with the model. Someone does not like this and some find it great.
Time and place
If the model is in some place or pose where she cannot stay for much long, then I take advantage of autofocus and wide lens. Usually, these are photos in the water, underwater, or on trees and rocks. There is not much room for me to get far enough from the model, nor is it time to focus manually and check everything is in focus.
Drops of water, dust from rocks or sand. These are things that Mitakon doesn’t like and XF16 handles them without a problem.
I think this lens is wrongly underestimated. Although it is one of the cheapest lenses in Fujifilm’s range, it is no worse than other lenses. I also wanted to buy an XF 16mm f/1.4, but I’m glad I didn’t, because the weight of the XF 16mm f/2.8 keeps my camera always with me. Finally, I would like to say that this lens is definitely worth a try and if you think about it, at least try it!
Thank you for the opportunity to introduce my opinion on this lens and my photos.
And I wish to all of you the best light!
“My name is Jakub Gráf, but you may know me as Zahorizont (Instagram). Most often you will meet me in the forests of the Jizera Mountains, where I will probably be in some crazy position on the ground, tree or rock and there will be some of the forest fairies (models) near me. My photography is specific for several reasons: I shoot with manual lenses, I use wide-angle for portraits, and the places where I take photos are often very difficult to access. And that’s why I enjoy it all so much!”