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Best Fujifilm X-Series Kit for Urban Portraits

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With a range of feature-packed cameras that are fun to use, and a line of stunning lenses, a Fujifilm X-Series kit is the ideal companion for urban portrait shoots.

I have been shooting with the X-Series for four years and love the system and the results I get from it. However, with so many good options available, one problem you may have is choosing a lens or kit to shoot with!

In this guide, I discuss what you need to consider when choosing a lens for a shoot, and a list of my favorite Fujifilm lenses for shooting urban portraits.

Advantages of using a Fujifilm X-Series Kit

There are a few key advantages that the Fujifilm X-Series has for urban portrait shoots. Being a mirrorless system, it’s generally smaller and lighter than DSLR kits. In practice, though, my camera bag probably isn’t much lighter because I usually fill it with more of the excellent Fujinon lenses.

Image: Fujifilm’s X-Series is ideal for urban portrait shoots for so many reasons.

Fujifilm’s X-Series is ideal for urban portrait shoots for so many reasons.

Excellent ergonomics and usability is a hallmark of the system. I love that I can change aperture on the lens instead of via a menu – in fact, I could never move back to a system where I have to change aperture via a menu now. The camera bodies feature shutter speed and ISO dials on top of the camera, so you have all the elements of the exposure triangle at your fingertips without a menu in sight.

Live view is another feature I couldn’t live without – it’s amazing seeing what your exposure will look like before pressing the shutter button. This is particularly useful in low light situations that you often encounter in urban shoots. Another dial on top of the camera is exposure compensation – you can easily adjust the exposure as you look through the viewfinder, which is perfect for the way I shoot.

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Using live view on my Fujifilm X-T3, I could see exactly what adding extra exposure compensation would do when photographing Anne.

Another big advantage of Fujifilm cameras is their stunning color rendition – the best of any digital camera manufacturer. Fujifilm has used their decades of knowledge to produce JPG simulations that bear the names of class film emulsions: Provia, Astia, and Velvia, to name three.

The images in this article are JPGs (Provia simulation) with only small edits made in Adobe Lightroom. You can, of course, shoot in RAW alongside JPG and add your own looks or presets in post-production.

Camera bodies

I prefer to take two camera bodies with me on my shoots: the Fujifilm X-T3 and X-T2.

You can pretty much substitute any of the excellent X-Series lineups into your urban portrait kit, from the X-T series I use to the X-Pro line and the X-E line. I’ve even shot urban portraits with the X100 line of fixed-lens compact cameras.

If you only have one camera body, that is workable – you just need to be careful if you plan on changing lenses in urban environments to minimize the possibility of dust ending up on your sensor. The last thing you want on your mind during a shoot is the feeling of dread that you just let a whole lot of dust bunnies inside your camera.

Image: Choosing a lens for an urban portrait shoot is a balancing act between a focal length that fl...

Choosing a lens for an urban portrait shoot is a balancing act between a focal length that flatters your subject, but still allows you to be close. This image of Bailey was taken with a Fujinon 23mm f1.4 lens.

Lenses for urban portraits

The Fujifilm X-Series boasts a stunning range of superb lenses, with more being added every year. Fujifilm regularly updates a lens road map to let photographers know what new additions are coming. Portrait shooters have many fast primes available to them, as well as weather-resistant primes and a fantastic range of zoom lenses.

When choosing a lens for a shoot, I consider the following things:

Focal length

How flattering is this focal length for portrait photography? The images should flatter your client or model and make them look amazing.

Working distance

What’s the practical working distance of your lens? Ideally, for urban portraits, it’s good to have a lens choice that flatters your client for portraits, but without you being too far away. For me, this rules out some options such as the Fujinon XF 90mm F2 R LM WR lens.

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In low light, I often find myself shooting at, or close to, the maximum aperture of the lens (the smallest number). In this image of Natasha, I was using the Fujinon 56mm f1.2 lens at f1.6.

Maximum aperture

The maximum aperture of the lens determines how wide it can open. The smaller the number, the ‘faster’ the lens is, allowing you to take images at high shutter speeds in lower light. ‘Slower’ lenses will not be able to shoot at the same shutter speeds unless you crank up the ISO, which can affect image quality.

During the middle of the day, this may not be important, but with less light after the sun goes down, fast lenses are important for sharp images and to keep the ISO lower. The X-series lineup has a range of very fast prime lenses with many maximum apertures at F1.4 and even F1.2.

Weather resistance

If planning a shoot in the rain or snow, a weather-resistant lens and body are a must. This is generally something I don’t need to think about – if it does start raining during a shoot, I usually move to an undercover location. Usually, clients don’t want their hair, makeup, and outfits ruined by a downpour.

Listed below are my choices for urban portrait lenses.

Fujinon XF 35mm F1.4 R

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I love this lens – there is real magic to it. It’s my number one choice for urban portraits. The XF 35mm F1.4 is the closest Fujifilm has to the full-frame equivalent angle of view of 50mm – a classic focal length used by photographers for decades.

One of the three original lenses in the X-Series lineup, it has a fast maximum aperture of F1.4, making it perfect for images with a shallow depth of field and night shooting.

Featuring stunning optics and pleasing bokeh, this lens gives you a relatively short working distance for portraits. Best of all, it’s a lot cheaper than most of the other lenses in this guide.

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I love this shot – so much fun! Alyssa in a phone booth, Brisbane, Australia.

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The 35mm F1.4 lens has a magic quality. I love that the lens is flattering for clients, yet it allows you to get quite close to them while shooting.

Fujinon XF 16mm F1.4 R WR

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The next choice on my list is arguably one of the best lenses Fujifilm has ever produced – the stunning Fujinon XF 16mm F1.4 lens.

With a full-frame equivalent of 24mm, you may think this is an odd choice for a portrait session, but it’s a perfect lens for wide-angle environmental shots. With a minimum focus distance of just 15cm, this lens is the perfect option when working in confined spaces.

The excellent build quality of the lens is also matched by its stunning optics. Although any distortion is corrected in-body by the camera, you still need to be careful when shooting with it. Place your model or client towards the center of the frame for the best results.

Image: Sasha sitting on beer kegs in a Brisbane laneway. There wasn’t much room in the laneway...

Sasha sitting on beer kegs in a Brisbane laneway. There wasn’t much room in the laneway, so the 16mm F1.4 was a perfect choice for this shot.

Image: The short working distance and wide angle-of-view enabled me to take this image of Natasha in...

The short working distance and wide angle-of-view enabled me to take this image of Natasha in front of some metal shutters.

 

Fujinon XF 56mm F1.2 R

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The XF 56mm F1.2 R lens is perhaps the jewel in the crown of the X-Series lineup. Stunning image quality and beautiful bokeh make it a winner in anyone’s book.

This is the lens that all Fujifilm portrait photographers either have in their kit or on their wishlist. With a full-frame equivalent of around 85mm, it is substantially lighter than full-frame equivalent lenses for DSLRs. It boasts a super-fast F1.2 maximum aperture, is tack sharp, and has the most pleasing bokeh in the X-Series lineup.

For portrait work, this lens is fantastic. Just bear in mind that in urban environments, it’s not always a suitable choice, as you need a greater working distance when using this lens.

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Sasha in Brisbane, Australia. I love how sharp she looks in this frame, and how the out-of-focus lights have rendered in the background.

Image: Natasha in a laneway, Brisbane. With a bit more working distance, full-length portraits are a...

Natasha in a laneway, Brisbane. With a bit more working distance, full-length portraits are also possible with this lens.

 

Fujinon XF 60mm F2.4 R Macro

Best Fujifilm X-Series Kit for Urban Portraits

Perhaps the most underrated lens in the entire Fujifilm line up, the XF 60mm F2.4 R Macro, was another of the original three lenses released for the system. It had a reputation for being slow to focus, but improvements to the firmware for this lens have made a big difference. I have no hesitation in using it on shoots.

Although it has the word macro in its name, the lens can only shoot at a 1:2 magnification ratio. (Generally, a 1:1 magnification ratio is regarded as true macro.) With a maximum aperture of F2.4, it’s not as fast as other lenses in this article, but the lens still provides excellent image quality and has a very good bang for your buck.

Image: Alyssa at dusk, Brisbane. The XF 60mm F2.4 is an excellent option if the XF56mm F1.2 is out o...

Alyssa at dusk, Brisbane. The XF 60mm F2.4 is an excellent option if the XF56mm F1.2 is out of your budget.

 

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Alyssa in Brisbane. The XF 60mm F2.4 is stunningly sharp.

 

Fujinon XF 23mm F1.4 R

Best Fujifilm X-Series Kit for Urban Portraits

The Fujinon XF 23mm F1.4 R is another lens often mentioned as the best in the X-Series lineup. With the 1.5 crop factor, it’s Fujifilm’s closest lens to the traditional full-frame 35mm angle of view. This angle of view makes it perhaps the most versatile lens in the lineup for any given range of shooting scenarios – a big plus.

Another fast lens with a maximum aperture of F1.4, the lens is optically stunning and produces sharp images and beautiful bokeh.

Although I love this lens, I often leave it at home and take along the XF 16mm 1.4 and the XF 35mm 1.4 instead. However, it still deserves a place in this guide as it’s an excellent choice for urban portrait shoots.

Image: Bailey, Cleveland, Australia. The XF 23mm F1.4 lens is super-sharp and produces beautiful bok...

Bailey, Cleveland, Australia. The XF 23mm F1.4 lens is super-sharp and produces beautiful bokeh.

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Bailey, Raby Bay Harbour, Australia. It was quite dark when I took this shot, but with a higher ISO and some exposure compensation, Bailey looks fantastic – as do the pretty lights in the background.

 

Conclusion

The Fujifilm X-Series lineup is ideal for shooting urban portraits. The range features a range of compact, feature-packed camera bodies, along with optically stunning fast prime lenses.

Although you could invest some serious money in this system, there are many excellent value-for-money options, including the X-E line of camera bodies, as well as the X-T30 and the X-T20. In terms of lens choices, two of the original X-Series lineup – the XF 35mm F1.4 and XF 60mm F2.4 lenses – represent excellent value for money, blowing the competitor’s budget lenses out of the water in terms of quality.

If you have a bigger budget, also consider the X-T3, the new X-Pro 3, and the excellent XF 16mm F1.4, XF 23 1.4, and XF 56mm 1.2 lenses.

I’ve been using the system for four years and love the images the system produces straight out of the camera, thanks to the magic of Fujifilm’s JPG film simulations. The beautiful rendering of colors makes post-processing work a breeze.

What Fujifilm X-Series camera bodies and lenses do you use for urban portrait shoots? Let us know in the comments below.

 

 

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Matt Murray
Matt Murray

Matt Murray is a travel, portrait and stock photographer from Brisbane, Australia. Matt publishes Fujifilm X-series body reviews, lens reviews and photo galleries on his website Matt Loves Fuji. Matt also hosts an analogue photography podcast Matt Loves Cameras featuring reviews of classic film and instant cameras.