Review: Sirui Sniper 56mm f1.2 lens
Sirui has been making great photography products for some time now, and over the past couple of years the Chinese company has re-focussed on developing a growing and impressive range of affordable fast aperture prime cine and photography lenses.
However, up until now the company has never offered any lenses with autofocus, with its new, and fast f1.2 autofocus APS-C Sniper trio for Fuji X, Sony E & Nikon Z mount its first offering of this kind, making the lenses an intriguing option to review.
Currently Sirui's Sniper series of lenses are available in 23mm, 33mm & 56mm formats.
We checked out the 56mm f1.2 version for Fuji X mount to see how this fast budget sharpshooter stacks up.
All three Sniper lenses have a very similar size, aesthetic, and build quality, and are offered in black (as tested), white, or silver as individual lenses or as a set, which has the added bonus of selling at a slight discount.
The 56mm weighs in at 419g, is 92mm long, has STM autofocus with an aperture range of f1.2-f16, has a 58mm filter thread, ED glass, a 12-element structure with 11 aperture blades, a USB-C port (for firmware updates), a 360-degree twist focus ring and are served with a twist fit plastic lens hood and soft lens pouch.
Overall, the build quality and finish is very good for a lens at this price point. And although it does lack weather sealing, you can't complain about this given the low entry price ($599).
The black version is made from anodised metal and has a carbon fibre section, and it is a good looking lens – as strange as that may sound. So far, it seems solid and durable.
This is not a small lens for a Fuji, but it still sits and fits well on the X-series bodies. Unfortunately, there is no dedicated aperture ring, which many users of fuji's native glass will miss, and the aperture dials when used in-camera also have a long throw between stops. As an aperture priority shooter this can be a little irritating at times.
In the hand, the lens feels solid and in proportion to the X series cameras, similar to the red label Fujinon lenses but without that lenses' solid feel. The focus ring is knurled metal and is wide – a full thumb width. It is smooth but not so much so that it slips on its own – it has a cine lens feel to it, something a hybrid shooter will appreciate.
The autofocus on the Sirui 56mm f/1.2 is not the fastest around, and yet it is on par with many of the older Fujinon lenses. This means it’s very usable in most well-lit scenarios, though I suspect it would struggle with fast moving action sports and can tend to hunt a little in difficult and low lighting situations – as do many of the older Fujinon lenses.
It's worth noting that the lenses also work with cameras that offer Eye AF too.
Image quality in the 56mm is surprisingly good, although images are not as edge-to-edge sharp and detailed as those from the fast Fuji equivalent lenses. But that is to be expected for a lens that is a third the price of the Fuji versions.
Few lenses perform at their best when shot wide open, and yet if you buy an f1.2 lens you will probably often shoot it that way.
The trade-off here is that at f1.2 the Sniper displays a little more softness, a tad less contrast, and some mild fringing and chromatic abortion.
When it comes to the “B” word (bokeh), the effect will obviously differ through the focal lengths of the Sniper series, with the 56mm we tested perhaps being the best to demonstrate its prowess, or not, as the case may be. Overall, the bokeh shape and appearance depend on the light source, but it is slightly ovalised.
Brighter halogen lights do reveal some fringing at f1.2, although this does improve at f.1.8, and even more so at f2.8. Chromatic aberration is generally well managed throughout the aperture range, with it improving noticeably from f5.6.
Sharpness and all-round image quality improves with every step of aperture, and by f4 the image is much more contrasty and cleaner. Get past f5.6 and fringing, distortion, chromatic aberration, and other imperfections are far less apparent, and between here and f11 image quality is pretty good all round.
Interestingly, I found it hard to achieve sun stars with the 56mm, although this is likely as much a product of the longer focal length at 56mm.
All-in-all, I'd describe the Sniper 56mm as being a characterful lens, and a little unrefined perhaps, which some will see as a nice analogue twist to an ever-sharpening world of clinical digital image perfection.
Build quality & durability – 4/5
The overall build quality is very good, and superb for the price. Weather sealing would be nice, but is perhaps too much to expect at such a price.
Image quality - 3.5/5
Image quality is a personal thing in some ways, and it’s pretty good with the Sniper, but is not on a par with the far more expensive Fujinon lenses, which are superb.
Most images will be good enough for the majority of us, and above what you may expect of an inexpensive and very fast lens.
Value for money - 5/5
For an f1.2 autofocus lens at this price point the Sniper offers amazing value for money.
Sirui's Sniper series of lenses are exceptionally fast and good value primes that punch above their weight. For most users – including professionals who may only use or need such fast lenses on occasion, these are plenty good enough.
That said, you do not get the weather sealing, the image quality, or performance of the native Fujinon equivalent glass. But Fujifilm's equivalent XF 56mm F1.2 R WR lens ain't exactly cheap, and will set you back around $1,500. That's the trade-off really, and one you'll need to decide for yourself if it is enough of a dealbreaker.
That leaves the Sirui Sniper series as a great value and very acceptable lens series for those on a budget, but probably not the best option if ultimate image quality is your goal.