Viltrox AF 56mm f/1.7 XF Review: Fantastic Images at a Budget Price

A black camera lens sits on a rock surrounded by vibrant purple flowers and green foliage. In the top right corner of the image, the PetaPixel logo is displayed alongside the word "Reviews" on a blue background.

Viltrox has been busying itself with full-frame Z-mount releases over the last year, building upon the core of its business which has been centered around APS-C. In fact, the last Fuji X-mount release was the “Pro” monikered 27mm f/1.2 that I reviewed in August 2023. The new 56mm f/1.7 sits at the opposite end of the spectrum, retailing at an extremely modest $139. It may be budget in price, but its performance is far from it.

Understanding a manufacturer’s lens roadmap can help us to understand the direction of travel and future prospects. From that perspective, Viltrox’s weaving path has been “interesting” to say the least. Like most Chinese manufacturers, its lenses are budget-priced relative to the competition however there has been a push over the last decade towards the quality and premium ends of the spectrum, eschewing the stereotypes of some of the nasty third-party lenses that appeared in the 1980s and 1990s.

It’s therefore surprising to see the latest APS-C release from Viltrox to be “budget” in relation to its own lineup. The 56mm f/1.7 sits alongside the premium feeling 56mm f/1.4 ($299), so I was intrigued to see how they differed in specification and who they are targeted at.

Photography has increasingly become a niche and costly pastime in an era of smartphones, so who is going to buy a $139 lens? That’s a question I will return to at the end, however, it’s worth reiterating at this point that Viltrox is one of the leading Chinese lens manufacturers that have sprung up over the last 10 years, managing to stand out from an increasingly bland crowd. It started with simple lens formulations using manual focus but has rapidly — and under license — moved into autofocus options.

Diagram of a camera lens assembly showing multiple lens elements. The elements are labeled to indicate the types of materials used: ED low-dispersion lenses and lenses with high refractive index. The arrangement highlights the optical path through the lens.

Lens Specification

The base specification is a 56mm focal length (28-degree field-of-view or FoV) giving a focal length equivalent of 85mm. This is my preferred focal length for portraits but is also a tighter FoV for landscape and urban shooting, allowing me to pair it with the Fuji 27mm f/2.8 pancake (40mm equivalent) to give a travel-friendly two-lens setup. The nine-bladed aperture ranges from f/1.7 to f/16 with a minimum focus distance of 0.55 meters with 11 elements in nine groups. Weighing just 171 grams and a svelte 65 by 55mm in size, this is a small and light lens. As you can see from the image above, there are three high-refractive lenses and four ED low-dispersion lenses, meaning that this is not a simple lens formulation. It has a standard 52mm filter size and a small petal hood that reverses for storage on the lens barrel, supplied with a soft pouch for storage.

Crucially then, how does this compare to the 56mm f/1.4 specification? That has a minimum focus distance of 0.6 meters, 10 elements in nine groups construction, a nine-bladed aperture, weighs 290 grams, and measures 65 by 72mm. On face value, that might not seem wholly different but when you compare them side-by-side it’s clear that the new baby brother really is significantly smaller.

And that weight makes a huge difference to handling — this lens is much lighter. For my testing, I paired the 56m f/1.7 with a Fujifilm X-E3 which is about as small as they come in the Fujifilm range. On a small camera such as this, the 56mm f/1.7 makes for a true travel companion. The images below show the f/1.7 in detail, as well as alongside the f/1.4. This obviously isn’t a review of the f/1.4 lens, however for completeness I’ve included both lenses wide open, with the backdrop about five meters away. The f/1.4 (bottom) has noticeably more bokeh; only you will know if that is important to you.

Close-up of two camera lenses standing upright on a flat surface outdoors. The lens on the left is taller with a focus ring and labeled "AF 56/1.4 XF," while the shorter lens on the right is labeled "AF 18/2 XF." Both lenses have a black finish.

A blue mug with the text "MR. HAPPY" and a small cartoon face is placed on a stone surface. The background features a lush, green, out-of-focus garden or outdoor space, creating a vibrant and cheerful atmosphere.

A blue coffee mug with "MR. HAPPY" printed in black text and a simple cartoon face sits on a flat surface. The background is blurred with green foliage, suggesting an outdoor setting.

Build Quality and Design

The design utilizes an all-plastic outer casing with metal only for the mounting plate of the lens (which incorporates a USB-C port for firmware updates). It is entirely self-contained, operating with internal focusing (IF) that uses a stepping motor (STM) for focusing. The latter is a tried and tested technology, with relatively rapid and quiet focusing. The case has a ribbed focus ring that is a touch heavier and rougher than the f/1.4; the latter is perfectly weighted and smooth, whereas the f/1.7 feels just a little rough but by no means unacceptable. This highlights that there is no aperture ring — the lens is fly-by-wire and the aperture is set from the camera, unlike the f/1.4 lens.

A close-up of a black Viltrox AF 56mm f/1.7 XF camera lens, with fine details visible in its design and texture. The lens is positioned against a blurred, natural green and yellow background, highlighting its sleek and professional appearance.

The narrower aperture, simpler build design, and use of plastic have allowed Viltrox to make the lens significantly smaller and lighter than the f/1.4 lens option, but this has an aperture performance penalty (see the examples above). The plastic casing is also less “premium” although whether it is less durable will require long-term testing. The hood is quite short (and would be better with slightly more resistance) which is less to my liking and probably about half the height of the f/1.4 hood which is about optimum. This means it’s less effective at blocking stray light entering the lens, particularly when shooting toward the sun. However, the reason is clear: this is as long as the hood can be when reversed on the shorter barrel and still allow manual focusing. I would have preferred the longer hood and it’s doubly irritating because the fixing lugs are different between the two lenses so you can’t swap them. The petal shape is also interesting because it’s not really needed given that the hood is too short anyway, you want it to be as long as possible all around.

Close-up photograph of a camera lens with specifications: AF 56mm 1:1.7 STM ED IF, lens size Ø 62mm, and focusing distance 0.55m/1.8ft. The background is blurred, with shades of green and yellow indicating an outdoor setting.

Image Quality and Performance

This review isn’t a lab test, but rather an extended period of real-world assessment. I had a couple of low-key assignments to shoot and a few personal trips where I used it. For traveling I paired the 56mm with a Fujifilm 27mm and exclusively used these two lenses. I shot with a Fujifilm X-E3 principally used with spot auto-focus that is set using the joystick, varying between continuous and single auto-focus modes. The camera was in aperture priority mode, using auto-ISO set with a minimum shutter speed of 1/100 second and a maximum ISO of 3200.

Black and white photograph of a high-rise construction crane, viewed from below, lifting building materials. The crane's metal structure contrasts against a cloudy sky. Part of a nearby building is visible on the left edge of the image.

Focus speed is a combination of the performance of the lens and camera and the stepping motor delivered snappy focus where there was plenty of contrast in the scene to lock on to. It felt ever so slightly slower than the f/1.4 but this may have been more psychological. In short, it doesn’t lag in any discernible way. In the more challenging environment of an indoor event, the lack of light makes focusing more difficult and the narrow aperture ends up pushing the ISO higher. Yes, this didn’t perform as well as the f/1.4 lens, but any camera would struggle in such an environment. A full-frame sensor would be preferable but you have to offset this again (generally) by having a larger camera.

A man with curly hair and glasses sits at a table, appearing to adjust his glasses and engaging in conversation with others. He is surrounded by two people, one with white hair and the other with short hair. The table holds a glass and some items.

Viltrox’s published MTF chart shows very good sharpness (y-axis) at f/8 (blue lines) from the center to the corner (x-axis). Wide open sharpness remains excellent, only becoming noticeably softer at the higher spatial frequencies (thin black lines). I really wasn’t expecting such an excellent claimed performance from a budget lens, but the optical formula remains competitive and the 56mm sits in the sweet spot for achieving this economically.

Graph showing spatial frequency vs. image sharpness for F1.7 and F8 apertures. Key indicates 10, 20, and 30 line pairs per millimeter. The F1.7 lines (solid) and F8 lines (dashed) show image performance across frequencies, with the F8 lines holding higher sharpness.

During testing, I also shot directly into the sun at a range of angles up to 90 degrees. Flaring was very well controlled, with no real veiling (loss of contrast) and very limited ghosting. There appears to be very limited chromatic aberration or distortion, with some vignetting wide open. This is perhaps to be expected, both because the optical formula is simple for a lens like this and because there will be in-lens corrections applied in creating the RAW file. That said, I was particularly pleased with the performance shooting into the sun and felt no real constraints from the lens. Stopped down there are mild sun stars produced when shooting at a light source, but they are not nicely defined.

For a portrait lens, bokeh will be all important and this lens shines. Yes, it’s not as blurry as the f/1.4 but it is smooth and well controlled. Increasing the separation between subject and background (and utilizing the minimum focus distance) allows excellent control.

Close-up of a fluffy brown dog with expressive eyes. The dog has slightly curly fur around its face, floppy ears, and a gentle, almost wistful expression. The background is blurred, keeping the focus on the dog's face.

A stone Celtic cross gravestone stands in a green, hilly landscape with small houses and trees in the background. The sky is overcast, casting a soft light over the scenery. A single bird is flying near the right side of the cross.

A narrow dirt path winds through a lush, green forest with tall trees and dense vegetation on either side. Dappled sunlight filters through the canopy, creating a serene and inviting atmosphere.

A lone sheep stands under a barren tree on a rocky slope at the base of a steep hill, with a green valley stretching into the distance under a cloudy sky. The landscape features various shades of green, grey, and brown, highlighting the rugged terrain.

The Best Budget Lens?

My expectations for this lens were set by the low asking price of $139. Yet I’ve come away from this extended period of testing completely blown away by what it can achieve. In terms of focus speed and sharpness, this is about as good as I could expect for any lens I use for urban, street, and landscape photography.

Yes, the f/1.7 drops the low-light performance and bokeh, but what you get back is a super small and ultra-light piece of glass that not only slips into your camera bag, it slips into your pocket. Not only did I come away thinking the images I’d captured were largely comparable to anything else I would shoot with, but it has now become my preferred “go-to” lens if I need to grab a small camera to throw in a bag. I will take this in preference to the f/1.4 just because it is so much more portable and marries up nicely to the Fujifilm X-E3.

The question remains: who is this lens targeted at? My initial thought was that this was intended for those making the jump from a smartphone to a first mirrorless camera. It would certainly cater to this segment, particularly as there are X and Z mount variants. However, maybe Viltrox has the more vaulted aim of making the best glass in the most affordable format and, on this front, it has well and truly succeeded.

A modern high-rise building with a reflective glass facade against a clear blue sky. The building features staggered sections and balconies, creating a geometric pattern. The glass reflects the sky and clouds.

A brick building with many windows featuring wooden shutters in Amsterdam. A Heineken sign hangs from an ornate wrought iron frame on the left side of the building. An awning is partially visible at the lower part of the image.

A panoramic view of the Erasmus Bridge spanning the Nieuwe Maas river in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The skyline features a mix of high-rise buildings and modern architecture. The foreground includes urban areas with trees and smaller structures. The weather is overcast.

A scenic image of a mountain summit under a vast blue sky with fluffy clouds. A stone trig point stands on the peak, overlooking a sprawling, verdant landscape of rolling hills and valleys.

A woman with shoulder-length blonde hair is smiling while wearing a purple knitted hat, a purple top, and a black jacket. She has a backpack on and greenery with trees and fields is visible in the blurred background.

A lush green landscape with rolling hills and dense woods. A viaduct with arched supports extends across the scene in the distance under a cloudy sky. A calm river winds through the fields in the foreground. Scattered sheep graze in the fields.

A woman with shoulder-length light brown hair is smiling at the camera. She is wearing a black jacket with a purple shirt underneath. The background is an outdoor setting with green trees and an overcast sky.

A serene landscape of rolling green hills under a bright blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. A patchwork of vibrant grass fields stretches to the horizon, where a lone tree stands. A hedgerow cuts horizontally across the middle of the scene.

Are There Alternatives?

This is a popular focal length for APS-C cameras with a number of alternatives. The TTArtisan AF 56mm f/1.8 is perhaps the closest rival with similar pricing, although it is longer and heavier. This is closely followed by Viltrox’s own AF 56mm f/1.4 which obviously has a faster aperture but is also physically longer and heavier. Moving to the tier above are the Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary and Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 R WR, both of which are excellent lenses with prices that reflect that.

Should You Buy It?

Yes. This is not a studio lens and not intended to compete with top-tier competition but what it offers is performance that far exceeds its appearance and low price. If you are on a budget, then it ticks all the boxes while as a travel lens, it is the perfect companion. Viltrox has managed to break expectations and genuinely set a new bar for performance at this price.