Viltrox 85mm f/1.8 STM Lens Review

Jason Gray

I am in the camp of those who acquire lenses only to accommodate a variety of purposes. This is partially why I switched predominantly to primes years ago- I recognized that even with a zoom lens, I gravitated toward focal lengths and tended not to use most of the remaining zoom range. Once I realized that I was using my expensive 17-55mm f/2.8 Nikkor as essentially a 24mm f/2.8 lens for greater than 80% of the shots I took, I sold it and acquired a less expensive, though dedicated 24mm lens, that because it was dedicated, turned out to be better for me in many ways. I recognize that this strategy may not work for everyone and for every photography purpose, which is why the lenses I review are measured in terms of their performance in three categories: Specialist, Utility or Passion. As always, I am not a technical reviewer, so this won’t be charts and tests driven, just real-world experiences.       

1. Specialty Rating (pro quality/top IQ/special purpose): 8

The top specialty lenses are impeccable. They deliver maximum image quality (loads of sharpness, great contrast, minimum distortion, and excellent color reproduction), are lightning-fast, and are specialists’ tools- i.e. wedding photographers, architectural or other commercial photographers, etc.

As a specialist tool, the 85mm f/1.8 STM by Viltrox is surprisingly proficient. Many reviewers have compared this lens to Fuji’s own 90mm f/2, which at twice the price and as one of Fuji’s most beloved lenses, seems at first like an unfair comparison. However, in most of these cases, the Viltrox stacks up. In my experience using the lens over the past two weeks, I would agree that this is a very high performing lens, especially for the price. While I do not own the Fuji 90mm, as a semi-recent convert from Nikon, I did own the venerable Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 G, a lens that has been touted for over a decade as one of Nikon’s best, and the Viltrox is in the ballpark. I will have absolutely no qualms about using the Viltrox as a portrait lens for paid work.

2. Utility Rating (versatility for multiple applications): 6

Utility lenses are the optical equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife, they cut, they saw, they open cans, but they’re often clunky and inefficient when compared to tools dedicated to those tasks. These (usually) zoom lenses are generalists’ tools; their purpose is utility and convenience for the enthusiast.

As a utility lens, the 85mm is a bit large and heavy. I own two of Fuji’s lightest and smallest ILCs and they were certainly purchased with that metric in mind. Mounted to one of these cams (the X-E3 and the X-T20), the Viltrox is a bit front heavy. For this reason, I doubt that most photographers using these cams will choose the lens as a “bump around town” lens, and that lowers its utility rating. That said, I was able to fit both cams with the this lens and a 16mm f/2.8 mounted to the bodies in a small capacity messenger bag for my family’s visit to the newly reopened Union Station in St. Louis, where I carried the bag onto a 200′ tall Ferris wheel, into a World’s Fair inspired mirror maze, and to lunch at a busy soda fountain (all with two kids under 7 years old in tow). Also, the 85mm focal length, a roughly 128mm full frame equivalent, is not one that I would typically choose for this sort of outing (it’s tight, i.e. not as flexible for a wide variety of images), so you really must know that you need it.

 3. Passion Rating (does the lens inspire your photography?): 8

Passion lenses are ones that you form an emotional attachment to.  These lenses can be zooms or primes, slow or fast, cheap or expensive.  These lenses make photography fun. They get out of your way (or in some cases, get in your way), and let you think about composition and subject.

As a passion lens, the Viltrox 85mm f/1.8 STM is a clear winner. This is a lens that will likely exceed your expectations, and you will begin to think of things to shoot with it, just as an excuse to get out and use it. It is a very solid feeling and attractive lens, that produces excellent subject separation and image quality in a focal length with just the right amount of compression. For portraits, it is sharp without being “resolve every single pore sharp”. Because the price vs. performance ratio of this lens is so incredible, I have no doubt that many users will be willing to overlook the size and weight of the thing. For me personally, I am looking forward to doing some lifestyle product work with it next spring, when I am also interested in taking it hiking (could this lens be my new de facto hiking lens?!). As you can see, I am creating scenarios for this lens already, and that is the mark of a product that inspires passion for the user.

  • Full Name: Viltrox 85mm f/1.8 STM for Fuji X-Mount
  • Max/Min. Aperture: 1.8/16
  • Diaphragm Blades: 9
  • Lens Configuration: 10 Elements in 7 Groups
  • Filter Size: 72mm
  • Magnification Ratio: .125x
  • Focuses Beyond: 31.5″
  • Durability: The lens is rock solid feeling. It is mostly metal and heavy (1.4lb!), though does not appear weather sealed.

I’ve had varying degrees of success with third party lenses for the X-Mount, and had concerns about how well the Viltrox would pair. All those concerns are erased for me now. Not only did the lens work flawlessly out of the box, it comes with a port for future firmware updates that should extend its compatibility to future generations. It is also fully compatible with peak focusing, gives full exif readout, and works with IBIS (wink, wink, Fuji). In terms of the QC (an issue I’ve had with another third-party brand), Viltrox seems to place a high degree of emphasis here (the lens comes with a signed certificate of inspection). What’s more, Viltrox offers a warranty, and although I have no experience with their customer service, I have no reason to expect that it would not also be satisfactory.

This is a good place for a quick comment on my sponsor for this post, Pergear. Pergear is an online retailer that has a well-established identity also as an Amazon seller. I purchased some equipment from them when I initially switched to Fuji, and I believe that this is how I came under their radar. My customer service experience with them is excellent; my order was fulfilled and delivered on time and accurately and even included some goodies that were not mentioned in the listing. This same level of attention has extended to my interaction with them in the process of soliciting this review (which, btw, I was encouraged to conduct honestly). They had obviously read my blog before reaching out, and offered a lens that filled a gap in the lineup that I’d previously published owning. As a former community manager that was responsible for arranging reviews, I really appreciate this level of detail.

What’s more, because they are also an exclusive distributor for many of the lines they sell, I understand why their customer service ratings are so high (check out the reviews on Amazon or Facebook). If you’ve never heard of Pergear, I would not be afraid to trust them with your holiday dollars. They have supply warehouses in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia that they direct ship from, so you can rest assured of a timely delivery and fast corrections to any potential issues.

So just how does the Viltrox 85mm f/1.8 STM lens perform? Check out the images below to see for yourself (note: everything was shot wide open, because that’s what you really want to see).

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