Video / Hands-on Review

In the Field with Fujinon MK Zoom Lenses

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If you’ve been following the latest goings-on in the video gear market, the Fujinon MK zoom lenses have probably not escaped your gaze. Originally announced in February, Fujifilm declared that the MK lenses would offer features from both its ENG and cinema lens lines. In January, I was beckoned into a tiny meeting room, here at the B&H offices, to see a pre-production version of what would be the 18-55mm lens, and learn about the forthcoming 50-135mm sibling. A set of these two E-mount lightweight zoom lenses that are robust in construction, feature cinema-grade optics, have constant T2.9 apertures, and come in at a lower price point than many cinema prime lenses? Color me impressed. Fast-forward to May of this year—when I heard that I could spend a day with both lenses, I naturally jumped on the opportunity.

When the lenses were delivered to me, the 18-55mm (which had already been available for sale) was packed inside a retail box, and though the 50-135 was not, it will more than likely be packed the same way when it ships to customers. The retail packaging includes a lens-support foot with extensions (important for tripod-mounted situations), a zoom “lever” (which seems more like a zoom “nubbin” due to its size, or lack thereof) for smoother zoom actions, a flexible lens hood, and a much-appreciated lens pouch. While the pouch won’t protect the lens from any serious drops onto concrete floors, it will protect it from small impacts resulting from being inside a backpack or case when on the go. Regardless, the inclusion of the pouch is a nice touch.

Fujinon MK18-55 & MK50-135 T2.9 Cine-Style Lens Kit

First Impressions

The first thing I noticed when I picked up the lenses was how light they were. Each lens weighs just more than two pounds, less than many cinema primes that are advertised as “compact.” This aspect alone is noteworthy for ENG-style and documentary shooters, because it means you can carry it around for a day’s shoot and not put too much strain on your shoulder or back. At the time of writing, these lenses are only available in Sony’s E-mount, making them perfect companions to the FS-series camcorders, particularly the FS-7 Mark II, a pairing I will get to later in the review. Despite their weight (or lack thereof), the build quality of these lenses is superb. While not on the same level as top-tier cinema primes and zoom lenses, as those comprising weightier materials, I still have faith that these lenses will hold up to rigorous shooting days and fast-paced production environments.

At the front of the lens is a pinch-style lens cap, similar to the ones commonly seen on photography lenses, as opposed to the usual push-on caps found on cinema lenses. This didn’t really bother me, though I do personally prefer the push-on kind. What this denotes, however, is a lot more important. The lens cap is secured via filter threads. They are 82mm in diameter, a very standard diameter for round screw-in filters. The outer diameter is 85mm, so many matte boxes will also fit, if you prefer to use cinema filters. Since I was going to be keeping my setup lightweight during my shooting day, I opted to use my screw-in filter. One problem: my Tiffen Variable IRND filter is only 77mm in diameter. Fortunately, there is enough space between the filter threads and the front element to use a step-down ring without causing any vignetting. Moving on to the rear of the lens, I noticed that this lens has a passive mount; meaning no electronic metadata will be passed through the mount to be viewed in your camera’s viewfinder or monitor. Perhaps the biggest downside in my situation, is that the in-body stabilization feature of the a7S II cannot be used reliably, because it requires focal-length information to operate properly. This information can be entered manually, but this would have to be done every time you changed focal lengths (a tedious process, at best). While it would have been nice to see electronics implemented, I’m sure the affordable prices of these lenses would have been driven up if Fujifilm were to include such a feature. However, lens settings such as focal length, iris, and focus, can be easily viewed from the operator side of the lens. And the many markings allow for precise adjustments. Speaking of precise adjustments, the back-focus of the lens can be adjusted rather easily using a knob toward the rear. This feature, which I hope to see on more future lenses, is commonly found on ENG lenses, allowing you to calibrate the lens to your camera’s mount quickly without having to place or remove shims tediously from inside the lens mount, as is the process with most cinema lenses. It’s especially important to keep these lenses calibrated, because parfocal zooming, which these lenses are capable of, is dependent on good calibration.

Camera Bound

Mounting the MK lenses on my Sony a7S II was simple enough, though it was fairly obvious that these lenses are designed for cameras with the form factor of the FS7 series. Balancing the rig on a tripod is not easy with this setup. While the MK zooms are similar in size and weight to some larger photo lenses, I wasn’t comfortable hanging the lens off the camera mount without a lens support. Plus, you must find a way to move the camera way back on the tripod head, because the center of gravity is in the middle of the lens as opposed to where the camera is mounted on the tripod. On a larger camera, like the PXW-FS7 II, balancing would not be an issue. I had already known that these lenses would only cover an APS-C-sized section of my camera’s full-frame image sensor, but through Sony’s clever Clear Image Zoom, I could crop in while still recording in 4K resolution (practically speaking, this method is difficult to recommend in some situations, because you have to zoom-in manually every time you turn the camera back on after powering down).

In Use

On the day I had blocked for shooting with these lenses, I decided to shoot some B-roll footage for a documentary about a friend of mine who moved to New York from Los Angeles. Holding the a7S II and an MK zoom lens combo didn’t feel as unnatural as I had expected. The lightweight combo made for a very useable run-and-gun configuration when my camera was inside the Tilta Cage. Having this cage, with its wooden handgrip, made a big difference in holding the combo comfortably and stably. The focus, zoom, and iris rings are placed relatively close together and, though some operators prefer this arrangement, I found myself accidentally nudging the zoom ring while attempting to focus. In practice, having the included zoom lever was helpful in identifying the zoom ring without looking at the lens. I’m sure that after more use, I could have developed the muscle memory to prevent any further ring misidentification.

Tilta ES-T17-A Handheld Camera Cage Rig

Most of the footage that I shot for the doc was slow motion (great for B-roll) either of local cityscapes or of my friend showing me around a new in-the-works, up-and-coming VR (Virtual Reality) “amusement park” facility in midtown Manhattan. This was a good test of the lens’s abilities, despite the full-frame sensor on my camera, since the a7S II performs a 2.2x crop for 120 fps capture. As a matter of fact, these lenses are great for this use case because you won’t have to activate the Clear Image Zoom manually. For most the time, I used the 18-55mm lens. It’s focal-length range covered the fields of view that I most often use while shooting. If I were in the market for a lens like this, and could only afford one, the 18-55mm would take precedence. The 50-135mm would be more useful in interview scenarios or live event coverage where long distances are involved.

Check out the short video below for some of the footage that I captured.

Optical Performance

Since these lenses are not cheap, and from a well-established brand, I had high expectations for the optical performance, and these lenses certainly delivered in most key areas. Images were sharp and had decent contrast across the entire image plane. I found color balance to be relatively, and pleasantly, neutral—not as cool as the Zeiss lenses that I have used, and not as warm as I found the Canon CN-E lenses to be. The only nitpicks I had with the image quality are with the distortion of the 18-55mm lens and the flare control. On the 18-55mm lens, the wider focal lengths can exhibit visible distortion of straight lines in some cases. While I could point it out in a scene, it was by no means distracting enough to really complain about. As for lens flare, zoom lenses are complex, and involve a lot of glass elements. This means that flare reduction is extremely difficult to accomplish without significantly expensive lens coatings. Having said that, a matte box or the included lens hood should help significantly in this regard with off-axis light sources. I don’t mind some stylistic lens flare in some of my productions, but it is something to be aware of. I included a picture below to show the flare characteristics with a light source in-frame.

Flare Example

Close-focus distances on these lenses are not particularly close, at least for the wide ends of the lenses. The 18-55mm lens focuses down to around 2' 9" and the 50-135mm to around 3' 11". Check the rear of the lens barrel, and you’ll find a macro switch. Flip the switch and rotate the ring to focus about a foot closer on each of the lenses. Due to the closer focusing distance of the 18-55mm, the macro mode is more effective, overall. Neither lens gets close enough to really qualify for serious macro work. I didn’t find myself relying on the macro capabilities often, but I appreciate that Fujifilm added this feature.

Conclusion

At the price that these lenses are being offered, little is left to be desired of their optical performance or mechanical construction. Strong build quality, light weight, sharp optics, precise mechanics, and a competitive feature set make the MK lenses a great pairing that cover most useable focal lengths. As I mentioned above at the time of writing, these lenses are best paired with Sony’s FS7 systems. They make most ergonomic sense from a shoulder-mounted ENG/cinema vérité standpoint, and can come in handy for two-camera interview setups, where you can have the other lens mounted on a more affordable camera like the Sony A6500, if you have adequate lens support. As affordable zoom lenses for large-sensor cameras become more commonplace, in this writer’s humble opinion, Fujifilm has entered this market in a big way. If you’re a professional videographer operating on Sony’s FS7 or FS7 Mark II systems and doing documentary, ENG, or corporate videos, these lenses might be a no-brainer to own. Check them out on the B&H website, or at the B&H SuperStore, in New York.

1 Comments

The demo clip does little to show what these lenses are capable of. External views with detail in the subject matter, such as streetscape with traffic or landscape with fine branches and chellenging lighting would be far better, IMHO.

For totally manual zooms, I think one could get better value for money with older lenses. I can't see how $4k can be justified just because they are declicked and parafocal. Just my opinion, of course.

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