February 22, 2017
EXCLUSIVE

REVIEW: Fujifilm MK 18-55 Zoom Lens

Designed from the ground up as a motion picture lens, we put the new MK 18-55 Zoom through its paces and are impressed with what we found.

Earlier today, Fujifilm announced its entry into the "emerging cinematographer" market with the company's first ever native E-mount lenses, the Fujinon MK 18-55mm T2.9 and the Fujinon MK 50-135mm T2.9. We got our hands on the MK 18-55mm and have some findings to share with you below. All of our tests were shot with a Sony FS7, shot using SLog and graded in post only using a LUT in Resolve to convert to Rec. 709. 

Packaging

Let's start with the box. Fujfilm uses a stark, simple packaging that has more in common with vintage Apple designs than most of the packaging in the cinema industry. The company's products arrive in a very simple, clean, matte black box with the bare minimum of text, with only a few specs listed on the outside. In a world that feels the urge to plaster advertising on every single available product box surface, it's a restrained, elegant package. 

Credit: Charles Haine

Lens Design

Inside is the brand new Fujifilm MK 18-55 Cine Zoom, in E-mount, available this spring, with an X-mount coming next year. Once you get the lens out of the box, it's surprisingly light, coming in at 2lbs 2oz, or around 990 grams, according to our office scale. For a cine zoom, this is notably light. While it doesn't feel unsubstantial or delicate in your hand, it could probably rest comfortably on your shoulder for a long day without adding to your fatigue, or mounted to the front of an A7S on a gimbal for long, stabilized days without many lens changes.

Credit: Charles Haine
The only surprise, really, is the mixing of "broadcast" lens design language and "cine" lens design language. It's got the .8 pitch teeth of a cine lens, but they are smoothed out at the back in a way that feels more like a broadcast lens. It almost seems like there should be a colored ring at the front for focusing. Then there's the backfocus and macro rings that we'll get to in a minute. It's a great bonus that they are there, but they aren't something you see frequently on "cine" lenses.

Credit: Charles Haine

The body of the lens feels solid, with smooth action on all of the rings and just the right amount of drag to make smooth focus, aperture and zoom racks a breeze. The bright is clear and easy to read, and it comes with an integrated lens hood that should be useful for keeping down flare in a variety of situations.

We couldn't seem to create an overall veiling glare that ruined image quality no matter how hard we tried.

That said, the lens barely flares at all, even when facing the sun, a car's headlights, or even a little LED held right up to the it. What flaring there is doesn't distract from the image at all, and we couldn't seem to create an overall veiling glare that ruined image quality no matter how hard we tried. In addition, the native cine design of the lens leads to an optical center that stays in perfect place as you zoom, with no drift. Center up an object at full wide, and as you zoom in, it stays in place.

The lens also has very little breathing. It breathes a tiny little bit—it's not a Master Prime, after all—but a hair of breathing can actually be kind of a nice thing in a lens.

The Rear ElementCredit: Charles Haine

Backfocus

Having a backfocus adjustment built into the lens is a great bonus, but it's also a risk for the manufacturer because it's a feature you need to learn how to use. However, it takes less than 30 seconds to set it properly and we hope this lens will be the first in a new wave to include adjustable back focus, since it's a useful feature as resolutions increase.

Why do we need back focus?  Put simply, materials respond to temperature. Sensors heat up (though CMOS less than CCD), which move their position. As the physical lens heats up or cools down, the lens itself will expand or contract slightly, based on the temperature. This actually applies to all lenses ever made, but big cine zooms never worried about this, since the film was held in place by a backplate, keeping it in the same position no matter the ambient temperature, and focus was controlled by a dedicated AC frequently checking focus marks with an operator. Thus, the broadcast habit of "zoom in, grab focus, zoom out and shoot" didn't apply. On 16mm film, the resolution wasn't high enough to see minor shifts in focus so the adjustment wasn't needed there.

A backfocus ring allows you to compensate for those incredibly small shifts in sensor position and lens body distortion caused by temperature.

A backfocus ring allows you to compensate for those incredibly small shifts in sensor position and lens body distortion caused by temperature. Turn the camera on, throw up a star chart, and adjust your backfocus (at full zoom and full wide, three times) and you should be good to go with a lens that you can trust to hold its focus throughout the zoom range. This is incredibly important as we move to higher and higher resolution formats, where small deviations in focus become more noticeable.

FujiFilm Star ChartCredit: Fujfilm

With all the online discussion about whether or not the Sigma cine zooms are parfocal (They aren't, and, actually, no zoom really is), the ability to adjust the lens to every given situation so that it behaves as if it is parfocal and maintains a consistent focus through the zoom range is a great feature. Hooray.

The nerves come with introducing a new habit to the operating process. If you are an owner/operator considering this lens, you'll integrate it into your habit in a day or two, love the confidence it gives you to zoom in, grab focus, pull out and shoot, and never think about it. But as a renter, you'll want to ask your rental tech how to set it the first time out.  If set incorrectly, it's possible to zoom in, grab focus, then zoom out and lose focus so subtly that you don't notice on your viewfinder and don't realize the issue into you get back to the post suite and see it on the big 65" 4K client monitor. That being said, the benefits of a backfocus adjustment far outweigh having to add another setting to your routine.

The Front ElementCredit: Fujfilm

Image Quality and Aberration

None of the above would matter if the images you got from the lens didn't hold up, but they do so incredibly well. Chromatic aberration—the blue or purple fringing you often see in high contrast areas while a lens is set to wide open—is nearly non existent. While a focus chart is a great way to test aberration, and you can see those images below, it's also great to look for aberration in real world situations, especially in the bokeh of out-of-focus headlights when shooting on a street in the dark. As you can see below from our tests, little distracting aberration is present in that situation. It's nearly impossible to design a lens without some primary (bluish) or secondary (green or magenta) aberration, but it's so small here as to be unnoticeable.

And angled star chart shows aberation quite dramatically, and while some is visible, it's very minor and unlikely to affect real world image captureCredit: FujiFilm
Night headlight shot shows how minimal any aberration is in real world settings.Credit: FujiFilm

Macro

The macro mode, the other adjustable ring at the back of this lens, is another area where the lens really stands out. It frustratingly doesn't offer much benefit at full zoom, allowing you to focus at more like 2' 4" instead of 2' 10". When zoomed all the way to 18mm wide, it allows a close focus of around 17", which puts the focus only 2-3" in front of the front element of the lens. This allows for some fun shooting situations, like the macro shot of the writer's beard you see below, but also makes life much easier for the documentary or run-and-gun filmmaker. While you might spend 90% of your day in normal mode shooting interviews, action footage, establishers and other traditional shots, being able to swing quickly into macro to shoot text and other small details is a real bonus.

Macro shot at full 55mm zoomCredit: Charles Haine
Macro shot at 18mmCredit: Charles Haine

Zoom Range and Comparables

As mentioned at the top of the post, our tests were shot with an FS7. This camera provides a great baseline for not only the typical set-up for this lens, but it also happens to be a great low-light camera. Combining this camera with the consistent T2.9 aperture of the lens made impressive low light cityscape, moon and street imagery possible.

Of course, this topic brings up the main competitors for this lens, the Sigma Cine Zooms, which show up around the same price point, the same zoom range, and are intended for the same audience. In Super 35mm mode, those zooms open to a T2, slightly more than a stop wider than the Fujfilms. One stop can be a tremendous benefit in many shooting situations, and is certainly worth considering as your narrow your shopping list. However, the Sigma has an 18-35mm range, which really requires another zoom, whereas the 18-55mm gives a surprisingly good range, as seen below. Supplemented with an 85mm or 135mm prime with a wide aperture, you could cover a lot of ground with just the wider zoom.

18mm night street viewCredit: Charles Haine
55mm cityscapeCredit: Charles Haine

Any purchase of any lens should involve testing, especially at this price point, and your choice will ultimately come down to taste, or intangible personality elements in the way the lens renders images. The Fujifilm feels both sharp and creamy at the same time, with a pleasant smoothness, especially in the bokeh, compared to other glass.

A macro that lets you focus nearly to the front of the lens is a very handy thing to have, especially on doc projects.

In comparing the Fujfilm to the Sigma, the main elements in the Fujfilm's favor are both the incredible image quality and those two rings at the back. A backfocus that lets you have confidence in your focus is a great asset. A macro that lets you focus nearly to the front of the lens is a very handy thing to have, especially on doc projects where you'll want to grab a variety of cutaways on the fly. If you are in a hurry, it's faster to swing to the macro mode and grab a cool shot of the cat, the ash tray with a freshly extinguished cigarette, or food sizzling on a stove than it is to dig your dedicated macro out of your bag.

Macro Sample 1Credit: Liz Nord
Macro Sample 2Credit: Liz Nord

Conclusion

Currently the MK line is only available in E-mount, with a clear focus on the FS7 in terms of price point. An X-mount will be available next year, which be a perfect fit for the X-T2, an impressive sub-$2000 mirrorless camera that is getting more attention from filmmakers.

The T2.9 feels fast and useable. There are other lenses that give you an extra stop for around the same price, but they don't come with a macro, or backfocus adjustment, and you should really take stock of the majority of what you use the lens for as you make your purchase. Spend most of your time shooting night exterior wildlife footage? That extra stop might be key. Spend most of your time in varied situations largely with enough exposure? The macro, backfocus, and light weight could win out, and you can always push the footage an extra stop in post, or carry a Rokinon T1.4 prime or two as backup, when you need it. As you research in this space, this is definitely a lens to watch.

Sun FlareCredit: Charles Haine
Sun Flare against foreground objects.Credit: Charles Haine
Credit: Charles Haine
 The Fujinon MK 18-55mm T2.9 is shipping in the next few weeks with a launch price of $3799, with the companion 50-135mm shipping this summer. For more info visit FujiFilm.com.

Tech Specs:

  • 2lbs, 2.5oz, or 990 grams
  • T2.9 Maximum Aperture
  • 18-55mm zoom range
  • 200° Focus Rotation
  • Optical Center remains through zoom
  • 82MM filter diameter
  • 85mm front diameter
  • Consistent gear ring placement from lens to lens
  • .8M gear tooth pitch
  • 206.3mm overall lens length

Your Comment

4 Comments

Super-Cool..!!

February 23, 2017 at 2:45AM

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Sameir Ali
Director of Photography
689

This would be a great lens on FS5, FS7, BMD Ursa Mini or Aja Cion

February 27, 2017 at 1:50PM

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Stewart Fairweather
Cinematographer
150

The Sony's yes, but this lens doesn't come in EF mount. With the shorter flange distance that the e-mount provides, Fuji was able to engineer a more compact and lighter weight zoom.

February 28, 2017 at 9:27PM

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Did you shoot any footage with the lens? It seemed like you mentioned doing so at the beginning, but I can't find the link.

February 28, 2017 at 9:25PM

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Why not an EF mount version? This is incredibly limiting. I don't think there's an E-mount to EF mount adapter out there. Does it really make the lens that much lighter to have an E-mount option? Disappointing for the rest of us who have EF-mount cameras and EF lenses.

April 29, 2017 at 11:49PM, Edited April 29, 11:49PM

2
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Alejandro A Marin
Director of Photography
8