Field Test: Fujifilm MK 50-135 Delivers on a Diet
Fujifilm has released a parfocal zoom that offers great performance at a light weight.
We are truly at a time of amazing technology for cinema zooms. Just look at the ability to create a cinema zoom for under $4000 that offers true parfocal performance on a Super 35mm sensor. Fujinon, the lens brand of camera, lens and film manufacturer Fujfilm, has just released the new MK 50-135 T2.9 lens, its second cine zoom priced under $4000 with a target price of $3950. The first was the MK18-55 that we reviewed back in February.
The price-to-performance ratio of the MK zooms is really hard to bargain with.
Like its wider cousin, the 18-55, this is a true cinema-style zoom. First and foremost, it’s completely parfocal, which means it holds focus throughout the entire zoom range. This is useful for sports and action-style work, where you can zoom in, grab focus and zoom out, but it’s also a huge benefit for complicated camera moves. If you want to slowly pull out on a subject, using the zoom creatively, you’ll need it to hold focus on your subject without drift, and a parfocal lens does that.
In addition, there are other cinema-focused features, including consistent focus/iris/zoom lens placement with the wide zoom, making for fast lens swaps, and consistent lens sizing. It also has a built in macro mode which, while it doesn’t entirely replace a full macro prime, will help nab some essential shots while on the go.
The lens is also very light. Lighter than many primes, it comes in at 980 grams, and would be useful not just in handheld situations but also in stabilized shoots. The lightness is sort of magical, considering the zoom range and performance of the lens, and is one of the strongest reasons to consider the Fujinon, especially if you do a lot of handheld or action work.
In our tests, the image quality balanced sharpness with softness well. When focused properly, it feels sharp and clear, but never overly clinical or cold. The bokeh rolls off smoothly, and the flare in the night shots wasn't overwhelming or distracting. The macro mode isn't huge, with the two flower shots below demonstrating the difference. The wider shot below was shot at full zoom, close focus, and the slightly tighter shot with a larger emphasis on the stamen was shot in macro mode. Not a night and day difference, but a helpful bump for getting close and picking out details that is greatly appreciated.
Every design involves some level of sacrifice, and this lens makes a few small sacrifices in order to deliver its image quality at this price. First is the E-mount based design, making it perfect for a camera like the FS7 but not possible to adapt to EF, PL, PV or other deep flange focal distance cameras. Hopefully, Fujinon will eventually do X and MFT mount versions of the lens (perhaps field swappable?), but for now, it’s E-mount only, which limits it to mostly the FS7 and A7 and A9 bodies. No PL mount version is coming in the future, either. In order to make the lens perform as well as it does at it's weight and price point, PL was ruled out and would be nearly impossible to achieve in the future considering the increase in flange focal distance.
Coverage is Super35mm, so if you are on an FS7 job and take out an A7 for B-camera/night work, you need to use that full frame camera in crop mode in order to get the most from what it offers. Many reviewers prefer the video in crop mode on the A7 platform, so it’s not a tremendous sacrifice, but it is something to be aware of as you are shopping. Our test photos were shot on an A7S, and the results were quite pleasant.
An additional limitation is only opening to a T2.9. For a zoom, this is plenty, and in the digital era it’s not nearly the sacrifice it was in the age of film. As seen with our review of the Varicam LT back in May, there are legitimate cinema cameras shooting beautiful imagery at ISO 5000, and speed increases are only going to continue in the coming years. Most owners expect longer ownership from their glass than from their camera bodies, and these lenses are plenty fast enough for the current generation of cameras and are very likely fast enough for the ever-increasing sensors of the near future.
These lenses are plenty fast enough for the ever-increasing sensors of the near future.
This lens would make a great complement to the aforementioned LT, and while the Varicam LT currently only ships with EF and PL mounts, we’ve asked Panasonic to see if any third party vendors are making an E-mount. Of course, Panasonic has a brand spanking new cinema camera coming out June 2nd at Cine Gear, and we can hope shallower mounts will be part of that package.
Additionally, with a 50-135 cinema lens, anything wider than a T2.9 becomes almost cruel to your first AC. With still photo lenses, you only need to focus one shot at a time, and auto-focus is getting ridiculously good. However, cinema jobs still generally have a focus puller controlling the focus as a choice, and with a zoom set to 135mm, the depth of field even at 2.9 is tiny. Most DPs would tend to light for a 4 to at least give their AC a fighting chance of holding it in focus. For most, it's easier to boost the ISO by a stop and make sure the image is sharp than it is to leave the ISO low, open wide to a T2, and have such a small depth of field that the actors are never sharp.
Like its wider twin, the 50-135 is also parfocal, but it’s less important here than on the wide zoom. The smaller the depth of field in front of the lens, the larger the depth of focus behind the lens (the amount the lens mounting/parfocal adjustment can vary while still landing properly on the sensor), and we didn’t notice any issues at all with parfocal performance. If you plan long, elaborate zooms, the MK will hold consistent focus throughout the shot.
How it stacks up
The main obvious competitor to this lens is the new, comparatively priced Sigma cine-zooms. The main drawbacks there are weight and parfocality. If you are doing a ton of run and gun and want the trusted workflow of snapping into full zoom, getting focus, and zooming out, the Fujinons are your choice. If you are doing stabilizer work or anything else where weight savings matter, the Fujinons also win.
However, If absolutely low light performance is your need, it’s hard to argue with the T2 and the wider variety of lens mounts on the Sigmas. For many of us, a 2 or 1.4 just isn’t as important as it used to be, and hopefully more mounts will roll out on the Fujinon zooms.
The big question really becomes, how important is that last full stop of exposure? Back in the film days, cinematographers were obsessed with getting T2 or T1.4 lenses for working in low light situations, but of course, back in those film days the fasted commonly used stock was 5219, at 500ISO. Pushed a stop, you got some light noise and 1000 ISO. Coming in at 2.5 stops faster than that is a modern camera like the Panasonic Varicam LT, which has dual native ISO, one of which is 5000 and is exceptionally useable.
Having a macro, and a truly parfocal long zoom that weighs so little is an amazing thing. There are competitors in the price range with similar image quality that sacrifice parfocality for aperture. Depending on your workflow, that last F-stop may or may not be the deal breaker. However, for many filmmakers, a T2.9 is an acceptably fast lens that will deliver a depth of field that is easier on your focus puller, more likely to hold focus, and entirely compatible with low light work.
A set of cine-zooms at this price point is really meant to be your everyday workhorse glass, with the option always on the table to rent 1.4 (or even T1 from Vantage) primes for ultra low-light shooting. The price-to-performance ratio of the MK zooms is really hard to bargain with, and they are a very good buy considering what they deliver.
Shipping mid-July for $3999, see Fujinon's site for more info.
- 200° focus rotation angle
- 50-135mm zoom range
- standard .8 ring tooth pitch for focus, iris, and zoom
- 980gram weight
- Truly parfocal
- Backfocus adjustable
- Macro mode