The market has been yearning for a run-and-gun zoom for super-35 that doesn't break the bank. Fuji may just have filled that need.
Regular readers may be aware that we've talked quite a lot in recent past about the enormous need for a general-purpose zoom for run-and-gun operating on single chip cameras. To recap, the problem is that the tried and tested layout for this sort of lens is the kind of thing used on news and current affairs – the type of zoom typically found on two-thirds-inch broadcast cameras. Some of these can be very capable, with extremely short wide ends, providing a suitably all-encompassing field of view on such small sensors, and a lot of zoom action with an extender to push things even further. Some of these lenses are 20:1 zooms with a maximum aperture around f1.3 and have enormous capability.
The problem is that they don't work (at least not very well) on big chips. They're set up to land an image on three-chip sensor blocks and the image they cast isn't big enough to cover a super-35 sensor. There are optical converters available, but they often make the extender unusable and the picture quality can be badly compromised. This approach works fine for people with a background in broadcast camerawork who already own 2/3" glass, but it has never made much sense to consider this approach as a good one for new people starting out with modern, big-chip cameras.
To date been only two alternatives: optically excellent but cumbersome stills lenses, such as Canon's excellent 24-105 f4 L, which can have problems with breathing and general operability in the world of movies, and fantastic but incredibly expensive options like the Fujinon Cabro 4.7x19 or Canon CN 7x17 lenses, each of which is tens of thousands and doesn't match well, as a business proposition, with cameras such as the FS7 or Ursa Mini.
So that's the problem. The solution, which Fuji has announced presumably with the idea of providing more information at NAB, may well lie in its new 6x20 (that is, 20-120mm) Cabrio XK lens, which offers super-35 coverage and a constant aperture of T3.5. While many will decry this as slow – apparently we must all shoot at T1.8 these days, focus pullers be damned – it's perfectly adequate on fast modern cameras and more than worth the enormous advantage of such a wide-ranging lens. Like the 19-90, the "cabrio" title suggests a convertible role for the lens, with the zoom grip removable for more big-screen-style work.
Fuji suggests that the lens will be "affordable," although that probably tells us only that it will be less expensive than the very expensive 19-90. It's a guess, but it seems very likely that the price will be high enough – probably $15,000 or more, to offer a wild guess – to leave more than enough room for someone to undercut with an even lower-cost option, for those who don't need claims of 4K resolution. After all, plenty of HD and even SD-rated video glass, via those sharpness-sapping converters, is being shot right now, and no broadcaster's submission requirements seem to demand anything other than that the sensor has a certain number of photosites on it. The build quality of the new lens looks, from the photos, to be extremely nice and that probably implies expense that some people won't feel the need to pay for.
Still, much as this is likely to feel like a premium option, it's a major step in exactly the right direction and, really, no surprise – it was not so much a gap in the market as a yawning chasm and nobody will be astonished that someone has filled it. The question now is whether anything else like this is likely to pop up at NAB. Given the obviousness of the need and the enormous potential market, it would be no surprise to find that Fuji's new baby had to fight for column inches with more than one competing contender. Here's hoping.