RedShark Review: While it’s tempting to think that glass is glass, the price/performance of the Canon CN-E 18-80mm T4.4 - 4K EF Servo zoom lens shows how evolution in the lens field is accelerating.
The popularity of cine style cameras, or rather those with large sensors, rather caught out the lens manufacturers, thanks to the rise of the DSLR. As such cameras gained popularity, and manufacturers started making dedicated, affordable cinema style cameras, it was clear that big, super expensive PL lenses were not going to suffice for the average punter who didn’t own an Arriflex Arrihead geared head to mount their camera on. Okay, I admit it, I am suffering from a bout of hyperbole, but the fact remained that owning a set of PL lenses not so very long ago was not an undertaking for those on modest budgets. The only realistic option was to use stills lenses, with all their inherent limitations for video and cinematography.
Of course, things have changed, as they always do, and there are now some really quite good lightweight PL lenses available for comparatively modest prices. The Fujinon 20-120mm T3.5 for example, coming in at around £16000, is fairly similar in price to many higher end ENG/EFP lenses, and at 2.9kg is only around 1kg more than many ENG lenses, too. When the first large chip EFP style zooms came out, they were closer to $50,000+ only three or four years ago. We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time.
By far the most popular mount for a wide variety of camera is, of course, Canons’ EF system. Despite its current popularity, it will never win over hardened cinematographers, for many well reasoned practical and technical points. But for the rest of us, EF will do just fine, thanks.
It is therefore heartening that the two main video lens makers, Fujnon and Canon, have in recent years started catering for those who would like affordable servo zoom lenses for large sensor cameras, that look and function very much like their trusty 2/3” ENG/EFP counterparts. Such lenses are highly versatile, being useful in a great variety of circumstances without the need to change glass all the time, and are fast and easy to use. Their one-time absence from the market where big chip cameras were concerned, at one time seemed like an eternity.
Enter the CN-E 18-80mm
The subject of this particular review is the Canon CN-E 18-80mm T4.4 - 4K EF servo lens. Those who use, or used to use ENG/EFP lenses will immediately feel at home on first glancing this rather chunky bit of glass. After what seems like an age of using a ton of repurposed stills glass, for me it was a bit like coming home to a comfy armchair, and gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. It is nice to get my hands back on a lens that I know from just looking at it, will be highly practical.
Weight-wise the 18-80 comes in at 1.2kg including the servo unit. It feels a little heavier than this to me, and my own scales suggested around 1.6kg. Much of a muchness really, but regardless, for glass like this to come down to such a weight is quite an achievement. Filter thread size is 77mm, so it will suit anybody who has invested in screw in filters of this versatile size.
At 18-80mm capability, the focal length range of such a lens is never going to match traditional ENG/EFP glass. Not without hugely increasing costs and weight. However, as it stands, 18-80mm is an extremely useful range to have. Contrast this with the Fujinon MK18-55 that Phil Rhodes reviewed earlier this year (https://www.redsharknews.com/production/item/4424-fujinon-releases-e-mount-18-55mm-lens) and you have a rather handy 25mm extra on the long end.
The trade off? Well, making glass to suit all needs is a constant battle for making the best compromises. But compromise they must. With the Fujinon you have less focal length range, but you do get a light transmission rating of T2.9. With the Canon 18-80 the compromise you are making is a rating of T4.4, constant throughout the zoom range.
Which of the two lenses you prefer will come down to what you are using it for. My own preference for general day to day working is to have more focal length range. I simply do not like the faff of changing lenses. It slows me down and means I have to carry around more kit. Whilst T4.4 is not the fastest glass on the block, it isn’t the stumbling block that it once was, due to the sheer light sensitivity of modern cameras. Not unless you are after uber short depth of field, in which case you would be better off using cine primes instead, regardless.