Hyperpolarised 3He ventilation-MRI, anatomical lung MRI, lung clearance index (LCI), low-dose CT and spirometry were performed on 19 children (6–16 years) with clinically stable mild cystic fibrosis (CF) (FEV1>−1.96), and 10 controls. All controls had normal spirometry, MRI and LCI. Ventilation-MRI was the most sensitive method of detecting abnormalities, present in 89% of patients with CF, compared with CT abnormalities in 68%, LCI 47% and conventional MRI 22%. Ventilation defects were present in the absence of CT abnormalities and in patients with normal physiology, including LCI. Ventilation-MRI is thus feasible in young children, highly sensitive and provides additional information about lung structure–function relationships.