Before our Mexico trip we decided to buy the Canon 40mm f/2.8 Pancake lens. We envisioned it to be a perfect travel lens: affordable, light, small, normal focal length, and good image quality. The few weeks we have spent with it have only proven those points. This was the only lens we brought with us to Mexico to use with our 5d Mark iii.

Updated 11/15/2017

What is the pancake lens used for?

Pancake lenses are designed to be as low profile as possible, making them perfect for travel or documentary photography. The lenses are light weight and don’t get in your way. They’re generally 35mm-50mm focal length primes, with apertures ranging from f/2.8-f/5.6. They are popular with street photographers because they’re easy to pocket and don’t attract attention.

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The first thing I noticed was the STM (Stepper Motor) autofocus, I’m used to big pieces of glass moving around in our L series lenses, so to have an almost silent and very fluid AF was almost disorienting at first.

This lens has very high image quality for the price, much better than the 50mm f/1.8 or 35mm f/2.

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There is very little distortion and almost no chromatic aberration, but we did notice a pretty heavy vignette when shot at f/2.8.

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It handles backlit situations beautifully, focuses much better than other lenses in its price point, and is SHARP from f/2.8.

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The Out-of-Focus parts of photos are gorgeous, and in my opinion much better than the 50mm 1.8.

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The only downfall to this lens is that it loses two stops of light to its f/1.4 brethren, so if you’re on an older camera body things might start getting a bit noisy 🙂

(5diii – ISO 25600)

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Other than that, we can’t find a single thing wrong with this lens.. we love the 40mm focal length (closer to the 43mm “normal” length of full frame canon than the 50mm) and its size makes even a full size body like the Mark III seem light and maneuverable.

Sara shooting, almost looks like she’s shooting with no lens! (x100 photo)

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We did a fair amount of “freelensing” with this lens to keep things fun.. It is actually pretty dang alright for this.. might have to buy a second one to modify for less mount interference!

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Here are some example images from our trip, all at f/2.8 unless noted. (we didn’t add our usual grain in post processing, so you can better see the sharpness of this lens)

I was very anxious to shoot in Sayulita so I asked a local girl to model for me knowing full well that the extent of my lens selection was only the 40. I was excited to shoot within constraints and really test out the pancake lens. I had no qualms at all with the quality of images that resulted, I was in fact very pleasantly surprised. The only issue I had was a vanity issue. I felt like I didn’t quite look like a professional while using it. Having such a low profile made the camera look a little more amateurish. I imagine people watching me shoot on the beach thought “aw how cute,” especially after seeing other photographers walking around with 70-200s.

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(iso 400, f/5.6, 8 seconds – we didn’t bring a tripod, so we sat the body on a rock):canon 40mm pancake lens review photo 014Amazing clarity wide-open!canon 40mm pancake lens review photo 016Sharper than his machete:canon 40mm pancake lens review photo 017In camera double exposure:canon 40mm pancake lens review photo 019

(iso 800, 1/1oo0):canon 40mm pancake lens review photo 021canon 40mm pancake lens review photo 022(iso 400, 1/100th)canon 40mm pancake lens review photo 024canon 40mm pancake lens review photo 025

(iso 8000, 1/50th):canon 40mm pancake lens review photo 026canon 40mm pancake lens review photo 027

(iso 2500, 1/125th):canon 40mm pancake lens review photo 028

(iso 1250, 1/125th):canon 40mm pancake lens review photo 029

(iso 800, f/4, 1/100th)canon 40mm pancake lens review photo 030

Overall thoughts: Perfect travel lens. It’s low profile and not going to turn any heads while you’re walking down the street, which was definitely the goal for us. It’s sharp and relatively fast. It was also very easy to use for freelensing because of its size, and might turn into my main lens for that. The vignette really annoyed me at first but turned out to be a non-issue and an easy fix in Lightroom. If you are shooting on a smaller sensor, I imagine the vignette is almost non-existant.

Our advice is that all Canon shooters should really consider this lens, its a great mix of lightweight, great IQ, and low price. I have no hesitation shooting it side-by-side with our L lenses during daylight hours, a pretty big compliment for a lens that is 1/10th the price!

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  1. As much as I enjoy some of my large primes (and they all seem large these days), there is something truly great about a portable lens like the 40mm pancake. I wouldn’t use it for wedding photography, but would make a great walk-around lens.

  2. I just bought it and can’t wait to use it on the trip to Italy. I usually used 50mm – very light compared to Sigma Art 35mm/1.4. But 40mm is even Lighter.

  3. I bought it to test when it became available… I also didn’t like the vignetting near wide open with a full frame sensor. It worked very nicely on APS-C body, for portraits to still life work. (Although I usually prefer tilt shift lens for still life work.)

  4. Yei!… I found this lens on sale and it has been tempting me oh so very much. I wanted the 50mm at first but I am a bit disappointed that the image is way too close and although it is good for certain things I want something more for capturing things on the go…

    Will give it a try! (and greeeeeat pictures!!)

    nice finding your blog!

  5. Thank you for this review! I am going to the UK for 6 weeks this summer/fall and torn between getting this lens for my trusty three year old T2i or springing for a smaller, lighter newer camera to take with me. I’m not too thrilled about the distraction of a new camera on a trip like this (or the $$) so hoping maybe the pancake lens with be a good replacement for the kit 18-135. These days I use my Iphone 5 for so many shots, so it’s tempting to travel VERY light and leave the Canon at home, but I know I would regret it. Any thoughts on my dilemma?

  6. Nice review and great pictures. But be honest: Did you not miss availability of other focal lengths on your trip?
    I am considering to take only this lens on my next 3 week backpacking trip to Asia due to high IQ and compact dimensions / light weight. Or would I really need the big 24-70 2.8 instead?

    1. I tend to LOVE the 35-50mm focal length overall.. but sometimes 24 is so nice for travel photos.. if its landscape you can always do pano’s 🙂 I didn’t really miss other focal lengths and have traveled with just a 35 or 50mm lens as well.

  7. I am so bummed that the photos in the post are not showing up for me! I am very interested in seeing them!! Love your work!

  8. I was going back and forth about getting this lens, but your review and photos have convinced me to! I love the size and think it will be ideal for my European travels.

    Thanks for the awesome review! 🙂

  9. After visiting this site i purchased this lens for my 600D. Of course i don’t get the full advantage of a full frame camera but this lens is wicked cool to shoot with and easy to carry around. It’s now my favorite full time carry around lens.

  10. Sent this to my nephew David. Wonder if he’ll bite the bait and decide to brown bag his lunches for a bit. Couldn’t decide whether he’ll go for the shorty 40 or nifty fifty but this lens has a lot to recommend it over the 50, especially since I think he’ll do a lot more day light shots. Thanks for the article and the awesome photographs!

  11. I agree with your review. I find the 40mm pancake absolutely stunningly sharp with nice contrast. It beats my 21mm Zeiss Distagon by a mile in sharpness (admittedly this is not a relevant comparison).

  12. I’ve been wondering about this lens! My fifty just but the dust after about a year and a half, and need another great (affordable) prime. Would you for sure purchase this over the 50mm 1.8? Or is it definitely worth it to wait and purchase the 50mm 1.4?

    1. That’s hard.. I’d love the 40mm over the 50mm 1.8 during the day for 95% of my shots.. anything where I wanted razor thin DOF or needed the extra 1.5 stops the 50 would be the choice.. depends how much you’re in those situations and what you shoot.

  13. Wow, this is awesome guys. I’ve been looking for a really light day-to-day lens so that I actually start carrying my camera with me (since we live in the city I’m often walking 2+ miles and gear gets heavy) so I might just put this on my Christmas list.


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