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.

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.

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

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

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

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)

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)

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!

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.

(iso 400, f/5.6, 8 seconds – we didn’t bring a tripod, so we sat the body on a rock):Amazing clarity wide-open!Sharper than his machete:In camera double exposure:

(iso 800, 1/1oo0):(iso 400, 1/100th)

(iso 8000, 1/50th):

(iso 2500, 1/125th):

(iso 1250, 1/125th):

(iso 800, f/4, 1/100th)

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!

[rwp-reviewer-rating-stars id=”0″]

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36 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. Great review and gorgeous shots! Thanks for reminding me this lens is out there. Love the double-exposure palm and the sunny shots of the beautiful blonde!

  3. Well there goes $150 out of my pocket. Please don’t review anything expensive! 🙂

  4. 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.

  5. Thanks for the review. You pretty much sold me on it, ccould be a great replacement for my 35/2

  6. John Pyle says:

    Very nice review and images.

  7. read this review yesterday, bought the lens today. just like Brandon, please don’t review anything expensive. 🙂

  8. Thanks for posting this, this is the first ‘real world’ I’ve seen of this lens, you make me want to go out and get one now!

  9. Great review. I think I’ll have to nab one of these now. The price is unbelievable.

  10. 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).

  11. Allison Jacobs says:

    Great review! Thank you!

  12. I remember reading this before and then saw it again on your mexico post. Now, I’m really thinking a little mexico trip post write up and a little travel lens review would be amazing. Fill out a submission form if you’re interested! http://www.vagabondbond.com/submit-your-work/ Thanks for sharing. I’m super excited now.

  13. Eddie Harper says:

    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!

  14. 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.

  15. 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! 🙂

  16. love this lens….and its a really good review for this little gem.

  17. 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!

    1. Danielle! Thanks for alerting us, we’ll get the image issue fixed ASAP!

  18. What post processing have you done to get those colours ?? They look anazing !’

  19. 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.

  20. Are these photos edited? Can you tell me what settings you use for these photos?
    Is it manual? They look so good. I have the same camera
    lens!

    1. I used VSCO, I think portra 160.. can’t remember for sure, its been a year 🙂

  21. 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?

  22. 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!

  23. i wish u could say what vacs presets u used for the shots with skateboard))

    1. i ment VSCO presets*

  24. 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.)

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