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.
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):
(iso 800, 1/1oo0):
(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!