Review: 40mm Canon 2.8 ‘Pancake’ lens

The 40mm 2.8 lens is known as a ‘pancake lens’ to most photographers. You probably won’t be surprised to know that it’s thin – but no matter what understanding you have of the size of the pancake lens, you’ll still be surprised. This thing is thin, and it’s a brilliant piece of photography gear for its price.

About the lens

I bought the pancake lens blindly and hoped it would be a decent addition to my camera bag. I just had one of those days where the urge to be a consumer was at an all-time high. The 40mm pancake lens had just come out and I thought I would try it out. What’s the harm at $220, I thought? The lens is designed for use with Canon’s EOS M range, which is Canon’s mirrorless body offering. The lens also features a certain type of motor which I admit I don’t know too much about, but provides a steadier change in focusing while filming with an EOS M body. That’s outside the scope of this review because I’m a photographer, and that’s all my insight can really comment on.

What I tested the lens with

I tested this lens mainly with street photography and food photography. The reasons I tested it on these types of photography is because the biggest selling point of the pancake lens is how thin and light it is. I wanted to test how much lighter it made my 5Dmkiii and how it focused for a prime. I also wanted to test it against sharpness, which food photography is perfect for.

Focusing with the lens

The focusing is quite accurate with the autofocus, although it is noticeably slow. This is probably the weakest point of the lens. The lens is best when you have it on manual focus. However, this really shows off where the pancake design has its biggest flaws. The focusing ring is on the furtherest part of the lens away from the camera body, and is as thin as you imagine it to be. It’s very unforgiving when you’re out and needing to focus quickly. Because the lens is really design for filming on the EOS M range, the focusing ring requires a lot of rotations to focus compared to more common Canon lenses.

Build quality of the lens

The build quality is pretty good, but there are some concerns I had with how well it meets non-EOS M mount cameras. When you slide the lens in and twist it into place, it feels like it’s not meant to fit on the EF mount. It feels like you are pushing against it unnaturally. When you get it in place, some of the connector points must not have made contact with certain parts of the 40mm lens, because it would not autofocus or allow me to release the shutter. Once I took the lens off and remounted it, the autofocus worked and everything was going great. However, I find that this lack of contact point accuracy happens almost every time I equip the lens, which is frustrating. It’s also concerning how much damage the friction it has against the EF mount might be doing. This lens is designed for the EOS M camera, and it shows, despite boasting its compatibility. The lens is made out of some durable plastic and metals, and while there’s not much to it, it does feel solid.

Sharpness

This thing is razor sharp in terms of clarity for its price. I expected something similar to the 50mm 1.8 that many people say is a photographer’s best friend. The 50mm is very sharp, but I believe the 40mm 2.8 pancake lens is sharper. I often shoot with the 50mm 1.2L lens, and the 40mm performs almost as sharp as that lens, and comes in at around $1,200 cheaper than that of its luxury competitor.

Who the lens is perfect for

The 40mm 2.8 pancake lens is perfect for photographers who feel the 50mm 1.8 is a little long in the tooth, or are using a crop-frame and feel the 50mm is a little too restrictive in terms of what fits in the frame. The lens is best when it’s taken out on the street, making your camera much more subtle when catching that perfect moment between strangers. But it really is a well-rounded lens that is sharp enough and fast enough to grab enough light and pass as a professional lens.

Samples

Canon 40mm Pancake 2.8 STM lens

Canon 40mm Pancake 2.8 STM lens

Canon 40mm Pancake 2.8 STM lens

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