Fuji 27mm F2.8 – The best lens for travel photography: pretty, tiny, and SHARP!

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Monica Lent

“I became interested in taking pictures after moving abroad to Germany from the US, wanting to document my jaunts around Europe. By day, I work as a web developer at a startup in Berlin. By night, I am furiously planning my next trip and researching the best photo spots.”

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Croatia, land of dragons and Rakija, was the site of my most recent European excursion – this time, with a new accessory: Fujifilm’s 27mm f2.8 lens. It stayed glued to my camera maybe 90% of the time, and gave me most of my favorite shots from the whole trip. I took over a hundred photos a day with it! Here’s why I think it’s the best lens I’ve used for travel.

Looking for a technical review? This isn’t it – but here are some helpful ones:

The size makes you look less like a “DSLR tourist”
I finally saw my first DSLR-tourist actually changing lenses in public in Croatia! Swapping out one beast for another looks positively silly, not to mention making you a target for thieves who could become very rich by snagging that lens out of your patient partner’s hands.

This camera is the cheapest one you can use with Fujifilm’s X series lenses. The results are 100% thanks to the Fuji glass.
This lens on my humble Fujifilm X-A1 means I look a lot less fancy than the guy next to me with a lens longer than my head! Looking like an amateur, in this respect, is a very good thing.

You’ll actually take it with you everywhere
One of the best things about having such a light lens option is being able to toss the camera in my bag and not instantly feel like my arm is going to fall off.

It means that this lens and camera combo has a permanent place on my person, so I never miss a moment (even when I’m just doing the day-to-day stuff!).

Its ability to capture detail
Fujifilm is famous for its lenses. They’ve done it all: space glass, military binoculars, even cinema lenses that cost SIX FIGURES.

What I’m trying to say is: this lens is sharp. Some people argue that this lens is the sharpest Fujifilm has in its lineup. Secret time: I think people say that about like every Fuji lens, but hey, it’s a good reputation to have.

Nature, architecture, people – this lens is great for the wide variety of subjects you’ll encounter on your travels.
To be totally honest, I’m no photography expert and I can’t look at two sample shots and see more than the most obvious differences. But I do notice when I open photos I’ve taken with this lens and every leaf is distinguishable, rather than a muddy green mess.

It makes the editing process simple, and there’s no need for additional sharpening. The pictures look good straight out of the camera.

Super fast focus
Zip! This guy hones in on his target like a velociraptor on speed.

If you’re like me and you’d chase a butterfly down a football field just to take its portrait, fast focus is important! I hear that street photographers also dig this lens because it means never missing a fleeting moment on camera.


The vibe of the bokeh
Whenever someone is talking about the beautiful “blurry background” of a photo, or balls of light that form in the background of a photo, they’re talking about bokeh. This camera does not create the super dreamy bokeh you’ll find with either of Fuji’s 35mm lenses. BUT. You can get some lovely out of focus areas that are a little more…interesting.

Look ma, I still have bokeh at f2.8!

The out of focus areas in photos by this camera are still distinguishable, and lend a sense of place to the pictures it produces. A few pretty balls of light, along with tangled strands of background activity. I like this effect because I can isolate my subject while still placing them somewhere.

That’s kind of the point of travel photography, right? I’m not looking for a perfect flower closeup – I want to see that flower in its natural habitat! This lens gives you that, beautifully.


Fits everything in – naturally
Do you ever have to take a few steps back – or a lot of steps back – to fit something into your photo? One thing I hate the most is when I have to step backwards, and fitting, say, the façade of a beautiful church also means including a telephone pole or a garbage can. Blech! It can totally ruin the picture and make it not worth taking at all.


At Plitvice Lakes National Park it was absolutely essential to have a slightly wider-angle lens than my usual 35mm.

That’s where a wider angle comes in – while you’re still in front of the garbage can, the whole sceen fits nicely into the frame.

On the flipside, a lens with an angle that is too wide makes everything really tiny, especially if you can’t get close enough. Then suddenly a beautiful butterfly lands in front of you, but it looks so small through your lens that it’ll be indistinguishable.

Check out that awesome foliage! Clearly distinct leaves, great detail on the building. Even the crane on the right is crisp.

The Fujifilm 27mm pancake lens is a fantastic compromise – you get a little bit extra in the frame, but you don’t have to stick the camera in someone’s face to get a decent portrait. Win, win, win!

Solid low light performance
Even though it doesn’t let in as much light as a lot of other lenses do, I think this lens performs remarkably – and I have a ton of night shots to prove it!

Notice in the next one how even the sky has got some activity going on – I don’t even know how that happened, as it was pushing midnight when I took this picture.


Enough about the benefits! What about the drawbacks?

Of course, I can’t share only the good. There are a couple of things you should be aware of when picking up this lens:

1. No super close shots. The minimum focus distance (how close you can get to your subject and focus) is officially a little under 2 feet, or 34cm. No macro photos with this guy!
2. It’s not cheap. Current retail price is $350 on Amazon (its normally $450) – but then again, there aren’t a lot of lenses in Fujifilm’s range that aren’t higher than this or edging in on double the cost.
3. You have to buy the lens hood separately. – Honestly I never bought one, don’t tell!
4. No aperture ring. – I love the clicky-click of adjusting my aperture with a physical dial on the lens. It’s a disappointment, but if it keeps the weight low and the profile slim, how can I argue with that?

The 27mm pancake lens is a fraction of the size and weight of my other Fuji lenses, and in the last few months – my most used lens!

With all of that said, its main benefit to me remains
I will bring it with me wherever I go. Not just when I’m traveling, not just when I’m going to an event, but every. single. place. I go. And when I’m spending all day on the go, seeing a new city or walking in nature, having a light camera makes a huge difference.

The Fujifilm 27mm lens is smaller than the lens hood of my kit lens! I’d never haul around the other one on my daily jaunts.

Do you bring your camera with you wherever you go? Have you ever left it at home or the hotel because it’s just too heavy?

Share your gear and the difference between your daily and your travel photo routine in the comments!

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  • atsu

    why not XF 18mm f2 ?

    • Hi Atsu — good question! There are a couple reasons I picked the 27mm over the 18mm.

      First, I wasn’t really looking for the “wide angle” look — 1) I like my travel photos to focus on people if possible and I think the wide angle it can make people look kinda lost/weird, especially if you can’t physically get closer, and 2) I already own the 16mm f1.4. 😀 18mm seemed just too close to 16mm to drop 600 EUR. Second, I don’t generally travel with only the 27mm, so it fills in that nice “general purpose” ground for me between the 16mm and 35mm. But that area makes it perfect for me if I do have to pick one lens to travel with, as the focal length is flexible for my purposes.

      I would love to try the 18mm, maybe I could be persuaded 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  • Brendan Jack

    Hi Monica,
    What a quaint turn of phrase you have….”like a velociraptor on speed” & “Vibe of the Bokeh”…..now this is exactly the kinda review I want to read!! 😀 I encourage you to write more of them!
    I haven’t tried the 27mm myself but you have made me curious about giving it a go. I use an XT-1 & now an XT-2 for the past week, & use both 35mm’s a fair bit. I do also use the 18-55mm zoom to cover the gaps, as my next widest prime is the 14mm. For me, with a bloke’s hands and long-ish fingers, I find that the XT cams are about the goldilocks size & that the 35mm & 18-55mm balance well on them & can fit easily in a small shoulder bag without being conspicuous or magically turn into a bag of bricks after a few hours of lugging around. So, given the smaller form factor of the 27mm, it should be an easy carry & even fit in an outdoors jacket pocket. How does it do on dark interiors, like churches & cathedrals? How do you carry your cam if you take it everywhere? Shoulder strap or inside your bag?
    Cheers
    Brendan
    Dubai

    • Hey Brendan!
      Thanks so much for your kind comments 😀 Glad you enjoyed reading! I think that if you enjoy the “goldilocks” feeling of the XT bodies, you might really like the 27mm — for me it is like the goldilocks lens. Just enough in the frame, not suddenly feeling leagues away when you look through the view finder of a wide angle, appreciable bokeh. I also *love* the images I make with the 35mm, but my older f1.4’s autofocus (especially in low light) is basically torture after this the 27mm. If it’s not going to autofocus, at least you know it SOON!

      I actually just used it a bit this past week in some dark Italian churches, photos attached! These are JPGs copied straight off my memory card (just resized). I think it does a pretty good job. In fact the second to last is especially too bright to be acurate.

      Re: taking the camera everywhere, it goes in a backpack, which I only use because I bicycle everywhere. By foot, it’s in a mid-sized purse (I think my huge lady wallet has more surface area than the camera + lens), or if I’m not carrying a backpack at all I will wear the camera strap crossbody and hoist the camera high enough on my back that it doesn’t slide down while i’m cycling. I haven’t tried it with a heavier lens to see whether that would cause it to swing around.

      Good luck making your choice! If you’re looking for something super versatile and like the small form factor, I think it’s hard to beat 🙂
      – Monica

      • Brendan Jack

        Hey Monica. Thanks so much for your great reply & for taking the time to add the pix. Those shots of the cathedrals are really quite bright & airy, especially given the darkish interior finishing. I’m guessing your ISO was up around 3,200? The black & white stripey interior reminded me of the cathedrals in Pisa & Amalfi. The lens does give a lovely rendering & natural looking field of view. Nice & crisp, too. Oh, my poor wallet. 😱

        I saw also from your reply to Atsu below, that you also have the 16mm 1.4. This is also on my potential shopping list, in exchange for selling the 14mm 2.8 that I currently own. What is your take on the 16mm? The 14mm is a little jewel of a lens…..small, sharp & wide for landscapes but I’m getting the 10-24mm for landscaping & thought that the 16mm prime is a bit more versatile & could be used for landscapes, interior shots with the extra 2 stops of light & the close focus is supposed to be pretty good so it may also be usable for product-ey shots wide open. The online reviews I’ve read all all quite positive but asking someone who uses one gives a more reliable perspective. 😀

        Cheers
        Brendan

  • Zack Schindler

    I agree with your assessment of the focus speed of the 27 on my Pro2. It is easily the fastest focuser of all of the Fuji glass that I own (27, 14, 35 f2, 56 18-55 and the 55-200).