In 2012, Canon announced the EF 40mm F2.8 STM. It was one of the most affordable and compact lenses in the whole EF lenses lineup. As this lens could allow my Canon 6D to be more compact and lightweight, I bought it without hesitation. I cannot say it has the best image quality that Canon can offer, but it was one of the most well-balanced between image quality and portability that I had at that point in time.
Why do I like pancake lenses?
It all started in the mid-2000s when I was sourcing information on which camera system to be my first DSLR. Then I came to know about pancake lenses offered by Pentax. I had no idea why I have this fascination with the pancake lenses, such as 21mm F3.2 AL, 40mm F2.8 Limited, and 70mm F2.4 AL.
If I am to give myself some explanations, the first reason could be probably the compactness these lenses can offer and the second reason is the engineering achievement. But after all the hypes and struggles that my inner self had, I decided to go with the majority, Canon.
That’s because I have friends who are using the same brands, and they have lenses that I did not own and vice versa. And so, I thought it would be good to share the lenses if one ever needed them. But eventually, this sharing “idea” rarely happened.
Fast forward to 2021, I have to thank Mr. Keitaro So (Divisional Head of Fujifilm) for giving me the opportunity to experience the “40mm” equivalent focal length again, and it is called the XF27mm F2.8 R WR lens. It is a minor upgrade lens from its predecessor with some exterior improvements while maintaining the same good optical glass. I have written it over here before in mid-February, but not really in detail. So I feel that I need to give a proper personal opinion about this lens.
Months after it’s launched, I decided to get one myself. How does this 40mm focal length fits into my most favourite and commonly used focal lengths, 35mm and 50mm in the full-frame equivalent? To be honest, I have no idea how it will turn out to be. But I know I need to shoot more with this lens, and my experiences will tell.
This is my 7th week of using this lens when I am writing this article. Basically, it is my to-go lens for any camera body I am using. These 7 weeks of experience may not be qualified as worthy experience to some. But they are just my thoughts.
It has the XF quality built standard, and you can rest assured of this. The aperture ring has a smooth and satisfying clicky experience like most of the XF lenses.
During the day, the autofocus is fast and pretty accurate in nailing the shots. It sometimes performs slightly slower at night, but it usually still can get the subject in focus, also dependable on the environment’s available light source. Nevertheless, I have to say that I have had an off-focus shot at night, which only happened once.
The camera had indicated that it had focused (green box shown) when I half-pressed the shutter button, the photo turned out to be off-focus, and I did not even realize it when I previewed it with the LCD screen. It is obvious, and I believe I will notice the result if I preview it from the EVF. Fortunately, this is a one-off case.
The image quality is great for such a compact lens. I preview the images in Lightroom Classic at 100%, and the details are decent and the sharpness is solid. No complaints about this. Another good thing about this lens is that I do not observe any chromatic aberrations (CA). Although CA can be easily corrected in post-processing, it is good to have this advantage because I can have 1 step less to handle.
Most of the new Fujifilm lenses are equipped with Weather Resistant (WR). Although I will not put any of my lenses under extremely harsh weather, this is definitely a welcome feature to have. The XF27mm R WR is the second lens after the XF10-24mm R OIS WR to get updated with WR and keeping the same optic glass formula and quality. If Fujifilm is following this trend, I think they will continue to “WR” the other old lenses and extend their longevity.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of this lens?
I will just break down 3 advantages and 3 disadvantages (fair thing).
Let’s talk about the disadvantages first. It is the slowest among all the prime lenses Fujifilm is offering. Unless you have an In-Body Image Stabilization camera or tripod or steady hands, you might need to increase your ISO for certain low light conditions for your shots.
Another disadvantage is the Minimum Focusing Distance (MFD). It is sometimes difficult to achieve a close-up shot with the subject that I want. At 0.34m, it is not the best MFD experience among the prime lenses that I have.
The last disadvantage is that it is not really bokehlicious like other prime lenses. When I shoot at F2.8, sometimes it renders a busy and messy background. The separation between the subject and the rest works but does not render smoothly. Worse still, it distracts the subject-in-focused from the viewers, especially to me.
As for the advantages, obviously, it is compact and weighs only 84 grams. Mounting this lens onto any of the camera bodies has a very insignificant impact on the overall weight. I am not expecting anyone to complain that their hands are tired with this lens on their cameras.
Secondly, it does not attract any attention from anyone when I am doing street photography. I have tried using it and snap many shots in a busy wet market, and no one takes a second look at what I am doing.
Another advantage is that I am using it as a “lens cap”. It means that I usually mount it on a camera body permanently when I am not in use (in this case, on an X-E3). To add on, I can quickly take it out from my dry cabinet and shoot if I spot some interesting moment or a beautiful sky. This is something like the X100V.
Who is this for?
This lens is suitable for anyone who wants to reduce the overall package without compromising the image quality. Especially for people who love to travel light and as simple as possible and it can be easily kept inside a small bag.
But if you are looking for your first prime lens on a budget, this lens might not be a good option for you. Its predecessor should be a better option since they share the same optic quality, and it is cheaper in retail and even cheaper if you get it from the second-hand market.
However, take note that the predecessor does not come with an aperture ring. Otherwise, the XC35mm F2 should be the best budget option. I always recommend this XC lens to people who want to learn how to use a prime lens.
Last but not least, if you are willing to accept the disadvantages that I have listed in earlier paragraphs, I think you should be happy with this lens.
40mm was a very popular focal length a few decades ago, with many popular film cameras like the Olympus Trip, Rollei 35, Leica Minilux and Bell and Howell / Canon Canonet 28, et cetera were equipped with this focal length.
However, with the wider focal lengths made available to the market in the latter decades, the “40mm” focal length is no longer in the eyes of consumers and professionals. It is not as wide as today’s wide-angle standards (24mm, 28mm in 35mm format). Despite that, this is subjective to individuals’ opinions.
At 40mm, I do have some challenges, especially framing from low angles and in confined spaces. If the environments allow, I can try to overcome these challenges by lowering down my camera further or step a little behind. On the other hand, sometimes I feel that this focal length is nice for landscape, just right for snapping food shots, and without a doubt, street photography.
After these 7 weeks of shooting, here are my thoughts: I can continue to use this lens alongside my XF23mm and XF35mm lenses. I can use them individually or side by side, depending on my mood, to pick either one of them (or all three) for my street shooting therapy. I can say that it has become my 3rd favourite lens.
Thank you for reading.
Alwin is a 37 years old engineer, husband and Fujifilm fanboy from Singapore. His first encounter with Fujifilm was the launch of the X10 in 2012. It was love at first sight. It was a joyful compact camera and it also introduced film simulations to him. But what brought him deep into Fujifilm was the X-T2 and the love grows further. He loves to experience and discover many genres.