Since I initially discovered this lens by a Photo Brigade post, itâ€™s only fitting that my review of this funky little lens ends up hereâ€¦
I had read about Pancakes for years, but never used one. Since the 60â€™s and 70â€™s pancakes have enticed photographers with their small size, light weight and (sometimes) high quality optics. Sadly, most modern manufacturers donâ€™t embrace the Pancake style as they used to, so I was excited to find that Canon had made a 40mm that was relatively fast at f2.8. I was even more excited to find out its street price of $150.00. At that price, even if it didnâ€™t work out it was worth a shot, so to speak.
40mm is a great focal length for a full-frame camera. Iâ€™ve owned 24â€™s and 50â€™s from Canon, both have their place, but the 50mm is just a bit long for street work and the 24mm is a touch wide unless you want to get smacked by that colorful Pimp youâ€™ve chosen to capture at 10 feet. 40mm is the â€śNormalâ€ť focal length and equates to what the human eye sees in forward and peripheral field of vision. When mated up to a 35mm body, I find itâ€™s the ultimate sweet spot in regards to perspective and length. I wanted a little less than 50mm and a chunk more than 24mm, so the Pancake is perfect for my full-frame 5D MKII. On an APS-C censor the 40mm lens increases to 64mm, which would be a bit too long for my purpose, but Iâ€™ve heard itâ€™s great for video, part of what Canon had in mind for this lens.
The STM motor is a special type of â€śStepper motorâ€ť with a new Iris mechanism that is designed to reduce focusing noise when recording video. The lens will continually focus when mated with a camera body that supports STM function. This provides smooth and quiet recording for video. Since Iâ€™m more of a still shooter, I havenâ€™t had a chance to test this feature out and will leave it to the video guys.
For stills and stealth, the 40mm Pancakes slim design (only 4.6 ounces and less than 1 inch long) immediately had my imagination rolling with visions of on-the-fly black and white street photography a laâ€™ Vivian Maire. Even the smallest piece of L glass is a bit ostentatious â€“ intimidating the average citizen or character youâ€™re trying to capture. This little pancake lets me tuck my 5D in my armpit (stinky jokes aside) making my camera practically invisible to anyone until I put it to my eye and hit the shutterâ€¦by that time, itâ€™s too lateâ€¦my frame is made.
The STM motor is electronic and not mechanical, so manually focusing – although possible, is slow and delayed. In good light, when your subject(s) are in reasonable distance of each other â€“ itâ€™s quick. Quick enough to pan and quick enough to capture what you want. The auto-focus speed is acceptable, but there is a glitch. It doesnâ€™t like to focus in cold weather. Anything below about 35-40 degrees and it just wonâ€™t focus.
The Pancake does live up to its reputation for being bright and sharp, I love the way it handles high-key images. It bleeds light everywhere (in a good way) when exposing brightlyâ€¦and somehow reminds me of film. Itâ€™s reasonably sharp across the board, but surprisingly good wide open up to about F/16. Barrel distortion and convergence are at a minimum with this lens. Iâ€™m impressed by the lensâ€™ ability to stop down all the way to f/22. I find the Pancake at its sharpest between f/5.6 and f/16.
Some say the hood isnâ€™t necessary, but it does cover some lettering and since stealth is part of the point for me, I opted to go with it (albeit expensive). Build quality is a bit cheap, but not horrible. It does have a metal mount (not plastic) and really, what do you expect for 150 Bucks?
Overall, Iâ€™d say the lens is a winner. It’s fun, compact, has good optics and decent speed. Itâ€™s not perfect and if youâ€™re a hair-splitter you wonâ€™t like it. Itâ€™s not L glass fast or L glass sharp, but if you want a great little street prime or a starter lens for a young shooter, go pick one up. Itâ€™s a conversation piece when spotted (which is rare) and will build your confidence to shoot closer and tighter than you normally would.
Robert Capa famously said, â€śIf your photos arenâ€™t good enough, youâ€™re not close enoughâ€ť. This lens helps you get closer to your subjects without scaring them, allowing you to be more connected and intimately involved in the photo. For that, Iâ€™d pay three times what I paid for this lens.
The only added sweetness or syrup I might want for the Pancakeâ€¦is for it to focus in the cold. That needs to be addressed â€“ but at the risk of sounding redundant, for 150 bucks â€“ this lens should be in every shooters bag.