Cue the breakfast food jokes, no but really, these pancake lenses are as sweet as maple syrup.
If you like to keep the weight of your gear down to a minimum, don’t want to draw attention to yourself, and absolutely do not want to compromise on quality, these small, lightweight pancake lenses could be exactly what you’re looking for.
Pancake lenses have a special place in the hearts of many street photographers, and documentarians. They get their name from their small, thin form factor, and from their weight (or lack of it). With these lenses attached, photographers can pick up cameras and walk around with them almost like they are a point and shoot. When it comes to smaller Mirrorless bodies, when they have a pancake lens attached you can just about throw the camera in your pocket and go on about your day.
With pancake lenses being primes, image quality is usually very good across the board, and autofocus performance is very snappy. The best part is the price points of these lenses which puts them in reach of virtually every photographer. Here’s a look at four of the best pancake lenses available today on various platforms.
Fujifilm 27mm f2.8 (X Mount)
Pancake lenses and Mirrorless cameras make an awesome combination. A light weight lens, and a small lightweight camera body, that’s the stuff of dreams, and Fujifilm shooters can live that dream thanks to the 27mm f2.8 Fujifilm lens. As you would imagine, the lens weighs virtually nothing, and offers fantastic performance.
In our review we said:
“We believe that this is the lens that street photographers will truly reach for. Not only does the low profile look of it not attract attention but you’ll almost never need to stop it down”
The Fujifilm 27mm f2.8 weighs just 0.17lbs, you will barely even be able to tell it’s attached to your camera. Because of the Fujifilm crop factor (1.5x) this lens will have the equivalent focal length of 40.5mm, which makes it just about perfect for street photography. Inside the lens you will find seven elements in five groups, with seven rounded aperture blades. The optics produce sharp images at f2.8, but f5,6 is really the sweet spot for this piece of glass.
Users will find that the colors produced are pleasing to the eye, but that bokeh can be a little difficult to achieve due to the lenses minimum focal distance. Having said that though, when you do get bokeh it’s nice and not distracting in any way.
Fujifilm lovers will note that there is no aperture control ring on this lens like others in the Fuji lineup, but that is not a deal breaker in any way. The overall build quality is great and will survive being tossed around in your bag or pocket with no problems at all. The lens is able to focus very quickly in all lighting situations so you’ll be able to nab the shots you want with ease. If you are a Fujifilm user and want a very lightweight lens that you can drop on the front of your camera and go, this 27mm f2.8 pancake lens could be for you.
Buy now ($399): Amazon
Fujifilm 27mm f2.8 (X Mount) Image Samples
Pro Tip: A nice aftermarket camera strap can go a long way to making your time out shooting much more comfortable and enjoyable. This Peak Design strap can be used in a variety of ways (sling, shoulder, or neck strap) so you can customize it to your liking.
Canon EF-M 22mm f2
When it comes to pancake lenses the Canon EF-M 22mm f2 is quite possibly the best bang for your buck lens available. This little marvel is incredibly affordable and it performs admirably in many situations. When placed on your camera this lens will have the equivalent focal length of 35.2mm.
In our review we said:
“Well, here’s the fantastic thing about the Canon 22mm f2 EF-m lens: it offers fantastic image quality. In fact, I wish every brand made a pancake lens this good. It’s sharp, contrasty, has beautiful bokeh, there’s no chromatic aberrations, etc. It’s so perfect. Yes, I’m saying that it’s perfect.”
Being able to use such a small, lightweight (0.23lbs), great performing lens on Mirrorless body is an amazing thing, it makes photography incredibly fun. Inside the slim body you will find seven elements in six groups, and seven diaphragm blades. Images produced with this lens are very sharp even when used wide open, color reproduction is really something to behold thanks to the natural colors we expect from Canon, they are also nice and contrasty. When shot wide open the Canon EF-M 22mm f2 also produces some gorgeous, creamy bokeh.
Given its price point you would think build quality would perhaps not be the greatest, but you would be wrong. The 22mm f2 is built solidly and it will take whatever comes its way without missing a beat. Auto focusing speeds are good overall thanks to the USM motor used by Canon, but could honesty be a little better. You will find though that in most circumstances you will get by just fine.
For street photographers and for those who shoot documentary images this lens is hard to beat. It will make using your camera incredibly fun because of the smaller foot print and light weight, and you will enjoy the image quality and overall performance. When it comes to pancake lenses, this one is hard to beat.
Buy now ($249): Amazon
Canon EF-M 22mm F2 Image Samples
Pro Tip: Make sure you carry extra SD cards with you when you go out to shoot. Sometimes SD cards fail or you might leave the house without one in your camera. Cover yourself by buying some extras to keep in your bag, vehicle or pockets. This Sandisk card is reliable, and is cheap enough to buy multiples.
Panasonic 20mm f1.7 II (Micro Four Thirds)
For street photographers and documentarians who use Micro Four Thirds cameras, the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 might be the only lens you need. It’s light weight, metal construction, and it’s price point make this pancake lens hard to ignore. With an equivalent focal length of 40mm, this lens is perfect for street photography.
In our review we said:
“The overall image quality from the 20mm f1.7 II lens from Panasonic is truthfully pretty damned good. There is a healthy amount of sharpness, contrast, and overall solid color rendition built into this lens. When you couple this with its great build quality and focusing abilities you’ve got yourself quite the winner.”
Like many other pancake lenses, this Panasonic variant is so light you’ll barely know it’s attached to the camera. At just 0.19lbs, you could walk around shoot all day and remain extremely comfortable.
Seven elements in five groups, and seven aperture blades make up the internals of this lens, and they produce some quite excellent results. Once stopped down just a little, images become razor sharp and they have a film like appearance thanks to the color rendition, which adds a lot of character to your images. Distortion is kept to a minimum and any you do see can easily be corrected in post.
As you would expect from a prime lens, focus speeds are nice and fast so you’ll be able to point, focus, and shoot quickly. The overall build quality is great. The metal exterior is nice, and the focus ring (while very thin), is easy to use. As mentioned above, pancake lenses on lightweight Mirrorless bodies are a dream to use, and this Panasonic lens paired with any Micro Four Thirds camera is a joy to walk around the streets with.
Buy now ($267.99): Amazon
Panasonic 20mm f1.7 II Image Samples
Pro Tip: City centers and downtown areas aren’t always the cleanest places. Always make sure you carry a basic lens cleaning kit with you so that you can ensure your gear is always ready to go. The last thing you want are dirt or water spots ruining your images.
Sony 20mm f2.8 (APS-C E Mount)
Designed for use on Sony’s APS-C line of camera bodies, the Sony 20mm f2.8 is a cracking little lens that will make your Alpha camera a pocket sized powerhouse. Once you take into account the crop factor, this pancake lens will have an equivalent focal length of 30mm.
In our review we said:
“Perhaps the strongest quality about this lens is its color rendition. The 20mm f2.8 is super punchy when it comes to colors. That means if you’re shooting wildlife or random street scenes, you’ll be in for a treat. In fact, it kind of reminds us a bit of Fujifilm Velvia”
This pancake lens is the lightest one on the list at just 0.15lbs. When attached to a Sony Alpha A6000, 6300, or 6500 it makes those cameras feel like the most powerful point and shoot cameras on the planet. You can literally carry this lens and one of those camera bodies around in a jacket pocket, it’s perfect. Thanks to the optics used (six elements in six groups, with seven aperture blades) the Sony 20mm f2.8 is a fast focuser, produces images that are sharp from edge to edge, and it creates beautifully saturated images.
The lens is made from a high quality plastic that will stand up to daily use easily. The focus ring is on the small side as one would expect on a lens that is this tiny, but overall the lens feels great. If you want to have the ultimate Sony street shooting package get this lens and pair it with an Alpha body for a truly great experience.
Buy now ($348): Amazon
Sony 20mm f2.8 Image Samples