Canon 40mm F/2.8 Pancake
|The new Canon EF 40mm F/2.8 STM|
I quipped with a friend a few weeks back that Canon would never put out something like this for less than a couple of hundred dollars (I figured it would have to be $399, which apparently for the UK is not that far off). But sure enough Canon delightfully proved me wrong.
The first question that comes to mind for some is what's the purpose of a pancake lens? Those that don't understand the inherent value of a pancake lens are generally getting confused by it's small size. However, the convenience of size not only makes it compact and discrete, but functionality wise, a very versatile lens without needing to resort to a compact interchangeable lens system like an Olympus Pen or Fuji X-Pro 1 system.
|Ultra-compact and thin design|
Build wise, this lens is sleek and nothing like the build quality of many older EF non-L based lenses. Excluding the mount, it's about the same height as a body and end cap together. What is a little unexpected in a lens of this price range ($199 USD) is the metal mount. A welcome addition compared to the economical EF 50mm F/1.8 lens which always felt like it would break if you looked at it too hard (and often that's all it seems to take). It's refreshing to see such a well built lens for this price point.
|Great for close up and personal photos|
If you're comparing this to the EF 50mm F1/8, some stand out specs are the 7 circular bladed aperture (for buttery smooth bokeh vs the 5 non-rounded blades of the nifty fifty), and lovely close up minimum focus distance of .98 ft or 30 cm vs the 1.48 ft or 45cm. The close up distance of many 50mm lenses have always been a bit of sore point for me. I love doing personal and close up portraits, but found most 50mm lenses fell just short of what I needed because of the close up distance (with exception of 50mm macro lenses).
The New STM Motor and AF
|Fast enough for silly children.|
On my 5DmkIII I needed to update the firmware before I could take full advantage of the new 40mm (there are reports that it's not optimized for anything but the Rebel T4i/650D at the moment so I'm not sure if the firmware update is what some are referring to as 'optimized'). At first thought it didin't have full time manual until I updated the firmware. The focusing, like the more expensive EF 85mm F/1.2L and the EF 300mm F2.8L lenses, use a focus by wire system. This means that the lens needs to have power before it can focus and when it does, the STM does all the work. For some this might feel weird, but I can assure you it didn't take long for me to adjust to it. However the focusing is relatively fast. I'd even put it at par with my Sigma 85mm F/1.4 lens which isn't slow (much faster than the 85 F/1.2 lens) but not that zippy either. It's certainly not as fast as USM but fast enough to catch candid action like my active 4 year old boy. I should point out that it's also important when decoupling the lens to turn the focus ring to park the lens. Although unlike the 50mm F/1.8 which is very sensitive to small bumps to the front of the lens, it's probably a good idea to do that before taking the lens off the body.
|Just enough room for basic functions|
The fly by wire system is a bit of on oddball in my opinion. Although I no longer do videography, In my past experience, I think that it won't work well with some follow focus systems. Although it only takes about 90 degrees to cover the focus range it's still a bit inaccurate. I can't help but think that there's other plans for the STM line of lenses that Canon is cooking up here (maybe more menu driven like the touch screen of the EOS 650D).
Regardless, I found that focusing with this lens pretty easy. However what is lacking is a distance scale, which makes it very difficult to do any real hyperfocal distance shooting which is kind of a staple feature among street photographer. But it's not hard to figure out what your optimal distance is going to be, set it with your AF, then lock it with the AF/MF switch. Another option is to use backbutton AF focus and removing the AF from the shutter button (a feature that has been a part of EOS since it's inception). Focus on a preset distance with the back AF button, and then leave it set. I was hoping that I could set a focal distance in custom modes, but appears that it does not work that way. Maybe the next firmware upgrade will bring a feature like this (which I doubt will be much supported in anything but the latest EOS systems so this functionality might be wishful thinking). An associate of mine pointed out that it wouldn't be hard to put some small distance marking on the barrel of the extending element. Something I think that Canon could have easily have done. Turns out it's easier than I had anticipated. A small piece of masking tape was all I needed and focused on specific points marking the barrel position so I got an approximation of distance and marked them with a pen. Works great, but pretty much everything from 6 feet and out is in focus so most street photographers will likely keep this lens in the infinity position).
If you've followed my blog for a while, you know I add/modify everything I own. I tinker, modify, or customize. It didn't take me long to add a few things to try it out with the new 40mm. My favourite is still the very inexpensive (
|Macro with the Raynox DCR-250 Filter|
Adding lightweight accessories of a macro filter and others that all fit in my pocket is a bonus. The other exciting accessory is something I've always adored. The Cokin A system! That's right, the A system not the P, Z or X, but the smallest of all the Cokin filter systems, the A.
The nice thing about the Cokin A system is that it's small and compact but also the fact that I can slide in and out filters with ease. This makes using a grad filter a charm. Sadly though, Cokin A filters are very difficult to find. Most used camera shops don't have much in stock, and they don't wear well over the years because they are made from resins that scratch easily. However if you can find them on craigslist, you'll usually end up with a bargin. In a previous post, I went on about how nice it is to use with the Olympus Pen system and the 12mm lens. I actually find that this suits this combination better.
|High contrast scenes benefit well from the Cokin filter and a grad filter.|
In the field this is one gorgeous lens to use. I don't even consider it a starter lens at all. Would I recommend it over a 50mm F/1.8 as a starter, absolutely. Would I recommend this lens to a pro, definitely. The background blur and the 14 point flare stars are gorgeous. Again comparing this to the 50mm F/1.8 which always had hard edged and jittery bokeh, this lens is a big improvement over that. Is this an alternative to the 50m F/1.8? That's a tougher question to answer, but for my style of shooting, I prefer this over the 50mm F/1.8.
|Even with busy foliage in the background, the bokeh is buttery smooth.|
|Gorgeous 14 point specular highlights.|
Click below to view a slide show of images from this lens
There is so much speculation out there whether or not this is a precursor to a mirrorless system for Canon. I for one don't read too much into that based on this lens alone. If anything I believe this lens kind of negates the idea of a mirrorless system soon because as a mirrorless system owner, I actually gravitate back to this as my everyday walk around system. Based on the popularity of this lens, I can only hope that more pancake lenses are in the future. Maybe an EF-S 21mm Pancake is the next one in the works....