|, Photography, Reviews|Review: Canon 40mm f/2.8 Pancake Lens

Review: Canon 40mm f/2.8 Pancake Lens

By | 2016-12-18T17:01:05+00:00 July 15th, 2012|52 Comments


Images with this post were all photographed with the Canon 40mm lens on a Canon 5DMkIII body. Images are processed in Lightroom with basic edits. To view more images photographed with the 40mm lens, go HERE.

Product link: http://amzn.to/PXf8L1
Cost: ~$200

When I saw this lens on the market I was immediately excited about it. I really like the ~40mm focal length (used it a lot with my Fuji x100) and the fact that this is a pancake lens (which basically means it has a very small, compact form-factor) and only $200 made the decision to buy it that much easier. I waited around to hear some initial thoughts on the lens, basically to find out if it was awful or not, and when I read good things about it I made the plunge.

And I love it.

I got this lens just before heading out to Nebraska to visit family a few weeks ago, and used it about 99% of the time when I was photographing my nieces and nephews. I wanted to test it out (the main reason I used it the most) but then I found that I liked it so much that whenever I put another lens on I immediately changed my mind and switched back to the 40mm. Here’s a run-down of some of the things I noticed about the lens:

Sharpness: While I haven’t done any “lab-worthy” testing of the quality of sharpness, from my very organic and natural shooting moments it was spot on. I was photographing kids who have the attention span of about 5 seconds, so the fact that I got so many tack-sharp photographs was a huge deal to me. Granted, it’s not as ridiculously sharp as some of my pro “L” lenses, but I’m a self-proclaimed “focus snob” and if I’m happy with the sharpness (hand-held with unruly subjects) then that means it’s pretty darn good. In terms of focusing speed, I never really noticed it being too slow and was able to get photos of kids in a reasonable time … so I’m guessing that it’s fast enough for most situations.

Image quality: So far I haven’t seen anything wrong with the overall image quality, particularly in terms of distortion and chromatic aberration (CA). The distortion is what I would expect with a 40mm lens, not bad or overly stretching anything along the edges, and I actually quite like the results. I think this will make a very nice “overhead” lens for my food photography when I want to shoot straight down on my subject from above. In terms of CA I really haven’t seen any in my normal photos (but I haven’t tested it in any extremely high-contrast situations or with anything chrome or shiny). Since a lot of my images are for stock photogrpahy the quality when viewed at 100% is very important to me, and the less I have to do to get rid of things like CA, the better. :)

Compact size: The physical size of this lens is one of the main reasons I wanted to try it out. The size of it allows me to put my camera (particularly my 5DMkIII) in any of my camera bags without having to remove the lens, which makes it much easier when I need to grab my camera for a “quick shot”. It’s also very discreet in comparison to most SLR lenses. I walked around Seattle yesterday with my Canon 60D and the 40mm and it was such a nice little setup. I never had to worry about the lens bumping into things or getting in the way. Plus, it tucks away quite nicely and even fits easily into my Kelly Moore bag with the lens attached to the camera (which I can’t really say for any of my other lenses).

Build quality: If you’ve ever had a “nifty fifty” lens, like the Canon 50mm f/1.8, you’ll understand that you typically get plastic mounts with a lens that costs this little. However, with the 40mm the mount is metal and solid. It feels sturdy for a lens of this size and price-point.

Cost: Seriously … for $200, how can you go wrong? I don’t really feel like I compromised anything with buying this lens, and got much more than I expected.

A minor “con”: I found that every so often when I would turn my camera (a 5DMkIII) with the lens already attached the focus mechanism wouldn’t kick-in. I had to press the lens-release and turn the lens so it was no longer attached to the camera, and then turn it to “click” it back into the mount. After doing that it worked fine. This doesn’t happen every time, so I’m not sure if it’s a glitch with my camera, or if it’s the lens itself … or maybe it was just temporary. Either way, it’s not enough for me to say anything bad about the lens. :)

Final thoughts: I expect to be using the lens a lot in the near future. It’s a good size for a simple walk-around/photowalk lens, and it will always be in my camera bag when I travel. It’s so, so small that I don’t really even consider it an “extra lens” when I’m short on space … it’s really more like a “fancy” lens cap/combination lens. And, for those of you Canon photogs who need a simple “nifty fifty”, consider spending a little bit more to get the 40mm.

About the Author:

My name is Nicole and I'm a photographer, author, & educator living in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA. When I'm not making photos I'm writing books and tutorials for my online store, Learn more about me and my story here.

52 Comments

  1. Ben Petro July 15, 2012 at 11:51 pm - Reply

    Great review, a friend of mine has this lens and loves it too. It's on my list.

  2. Ben Petro July 15, 2012 at 11:51 pm - Reply

    Great review, a friend of mine has this lens and loves it too. It's on my list.

  3. Alec Style July 15, 2012 at 11:55 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the post.

    Will probably buy it. I'm also waiting on the upcoming July 23 Canon announcement of perhaps a mirrorless camera, which would go perfectly with this lens.

  4. Alec Style July 15, 2012 at 11:55 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the post.

    Will probably buy it. I'm also waiting on the upcoming July 23 Canon announcement of perhaps a mirrorless camera, which would go perfectly with this lens.

  5. John Balboni July 15, 2012 at 11:57 pm - Reply

    Thanks +Nicole S. Young for the write-up and photos!  Thinking of getting one for my Canon 40D.

  6. John Balboni July 15, 2012 at 11:57 pm - Reply

    Thanks +Nicole S. Young for the write-up and photos!  Thinking of getting one for my Canon 40D.

  7. Nicole S. Young July 15, 2012 at 11:58 pm - Reply

    +Alec Style Yes, I'm totally with you there. I'm hopeful that it's why they made this lens in the first place … a Canon mirrorless has so much potential.

    +John Balboni This lens is perfect for compact SLRs. It ends up at around 65mm-ish or so on a crop-sensor, which is not as cropped as a 50mm lens would push it to.

  8. Nicole S. Young July 15, 2012 at 11:58 pm - Reply

    +Alec Style Yes, I'm totally with you there. I'm hopeful that it's why they made this lens in the first place … a Canon mirrorless has so much potential.

    +John Balboni This lens is perfect for compact SLRs. It ends up at around 65mm-ish or so on a crop-sensor, which is not as cropped as a 50mm lens would push it to.

  9. Scott Sugawara July 16, 2012 at 12:25 am - Reply

    Thanks +Nicole S. Young for the "real world" review. Very insightful.

  10. Scott Sugawara July 16, 2012 at 12:25 am - Reply

    Thanks +Nicole S. Young for the "real world" review. Very insightful.

  11. CS Chua July 16, 2012 at 12:39 am - Reply

    Had it for a week now. I had the same minor “con". The mount is very stiff and scratchy. The problem is the locking click is very soft and does not provide sufficient tactile feedback of a confirm lock. Quite an inconvience having to unlock and retwist and losing the moment. Focus lock occassionaly takes a tat too slow unlike USM lenses and likewise losing the moment.

  12. CS Chua July 16, 2012 at 12:39 am - Reply

    Had it for a week now. I had the same minor “con". The mount is very stiff and scratchy. The problem is the locking click is very soft and does not provide sufficient tactile feedback of a confirm lock. Quite an inconvenience having to unlock and retwist and losing the moment. Focus lock occassionaly takes a tat too slow unlike USM lenses and likewise losing the moment.

  13. Paul Alderete July 16, 2012 at 12:44 am - Reply

    Want

  14. Paul Alderete July 16, 2012 at 12:44 am - Reply

    Want

  15. Eric Fialkowski July 16, 2012 at 12:59 am - Reply

    I can third the same "con" behavior so it definitely isn't your camera.

  16. Eric Fialkowski July 16, 2012 at 12:59 am - Reply

    I can third the same "con" behavior so it definitely isn't your camera.

  17. Lisa Bach July 16, 2012 at 1:16 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for this post,it is filled with information that is very helpful +Nicole S. Young The photo are wonderful as well! It's wonderful that you were blessed to spend time with your family and record your fun. :)

  18. Lisa Bach July 16, 2012 at 1:16 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for this post,it is filled with information that is very helpful +Nicole S. Young The photo are wonderful as well! It's wonderful that you were blessed to spend time with your family and record your fun. :)

  19. Andrew Rock July 16, 2012 at 1:20 am - Reply

    The "con" behaviour is the design. The focus is not mechanically connected to the ring. The lens has to be powered up to respond. It goes to sleep quite quickly. I'm enjoying mine too.

  20. Andrew Rock July 16, 2012 at 1:20 am - Reply

    The "con" behaviour is the design. The focus is not mechanically connected to the ring. The lens has to be powered up to respond. It goes to sleep quite quickly. I'm enjoying mine too.

  21. Anthony Soung Yee July 16, 2012 at 3:10 am - Reply

    Thanks for the review. Do you think you could post some photos from your 60D, or any cropped sensor camera? I have a 30D, and I'm wondering how photos would look.

    Also, do you find the 40mm too long for a cropped sensor?

  22. Anthony Soung Yee July 16, 2012 at 3:10 am - Reply

    Thanks for the review. Do you think you could post some photos from your 60D, or any cropped sensor camera? I have a 30D, and I'm wondering how photos would look.

    Also, do you find the 40mm too long for a cropped sensor?

  23. Jose Morales July 16, 2012 at 4:54 am - Reply

    I bought it when I bought my markiii and love the lens. It turns your dslr into a point in shoot on steroids. I agree and you can't go wrong for $200. I took my camera on a 1 hour walk and no way in hell would I have done that if I had my 24-70mm on there. It fits in the smallest of places and it's a sweet little lens. Seriously, if you are on the fence just get it. You won't regret it.

  24. Jose Morales July 16, 2012 at 4:54 am - Reply

    I bought it when I bought my markiii and love the lens. It turns your dslr into a point in shoot on steroids. I agree and you can't go wrong for $200. I took my camera on a 1 hour walk and no way in hell would I have done that if I had my 24-70mm on there. It fits in the smallest of places and it's a sweet little lens. Seriously, if you are on the fence just get it. You won't regret it.

  25. Patrick Larson July 16, 2012 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    The 50mm is faster, not much longer, and way cheaper. I would still stay with the 50mm. Can't see investing in this lens unless you don't already have a portrait lens. But it does look cool. I wonder why they didn't go with 1.8?

  26. Patrick Larson July 16, 2012 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    The 50mm is faster, not much longer, and way cheaper. I would still stay with the 50mm. Can't see investing in this lens unless you don't already have a portrait lens. But it does look cool. I wonder why they didn't go with 1.8?

  27. CS Chua July 16, 2012 at 5:53 pm - Reply

    The "minor con" is a real problem. This lens will at times unable to autofocus. One has to unlock the lens twist open and relock to kick start the AF. This is a not good. One can't be waste time doing this and losing 'the moment'.

  28. CS Chua July 16, 2012 at 5:53 pm - Reply

    The "minor con" is a real problem. This lens will at times unable to autofocus. One has to unlock the lens twist open and relock to kick start the AF. This is a not good. One can't be wasting time doing this and losing 'the moment'.

  29. Eric Fialkowski July 16, 2012 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    I've only had it happen twice. That's two times more than it should have but (luckily) I haven't missed an important shot because of that.

  30. Eric Fialkowski July 16, 2012 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    I've only had it happen twice. That's two times more than it should have but (luckily) I haven't missed an important shot because of that.

  31. CS Chua July 16, 2012 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    I am able to replicate the problem. If you push the lens all the way back into the barrel before it power down this lens lose the AF requiring a reboot with unlock twist and relock (no need to unmount the lens). I at times when recapping the lens would sometimes press the lens back into the barrel before putting back into my camera waist bag.

  32. CS Chua July 16, 2012 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    Was able to replicate the problem. If you push the lens barrel (if extended after shoot) back into the body before it power down it will lose AF capability. To regain AF, this lens need a "reboot" with unlock, twist and relock (no need to dismount the lens). Switching off and on the camera will not work.

  33. Erin July 16, 2012 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    Great review, Nicole! You have totally convinced me that I need this lens!

  34. David July 16, 2012 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    This looks great. I have read the 40mm is really great for video work on the 5Ds as it is nearly silent. I am very tempted. Is the X100 not 35mm equivalent? although there won’t be too much been 35-40mm. This could be my 50mm replacement.

  35. Iza July 17, 2012 at 4:48 am - Reply

    This is a very interesting looking lens, I had no idea what you meant by pancake so I went to see a product link on Amazon. It really is compact, I wonder if Nikon makes something similar? Anybody knows?

  36. Douglas Adams Jr. July 17, 2012 at 8:47 pm - Reply

    Niiice…on my way to get mine NOW…LOL

  37. Douglas Adams Jr. July 17, 2012 at 8:47 pm - Reply

    Niiice…on my way to get mine NOW…LOL

  38. Cate C July 19, 2012 at 1:56 pm - Reply

    Thanks. Was just on the verge of buying that lens. Think I will now.

  39. Fredi Lienhardt August 7, 2012 at 1:05 pm - Reply

    FYI, Canon just admitted the issue.. a Firmware update (this Month) will fix the issue…

  40. Fredi Lienhardt August 7, 2012 at 1:05 pm - Reply

    FYI, Canon just admitted the issue.. a Firmware update (this Month) will fix the issue…

  41. CS Chua August 7, 2012 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    That's good news. This behavior is getting annoying and is frequent enough to have miss 'moment' shots. The 18-135 STM does not seem to exhibit the same "need to reboot" behaviour.  
    As such does not seem to be specific to STM  lens.

  42. CS Chua August 7, 2012 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    That's good news. This behavior is getting annoying and is frequent enough to have miss 'moment' shots. The 18-135 STM does not seem to exhibit the same "need to reboot" behaviour.  
    As such does not seem to be specific to STM  lens.

  43. CS Chua August 7, 2012 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    Just updated Canon 7D new (version 2.0.0) firmware. Will confirm later if it fixes the problem.

  44. CS Chua August 7, 2012 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    Just updated Canon 7D new (version 2.0.0) firmware. Will confirm later if it fixes the problem.

  45. Eric Fialkowski August 7, 2012 at 7:28 pm - Reply

    +Fredi Lienhardt is there a press release about it somewhere?

  46. Eric Fialkowski August 7, 2012 at 7:28 pm - Reply

    +Fredi Lienhardt is there a press release about it somewhere?

  47. Jenney McAnnally October 13, 2012 at 2:27 pm - Reply

    Will be ordering this lens this week!  Can't wait to play with it!

  48. Jenney McAnnally October 13, 2012 at 2:27 pm - Reply

    Will be ordering this lens this week!  Can't wait to play with it!

  49. CS Chua October 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    +Jenney McAnnally It's a lovely lens now that the 'need to reboot' problem is gone. Now eyeing the 20mm F2.8 :) At 40mm on the 7D still too long for food photography without standing up and backing away from the table. However it's excellent for casual portrait across the table. Together with the recent 7D firmware update that allows auto ISO to 6400, am getting more acceptable shots.

  50. CS Chua October 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    +Jenney McAnnally It's a lovely lens now that the 'need to reboot' problem is gone. Now eyeing the 20mm F2.8 :) At 40mm on the 7D still too long for food photography without standing up and backing away from the table. However it's excellent for casual portrait across the table. Together with the recent 7D firmware update that allows auto ISO to 6400, am getting more acceptable shots.

  51. Mario C. Castillion December 25, 2013 at 9:04 am - Reply

    Hi there, Nicole.

    Great review on this little wonder.
    I’m using mine on the EOS 6D and the way you’ve viewed things is 100% correct.
    Also about the ‘minor’ glitch: I have experienced the exact same thing 3 days ago and also this morning (between those days the lens was never detached from the camera).
    I thought there was something wrong with the body, but after detaching the lens and snapping it back on it worked (focused) fine.
    I still wonder why it does that.
    When I bought it some 4 months ago there was no problem :(

    • Nicole S. Young December 26, 2013 at 12:54 pm - Reply

      I haven’t seen the issue in a very long time, so long that I pretty much forgot about it! I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

      Still love the lens and use it all the time, btw. :)

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