Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fuji 27mm pancake lens on the X-E1 - hands on review

I have to admit, the instant I saw the Fuji 27mm pancake lens on a camera I was smitten by its compact size,  and most particularly so when I saw it on a Fuji X-E1. It was immediately apparent that this was going to be a very handy, easily pocketable camera/lens combination, possibly one of the best combos out there.

I already did a review of this lens on my X-Pro1, but thought it might be fun to run it through its paces again on a smaller camera body where the fit just seemed to be more comfortable. Since I will be reviewing the new Fuji 23mm f/1.4 shortly, I also thought it might be interesting to analyze the performance of this lens again in comparison.

The 27mm lens mounted on a Fuji X-E1 creates pretty much a perfect package of convenience -- small enough to carry around conveniently, yet large enough to still feel comfortable while also producing pro-quality results. To my mind this is a perfect combo.
The first test I ran on the lens was for corner sharpness and distortion. As with most Fuji prime lenses, the 27mm f/2.8 pancake passed with flying colors. There was very slight corner softening wide open at f/2.8, but it was definitely not a deal breaker, and at f/4 this baby was tack sharp everywhere.

To further reduce its size, this lens does not have an aperture ring. Instead, you control the aperture by rotating the top dial on the rear of the camera. Frankly, I found it to be quite convenient, and maybe even preferable to using a ring on the lens.  Maybe its just that I am used to changing apertures that way from using my pro-Nikons with G lenses.

On an X-Pro1 the camera/lens package lost some of the small-size convenience it displayed when mounted on an X-E1. Nonetheless, I think it would still fit nicely in a coat pocket.
One thing that was quite noticeable was the speed to focus. It seems very fast, even compared to other Fuji lens. Fuji has been working on focus issues since the introduction of its first camera, and the results of their efforts appear to be showing up here.

You can see the low profile of the 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens here. On a smaller camera body, like this X-E1, it easily fits in a pocket for those times you want to have something unobtrusive with you.
The lens has a 2.41" (61.2mm) diameter and is only .91" (23mm) long. Its aperture range goes from f/2.8 to f/16. It focuses down to 13.39" (34cm) for a magnification ratio of 1:10.

Download a high res version of this file by clicking here.

This brightly lit scene in full sunlight shows excellent dynamic range with no washed out highlight or blocked up shadows.

The absence of color fringing from this lens is one of the best performances I have ever seen. The test shot below of trees is over exposed by 2 stops, and is typically where I would expect to see color fringing in the corner areas with high contrast. In this test, fringing is practically non-existent. Very impressive.

Click here to download a high res version of this file.

The Fuji X cameras are so good in low light situations that having an f/2.8 aperture on the 27mm lens was not a problem for this shot taken at ISO 3200 where the face was illuminated only by the light coming from the cell phone.  The focal length of 27mm translates to a 40mm equivalent, somewhere between a normal 50mm and 35mm wide angle. I found this to be quite nice for casual shooting -- short enough to be inclusive, and not long enough not to distort faces when coming in this close.
This photo of tiny seckel pears was taken at the closet focus range of 13.39" (34cm) for this lens. This photo and the one above were taken wide open at f/2.8. It should be apparent that achieving bokeh is not one of the reasons for using this lens. 

A lens such as this Fuji 27mm f/2.8 pancake is intended for one purpose, its compact size and convenience, and it achieves that perfectly, particularly when mounted on one of the smaller Fuji X bodies. The pleasant surprise is that such fine image quality comes with the overall package. A pancake lens is generally thought of as compromise, but the Fuji 27mm breaks that prejudice by coming in a package that is not only tiny but speedy to focus, and with superb optics to boot.

I would have liked to have the lens focus a little closer than it does, but this might have lengthened the size too, and that is not what a pancake lens is about. Street shooters are going to love this lens. It's focal length is perfect for taking in a wide enough angle while still producing good depth of field with a zone focus at a stopped down aperture. For quicker framing Voigtlander makes a 40mm optical viewfinder that works well with this lens.

Street shooters might want to opt for the Voigtlander 40mm optical viewfinder as an alternative to the EVF or LCD for quicker framing of shots. It fits and frames the Fuji 27mm perfectly.

When  using the Voigtlander optical viewfinder in a situation like this, you many need to tilt the camera up a bit to correct for parallax. 

Normally the pancake as a lens type is not something I use. The Fuji 27mm changed my mind once I coupled it with my Fuji X-E1 and saw the results. No excuses here. This lens delivers top quality results with speedy focus in a small package. What's there not to like?

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Fujifilm XF 27mm f/2.8 Lens can be ordered fromBH-Photo  Amazon   


  1. Nice post!
    This is a lens that doesn't get much attention, but from your photos its clearly a very nice lens. I am definitely going to have to consider it. Its kind of an odd length in between the 35mm and the 23mm, but it also costs less than both. Regardless, fantastic post.

    1. I wanted to add that I ordered this lens due to your review. I was looking for more of a walk-around lens. Other reviews seemed a tad biased on it while yours seemed more complete. I own the 35mm lens which is fantastic, but is a tad long for walking about. Thanks again!

  2. After borrowing the 35mm 1.4 for a weekend, I ended up buying a 27mm 2.8. While I appreciated the extra light gathering of the 1.4, I found that for me to use as a street lens, the focal length of the 27mm to be a more comfortable fit for me, more of an inclusive lens than the 35mm. The ability of the Fuji to almost disregard higher iso's makes it practical. It was hardly any less expensive than the 35mm at $699 here in New Zealand so it was not a decision taken lightly, however I have been extremely pleased with the image sharpness, colour and speed of focusing. I have never been interested in a pancake lens before but this one seems to do it without the image compromises and it lets me put my XE-1 in a jacket pocket. Great posts by the way.

  3. Ever since its introduction I was fascinated by the Fuji 27mm pancake. For me, the field of view of a 40mm equivalent is the holy grail. Of course I wondered if the image quality would be good enough. Well, I can tell you that it's definitely better than good enough. I tried and returned the 18mm and the 35mm. The focal length just isn't as versatile as the 27mm is. To me choosing a prime lens starts with determining the preferred focal length. After that comes the speed of the lens, than image quality and lastly the price of the lens. The 23mm f/1.4 is a wonderful lens, but too wide for me. I often end up cropping the photos made with it. I have to be too close to the subject. So the 27mm is perfect for me.

  4. Terrific post and very inspiring sample pics. I've got 2 X-e1's and was about to purchase a Ricoh GRii but when I began looking into this "pancake" style lens with top-notch glass I figured I could configure my own fuji version of the Ricoh GR camera! I believe I can snag one used off eBay in the $300 range making for a very nice take anywhere camera!

  5. Terrific post and very inspiring sample pics. I've got 2 X-e1's and was about to purchase a Ricoh GRii but when I began looking into this "pancake" style lens with top-notch glass I figured I could configure my own fuji version of the Ricoh GR camera! I believe I can snag one used off eBay in the $300 range making for a very nice take anywhere camera!

  6. Just ordered this lens from eglobal, £149.99. Probably a grey import but at that price, who cares!! Looking forward to using on my XE1 as a very compact travel camera.