Thursday, August 15, 2013

Fuji, Fujifilm XF 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens - a hands on review

It is very small. It is very light weight. It will convert your Fuji X camera into a pocket model. So the only question that remains is: Can it perform?

I don't really expect a lens such as this to reach the optical quality of standard, fixed optics. After all, it is a compromise made to provide a compact package when mounted on a camera, and I expect something to be sacrificed for that to happen. After putting it through its paces, however,  I was pleasantly surprised to find its performance much better than I would typically expect.

The Fuji 27mm pancake lens mounted on an X-Pro1 and reduced the profile so it fits in a jacket pocket. Of course the X-Pro1 is the largest of the X-series cameras. The overall package becomes even more compact with the lens mounted on one of the other X bodies.
First let's look at the size. It is surprisingly light weight coming in at just 2.75oz (78g). It is 2.41" (61.2mm) in diameter, and only .91" (23mm) deep. At 27mm it is equivalent to a 41mm focal length, which is perfect for an all-around lens. By way of comparison, the other Fiji lenses closest in size are the 18mm and 35mm, and they are almost twice the size and weight, and do not provide a pocketable profile.

One way of achieving such a low profile was to eliminate the aperture ring on the 27mm lens. As a replacement, Fuji added a firmware update that converts the command dial so it can control the aperture. I found this method of changing aperture to be quite convenient and didn't miss the aperture ring at all.

Auto-focus is very quick and totally silent. It may very well be the quickest focusing X-series lens. Apparently, Fuji is paying a lot of attention to this aspect of its X cameras to make them more professionally suitable.

This images should provide a good example of the overall sharpness of the lens as well as its sharpness ability in the corners. You can download a full res sample by clicking here.
I am not a big fan of using just one lens. My subject matter is much too varied to rely on only one focal length. Nonetheless, there are times when I don't want to carry around a lot of equipment but do want to have a compact camera with me. Adding the Fuji 27mm to any of the X camera bodies will accomplish that.

At f/8 this lens is at its best performance aperture. Click here to download a full res version of this image.
The photos below are practical tests for sharpness and to see how the lens behaves in the corners of the frame. Below the first photo are several links to high res files taken at f.2.8, f/4, and f/5.6.  The Fuji 27mm pancake lens performed admirably here.  I did not need to go beyond f/5.6 because the corners were already sharp.  Even at f/2.8 this lens shows only very slight corner softness, much better than I would expect for a lens of this type, and even better than many other lenses I have tested.

Click on any of the three links below to download full res images of this image taken at f/2.8, f/4, and f/5.6.

Click here to download a full res version of the f/2.8 photo.
Click here to download a full res version of the f/4 photo.
Click here to download a full res version of the f/5.6 photo.
A close up shot taken at f/2.8 shows very good detail and quick focus ability of this lens. I didn't have much time to raise the camera and shoot this photo before the squirrel decided to move on. Download a high res version of this image by clicking here.
One of the more difficult tests I perform with lenses is the one below shot straight up through trees into the sun and bright sky with the aperture opened to allow for over exposing the shadows. A photo like this will almost always produce color fringing and other distortions in the corners. On the Fuji 27mm the fringing was minimal but there is considerable coma in the corner highlights. The fringing is easy to correct in post processing. The coma is not.

Click here to download a high res version of this image.  Photo was taken with a wide open aperture of f/2.8.
The close focus range of this lens is 13.39" (34cm) for a magnification factor of .1x -- not very impressive, but I suppose some compromises had to be made to achieve such a small profile for the lens.

This is as close as I was able to focus with this lens.
The images below will provide some more examples of the high resolution of the Fuji 27mm lens.

 New York's Flatiron Building  with its highly detailed terra cotta tiling is one of my favorite resolution test. Click here to download a high res version of this image.
Click here to download a high res version of this file taken at f/8.
Incidentally, the building on the right is where Andy Warhol had his "Factory" when he moved to Union Square.   Click here to download a high res version of this file taken at f/5.6.
Click here to download high res version of this file.
The photo below is the make-it-or-break-it test for this lens. I was in Central Park shooting with this model around sunset, and wanted to do an active shot of her jumping against the setting sun. This is a very difficult situation for any camera, and one that only the top pro cameras and lenses can usually handle. The model is in total silhouette against a very bright setting sun so there is very little contrast. This makes it extremely difficult for an auto-focus system, and a point where many of them simply can't do it. I brought the X-Pro1 along with the Fuji 27mm lens to see how it would perform, and have to say, I was extremely impressed.

I placed the focus point on the mid-section of the model. There was not contrast there at all. The sun was shining directly into the lens, and the model was doing continuous jumping jacks. The X-Pro1 was set for ISO 400, motor drive of 6fps.  A lens aperture wide open at f/2.8 meant there was no room for error. The camera/lens had to focus quickly and accurately at 1/1000 sec. The X-Pro1 with 27mm lens not only did it, it did it over and over again as we repeated the shot.

This shot is a major "hats off" to Fuji for improving the auto-focus system of their X-series cameras and lenses to such a high capability.

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

I came into this test expecting a descent lens with some serious compromises befitting the type of lens it is. I came away from the tests very pleasantly surprised. The Fuji 27mm f/2.8 lens provides high resolution particularly with edge sharpness that is above the typical performance of its class. It's equivalent focal length of 41mm is very practical, particularly if this is the only lens you plan to have with you, and for most of us that would be the main reason for buying it.

At $449 some may think it a bit pricey for a lens of this type, but you get what you pay for, and in this case it is a miniature package with extremely high optical and mechanical performance that bests most other lenses in its class. The 27mm pancake is another winner for Fuji -- well worth the wait.

Special thanks:

To for helping out with expedient service in supplying the lens used for this test. If you need to rent equipment or try equipment is a great place to know about. They have an extensive list of equipment available for most of the top brand camera models.


  1. Hi Tom, Thank you for this review, nice pictures!
    I'm seriously thinking of buying this lens and you have helped me with the process.
    I'm struggling to see the difference between the 2.8 & 5.6 on the wall test, can you please tell me are these SOOC and how much sharpness has been add ?

  2. Andy - The wall tests are from RAW images straight out of the camera. No sharpness added. That is how good this lens really is. There is hardly any difference between the apertures. You can see the some small blurring in the f/2.8 aperture in the left, bottom corner, but that is about it. Really impressive lens. - Tom