Of all the Fuji XF lenses that I’ve used, (14mm, 27mm, 18-55mm, 56mm, 60mm and 55-200mm) my sleeper favorite is the 27mm f/2.8 pancake. Why? Simple. It’s tiny.
I don’t usually get excited about this focal length. 27mm equates to 41mm when compared to full frame, which is about the same angle of view as the human eye. I don’t have any lenses in that range for my DSLR, it’s generally not wide enough to be wide, and it’s almost too wide to be considered “normal.” Essentially, it falls right in line between 35mm and 50mm, which I know are the ranges that street photographers and photojournalists love.
However, put this little gem on the front end of an X-T1, X-Pro1 or one of the X-E bodies, and you suddenly have a pro quality camera that almost fits in your pocket. With the 27mm, these interchangeable X cameras are about the same size as the X100 and they hardly weigh anything. Here it is on an X-E1, and you can see that it’s really not much bigger than the X20.
Around your neck, an X body with the 27mm lens hardly feels like you’re carrying anything at all. In fact, with this combination, my new camera bag is actually the camera strap. I’ll walk/hike/bike/ski with this setup slung around shoulder and not even know it’s there. Yet, when I see something I want to shoot, I’ve instantly got full functionality and quality of an X-Trans sensor camera.
You see, the only thing I love more than a good prime lens is a compact prime, and the XF 27mm is about as compact as you can get. Of course, small doesn’t mean anything it the glass isn’t good, and that’s where this little thing shines.
Often times, you find that small lenses like this just aren’t up to the task, but the 27mm f/2.8 is actually a very good lens. It produces exceptionally sharp images, it’s fast, and compared to some of the other XF lenses, it’s performs much better in the AF department.
Construction seems pretty good on this lens, although there’s not much there, just 7 lens elements in 5 groups, (including 1 aspherical element), a high torque coreless AF motor and enough metal to hold it all in place. The 27mm does NOT have an aperture ring, or a lens hood. I usually like to have those things on my lenses, but in this case, I’ll gladly trade them for something this small. However, it does have a manual focus ring that’s very solid and tight. No rattle or looseness at all. I’ve actually used MF on this lens quite a bit for night photography when it’s simply to dark for the AF to grab anything.
Autofocus has been a mixed bag for the Fuji X lenses. Having tried quite a few of them, I can say that AF performance depends largely on the lens. Some are better than others, and in fact, the 27mm f/2.8 just might be the fastest and best performer in the entire lineup.
It’s WAY faster than the 35mm, which chugs and hunts sometimes. By comparison, the 27mm locks onto the subject with almost no hesitation, even in low light, where is where these lenses usually fall short. I’m actually quite impressed with how well it focuses in the dark. In my highly scientific tests standing inside my closet, the 27mm on my X-T1 actually wins out agains the D7100 with the 24-85mm lens. In the revered closet test, the 27mm is even faster than the super 56mm f/1.2, which proves that maximum aperture of the lens isn’t the sole determining factor.
I haven’t tried the XF 18mm, but from everything I’ve heard, the 27mm runs AF circles around that one too with regards to AF. It also focuses faster than the XF 18-55 and the 55-200, and it completely puts the 60mm to shame with how fast it focuses.
So how do the images look? I’ve shot with the 27mm on the X-T1 for six weeks now, and I have to say, I’ve been really impressed. Colors look awesome and I’m honestly surprised at how crisp photos look when you crop to 100%. In addition, it produces pretty good bokeh in the background, which always looks nice for portraits. Even in super bright light, there’s a good compromise between subject sharpness and background blur.
Portrait shot at Minus 10 F
Some portrait shooters won’t touch anything with f/2 or greater, but shooting at f/2.8 has advantages over f/1.4, namely that you get more than just the eyelashes in focus. This photo below was actually shot at f/7.1 and it still holds up with a nice soft background. Plus, it’s REALLY sharp.
The next three photos are reprinted from my Fuji X-T1 Full Size Image Examples post that I wrote last month. A few of those shots were made with the 27mm, so I’m highlighting them again here so you don’t have to go back and forth if you don’t want to. Each of these link to the full size JPEGs that are sitting in my Dropbox folder. Click on them and you see them at full resolution.
Even shot out the thin plastic window, this one has a huge amount of crisp detail and sharpness holds up extremely well out towards the edges. Check the wingtip and the mountains in the opposite corner. Click for full size.
Reykjavik Lights Hotel
Shot under strong morning light in crisp winter air this one is also extremely sharp. Even the most ardent pixel peepers should be impressed at how well the little 27mm resolves edge detail. This one is probably a really good example of maximum real-life sharpness. ISO 200, 1/600 sec shutter speed and f/5. Many lenses are sharpest between f/5.6 and f/8, so f/5 is just about up in that range. Click for full size.
This one was shot on a tripod with a 3.2 second exposure, wide open at f/2.8. Click to see full size. Note, the full size version is the JPEG, which has been brightened up a little bit in Lightroom. I also shot this in RAW, and so the version below is the converted version from that file. You can see how much more detail I was able to bring out as opposed to the JPEG.
At the beginning of this post, I called the 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens my “sleeper favorite.” What this means is that while it’s not my favorite XF lens, (that medal goes to the XF 14mm f/2.8 ultra wide angle, with silver to the XF 56mm f/1.2 ultra fast portrait lens), it’s the lens that I ended up liking WAY more than I thought I would.
As I said, a 41mm angle of view doesn’t usually do it for me, but a 41mm lens that only weighs 2.75 oz? (78 grams) Now THAT’S something I can get excited about. Weight wins out here and it has made me love this little lens. The 27mm f/2.8 has become my go-to lens for unobtrusive, inconspicuous travel, around town shooting, bike trips and ultra long rides where I only want to take a single lens, and other situations where I want quality, but also want minimalism.
The Fuji XF 27mm f/2.8 pancake fits that bill and still gives me really impressive results. It’s a highly versatile lens that also fits in my creative methodology of shooting with primes and adapting to a single focal length. In addition, since it’s so small and simple, it has a very high FUN FACTOR. I’ve made the 27mm work for me in a wide variety of shooting situations, including portraits, landscapes, street, travel and yes, even some action.
I’d recommend this lens to any Fuji X photographer who likes the idea of going really lightweight and making their X body setup as compact as possible. If you want to go all X100 style with your X-Pro1, X-E2 or X-T1, then this is the one lens you should get. It’s much smaller and a way better AF performer than the 35mm f/1.4.
Compared to the XF 18mm f/2, the 27mm is said to be a little bit shaper, especially at the edge, and it’s half the weight. I haven’t tried the XF18mm, but I seriously considered it since I like wide angle lenses. Again, size and weight won out, and now that I have the 27, I know that I made the right choice. I already have the XF 14mm, and it’s really not that heavy either, so for me, the 18 would be a little too close to that focal length.
However, if you don’t have the 14 and you think you’d like a wide angle prime over one that’s closer to a nifty fifty prime, then the XF 18mm f/2 might actually be a good choice for you. AF speed won’t be as good and it won’t be quite as small, but it does come with a hood and an aperture ring.