Review of the Fuji XF 27mm Pancake Lens

Fuji 27mm lensOf all the Fuji XF lenses that I’ve used, (14mm, 27mm, 18-55mm, 56mm, 60mm and 55-200mm) my sleeper favorite is the XF 27mm f/2.8 pancake. Why? Simple. It’s tiny.

Note: This lens is on sale right now, for $150 off.

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.

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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

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.

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Image Quality

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.

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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.

Airplane Wing

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.

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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.

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Northern Lights

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.

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Overall

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.

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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.

Support this site: This lens is currently on sale for $150 off. If you decide to pull the trigger on this lens or on any piece of gear, please consider purchasing through these links. It’s a way that you can show your appreciation for the time and effort that it takes me to compile and write these reviews, and it won’t cost you anything extra. It’s like a virtual pat on the back. Thanks so much!

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Comments

Review of the Fuji XF 27mm Pancake Lens — 12 Comments

  1. Dan,
    I’ve been enjoying your post, thanks for the effort. I’ve used the 27mm on my xe2 and now on my xt1. As you pointed out it’s a great compact travel set up. I like the combination so much I sold my x100s. There is such a thing as to much gear. A few weeks back I bought a used 18mm and it’s almost replaced the 27. I like both focal lengths but the 18 does work a bit better for me. Also, turns out, I do miss having an aperture ring on the lens. The best part though, I often find myself out and about with the xe2 and both lenses. They are just that compact.
    Bill

  2. Bill, Thanks for your comments. I know what you mean about gear, I’ve often thought of getting an X100, but I just think it would be redundant with what I already have. Especially now that I’m using the X-T1. I fear that it would end up being a $1,200 paperweight.

    Regarding the 18- If I didn’t already have the 14mm, I might have considered getting the 18mm a little more. I do like wide angle, and as I said in my post I’d probably get more use out of a focal length like the XF 18. However, since I do have the 14, the 27 gives me a little wider range for my focal lengths. For me, the 18 would be a little too close to the 14, and I probably wouldn’t end up using it very much. This way, I’ve got a solid wide angle and a solid, extremely lightweight normal lens that can do portraits in a pinch. The other factor is that I also have the 18-55, so even though it’s bigger glass, I’ve already got that 18 range covered.

    Since you have used both lenses, I’ll ask you- how do you find the focus speed on the 18 compared to the 27?

  3. H Dan,

    It’s even more complicated. I also have the 14 and the 18-55. I bought the 18 used just to see if I liked it. And I really do. I still prefer the 14, it’s just a killer lens and offers a great prospective but I use the 18 more because of its small size. I’m completely happy with the IQ if the 18. The third shot back on my 500px page (light house at night) was shot with the 18 and I can’t see any soft edges like some have suggested. That last bits meant to be taken lightly; if you look at the photo you’ll see why. http://www.500px.com/williamvthomas/photos

    I have the latest firmware on the 18 and the 27 lenses and on both my xe2 and xt1 and I really can’t see any difference in focus speed. Both more then meet my needs. I do like that the 18 will focus in closer.

    As I side note my 18-55 zoom was in for repairs last month and I found it hard to work in snow and weather with just primes. I’m still sorting things out and the new 10-24 and the upcoming 18-135 are not making things any simpler.

  4. Bill- Again, I’m with you. The 14 is a fantastic lens. I love it so much that I will probably not get the 10-24, but that 18-135 is intriguing. I’m still trying to figure out what my ideal long lens will be with the X-T1. I like the 55-200, but am really curious to see what’s in the Fuji lens pipeline.

    Good to know about the 18, I’d heard mixed reviews regarding sharpness and AF speed. If it’s as fast, or near as fast as the 27, the it sound like really nice glass! Regarding the 18-55, the only thing I don’t like about that lens is that the zoom creeps too easily. I might have to use one of those anti-lens creep rubber band things to help control that!

  5. Dan, I’m still sitting the fence on the wide zoom. For outdoor work I don’t need it but I shoot some interior boat stuff where it would come in handy. For now though I’m holding off.
    I also have the 55-200, great lens but something longer would be nice. Like you I’m waiting to see what’s down the road.

  6. According to the Fuji lens map, they have a 50-140 f/2.8 tele zoom in the works for late 2014. Probably won’t be super light, but could be a fantastic lens. The mockups show a tripod collar. If it’s removable, that may well be the one for me.

  7. I like the 2.8 aperture on the 50-140 zoom but I’m wondering about the longer zoom on the road map. It’s good that they are showing tripod collars.
    For now though I hope the 18-135 is a good lens. That should hole me for sometime.

  8. I’m wondering about that longer lens as well. I haven’t heard any details. My completely uneducated guess is something like 100-300 f/4.

  9. Dan. A welcome review: I recently acquired a mint, used X-E1 with 18-55 & 35mm lenses, the sum of which provide great picture taking opportunities. However, the 27mm would provide a much more compact and convenient format for carrying in a pocket or ordinary brief case. I also quite like the focal length – similar to a much loved Olympus rangefinder from the filmic days.
    Question: how much of a hinderence is it not having an aperture ring?
    Thanks for a great web site!
    Terry

  10. Terry, I don’t find the lack of an aperture ring to be a very big deal. With my Nikons, I’ve been adjusting aperture for years with the front command dial, so I’m used to that method. I do like having the aperture ring on the other Fuji lens, but I’ll gladly give it up in exchange for how compact the 27mm lens is. Thanks for the comments!

  11. Hi Dan. Thanks ever so much for all of the comments you have made here. I am very new to the x family currently migrating from Nikon although I still plan(at present!) to keep my D7100. In the UK at present there are some really good offers on by means of being able to have a choice of free lenses. Having now seen what you have said my next free lens will be the 27, as I have also been toying with getting the x100s. Keep up the good work and all the best from Wales.

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