My experience with pancake lenses is fairly limited, having only used a couple of this classification of lenses, and in both cases, with excellent results. I’m talking about the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 and Minolta 45mm f/2. So when I started to build up an EOS lens system, the EF 40/2.8 was at the top of my list of lenses to get. And the best part is that you can get them either new or used to save a few bucks. And don’t let the small size fool you; this lens packs a big punch, proving that size matters not.
Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well, you should not.
Model: EF 40mm 1:2.8 STM
Focal Length: 40mm
Focal Range: ∞ – 0.3m
Aperture: f/2.8 – f/22, 7 Circular Blades
Structure: 6 Elements in 4 Groups (1x Aspherical)
The Canon 40/2.8 is both small and lightweight and adds nothing to any camera body you mount it on. At first, I was a little wary of the size compared to some of my Canon EOS bodies, it looked perfect on my 3000, but it certainly looked a bit funny on the 650 and Elan IIe. But after a while, I realised that the small size was good. This lens will allow you to carry it around all day long without adding any weight, and although it the small in size, it doesn’t throw off the camera’s centre of mass either. The lens body is plastic, but the internals, including the mount, is made from metal. The camera uses a nice 52mm filter ring which means that if you have a lot of filters aimed at the Nikon system, they will work perfectly on the lens. Because the lens uses a stepper motor (STM), you have a switch to turn the AF functions on and off, unlike older EF lenses that allow you to turn the focusing ring. There is a focusing ring, but it is narrow and isn’t much use, as you also don’t have a focus scale on the lens; there isn’t any room! And the AF speed on the lens is fast; even on my two older bodies, the 650 and Elan IIe, the focusing is fast and accurate. The lens construction is stunning with the inclusion of an aspherical element which helps reduce distortion, and the rounded aperture blades make for pleasing out-of-focus rendering.
Here is where this lens shines, the optical quality is excellent! First, there is no distortion; the straight lines will stay straight even when focused in close. This is thanks to that single aspherical element. When shooting wide open, the rounded aperture blades present a smooth rendering of the out-of-focus elements, and there is also no fall-off or vignetting at the corners. The one concern is that there is a fair amount of ghosting around bright light sources. And while there certainly isn’t anything special about the out-of-focus regions, they are still pleasing. Once you stop down to f/4 and f/5.6, the ghosting is reduced to a much smoother render. When it comes to sharpness, this lens certainly has it in spades. No matter what aperture you’re shooting at, the items that are in focus will be sharp from f/2.8 to f/22. And I have not had cause for concern about flaring due to the small form factor of the lens. The only problem I have with the lens is that there is no focusing scale, mainly due to size, but if you prefer to zone focus for street photography, that will be a much more difficult thing to do with the lens. It might be best to let the autofocus handle things.
This lens is a must-have in your camera kit if space and weight are issues. The small compact size means that it will not add too much to your camera or your camera bag. Also, the 40mm focal length gives you that nice in-between length from wide-angle to normal. I would say this lens is closer to what we see with our eyes than the normal 50mm lens. The Canon 40/2.8 STM is a great daily carry-around lens. It might even work well for street photography if you like to use autofocus when doing street photography and get in close. It’s perfect for your digital and film cameras as the EF mount is compatible backward and forward. And on a crop-sensor body, you get an excellent fast portrait lens. But on a full-frame body, it’s a great lens for events, photojournalism, travel, and even landscape!
The Low Down
I don’t often say that you need a lens, but this is a lens that if you use the Canon EOS system, this is a lens you need. It is far more affordable than the average 35mm f/2 lens in the EF mount. On the used market, you can get the lens for 140-160$. And you can even buy it new, for 170$. Making the lens affordable, both new and used, and the compatibility of the lens makes it great for those who shoot both digital and film. It also delivers excellent quality in any situation. I like this lens; it spends most of its time with my cameras more than the 28mm or the kit zoom lens. I’m glad I got this for a reasonable price, and it is worth every dollar.
Don’t just take my view on the Canon 40/2.8; check out these other reviews.
Ken Rockwell – Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM Review
DPReview – Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Review
Expert Photography – Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Review
Optical Limits – Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Review