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The Fujifilm XF 27/2.8 pancake lens-a mini review of a mini lens

The Fujifilm XF 27/2.8 pancake lens-a mini review of a mini lens
Fujifilm X-Pro1, XF 27/2.8 pancake lens. ISO 400, 1/900s @ f8.

Fujifilm X-Pro1, XF 27/2.8 pancake lens. ISO 400, 1/900s @ f8.

“To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.”

― Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Mind’s Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers

These days I get asked a lot, it would seem, what camera to buy for travel or street photography.

The conversation usually goes something like this:

Tell me, Tony, what camera should I buy? I want something light and portable, that I can put in my pocket.

Easy, I reply. Use your Galaxy/iPhone/HTC/Windows Phone. I do.

At that point their seriousphotographer genes rebel and protest.

But I want a viewfinder. I like viewfinders. I need a viewfinder. And I want quality. I want to be able to make an exhibition/competitionwinning print.

At that point I put away my BIGBOYSTOY gorilla suit, race for the nearest phone box and change into my silver lycra Captain Mirrorless uniform. (Swirls cape dramatically and returns to conversation…)

An APS-C sensor OK?

Yes.

But portable?

Yes.

How portable?

I want it to fit in my pocket.

Easy, I reply. Use your Galaxy/iPhone/HTC/Windows Phone. I do.

Well…it doesn’t have to be that small. I want a real camera. With a viewfinder.

Aha! Have you thought about mirrorless? You could look at the OM-D. Cute and apparently very good. Like a DSLR which has been left out in the rain. Or the baby Panasonics. Huge quality in a package more shrunken than a Dayak head-hunter’s trophy wall. Or, I offer slyly, you could buy an M9/240… A good kit should ONLY set you back 25k or so…

No. Too expensive. Anyway, what about these Fujis? Are they any good?

Awesome.  But unless you use the little X-F1 or X-20, you aren’t going to slip one into your jeans pocket. And anyway, who wants to drive a car with a camera in their pocket. Damned uncomfortable. Do you want to be able to change lenses?

Yes.

Are you OK with a single focal length, i.e. are you willing to zoom with your legs?

Yes.

Then do I have a solution for you.

X-Pro 1 27-2.8The XF27mm (41mm equivalent focal length) f2.8 pancake lens.

I have just had a  brief test-drive of this new lens from Fujifilm for the X-series cameras.

The first thing to say is that there isn’t much to it. At all. At 23mm long, less than the width of my thumb, you could be forgiven for thinking you had forgotten to attach a lens at all. It comes without a lenshood (it is a pancake after all), so you are probably going to want to use a UV filter to protect the lens. The lens cap is a tiny 39mm, as are the filters. My suggestion: buy a filter, attach it, and throw the cap in a drawer before you lose it. Mine went walkabout for a couple of weeks before I found it in the footwell of my camera bag.

The lens has 7 elements in 5 groups, one of which is an aspheric element. It has a 7-bladed diaphragm  and produces really nice bokeh. Other than that there isn’t a lot more to tell you about its specs. You can read more here. It is beautifully-built, and made to a standard, not a price.

Except for one thing. It doesn’t have an aperture ring. That’s the price you pay (or rather, the price you don’t pay) for such a short lens. You set aperture using the thumbwheel (sorry, command dial) on the back of the camera and read the setting off the screen. And it is important to have the latest firmware updates for your camera installed.

Curious to know more about it, I read a few reviews, some of which bagged it for softness at maximum aperture.  Which seemed just a trifle silly, since there are very few lenses which are glittering wide-open, and anyway, why would you use a lens wide open in good lighting? Wide-open, it seems to me, is for creative effects or subtle, furtive photography in smoky bars packed with drug dealers or Hells Angels.

With that in mind, I set out for a morning on the streets of Christchurch, to see what it could do. I deliberately chose detailed and complex subject matter and some flat, textured surfaces for later pixel peeping.

The lens seems to exhibit minimal or no flare, which is important since it has no lenshood. It is small, unobtrusive and focuses very fast, probably a result of a strong motor driving tiny bits of glass.. So far so good.

 

Sign, Re: Start Mall, Christchurch. ISO 400. 1/400s @ f2.8

Sign, Re: Start Mall, Christchurch. ISO 400. 1/400s @ f2.8

At f8 it is corner-to-corner-sharp.  However, at f2.8 it is not perfect. There is subtle smearing, but it is not objectionable. I would never shoot this type of material at f2.8 anyway. Check out the thumbnail at right. To produce such a tiny lens the engineers at Fujifilm would have had to make a few compromises, but in practice it is a joy to use.

So who is it for?

Anyone who wants a lens which is small, unobtrusive and makes your X-series able to be dropped into a handbag or manbag. At 41mm FLE (focal length equivalent), it is wider than the 35/1.4 (50mm FLE) and longer than the superb 23mm/f2 (35mm FLE) which comes with a camera attached, in the form of the X100s.

It is worth noting that, according to my sources, Fujifilm are about to release an XF 23mm/1.4 (35mm FLE) premium lens next month. Decisions, decisions…

From its beginnings 18 months ago, with one interchangeable-lens camera and 3 prime lenses, Fujifilm have expanded the line-up to include 3 cameras and 9 lenses, with more on the way.

Fujifilm X-users are truly spoiled for choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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10 Responses

  1. Nice review and writing style. Informative and enjoyable reading :)

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