Gear reviews are a departure from my norm, but this little optic is such a good performer that is deserves a bit of love. I’m not one to shoot a brick wall or stuffed animals, so I can’t tell you how much sharper the EF 40 f2.8 is than “lens X,” but I do use my gear in the field, and if it survives the horrid weather and my abuse, it becomes a keeper.
I bought the Canon 40mm f2.8 STM from West Photo in Minneapolis, MN for about $175 and added the matching lens hood for another $20, or so. The purchase coincided with the onset of Fall and just prior to my trip to New York. I thought I’d use it for some street photography, but found that its also a superb landscape optic. Just to be clear, I had been using the Zeiss ZE 35mm f2.8 as my medium wide-angle lens, but decided to sell it shortly after shooting the far cheaper Canon “flat fantastic.”
Now if this doesn’t get your attention, nothing else I say will. While the Zeiss was sharper at f2.0 and f2.8, it lost its edge once I began shooting at f5.6 and f8. The Canon 40mm f2.8 is every bit as sharp as the Zeiss when stopped down, and its lighter, smaller and has autofocus.
If you are not aware, the Canon 40mm f2.8 STM is a “pancake-style” lens; this means that the optic is really flat. When mounted on a 5D Mark III, it’s barely bigger than the camera with just a body cap. Pancake lenses are nothing new to photography and were first conceived by Paul Rudolf in 1902 when he designed the Zeiss Tessar . I really love pancake lenses and have owned many in the past. My first was the SMC Pentax-M 40mm f2.8 that I purchased with a Pentax MX in 1979. This was followed by a Carl Zeiss 45mm T* Tessar f2.8 that I bought for my Yashica FX-3 Super 2000 in 1985, and a Nikkor 45 f2.8-P that I added to my kit when I was using Nikon FM’s and F100‘s. Regardless of the make, I always seemed to like the small profile and amazing quality packed into this simple optical design. While none of these pancakes are terribly fast at f2.8, they all were relatively sharp across the entire film plane.
Enter the Canon 40mm f2.8 STM. This lens was a surprise introduction in a somewhat feeble attempt to stem the movement away from small SLR cameras to Micro 4/3 bodies and Sony NEX camera systems. While I doubt the “new” Canon pancake will stop anyone from switching to smaller camera bodies, I do believe that this is a revolutionary lens. At less than $200, and often found for $150 after rebates, the Canon pancake is a bargain. It is solidly built with a quiet autofocus motor. Although not a USM style focus system, the STM focus motor is fast to autofocus and can be manually adjusted while in AF-mode. While the manual focus is slightly delayed due to the “focus by-wire” STM motor, it is just fine for a landscape shooter. Unlike the less expensive and faster Canon 50mm f1.8, the 40mm pancake has a metal lens mount and feels solid to the touch. I could never find any love for the “nifty fifty,” and now own the Canon 50mm f1.4 for my low-light shooting needs.
So What’s The Big Deal?
There is something about the quality of this lens that continues to shock me. It is quite resistant to flare and seems to have amazing edge sharpness at f8 and f11. I never hesitate to use the pancake lens on my 5D MarkIII and have found it to be a surprisingly good landscape lens. In terms of quality, it bests the 17-40mm f4.0L at 40mm, exhibits no chromatic aberrations, and does not appear to vignette when stopped down. While shooting wildlife, I keep the 40mm f2.8 STM on a second body and can quickly capture snapshots of the landscape, setting and companions without feeling burdened by a heavy lens around the neck. In short, at $175 this flat fantastic has the best combination of price and performance than any lens I have owned in the past or present.
My advice... try it... you’ll buy it!
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