Monday, July 2, 2012

A Weekend WIth Canon EF 40mm f2.8 STM Pancake Lens

Instead of taking photos of fireworks like I do on every Canada Day weekend, this time I took out my friend's new stubular pancake lens for a spin. Although mounting it on a full frame would have been ideal, I had to slap it on my 1D MK.III.

Before we go on, I should warn you that I will not be talking about how sharp this lens is. In fact, let's get that out of the way first. The 40mm pancake is more than plenty sharp for $200 price range. whether it is sharper than EF 35mm f2, EF 50 f1.# non-L, and sigma 30mm f1.4, is not my priority. There are other lens tests out there for that. I have a certain sharpness tolerance that may differ from others, but this lens gets a passing mark on sharpness.

Alright, now let's go on with other things that matter for a $200 lens.

The 40mm pancake lens comes with a STM (not to be confused with Sexually Transmitted Motor): STepper Motor technology. This makes quiet and fast to focus while retaining it's stubluar size. It is roughly half the size of the Canon 50mm f1.4, but what's more important here is the minimum focusing distance. The pancake lens has the minimum focusing distance of 30cm as opposed to the 50mm's 45cm. This mere 15cm difference lets the 40mm focus at whoever is sitting across from you at an average size dinner table. With the focusing speed and noise level, this little lens is a ninja-class, no doubt. Canon just doesn't have the right sized body for it. Yet.

The new 40mm already has several competition, notably both of the non-L 50mm prime lens as well as others. It is even questionable if Nikon making their somewhat-recent AF-S 40mm f2.8 Micro was a better move than making a pancake lens as well. Nikon has been making updated versions of their "affordable" primes for their non-motored bodies, which I thought was an awesome move. Canon has been updating their L lenses or revamping their existing cheap primes into $900 lenses. The price point of roughly $200 for the new 40mm pancake is certainly something the beginner, intermediate, and weekend photographers alike were searching for within the Canon-mount.

On a APS-C type sensor, this 40mm is just shy of being a 65mm (52mm on APS-H type). Still a better focal length than 50mm becoming an 80mm for the most part. If you're planning to have a 40mm as a standard lens or a dedicated street photography lens, you'll be more than happy with the 40mm. It even has a metal mount as opposed to the plastic everything, which the 50mm f1.8 offers. The extra $90 or so you'll be paying over the 50mm 1.8 is certainly a worth it investment.

The aperture of 2.8 is something that will turn off some users. Sometimes, we just need that extra push in the depth-of-field. Thankfully, i shoot most of my stuff in f2.8-5.6 outside so it didn't affect me as much. If you're spoiled by using f1.2 glass, this just might take getting some used to. And let's face it, with ISO performance sky rocketing per generation, low light situation with f2.8 can't be all that much of a challenge these days.

Now here's the question most people will ask: How is this lens with "bokeh"?

The bokeh looks just fine (for $200).

If I were to have any complaints with this lens is the STM or the focusing motor to be exact. To even manually focus, the lens needs to be powered, meaning the camera needs to be on. The 40mm tends to stick out when it is focused at minimum focusing range, so in order to "retract" lens, you first have to focus at infinity, or do it so manually before turning the camera off. I know its a short lens, but I still wouldn't want a chance to hit anything while the lens is stuck at the minimum focusing. If this 40mm were to be a USM lens, it would've been a full manual lens like most USM lenses are.

Playing around with this 40mm pancake has already won my heart over. My next spare $200 could potentially be spent on a 40mm of my own. And I was ready to bash this thing prior to the weekend test (Seriously, I was going to write "Canon's new 40mm f2.8 STM pancake lens makes a great body cap. The End") The pancake lens isn't perfect. Heck, it doesn't even need to be pancake. I bet most users are willing to have a 40mm f2 instead of 40mm f2.8 pancake. But at a $200 (how many times have I mentioned the price now?) price range, this lens doesn't need to be perfect. With Canon's standards, I'm surprised this lens is as this good for the price.