I’ve got a thing for pancakes. No, not the delicious thin, flat cakes which I absolutely know how to make from scratch and only use supermarket mix for the sake of convenience. No, no, no. I’m talking about a specific sub-type of camera lens that is small, light and—well—as flat as a pancake.
They usually offer a moderately wide to normal field of view, coupled with a modest maximum aperture of f/2–f/4, depending on the format. These properties, along with their physical characteristics, make pancake lenses ideal all-day and all-purpose lenses.
This is why I am delighted to add the [checks official nomenclature] Fujifilm Fujinon XF 27mm F2.8 R WR to my camera bag. With its 40mm (35mm equiv.) field-of-view, the 27mm sits snuggly between the 35mm (equiv.) ‘wide’ and 50mm (equiv.) ‘normal’, both of which I’ve got covered in my camera bag.
To some, 40mm is a weird field of view that is neither here nor there: it’s too wide for uses such as portraiture and not wide enough for capturing landscapes. But I’ve never felt this way. To me, 40mm has always been a perfect balance between width and length.
Design and usability
The XF 27mm WR is an updated version of the original XF 27mm and incorporates an aperture ring and water resistance when paired with an appropriate camera body; the optical design remains the same and the original. As befits a pancake lens, it is small, light and unobtrusive.
Shooting with the 27mm on my X-Pro2 is a breeze. The addition of the aperture ring is very welcome, making it possible to easily set and see at-a-glance what the value is, rather than having to stuff around with the command dial (front or rear? I can never get it right when using a non-R Fujfilm lens).
The focus motor and speed remain much the same as the original XF 27mm, which is to say ‘a little on the clunky side’, with a somewhat noisy focus motor to match. It’s not a huge deal but shooters shouldn’t expect this lens to match more recent releases like the XF 16–80mm.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for Fujifilm, the results are pretty good. I’m not someone who does (or cares about) in-depth optical tests and benchmarks but during my limited time with the lens, it’s performed perfectly well with only some minor blemishes which are to be expected in a lens of this design.
Pancake lenses inevitably need to make optical compromises but fortunately, not many of them are visible to the user. Probably the most apparent ‘compromise’ is the f/2.8 maximum aperture—a modest number in many respects—but more than made up for by this lens’s compactness and usability.
There is moderate vignetting at f/2.8 which all but disappears by f/5.6. Sharpness is very good in the centre, though can be less-than-stellar in the corners below f/8. But really, none of this is an issue in everyday use. This is a pancake lens and is designed in both form and function to be a go-anywhere lens, not a precision tool.
My biggest bug-bear has been the autofocus. In the midst of the fourth lockdown here in Melbourne, my two young kids have been my main photographic subjects and they are often incompatible with the autofocus capabilities of this lens.
Other Fujifilm lenses, like my beloved XF 23mm f/2, are far more capable when it comes to focusing. It’s not a deal-breaker (particularly for this type of lens) but it is something to be aware of.
If you’re a Fuji shooter, this lens in either its original version or updated WR incarnation will make a welcome addition to your camera bag. Both will produce the same great images but the aperture ring on the new version is a much-needed feature for my style of shooting.
With the exception of the recent ‘super blood moon’ lunar eclipse, the XF 27mm WR has stayed firmly affixed to my camera. Its compact size and great optical quality makes it a no-brainer as an everyday walkaround lens. Its focal length won’t appeal to everyone, however. For some, 40mm is either too wide or too long but for me, it’s ideal.
Highly recommended (sans maple syrup)