A possible game changer: the Canon 40mm f2.8 pancake lens

A possible game changer: the Canon 40mm f2.8 pancake lens

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It’s summer time and I am planning a quick escape to recharge, away from my city, the web and 4G signals. To travel light, efficient packing is key. This should be simple with the Sony Nex-7, the 16mm pancake with wide angle adapter, the 18-55mm kit lens-mainly for video- and the 50mm f1.8 for low light/shallow depth of field and a compact tripod. Small footprint, big on image and video quality. The Nex-7 boasts one of the best APSC sensors, regardless of all the sensor goodness and stunning DXO ratings, it just can’t compete with current full frame cameras in the real world and I am a little irritated because I have no idea what lays ahead, landscapes, portraits, snap shots, street or night shots in the rain -and I want to be ready for anything.

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Even though I prefer lightweight cameras and lenses for travel, it is very tempting to pack the Canon 5Dmk3 with the pancake instead, much better low light performance, instant auto focus, better shallow depth of field, much better video and weather sealing might come in handy too. Weight is still an issue since the Canon 5Dmk3 body hits the scale at 860grams (approx 30.3 oz) the Sony Nex-7 body at 292grams (10.3 oz) that’s a penalty of 568grams or approx 1 1/4 lbs.
I plan to pack at least two additional lenses, preferably a wide angle zoom and a kit zoom or tele zoom. Heavy L glass is not an option and fortunately I still have my ancient 20-35mm f3.5-4.5 USM and 28-105mm II f3.5-4.5 USM lenses, (descent image quality, discontinued, very reasonable $$ used). I really enjoy shooting with the pancake and the first test shots showed great sharpness and bokeh wide open.
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To lighten the load I will leave the tripod behind and pack a small bean bag instead. With Canon’s 5Dmk3 high ISO performance I am not worried. Of course this doesn’t mean I will never use the Sony Nex-7 or a compact again, however, when traveling through regions I might never return to I feel better with a full frame set up ready for any challenge.

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12 thoughts on “A possible game changer: the Canon 40mm f2.8 pancake lens

  1. mike.kobal Post author

    thanks for your kind words, Rhys! Lucky for us there are quite a few options to choose from these days, really depends on your shooting preference, if you are mainly into cityscapes/landscapes with a few candid’s and low light shots thrown in, go with the Nex7, a no brainer really, fantastic hires sensor and much less bulky to travel with, incredible quality in good light – I always preferred the cropped sensor for wide angle and landscape shots because of better depth of field. If you are a bokeh and extreme low light fanatic, you have to stick with the bulk of full frame, no way around it, a good middle ground would be the new Fujifilm X E1, better in low light then the Nex-7 and with the 35mm 1.4 captures pretty amazing bokeh shots, much lighter then a 5Dmk2 or 3 set up, the only thing I am not sure about is af performance on the fuji..

  2. Rhys

    First, can I say what a great blog this is. Many, many thanks for taking the time to put it together Mike.

    I notice that you compare the Nex to the “current full frame cameras”. I have the 5D mark II and was seriously considering getting the Nex7 as a lighter weight companion. Now your post on the pancake 40 has me wondering whether I should. Would you have any thoughts on the Nex vs the Mark II for candid/travel stuff? My Lumix LX5 has served me beautifully over the years, but I’m ready to upgrade it. The RX100 is another possibility. So might be the RX1, I guess… Gah… Too many choices!

    Yet another idea I’d been pondering was investing in a piece of expensive glass — say the summicron 35mm f/2 — and pairing it with the Nex7, together with the kit zoom. Would you have an opinion on whether this’d be wise?

    Again — many thanks for the awesome site. Cheers, Rhys

  3. Thomas

    My summer trip gear consists in a used body and used lenses – a Nikon D5100, a 50mm f1.8 and a 17-70 zoom. Nothing special. Cheap and lightweight, the whole kit for 660 Euro. Thanks god I didn’t got by the GAS syndrom and the camera hype… :-)

  4. jake

    thank you Mike, that means maybe the 5D3 is the camera for me since I dont shoot anything in studio and most of times use of a good tripod is not my option.
    well, thanks again for your amazing work and real life comparison of these amazing cameras.

  5. Cheryl Rose

    i realize,now, that even professional photographers with options grander than most, cant just pick up a camera that they
    think does everything. Mike, when you plan a vaca aren’t you entirely in charge of what your subject matter will be? like going somewhere with lots of kids and dogs..need the canon. Seems no matter where you go, the highest quality you can afford is the correct answer. The NEX 7 is a hobby shooter, like a lomo or a polaroid, it’s not for fine photographs. So. CONTEXT BASED

  6. Neil

    Cheryl, From my perspective, the autofocus on the Nex 7 falls down when you are dealing with low light (medium to low interior lighting) and moving subjects (playing kids, moving dogs, etc). In general, I can live with ISO 1600, and with the Sigma lenses being f2.8, shutter speed is OK. But the percentage of shots critically in focus is fairly low.

    There are probably some settings that I could change that might improve this a bit, and I could use flash.

    On the other hand, the 5D Mark III autofocus is awesome, and with a fast prime and ISO 3200, the percentage of keepers approaches 100%.

  7. mike.kobal Post author

    Thanks Jake. true, blame it on the pancake :) I really enjoy using the D800E, mainly in the studio and as medium format replacement, the 5D3 for everything else

  8. jake

    hi mike, first off, I appreciate your time consuming effort making this very interesting site.
    I’ve also owned the NEX7 and Canon 5Dmk2(not mk3yet) and recently got the Oly EM5, with a plan to do my own NEX7 vs OMD comparison in my personal studio.
    I know you prefered the NEX7 to the EM5 but I’m just curious why not the D800E ,which you seemed really enjoying.

  9. mike.kobal Post author

    Hi Cheryl, aside from the full frame advantage, the most significant differences are: much better bit rate and low light performance shooting video, pro auto focus and much, much better low light performance for stills.

  10. Cheryl

    It would be interesting as a test to take both cameras and illustrate
    For us poor single camera owners EXACTLY WHERE YOU make distinctions
    For camera use.

  11. Neil

    Great post! I have consolidated my cameras down to an Nex 7 and a 5D Mark iii. I often find myself wising that I could depend upon the Nex 7 in every situation, so that it would be my bring-along camera. Like you, I have resigned myself to bringing the 5d Mark iii more often than not.

    I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for taking the time to share.

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