I switched to Fuji last October after much debate (I love it and am so happy Jim’s endorsement finally pushed me over the edge). I had a certain amount budgeted that I calculated to get the set up I wanted. By a stroke of blind luck, my local camera shop advertised the wrong price on the exact set up I was looking for and it saved me $300. At the same time, Adorama advertised a sale on the Fujifilm XF 27 mm F/2.8 lens for under $300. Fate seemed to good to me so I decided to pull the trigger on this lens. I have been using the lens often since then and, while I don’t necessarily love the performance compared to my more expensive lens, I love the convenience it offers.
Do I love the lens quality? Not necessarily. Nevertheless, this lens spends more time on my camera than I could have ever expected. The reason? This is a tiny pancake lens. One of the main reasons I switched to the Fuji system is because I travel a lot with my family and I wanted something smaller and lighter. With the 27 mm lens on my Fuji X-T1, I can actually fit the whole camera in my pocket and it is not even uncomfortable. I have been testing a lot of different straps lately and they are all somewhat annoying with the weight of a heavy lens, but if I throw this lens on my camera, I can barely feel the camera around my neck. There are so many perfect occasions for me to use this set up, I find myself turning to it more often and, more importantly, I find myself taking a lot more images.
MY FAVORITE USES
The uses for this lens are numerous. Here are some of the main uses I have found for it:
Day-to-day. This lens gets the most use in my day-to-day family life for things like taking my kids to the park, going on walks or going on other family outings. Because I can throw it in my pocket or the stroller cup holder, I always have my camera with me when something fun happens. My cell phone is a couple years old and takes terrible photographs, so I love having my main camera so accessible for just the little things.
At home. I leave this lens on the camera when it is just sitting around the house. Because it takes up so little room, I can keep my camera in a kitchen drawer or bookshelf or somewhere other than with all my bulky camera gear (my wife just limited me to 1 big floor-to-ceiling storage container that is already overflowing). Because it is so small, it does not get in the way and it is quickly accessible for unplanned shots around the house when my kids decide to do something really cute. . . like playing together without fighting!
Date night. I use this lens all the time for date nights. I can put it in my pocket or, because it is so small, my wife will carry it in her purse. My wife plans some pretty awesome dates so it is nice to have a good camera on me, without it being in the way, when we are zip lining in Vegas or doing aerial acrobatics or so many other fun things.
Travel. I always take this lens travelling. When I travel with my family, I take this lens along for times when photography is not the focus. So, if we are just going out to dinner or going shopping or many other things, I use this lens so I can always have a camera with me, but not have to bring my camera bag or have my bigger lens swinging around my neck. There have been too many times in the past where we have stumbled upon something really cool while walking the streets of Budapest or even just eating dinner at a Mexican resort. It is far better to have your best camera with a decent lens in those situations than to be stuck with your cell phone.
Work. This lens is perfect for taking to work. I am an attorney and often have to work outside of the office, whether it is going to the courthouse downtown or traveling for a deposition, I cannot carry my camera bag with me. I usually have a briefcase though, and with this lens on I can carry my camera in my briefcase and steal away for some photography time if I get an extra twenty minutes or so.
Street photography. While there are so many uses for a pancake lens, I will stop with street photography. There is a reason small cameras like the Fuji X100 series are so popular with street photographers. Street photography is a lot easier and more fun when you can blend in with the crowd. I use this lens almost exclusively when I am headed down the the Las Vegas Strip or somewhere else to do street photography.
Now that I have explained why I love having a pancake lens, let’s dive into looking at this specific lens. It is manufactured by Fuji as you could guess by the Fujinon name. It has a Fuji-X Mount so it will only work with the X Series of Fuji cameras. It is a fixed-focal length or prime lens with a focal length of 27 mm. It has a minimum aperture of f/2.8 and maximum aperture of f/16. It has auto focus. The circular filter size is just 39 mm, which tells you how small the lens is.
There is no aperture ring on the lens. This means you have to use the dial on the camera to change the aperture. From what I saw online, it appears this is a big deal to a lot of people. Personally, it does not bother me at all. Sometimes, perhaps from my years shooting Nikon, I find it easier to change the aperture on camera body anyways.
The lens does not come with a lens hood, which is fine with me since a bulky lens hood would defeat the purpose of a pancake lens.
The build quality on this lens is actually quite good given the price. Because it is so small, I toss it around much more often than I should. Often I throw it in my camera bag with no additional protection and let it bump around with batteries and other objects of similar size. With a cap on the front and rear elements, not much of the lens is exposed anyway so I have no concern about it being damaged or falling apart. After nearly a year of use and being tossed around, there is not even a scratch on the lens. It does not, however, compare to the higher quality Fuji lenses, which are usually built out of metal and are weather resistant.
I read multiple reviews that praised this lens for its fast and accurate auto focus. While I would not go quite that far, I have found the auto focus to be adequate. It is relatively fast, which makes it nice for street photography, but I have had it struggle a bit in low light situations.
Again, I have read multiple reviews that praise this lens for excellent image quality. I cannot agree. The image quality is good for what the lens is-a budget lens from a respected manufacturer. In the reviews I have read, it ranks somewhere below Fuji’s 35 mm f/1.4 and above the 18 mm f/2 and 14 mm f/2.8. In my own experience, the image quality of this lens does not compare to my 18-135 f/3.5. That is to be expected given the price difference. For me, I am not going to use this lens when I am going for maximum image quality. I am going to use this lens as a convenient carry-around lens that gets me image quality far superior to what I can get with a cell phone camera, but not quite to the level of gear I am going to use for dedicated photography sessions. The best image quality is going to be found from f/5.6 to f/8.0. In fact, you are going to see a pretty significant drop off after f/8 so do not plan to use this lens for landscapes (but then again, why would you want a 27 mm prime for landscapes).
If bokeh is your thing, this is not your lens. I would never use this lens for a portrait session or for macro. It is not designed for that and it will not perform to the level you likely want.
I love the colors that come out of my Fuji camera. I shoot almost exclusively in raw, but many Fuji users have actually switched to jpeg because they like the film-style options and results so much. This lens does not have quite as much punch as I get with my other lenses. I do not have an issue with it, but if you are used to awesome punch from your Fuji set up, maybe dial down expectations just a touch. On the plus side, I have had no issues with color fringing at all with this lens.
I got a screaming deal on this lens with lucky timing on a good sale. As of the time of this article, the lens is selling for $449 on Amazon. I would not be eager to pull the trigger at that price, but keep your eye out for sales, because it is well worth a few hundred dollars to have the extra versatility this lens provides.
This is not an overly-technical review. The biggest take home is that every photographer should own a pancake lens. Regardless of what system you use, you should be able to find a relatively-affordable pancake lens that will add so much convenience to your shooting and allow you to take and use your camera on many more occasions. The Fujinon XF 27 mm f/2.8 R provides relatively good quality and results for an okay price. It has good build quality and is well worth having if you shoot the x series from Fuji.