Pancake lenses are all the rage. In fact, some photographers were switching to mirror-less camera systems to get pancake lenses. So Canon engineered a way to keep them in the fold – enter the new Canon 40mm EF f/2.8 STM Lens.

Canon’s new lens is really more of a reaction to DSLR video shooters. It is one of their new STM lenses, meaning it offers continuous, quiet auto-focus when shooting video. (It’s not silent but it is quiet.) But its prowess doesn’t stop there.

Photo by Scott Bourne – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons
Full field of view on 1DX

It’s fast – f/2.8. It’s light and small, less than one inch long – it uses a high-quality aspherical element and is coated to reduce flare. The detail this lens produces is nothing short of a miracle given its price point.

If you’re using this lens on an APS-C camera you’ll have the equivalent focal length of 64mm. On a full frame camera the 40 provides a slightly wider than normal view.

One of my favorite features about this lens is it’s close focusing distance of just under one foot. This means that those of you who want to use this for street photography and who understand how to use hyper-focal distance will never have to worry about focus – AF or not. You’ll be able to shoot thing anywhere from one foot to about forever.

(Click on images – they should appear slightly larger in your browser if you want a better look.)

Photo by Scott Bourne – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons
100% screen shot from the scene above

The bokeh from this lens is great. Canon uses seven blades to help accomplish the lovely soft out of focus backgrounds at fast aperture.

In day-to-day use the lens is pure joy. The lens focuses lightening fast. Compared to my Canon 85 f/1.2 I’d say it focuses twice as fast. Blazing speed folks – blazing speed.

I slapped it on several Canon bodies including my new full-frame 1DX and a crop sensor 1D MK IV. In both cases the lens was remarkable. It’s light weight. It’s sharp as can be once you stop down to about f/4 and it’s nearly perfect even wide open. As you may expect it suffers from some vignetting but that can be easily fixed in post.

Photo by Scott Bourne – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons 
Full field of view on 1DX

The real surprise is how well this lens handles distortion. I expected it to be a lot worse than it is.

There are other positive surprises. The lens is very well constructed. The build quality for a $200 lens if off the charts. It has a metal, not plastic mount.

Manual focusing on this lens is tough but given the state of Canon’s AF systems these days who cares? At under $200 this fast 40 takes up little room, weighs just 4.6 ounces, delivers sharp, crisp, nearly distortion-free images and is easily a contender for lens-of-the-year. If you have a Canon camera, this should be your next lens purchase.

Highly recommended.

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