what is a pancake lens

Pancake Lens blended with pancake photo

So, what is a pancake lens and why would you use it?  

The definition of a pancake lens does not involve food. A pancake lens gets its name from it's shape, thin and compact, flattened barrel shape.

They are almost always moderate wide-angle and sometimes normal focal length, NON-zooming, prime lenses.  The name has nothing to do with its function, just its shape.


what is a pancake lens used for

Photo of a Pancake Lens


Pancake lenses have benefited from a big increase in popularity, particularly with mirror-less camera designs. Using them with cameras that are smaller than traditional DSLRs makes some of those cameras small enough to stick in your pocket.

There's been a trend in digital photography toward smaller cameras and pancake lenses fit that trend perfectly. You'll love to take advantage of having a smaller smaller camera design and travel lightly on any of your photo excursions.


advantages of pancake lens

Digital Camera With Pancake Lens Attached

1. It's size is the biggest advantage of using a pancake lens. Not only is it easier to travel with, it is also light and easy to hold your camera steady.

2. It makes you move.  Pancake lenses are PRIME lenses. They don't zoom. That "forces" you to move around, forward and backwards to experiment with different compositions and perspectives.  This leads to better photographs.

3. Price.  Their simple design and less glass need means they are very affordable.

4.  Quality of image.  Optical quality is often compromised with zoom lenses because of their complicated design. Pancake lenses are simple designs with only one focal length.


disadvantages of pancake lens

Panasonic Lumix G Pancake LensPanasonic Lumix
G II Lens 20mm F1.7


1.  The biggest disadvantage of using a pancake lens is that there is no zooming capabilities. As photographers we are accustomed to always having the ability to zoom or out to improve the composition of our photograph.

2.  They are not the fastest.  In their defense, they are relatively fast (usually around f/2.8) compared to most zoom lenses, but not as fast as the larger prime lenses at f/1.8 or faster.

3.  Image quality.  The compact design means some compromise in designing for the absolute best image sharpness and quality. With that said, the majority of users are completely satisfied with the sharpness and clarity of the images that these lenses produce.


where to buy pancake lenses

When I was first starting out, I purchased a lot of my camera equipment from eBay, because I had a very limited budget.  

I then gravitated to B+H Photo video in New York, because I visited the store and liked their selection. Lately I've purchased my lenses from Adorama, but I am a big fan of reading the many customer reviews on Amazon and buying there if the price is right.


obscure fact about pancake lenses

The question What is a pancake lens was first heard when the Zeiss Tessar pancake lens was made in 1902.


Pancake Lens Reviews on Amazon

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Happy Shooting!

Bruce



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