Small, lightweight and affordable, the best pancake lenses come as prime lenses as well as zooms – the latter of which need to be 'telescoped' out before shooting. As the name suggests, the lenses get their name from their flat, thin profile.
They’re designed to protrude as little as possible from the camera body to keep your setup slim, unobtrusive and easy to stow away. This makes them among the best lenses for street photography, as well as for everyday shooting and travel photography.
Pancake zooms are a rarer commodity than primes, but thanks to the smaller sensors (equating to smaller lenses) both Panasonic and OM System / Olympus offer 14-42mm lenses (equivalent to 28-82mm in full frame terms), while Sony’s 16-50mm PZ (24-75mm) kit lens for its APS-C mirrorless cameras is just about pancake-sized as well.
So, with that all said, here are the best pancake lenses you can find right now… just don't drizzle maple syrup on them unless they're weather sealed!
An absolute favorite among the DCW team is the astonishingly slim yet impressively performing Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5 f/5.6 EZ Pancake lens. Commonly paired with similarly svelte PEN cameras and the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV, it is a liposuctioned version of the larger 14‑42mm f/3.5‑5.6 II R kit lens.
While it's a capable lens, obviously its standout quality is the optical wizardry of squeezing a 28-84mm equivalent standard zoom (thanks to Micro Four Thirds 2x crop factor) into an optic that's scarcely larger than a tin of Vaseline.
That versatile focal range means that you really can slap this one single lens on the front of your camera and be covered for almost any shooting situation – making it a perfect choice for street shooting, travel photography, or just everyday walkabout use. In fact, it's so slim that you can leave it on your camera in place of a body cap, so that you can always grab your camera and shoot without faffing for a lens.
It captures very respectable images, and very much comes into its own as a video lens, since the fully motorized zoom can smoothly and near-silently push in and out of your scene to record more dynamic footage. That electronic zoom also means that you can fully control the focal length from your phone when shooting remotely!
Thanks to the 1.6x crop factor of APS-C format EOS M bodies like the Canon EOS M50 Mark II, the 22mm focal length of this lens equates to 35.2mm in full-frame terms. It gives the same 63-degree viewing angle as using a 35mm lens on a full-frame camera, which is perfect for street photography. Despite having a fairly fast f/2 aperture rating, the ‘pancake’ design enables it to be incredibly small and light, at just 61x24mm and 105g.
Given the downsized build of EOS M bodies, the overall camera and lens combination is particularly stealthy. The STM (Stepping Motor) autofocus system is quick and very quiet, and manual focusing benefits from an optional focus peaking display, featured in all current EOS M cameras.
An aspherical element in the optical path helps to reduce the physical size while also boosting image quality, minimizing spherical aberrations. Super Spectra coatings are also applied to reduce ghosting and flare. Overall build quality is good and, despite being such a lightweight lens, the mounting plate is metal rather than plastic.
This lens lacks image stabilization, so you’ll need a steady hand, but assuming you do, sharpness is pretty respectable and there's virtually no distortion. Vignetting is quite apparent at f/2, but mostly disappears when stopping down to f/2.8.
Partnered with one of Fujifilm's X-Series range of mirrorless cameras, this neat little pancake lens delivers a 40mm focal length in full-frame terms. This classic focal length makes it ideal for a range of subjects, from general shooting to street photography. It's not the fastest prime here with a maximum aperture of f/2.8, and it's certainly not the fastest at autofocusing, either, but both are acceptable compromises for a pancake.
Incredibly light at only 94g it's a proper pancake lens, measuring only 62x23mm. Unlike the original version this model is weather-sealed, if you have a body to complement it. It makes a great match with the likes of the Fujifilm X-S10 or Fujifilm X-T30, and the combination will certainly fit into a large coat pocket when you want to travel light. An excellent all-purpose optic!
While some of the Sony's primes might be on the bulky side, nothing good be further from the truth with this neat little pancake lens. Weighing only 69g and a smidge over 20mm in length, this is one real compact lens, even by pancake lens standards. Designed for Sony's range of APS-C mirrorless cameras like the Sony A6400, the 30mm focal length terms means it's a moderate wide-angle prime. This makes it great for general shooting, though it's not ideally suited to flattering portraits.
There's no optical stabilization, so it might benefit from being paired with a Sony Alpha like the A6600 that enjoys in-body image stabilization, but it's small and light enough to make it really easy to handhold and shoot with without any technology to help you out. You'll certainly be better served by the Sony FE 20mm f/1.8 G if you're after ultimate image quality, but then it's a much bigger and pricier lens. A great little lens to have in your kit bag if you're a Sony shooter.
The Nikkor Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR is a pancake zoom that perfectly suits the small size of cameras like the Nikon Z50 itself. It’s tiny, it’s light and it’s sure to prove popular with travel and street photographers alike. Its ability to focus down to 0.2m is mighty impressive, though the minimum distance increases with focal length.
Although this lens' plastic build may lack that premium feel, the addition of a silent control ring is a welcome mod con – and will be welcome for video shooters wishing to adjust aperture silently from the nose. What the Z DX 16-50mm lacks in speed, it makes up for in price, versatility and convenience. APS-C kit lenses are usually pretty big and clunky, and many camera owners will dream of a compact kit lens like this.
The Nikkor DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR does not offer the constant maximum aperture or optical quality of a pro lens, but its performance is excellent for a low-cost kit lens – and the fact that it's so compact, fast and silent makes it a first class everyday zoom for this camera.
Indeed, much as we love the Nikon Z50, we have to admit that the system would be significantly less compelling were it not for this magic piece of glass!
Another firm favorite with the DCW staff, the Olympus 9mm f/8 Fisheye Body Cap Lens is one of the most unusual – and most brilliant – lenses we've ever used, and it's an absolutely perfect pancake performer.
On paper, it may seem a Lomography-like toy lens; its elements are constructed of plastic and it only has a single aperture setting (f/8). However, these things are all to its advantage as that makes this optic literally as thin and as light as a pancake! It's an ingenious bit of design, as the lens is only moderately thicker than a body cap lens – so you can leave it on your camera in lieu of a cap, and be ready to shoot at a moment's notice.
Moreover, when affixed to a body like the Olympus PEN E-PL10 you achieve an incredible street photography setup – right down to Weegee's immortal "f/8 and be there" mantra. While on one hand that small aperture can seem limiting, it only adds to the true performance of this lens, increasing the depth of field and making it fantastic for street, travel and reportage.
Further, it features light fisheye characteristics (with full frame coverage), meaning that you can experiment with extreme field of view effects without having to shell out for a dedicated fisheye lens. And best of all, it's dirt cheap, retailing for well under 100 bucks in the UK and US, making it an absolutely no-risk purchase.
This Canon lens for APS-C format DSLRs has a pancake design that enables a super-slim profile just 23mm deep. It's also a real lightweight at 125g - less than half the weight of Canon’s more conventional EF 24mm lens f/2.8 lens for full-frame DSLRs.
The six-element optical stack includes one aspherical element, Super Spectra coatings, and there's a fairly well-rounded seven-blade diaphragm. Autofocus is courtesy of a quick and quiet stepping motor, with an electronically coupled manual focus ring, though this is rather small and fiddly.
This 24mm optic has an ‘effective’ focal length of 38.4mm, which can feel a little narrow for street photography compared to a 35mm focal length. There’s also no image stabilizer, which can be more of a problem given the relatively slow f/2.8 max aperture.
Image quality is impressive with excellent sharpness across the frame and amazingly little color fringing, even without using in-camera corrections.
While we would recommend the Olympus 14-42mm over the similar Panasonic Lumix 14-42mm lens, there is another very worthy option: the Pansonic Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6. This offers a slightly different focal length, wider but shorter, making it a good alternative depending on what you want to shoot.
This lens possesses an equivalent 24-64mm focal range, making it just that bit more useful if you shoot wide, whether it's for landscapes or taking photographs indoors (and in the latter situation those couple of millimeters make all the difference!).
Unlike the two 14-42mm options, this 12-32mm lens isn't motorized; in order to start shooting you'll need to manually twist the lens to extend it first, as it won't automatically pop up when the camera is powered on. This also means that you can't control the zoom if shooting remotely.
However, that tiny point aside, this is a brilliant little lens that is ideal for all-purpose shooting. Again, if you tend to find yourself shooting with your back against the wall, this will be a better option than the 14-42mm – though if you intend to shoot portraits, you might miss the lack of length.
Brilliantly, the lens features stabilization – ideal if you're using it with a smaller Panasonic body that doesn't have IBIS. The only real omission is the lack of focus ring (you'll need to manually focus on the camera), but we can't see much need to use this lens without its snappy AF.
If you love the idea of the Fujifilm XF 27mm pancake, but don't love the price, the TTartisan 27mm f/2.8 XF is a brilliant alternative at a fraction of the cost. Performance is, broadly, on a par as well – it has the same aperture and offers a similar degree of sharpness, though sadly it also suffers from noisy autofocus (but not as bad as the Fujifilm lens!). It also introduces very noticeable vignetting, but this is nothing that can't be cleared in a couple of clicks in post.
It lacks the weather sealing of the Fujifilm version, though since many people use pancakes on non weather-sealed bodies this isn't a huge issue. In all this is a sharp little lens, weighs and measures next to nothing, and is an absolute bargain at just over a hundred bucks – there's really no reason not to add it to your kit bag.
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