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The best pancake lenses in 2021: ultra-slim lenses for travel and street photography

Best Pancake Lenses
(Image credit: Future)

Looking to lighten your camera bag? The best pancake lenses for Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic and other camera systems will do just that! 

Small, lightweight and affordable, the best pancake lenses definitely have a certain appeal. As the name suggests, pancake 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 small, slim, and easy to stow away. The fact that they're less obtrusive makes them ideal for travel and street shooting – which is why some of the best pancake lenses also feature on our best lens for street photography guide.

Most pancake lenses are fixed focal length primes, because the simpler optical formulae are easier to squash into such a short barrel. You can get pancakes for most systems; Sony makes both 16mm and 20mm f/2.8 lenses for its E-mount mirrorless cameras, Canon offers a trio of great pancakes including the Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM, and Fujifilm has slimline 18mm f/2.0 and 27mm f/2.8 lenses for the X-mount.

Pentax users have a choice of pancakes, including a 40mm f/2.8 ‘Limited’ lens and the remarkably thin 40mm f/2.8 XS lens. If you shoot with Micro Four Thirds cameras you can choose from a number of Panasonic options or, for a real retro feel, the insanely thin (and cheap!) Olympus body cap lenses (while the 15mm isn't great, the 9mm fisheye is fantastic).

Pancake zooms are a rarer commodity, but thanks to the smaller sensors (equating to smaller lenses) both Panasonic and Olympus offer 14-42mm lenses, while Sony’s 16-50mm PZ kit lens for its APS-C mirrorless cameras is just about pancake-sized too – not to mention the Nikkor DX 16-50mm that absolutely makes the Nikon Z50

So, with that all said, here are the best pancake lenses you can find right now… 

(Image credit: Olympus)

1. Olympus 14‑42mm f/3.5‑5.6 EZ

Our favorite pancake lens and a marvelous Micro Four Thirds optic

Mount: Micro Four Thirds | Elements/groups: 8/7 | Diaphragm blades: 5 | Autofocus: Stepping motor | Stabilizer: No | Min focus distance: 0.2m (at 14mm) / 0.25m (at 42mm) | Max magnification: 0.23x | Filter thread: 37mm | Dimensions (WxL): 60.6 x 22.5mm | Weight: 93g

Impossibly small and light
Quiet, smooth electronic zoom
Aperture isn't the fastest
Tricky to manual focus

An absolute favorite among the DCW team is the astonishingly slim yet impressively performing Olympus M.Zuiko 14‑42mm f/3.5‑5.6 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! 

(Image credit: Canon)

2. Canon EF-M 22mm f/2 STM

This pancake lens is a perfect fit for street photography with an EOS M body

Mount: Canon EF-M | Elements/groups: 7/6 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Autofocus: Stepping motor | Stabilizer: No | Min focus distance: 0.15m | Max magnification: 0.21x | Filter thread: 43mm | Dimensions (WxL): 61x24mm | Weight: 105g

Incredibly small and light
Good build and fast AF 
No image stabilization
Sharpness could be better

Thanks to the 1.6x crop factor of APS-C format EOS M bodies, 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.

(Image credit: Fujifilm)

3. Fujifilm XF 27mm f/2.8

If you're an Fujifilm X Series shooter, then take a look at this neat little pancake lens

Mount: Fujifilm X | Elements/groups: 7/5 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Autofocus: Stepping motor | Stabilizer: No | Min focus distance: 0.34m | Max magnification: 0.1x | Filter thread: 39mm | Dimensions (WxL): 61x23mm | Weight: 78g

Excellent centre sharpness
Very small and light
Lacks an aperture ring
Focusing could be faster

Partnered with on of Fujifilm's X-Series range of mirrorless cameras, this neat little pancake lenses delivers a 40mm focal length in full-frame terms. This classic focal makes it 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, but it's still faster than most zoom lenses. 

Incredibly light at only 78g, it's a proper pancake lens, measuring on 23mm. It's not weather-sealed, but that can be forgiven for the price. It's diminutive proportions means it lacks any form of optical image stabilization, but it'll be a great partner when matched with the likes of Fujifilm's X-S10 or X-T30. The combination will certainly fit into a large coat pocket when you want to travel light. It can rival some of its f/1.4 stablemates for optical performance, but it certainly holds up well and might be worth the compromise for such a compact little lens. 

(Image credit: Sony)

4. Sony E 20mm f/2.8

Weighing under 70g, this is a great pancake lens for Sony shooters

Mount: Sony E | Elements/groups: 6/6 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Autofocus: Stepping motor | Stabilizer: No | Min focus distance: 0.2m | Max magnification: 0.12x | Filter thread: 49mm | Dimensions (WxL): 63x20.4mm | Weight: 69g

Decent optics
Small and light 
No stabilization
Some barrel distortion

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 Alpha 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 FE 20mm f/1.8 if you're depending 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. 

(Image credit: Nikon)

5. Nikkor Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR

An essential lens for the Nikon Z50 mirrorless camera

Mount: Nikon Z DX | Elements/groups: 9/7 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Autofocus: Stepping motor | Stabilizer: No | Min focus distance: 0.25 m (at 16mm) / 0.2m (at 24mm) / 0.23m (at 35mm) / 0.3m (at 50mm) | Max magnification: 0.2x | Filter thread: 46mm | Dimensions (WxL): 70 x 32mm | Weight: 135g

Compact collapsable size
Impressive minimum focus distance
Max aperture only f/6.3 at full zoom
Plastic build may disappoint some

The Nikkor Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR is a pancake zoom that perfectly suits the small size of 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!

(Image credit: Olympus)

6. Olympus 9mm f/8 Fisheye Body Cap Lens

It's literally as flat and as light as a pancake!

Mount: Micro Four Thirds | Elements/groups: 5/4 | Diaphragm blades: 1 | Autofocus: Stepping motor | Stabilizer: No | Min focus distance: 0.2m | Max magnification: 0.046x | Filter thread: NA | Dimensions (WxL): 56 x 12.8mm | Weight: 30g

The thinnest, lightest lens ever!
Brilliantly fun and genuinely versatile
Aperture is stuck at f/8
Easy to misalign focus switch

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. 

(Image credit: Canon)

7. Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM

Street lenses for APS-C Canon DSLRs don't get more compact than this

Mount: Canon EF | Elements/groups: 6/5 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Autofocus: Stepping motor | Stabilizer: No | Min focus distance: 0.16m | Max magnification: 0.27x | Filter thread: 52mm | Dimensions (WxL): 68x23mm | Weight: 125g

Excellent all-round image quality
Exceptionally small and light
Slightly narrow field of view
Not the fastest max aperture

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.

(Image credit: Panasonic)

8. Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6

A slightly wider pancake zoom with stabilization for Micro Four Thirds

Mount: Micro Four Thirds | Elements/groups: 8/7 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Autofocus: Stepping motor | Stabilizer: Yes | Min focus distance: 0.20m (12-20mm) / 0.30m (21-32mm) | Max magnification: 0.13x | Filter thread: 37mm | Dimensions (WxL): 55.5 x 24mm | Weight: 70g

Versatile 24-64mm equivalent zoom
Image stabilization
No manual focus ring
Lacking on the telephoto end

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. 

More lens buying guides:

The best cheap lenses in 2020: affordable lenses for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras
Pancake lens: Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM review
The best lens for street photography in 2020: top 35mm prime lenses listed