What is a pancake lens?

October 19, 2023


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Pancake Lens Basics

Article by Colette Nichol, Solo Filmmaker and Story Strategist

What is a pancake lens?
Pancake lenses are fixed focal length lenses, meaning they can’t zoom in or out.

What is a pancake lens?

A pancake lens is a type of camera lens that’s extremely slim and compact.

It’s called a “pancake” because it resembles the shape of a pancake, being much shorter and flatter compared to conventional lenses. Pancake lenses are fixed focal length lenses (aka. prime lenses), meaning they can’t zoom in or out.

Are pancake lenses any good?

Pancake lenses can be good lenses, but they’re usually not extraordinary.

They can offer high image quality and sharpness, especially given their size. Being lightweight and compact, they’re great for travel or street photography when carrying heavy gear might be impractical. However, their quality can vary depending on the specific model and manufacturer. Typically, when looking at a lens with the same lens mount and focal length, the pancake lens will not offer the highest quality optics as it is optimized for portability before image quality.

What is the downside of a pancake lens?

The primary downside of pancake lenses is that they’re usually not as high quality as a regular or premium prime lens.

If quality imagery is your primary concern, then don’t get a pancake lens. But if you’re doing travel photography or videography, then the portability of a pancake lens might be perfect for you.

In addition, pancake lenses are fixed focal length, which limits flexibility in composing shots as you can’t zoom in or out unless you move your feet.

Some models may also lack image stabilization or a wide maximum aperture, which can limit their use in certain shooting conditions such as low-light or when shooting handheld video.

Pancake lens are great for travel or street photography when carrying heavy gear might be impractical.

What is the best use of a pancake lens?

Pancake lenses are best suited for situations where portability and discretion are important.

They’re great for street photography, travel, and everyday shooting due to their compact and lightweight design. Their fixed focal length also encourages more thoughtful composition and can help improve your photography skills.

How do pancake lenses work?

Pancake lenses work the same way other camera lenses do.

They use a series of glass elements to focus light onto the camera’s sensor to produce an image. The difference is that the design and arrangement of these elements in a pancake lens allow it to be much flatter and more compact than a typical lens. This design, however, limits them to a fixed focal length.

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About the Author

Hi! I’m Colette Nichol. I’m a solo filmmaker and story strategist based out of rainy Vancouver, Canada. I’ve been making videos and micro films for small businesses and global brands since 2014.

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