The result is that while Fuji’s cameras are indeed much smaller than comparable DSLRs, its lenses are usually way bigger than Micro Four Thirds and Nikon 1 series glass. The Fujinon XF 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens was designed to address that size deficit, providing a useful "normal" focal length and a wide maximum aperture in a lens that’s just 0.9 inches thick.
In the lab, the Fuji 27mm proved to be a solid all-around performer, despite its small size; in the real world, we found it to be particularly well-suited to street shooting, though iffy bokeh and a less-than-exciting focal length don't always inspire the way many of Fuji's lenses can.
It's not the flat-out best lens in the brand’s lineup, but if you’re heading out for a full day of shooting it may be the only lens you need.
When evaluating any lens, we focus on four key areas: sharpness, distortion, chromatic aberration, and bokeh. A perfect lens would render the finest details accurately, wouldn’t distort straight lines or produce ugly fringing around high-contrast subjects, and would create smooth out-of-focus areas.
The Fuji 27mm f/2.8's top priority is portability, with image quality a clear secondary consideration. That said, while bokeh in the real world is a struggle, it still put in a decent performance in our labs.
It follows a very typical performance profile for a moderately bright prime lens, with strong center sharpness and corners that start out mediocre but improve as you stop down. Add it up and you have a lens that is portable and competent, if a bit pricey.
A lens's sharpness is its ability to render the finest details in photographs. In testing a lens, we consider sharpness across the entire frame, from the center of your images out to the extreme corners, using an average that gives extra weight to center performance. We quantify sharpness using line widths per picture height (LW/PH) at a contrast of MTF50.
Fujifilm's prime lenses have consistently impressed us with their sharpness, even given the relatively low-resolution 16-megapixel APS-C sensor we're testing them on. The 27mm f/2.8 doesn't quite match up to the best glass Fujifilm has to offer, but it's more consistent than some thanks to its modest maximum aperture.
In the center, the lens renders an impressive 1,900 lines at f/2.8 and sharpens up rapidly from there. It tops out at 2,300 lines by f/4, but falls off from there as it hits the diffraction limit past f/8. We strongly recommend avoiding f/16, where diffraction absolutely destroys performance across the frame.
Away from the center, results aren't quite as good. At f/2.8, the midway/corner performance split is only around 1,500/1,225 lines, which is fairly mediocre. These regions improve steadily, though; midway resolution peaks at 1,875 lines around f/5.6, and the corners follow shortly behind, topping out at 1,575 lines at f/8.
Like all pancake lenses, the Fujinon XF27mm f/2.8 was designed for portability first and foremost. It perfectly complements the compact dimensions of Fujifilm’s X-series cameras, adding very little weight to the overall package. It’s the ideal companion for someone who wants to capture everyday snapshots, wants a little low-light flexibility, and doesn’t want anything big or bulky.
The biggest downside here is that it doesn’t focus very close, meaning it's not the best choice for candid, creative portraits. Another thing to be aware of is the lack of an aperture ring; physical (by wire) aperture rings have been a hallmark of Fujifilm's XF lenses from the get-go, and the 27mm is the only XF without one. That can make for some funky compatibility issues with low-end X-series cameras that have fewer programmable control dials.
There’s really not much to say about the Fuji 27mm f/2.8's handling, because there's not much to, you know, handle.
The lens is solidly built, with a tough plastic body, metal focus ring, and metal mount. It locks securely onto your camera while adding less than an inch of depth, and at less than 100 grams it weighs practically nothing. That makes it a great lens to leave on the camera instead of a body cap, so you’re ready to shoot at a moment’s notice.
Our one hangup is the lack of an aperture ring. Fujifilm designed its camera and lens system to attract camera enthusiasts, and part of the attraction has been a plethora of manual controls. But to make the XF 27mm as small as possible, the company's designers decided to discard the aperture ring.
That means that you’ll need to control aperture via your camera body, which is sometimes easier said than done. Usually you can reassign aperture control to a custom button or dial, but that requires a trip into the menu; depending on your familiarity with the user interface, it can be a bit of a hassle. Worse still, some older bodies will require a firmware upgrade to properly make use of the 27mm f/2.8.
The lens is still fully usable even without direct aperture control if you use Auto, Program, or Shutter Priority shooting modes, but half the joy of shooting with an X-series camera is learning to control things manually. That normally goes for focus, as well, but the small focus ring isn't the easiest to focus with manually, even with Fujifilm's wide array of focus assist modes.
We penalize lenses for distortion when they bend or warp images, causing normally straight lines to curve.
There are two primary types of distortion: When the center of the frame seems to bulge outward toward you, that’s barrel distortion. It's typically a result of the challenges inherent in designing wide-angle lenses. When the center of the image looks like it's being sucked in, that’s pincushion distortion. Pincushion is more common in telephoto lenses. A third, less common variety (mustache distortion) produces wavy lines.
Designed for APS-C sensors, the 27mm f/2.8 has a full-frame equivalent focal length of 41mm. That's well within the "normal" range—in fact, it's very close to "true normal." And like most normal lenses, it produces very minimal distortion. Under lab conditions we recorded about 1% of barrel distortion, which is more or less negligible.
Though the Fujinon XF 27mm f/2.8's raison d'être is its compact footprint, it also needs to perform. Well, after putting it through its paces in our lab, we found it to be a solid (if not spectacular) prime lens that doesn't try to do too much. It's sharp in the center, but it lacks the superb corner-to-corner sharpness of the best prime lenses, going a little soft in the corners.
That isn't to say this is a bad lens. It has negligible chromatic aberration, minimal distortion, and the sharpness profile is quite good versus similarly sized (if not similarly prices) lenses. The only real hangups we have are with its mediocre bokeh, which isn't usual for a relatively wide and slow-aperture normal prime, and the truly dreadful f/16 performance. Seriously, avoid f/16 like the plague.
Below you can see sample photos taken with the Fujinon XF 27mm f/2.8 mounted on a Fujifilm X-T1. Click the link below each photo to download the full-resolution image.
Chromatic aberration refers to the various types of “fringing” that can appear around high contrast subjects in photos—like leaves set against a bright sky. The fringing is usually either green, blue, or magenta and while it’s relatively easy to remove the offensive color with software, it can also degrade image sharpness.
One of this lens's strongest attributes is its near total lack of visible chromatic aberration. It's almost completely negligible across the frame, meaning you can safely shoot even in very high-contrast situations without having to do much (if any) cleanup in your photo editing suite of choice.
Bokeh refers to the quality of the out of focus areas in a photo. It's important for a lens to render your subject with sharp details, but it's just as important that the background not distract from the focus of your shot.
While some lenses have bokeh that's prized for its unique characteristics, most simply aim to produce extremely smooth backgrounds. In particular, photographers prize lenses that can produce bokeh with circular highlights that are free of aspherical distortion (or “coma”).
The one area where this lens's compromised design really shows is its bokeh. The relatively pedestrian f/2.8 maximum aperture and simple optical design combine to create somewhat distorted, busy out-of-focus areas behind your subject of choice. You can minimize the effect by intelligently choosing the places where you shoot closeups at f/2.8, but this is definitely not an ideal portrait lens.
In the sample above you can see how the lens renders smooth circles in the middle that quickly become warped, comet-like distortions as you move toward the corner. In addition to being distracting, this tends to create the "busy" effect you see in shots like the one below. Note the branches in the top left, which take on a jittery, motion blur-like effect that's extremely distracting.
From the outset, Fujifilm has been very clear regarding its vision for its mirrorless system. Rather than try to provide an all-encompassing assortment of lenses, the company has focused almost exclusively on well-built, wide-aperture lenses with retro appeal and physical controls. It's helped the brand carve out a distinct niche in a rapidly homogenizing market, but it also means that Fuji’s lenses are generally bigger than the competition.
The Fujinon 27mm f/2.8 finds a middle ground between enthusiast-oriented maximalism and the minimalism of rivals Olympus and Sony. It sheds Fuji's customary aperture ring in an effort to slim its profile to the bare minimum, but retains the series' high-quality build and respectable optical performance.
As a result, it’s significantly more portable than nearly every other lens in the X-series family—a great option for days when you're not necessarily interested in carrying a full kit around, but want to be ready just in case.
In and out of the lab, we found it to be a competent performer, capable of excellent photos under the right conditions. While best used for snapshot-style street shooting, it can nonetheless do virtually everything any other "normal" prime can do, including Fuji's own XF 35mm f/1.4.
More than anything, it reminded us of the 23mm f/2 found on Fuji's X100-series cameras. Though we like the X100’s lens quite a bit more, we found ourselves taking similar types of photos. If you've had trouble deciding between Fuji’s fixed-lens wonder and an X-series body, the 27mm f/2.8 could be a reasonable compromise.
Of course, the 27mm f/2.8 has its drawbacks. The missing aperture ring can create awkward compatibility issues with select X-series bodies, and it’s also significantly more expensive than similar lenses from competing systems. Canon’s EF-S 24mm f/2.8 lens immediately springs to mind; at $149.99, it’s a bargain by comparison.
Though the optical performance just about justifies the $450 MSRP, it's not the easiest pill to swallow, as there are simply better-performing lenses in Fuji’s system for similar money. But if you’re married to Fuji’s X-series camera and desperate for something more portable, the XF 27mm f/2.8 will do the trick.
Meet the tester
TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.
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