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I've read about a "pancake lens" but don't really understand what that means.

What the pros and cons of having a pancake vs. another type of lens?

I'm thinking of getting a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 which comes with such a lens.

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4  
Not what you asked, but the 20mm f/1.7 Panasonic is a wonderful lens. –  ex-ms Aug 9 '10 at 20:39

2 Answers 2

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Pancake lens is a lens which is designed to be physically very thin and compact, relatively pocketable when combined with a slim body. Current pancakes have fixed focal length, from moderate wide to moderate telephoto, they're usually relatively slow for a prime lens (f2.8 and slower) although exceptions exist. Pancake lenses don't alter the image in any way.

Although pancake design is quite old, it has been lately popularized by (Micro) Four Thirds system. The currently produced pancake lenses are:

  • Olympus Zuiko Digital 25mm (50e) f2.8 (Four Thirds)
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm (34e) f2.8 (Micro Four Thirds)
  • Panasonic 20mm (40e) f1.7 (Micro Four Thirds)
  • Pentax DA 21mm (32e) f3.2
  • Pentax DA 40mm (60e) f2.8
  • Pentax DA 70mm (105e) f2.4
  • Samsung NX 30mm (45e) f2.0
  • Sony E 16mm (24e) f2.8

Here is an example of a pancake lens:

Olympus Zuiko 25mm f2.8 Pancake Lens

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1  
They don't have to be wide to normal angle. Don't forget the excellent Pentax DA 70mm (105e): mylensdb.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/… –  Eruditass Sep 8 '10 at 23:38
    
@Eruditass, thanks, edited my answer. –  Karel Sep 9 '10 at 2:31
1  
For the sake of completeness, the Voigtländer's 20mm/F3.5 Color Skopar and maybe the 40mm/F2.0 Ultron can be viewed as pancakes, for FF & APS-C formats (Nikon, Canon & Pentax): voigtlander.com/cms/voigtlaender/voigtlaender_cms.nsf/id/… –  Berzemus Jun 7 '11 at 9:19
    
A lens being "Pancake" has no direct implications about size. While all the pancake lenses on the market currently are compact, the size is not what makes them "pancake lenses". It is the lens's shape. –  Fake Name Oct 26 '11 at 7:39

"Pancake lens" is a purely physical description.
If the lens is significantly wider than it is long, it's a pancake lens.

Actual overall size has nothing to do with it, and it has no implications about image performance, aside from the fact that it's generally very hard to pack a telephoto or fast prime into the pancake form-factor.

It's worth noting that a "Pancake lens" does not have to be small or compact, and a small lens is not automatically a pancake lens. It's only a description of the lens form-factor.

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Interesting note; do you have any examples of non-compact pancakes? Usually there are buttons and whatnot around lens mount preventing a lens too large to be mounted. It's also optically very complicated to gain anything from a flat lens significantly wider than mount. –  Imre Oct 26 '11 at 8:07

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