Documenting a Protest March (amongst other things) with the 27mm f2.8
So, here's your dilemma. You're in London with a 100 or so other Fuji addicts on street photography photo walk. You've travelled light (for once) because the day’s all about street photography, so you’ve opted to go with an X-Pro 1 and the 27mm f2.8 ‘pancake’ lens so that you can be as inconspicuous as possible (if you can do such a thing with a 100 or so other togs all around you). However, you find out that a protest march is about to come straight through the middle of the city ...and if you're like me you love a good protest because you know that it'll be a great photo opportunity full of passion, drama and emotion. But you’ve only got one body and one lens - and the 27mm 'pancake' lens at that. What do you do ?
Well, my first thoughts were to head back to the hotel and pick up my 16-55mm f2.8 and 50-140mm f2.8 lenses and another body, so I could cover all the bases - but my hotel was across the other side of London and London is a big place, so it would have taken a good 30 - 40 minutes or so to do it and that was time I didn't really have. Or you can use what you've got and make the most of it because it’s often said that the best lens for the job is the one you have with you, right ?
Now, I know what you're thinking. A pancake lens ? For a fast-moving street protest ? And on an X-Pro 1. No chance ! Well, yes chance actually.
Now if I’d gone back to the hotel and got either of the fast zooms, the 56mm f1.2 or the 90mm f2 perhaps, there wouldn't be any argument (or article to write for that matter) as they would have been considered more than acceptable for the task in hand. You’d have also thought you’d have gotten away with it if you had either of the 35mm’s or the all new 50mm but with just the 27mm f2.8, well that's a different matter because you see, the 27mm is a much-maligned lens. You either love it or hate it and for many it’s the latter. Most of us were given it free of charge, along with the 18mm when we purchased our X-Pro 1's towards the end of its shelf life and promptly left it in its box. Unnecessary. Unloved. Unwanted.
But that shouldn't be the case.
OK, it has a few niggles, so let's get them out of the way first. The lens is considered to be a little noisy and the autofocus isn't the fastest, oh and it's not weatherproofed either, and it only has a maximum aperture of f2.8 ...but it can make up for all that by hardly being there - 68g in weight and 23mm in depth and has the ability to produce some really good, pin sharp images. In my case the supposed noisy autofocus was a mute point as I was on a protest march with much shouting and singing, not at a funeral and let’s be honest about things here, the 18mm isn’t the quietest lens on the market and the 50-140mm can hum a merry tune when the OIS is switched on - which it almost has to be.
As for the f2.8 maximum aperture, well that’s all I would have got with either of the fast zooms and bearing in mind it was a summers day, I was only going to be down that end of the scale if I chose to be - to include a bit of bokeh. And lastly, the weather proofing. Well, it was unnecessary as I’ve said, it was a summers day and there wasn’t a drop of rain in sight. That just left the slow autofocus to deal with, but as you can see from the images that didn't end up being too much of an issue either.
All of the images except one, were shot with the lens wide open at f2.8 and you can see that it handles everything quite well. The lens performs best at f4, but I'd locked on at f2.8 and with things moving at such a pace there wasn't enough time to chop and change all the time - I was more bothered about capturing the event. The bokeh is subtle without blurring everything in the background which would have removed too much of the context anyway and everything that needed to be in focus was in focus, so all in all, a good performance from a supposedly much maligned lens.
You've probably guessed by now that I'm a great advocate of this lens. In fact, I love everything about it, and I think a lot of the press that it gets is hugely unfair. In the beginning, it didn’t get off to a great start as everyone chose the 18mm or the 35mm f1.4 and now it’s been pushed so far into the background by the ‘mighty trinity’ of 23mm f2, 35mm f2 and 50mm f2 that it’s nowhere to be seen - which is partly its own fault because it’s so tiny.
I've thought, on many occasions before now about buying an X100 (any of the versions) as an all day, walk around camera but in the end, I can't justify the expense because the 27mm on an X-Pro 1 body gives you almost that - and saves me over £1,200 in the process. The lovely people at Fujifilm probably won't thank me for telling you that because of potential lost sales, but that's just testament to the products they produce and the flexibility that they can provide us photographers with. Oh, and before you all write in, I know about the new sensor and the joystick etc. etc. on the newer models - that’s not the point. What is the point is that the 27mm can be put on any of the X Series bodies and hardly change the weight or the dynamics of the body itself - even to the point where you’re almost carrying the body around on its own.
At the time of writing this, I got a bit paranoid and began to think that I was the only one on the planet that liked and actually used this lens, so I posted a question on the FujiLove Facebook page... “Are there any others like me, who absolutely love the 27mm pancake lens ? People are forever banging on about the 35mm and the 23mm whilst the 27mm seems to get no ‘press’ whatsoever. Is it because it isn’t waterproof or f2 or because it’s a tad noisy perhaps ? Curious to see if there are any other champions of this lens around... or is it just me ?” ...and what do you know, there are many people (more than I ever thought there would be) who both use and love the lens. It is out there and doing a fine job not as the star of the show perhaps but a very worthwhile understudy, if ever there was one.
So, if you have a 27mm safely tucked up in its box, gathering dust at the back of the cupboard, take it out of said box, put it on the X Series of your choice and go and enjoy getting some really good images with what amounts to carrying nothing more than the camera body itself. You just might be pleasantly surprised.
PS - to the dear people at Fujifilm. You people seem to have forgotten that you make this lens as it’s been far too long for a software upgrade. I’m pretty sure your technical wizards can improve on the speed of the autofocus amongst other things so what do you say ? Isn’t it time you gave the pancake a bit of love ?
Written for Fujilove Magazine