The Return of an Old Friend

I have made an impulsive purchase just a few hours ago, and boy, have I not felt this good in a long, long time !!

It was the Olympus Zuiko Digital 25mm F2.8 PANCAKE lens !!

I have had quite an interesting history with this pancake lens. The first week it was launched in Malaysia (about 3 years ago), I bought it without hesitation and I was very happy with the lens I almost brought the camera (then Olympus E-410) with me everywhere I went to. Until several weeks later, something happened (click) and the pancake was snatched away from me. Not too long after that, I made another purchase, knowing how much I loved the lens and would benefit from the compact, light and small design. After using the lens for about a year later, I decided to sell it off to fund for my current super wide angle lens, 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 which was more important, and needed for most of my paid photography assignment.

The Pancake lens, Looks sooooo cute on my E-5 don't you think?

What a bargain I had for myself, the lens is in excellent condition. The previous owner took great care of the lens.

All images in this entry (except the previous two images) were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Digital 25mm F2.8 PANCAKE lens.

The 25mm pancake was sold to me, because the previous owner decided to switch fully to micro 4/3 PEN system. E-P3, shiny and sleek as ever.

It was the hardest lens to let go, because I really did love this lens a lot. The pancake will always have a special spot in my heart. I knew that I would get this lens back, and I just could not resist it when I was offered such a great deal (less than half the commercially suggested retail price). It was really cheap and I could not sleep until I get this lens into my camera bag. Thus, out of sheer spontaneity I met up with the seller of the lens, who has moved on from E-System DSLR to fully Micro 4/3 PEN system, hence he was letting go all of the original DSLR equipments.

A lot of people would argue that this pancake lens is a little odd when it comes to overall photography application. At 25mm, it is neither here nor there. It is not wide enough to be used solely as a wide angle lens, but at the same time it is also not long enough for any useful close up or tele-photography. The F2.8 is slightly brighter than what the original kit lens can offer, but it is not exactly fast enough (F2 or beyond) for real challenging low light shooting conditions, or to create very blur background (bokeh). The pancake is a standard grade lens, meaning the image output is not on par with more capable Olympus Zuiko lenses, such as the much revered 50mm f2 macro lens. Perhaps the strongest selling point of this lens is the compactness: having such a slim design, so slim that it appears to be as if just a lens cap in front of my gigantic E-5, and light enough that it practically did not add anything much to the bulky E-5 at all. If this lens was combined with smaller bodies such as E-620 or E-420, the combination would have resulted in world's smallest DSLR package.

Considering the shortcomings in terms of usefulness in field of view coverage, mediocre F2.8 brightness, and the sharpness and technical qualities of the lens not exactly surpassing any of my other current lens line-up that I have, why did I get this lens? It does not make any sense, does it?

1) What you see on 25mm is what your eyes see

The 25mm on the pancake, is equivalent to traditional 50mm in 35mm film format (after you convert the 2x equivalent field of view), which basically means what you see from your eyes' coverage is very closely represented through the lens' coverage. What you see through the viewfinder is what you see in real life with your naked eyes.

I have mentioned earlier how the lens is not wide enough or long enough for most practical usage, which I still admit is true. However, if you can just slow down and allow your eye to just compose a scene without the viewfinder, you will notice that the pancake corresponds nearly perfectly to your eyes' vision. This can yield very unique results: your images, if properly composed, is being close enough with the 25mm, yet it has a wide coverage. The image output is beautifully natural and not being too "forced" or "orchestrated".

The pancake is wide enough for some tight landscape shooting.

I treasure the close-up capability of the lens, and oh, who says you cant do bokeh on F2.8 with Olympus? I know its not thaaaat creamy and smooth but to me, its good enough.

25mm provides a unique perspective, it gets close to your subject, but still at the same time providing a very wide coverage.

Another example of the wide and close up coverage in a single frame as I have described earlier.

trying out the flare and star-burst effect when shooting against a strong source of light.

The lens is even capable to do some light macro work. Note that the image was cropped.

Gotta love how the close up shots still reveal a lot of wide background, not giving an over compressed effect which I have been saturated myself with, using the 50mm all the time.

2) For across the table shooting

I bring my DSLR with me most of the times. When I am not having my DSLR, I have my PEN E-PL1 with me, which I do use often. After re-accessing my priorities and future directions, I have decided not to invest too heavily on the PEN system, and just stick to one system, the E-System DSLR which has served me so well and never failed me all this time.

I often prefer to just bring one camera and one lens for general shooting, especially if I am not doing shutter therapy or any paid assignment. Having the 50mm F2 macro is great for close ups and portraits, but it is just too long for casual shooting, especially when I am out having dinner and drinks with friends. I find the 25mm to be just right for this sort of shooting, and yes, I used to take loads and loads of food photographs with 25mm, which I intend to start taking again. The natural field of view of 25mm is useful for most general shooting conditions.

3) Oh my goodness the lens is so darn CUTE !!!

You have to admit it is one of the cutest DSLR lenses ever produced in history, ever !!! And its super sexy in a way. Cute and sexy. Ok I think I have emphasized on this point enough.

4) Close up capability

The 25mm pancake is not rated as a macro lens, nor does it pretend to be one, but it does reasonably good close up shots. My shooting style requires a lot of close up shooting, and I like to go extremely near to my subjects. This is especially important for food photography, a genre which I have been doing less recently, but I shall find more opportunities to do so. The 25mm is good enough to fit a few plates of different food, but at the same time has the capability to move in closer to capture the tiny details and texture of the food.

Knowing that the F2.8 is insufficient for usual defocusing effect to generate that delicious bokeh such as what the 50mm F2 macro lens can usually do, getting close is the only solution to enhance the quality of the bokeh in the image. Yes, I am a bokeh lover, so sue me if I cannot afford that overly expensive Pansonic 25mm f1.4, but instead I chose to make do with what I can from a cheapo pancake lens, which I think is classier and much more stylish in some sense. If you get what I mean.

5) Did I mention how cheap I got the lens for?

Standing at 6 feet height, shooting top down, I can cover this frame, fully fitting in the small bicycle and the kid. Not bad coverage, eh?

And when I move myself closer, I get a good portrait shot of the same kid !! See how versatile the lens can be.

This is probably one of the forgotten treasure inside Olympus DSLR system: the built in body Image Stabilization. The IS is so effective, I had no issue shooting the above image at 1/6 seconds shutter speed , and get away with totally blur free image. Most prime lenses on by other manufacturers do NOT have built in IS. This is where Olympus truly shines.

Pancake lens, the perfect lens for food photography. Period. I had the wantan noodles and dao suan about two hours ago in Sri Petaling. *burp.

Jason Lioh, who was with me for dinner. He was smirking at my pancake.
The pancake is just right for shooting across the table.

After acquiring the lens earlier this afternoon, I took the lens out straight away for s spin, shooting around my neighborhood. Who says you have to travel far for shutter therapy? You can even do it in your backyard if you want to, and you do have to open your eyes to the subjects around you. I had no trouble using the lens, mainly because I have used the pancake lens extensively before, and having the lens on my camera again, it felt as if the lens never left me. I have made a great deal of memories and captured plenty of photographs which I have shared on this blog on countless occasions before. Using the lens on my shooting again, somehow I felt complete once more, having that one missing piece of jigsaw puzzle to fit where it was supposed to.

Any of you still having and shooting with the Olympus Zuiko Digital 25mm F2.8 pancake lens? Do share your views and stories !!! And your photos too, if you do not mind.


  1. For such a small lens.. It has huge capabilities!

  2. hello cyril,
    it is my favourite lens!

  3. I wish I could figure out how to post photos on your site - I'd really like to show some of the great portrait shots I've been getting from the M. Zuiko 45mm f1.8, which I bought last week on your recommendation.

    Thanks so much for recommending that lens. It's a peach.

  4. hello newzild,
    I am glad you are loving the 45mm f1.8 lens.
    you may upload your images to flickr, picasa or any free online photo storage site and provide the link to your album here!

  5. Robin, I need your insight on my situation. I currently own Olympus E30 w/ standard 14-42mm kit lens. Brand new Olympus E3 price is getting lower now a days, I am considering selling my E30 and purchase E3. Kindly advice on these matter. Going backwards in terms of model does not mean going obsolete, Am having these preference and pondering if it will be a better choice. Thanks in advance.

  6. hello anonymous,
    kindly state your name (and email address too if you do not mind) next time you leave a comment, so I can trace your history here.
    May I know what are the reasons you want to get an e-3 to replace the E-30? Anything you are not happy with the E-30? I need to understand your reasons of wanting to get an E-3 (could it be shooting in harsh weather conditions, need the better body built, etc).
    As far as image quality goes, E-30 has slightly better image output, as well as additional resolution (12MP vs 10MP).

  7. Dear Robin,
    I completely agree with you that the choice of an equipment depends essentialy of our needs and a good confort of use. Managing two very different photographic systems such as the DSLR/E-5 and the M4/3 Pen can be very difficult considering their specific fonctionnalities like their viewing system and the handling of them. If you add the availibility and the caracteristics of their respective lens system it is easy to explain how much it can be difficult to maintain consistent results by using booth of them at the same time.
    The DSLR system can really sustain photography in very fast pace and anticipation can be done through their large reflex viewfinder. The rangefinder camera (classical or electronic) will ask for more external viewing anticipation and for more careful viewfinder composition. So the asked skill is different and final results should be accordingly. For my part I like the Olympus Pen way of doing photography because it reproduce the same traditionnal way of doing picture that I have experimented with my older film Leicas (M4P and M6). It also add the advantages of the digital picturing. The overall size of the Pen system along with the 12mm, 45mm and 14-150mm lenses availibility are the other determinant factors of my choice. For years I have appreciated the use and the picture output of film SLR for their compactness over the medium format cameras.
    As you know already and you have brillantly demonstrated each photographer have his own vision and their selection of equipment is only but surely a reflection of it.
    At the end it is the picture that matters as for the painter or the cinématographer.
    Critical documentalist, picture creator, social activist or individual expressionnist, photographers are representing all the definitions of humanity.

    Daniel M from Montreal, CDN

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  9. hello daniel,
    glad to hear from you again! Thanks for sharing your thoughts explaining the choices of your equipments as well as the connection to the real world usage and your background from film (leica!!!!!).
    As you have highlighted, different systems would require different understanding on the individual behaviours and characteristics. Identifying the optimum and efficient method to utilize the equipments is crucial to bring out the best in the system of choice.
    I can totally relate to your line up of micro 4/3 system and i must admit, you have a very complete coverage. I too would love to venture much deeper into micro 4/3, and i do foresee myself doing so. Nonetheless, it was not easy setting up my current dslr system, it took me years and a lot of hard work to get what i have now. Selling the system off to fund for a new system will immediately mean losing a significant amount of money and adding more on top of that to fund for a new system. I too have been tempted to jump to micro 4/3 on several occasions. I am not in a rush, and my current equipments serve me very well, hence i shall wait and see what happens.
    It is true as you have highlighted, the most important thing is to make full use of any camera system of choice and allow it to fulfill the photography vision!!

  10. Hello Robin,
    You are right to say that photography can be a very expensive passion ... like many of other passions I must add!
    But you know already that if you deeply want something you will always find a way to get it.
    I had the chance to own my Leica equipment at a time (1980-90) that it was more affordable although it was still expensive. The beauty of it is that I was able to resale it without losing big money.
    In looking your photo projects and your beautiful Portfolio, it is easy to understand that you master your equipment with success. And that is a key point. In doing so it is becoming only a matter of finetuning of your technique and exploring further your subjets as you are doing already so well.
    What I like mostly from some camera manufacturers is their ability to design and produce original products that are reflecting the desire to be different. Leica and Olympus are examples of product creators that can offer you something with a different approach.
    Have a nice day.

    Daniel M from Montreal, CDN

  11. great review!!
    i like the kid and bike shot you took from standing ;) good shot and show good coverage of the lens.

    and im agree with you how cute is that lens on your E-5!!!

    just like I was amazed when I saw your pic on FB. coz I thought it was a lens cap :P

  12. Hey Robin!
    where can i get a used Oly prime like that?!

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  14. Hi Robin,

    Great review and wonderful pics. Glad you are having a swell time with the pancake lens. Sold it to the right guy!

    I am following your blog now. :)

  15. great review, makes me really curoius to try it myself!