Yongnuo 40mm Pancake f/2.8 – It’s Cheap, but is it Worth a Damn?

Yongnuo 40mm Pancake

The Yongnuo 40mm pancake f/2.8 for Nikon F-mount SLRs is a lens with a lot going for it specs-wise: wide aperture, small size, upgradeable firmware, and of course very low price (< $100). But the $5k question for cheap gear, as always, remains: Is it worth a damn?

Yongnuo 40mm Pancake f/2.8 — Tech Specs

  • Focal Length: 40mm
  • Mount: Nikon F
  • Max/Min Aperture: f/2.8 – f/22
  • Aperture Blades: 6
  • Focus Type: AF + Manual
  • Glass: 6 Elements in 4 Groups
  • Filter Thread: 58mm
  • Dimensions / Weight: 2.91″ x 1.77″ (74mm x 45mm) / 5oz (130g)

Lens Overview

There’s been a lack of an autofocus pancake lens (so called because they are very short in height) in the Nikon world for a long time. The introduction of the Yongnuo 40mm pancake, therefor, was very exciting for Nikon enthusiasts. But early reviews in 2017 were largely negative, and the main complaint was the inaccurate autofocus. I’m happy to report this has been remedied via a firmware update issued by Yongnuo.

What’s in the Box

The usual stuff you would expect to find in a lens box is in there: packing material, instruction sheet, lens (duh), front and back caps, and a small paper showing the manufacturing date and serial number. Nothing unexpected or exciting, and nothing missing apart from a warranty card (which almost nobody uses anyway). It would have been nice if they included a short USB-C cable to connect the lens to a computer to update the firmware, but for the total price I’m not surprised it’s not there.

Fit / Finish / Feel

I’m not going to mince words here. This feels like a cheap lens. The mount is metal, but pretty much everything else is plastic or metallized plastic composite. It’s very light and generally feels a bit flimsy. The focus ring, in particular, is a weak point. It’s a bit loose and wobbly and just has a not very sturdy feel to it. It’s a step down from the feel of a Nikon or Canon kit lens, overall.

The Good

The main high point of this lens is the overall image quality is quite nice. It’s sharp in the center (even wide open) and respectably sharp at the edges as well. Contrast is okay, but not exceptional. Chromatic aberration is clearly evident in bright highlight areas, but is mostly controlled with a single click in Photoshop or Lightroom. Vignetting is present, but not overwhelming.

After the firmware update, autofocus is reasonably accurate in good lighting. It’s slow (and a little noisy compared to most modern AF lenses), but it doesn’t hunt often. This lens won’t cut it for sports (or high-speed children), but for general photography it’s good enough. As with most lenses, low light reduces AF accuracy.

The Yongnuo 40mm pancake lens is also very small and very light. Combined with the “normal” view focal length (on full frame), the small footprint makes it great as an urban walk-around lens (aka: street photography). It won’t draw attention like a larger lens and also keeps the overall weight of your rig down.

The f/2.8 maximum aperture is fast enough to make low-light shooting a bit easier, and the bokeh is surprisingly okay. It’s not $1k telephoto nice, but it’s also not busy and distracting. For a lens of this focal length, it’s actually a bit better than average, in my opinion.

Since the lens has full electronic contact with the camera, basic EXIF data is recorded in the images.

The Bad

The focus ring, again, is a bit of a weak area. Apart from the chintzy feel, the ring’s behavior in AF vs MF mode is strange. In AF mode, the ring turns freely with no stop limits in either direction. When I first noticed this, I thought maybe it was similar to Canon’s STM autofocus lenses. But alas, the ring is simply mechanically disconnected from the focus motor when in AF mode. So there is no capability for full-time manual focus as found on most Canon and Nikkor lenses and nicer third-party glass. And when going from MF back to AF (or vice versa), there is an audible “clack” as the gear reengages the ring.

The focus motor/assembly is a little loud. It’s not loud enough to draw attention, per se, but you would definitely hear it in a video recording that used the in-camera mic. If you shoot a lot of video and like to autofocus, this lens probably isn’t going to cut it.

The worst thing about this lens is the flimsy feel. It’s mostly plastic and doesn’t feel like it would hold up under less-than-ideal conditions. I definitely would not use this in even light drizzle, as it’s not in any way weather sealed, and the connections between segments seem to me not to be a super-tight fit.

Sample Images

More coming soon, but here’s one to get you started. Shot at f/2.8, 1/400, ISO 200 on a Nikon D610 (my review is here). First image is uncropped with minimal processing from RAW to JPEG (minor color and exposure adjustments, mild sharpening for screen). The second is the same image but cropped to 100% so you can see the detail at a “pixel peeper” level.

Yongnuo 40mm pancake

Yongnuo 40mm Pancake

The Final Word

For <$90, this lens is a value. Optically, it’s actually quite nice, and the ability to improve performance through firmware upgrades is a very unusual positive feature for such an inexpensive bit of kit. While the build quality and plastic feel will turn some people off, it delivers the goods on the image quality front. For budget photogs that don’t mind having to baby a piece of gear, the Yonguo 40mm pancake lens could be a nice addition to your aresenal.

If you’re considering this or the Yongnuo 35mm f/2 (my review coming soon), I would go for the 40mm. It’s smaller and much quieter when auto focusing.