Not a review: Olympus 17/1.8 on a trip

About a year ago on our trip to Nice, I mainly used the Lumix 20/1.7 lens. Since then, I grew a little unhappy with the focus performance of the Lumix lens comparing it to the excellent Olympus M.Zuiko 12/2. So, just before our trip to Spain, I ordered and got the newer Olympus 17-millimeter lens…

Since many skilled reviewers have already bashed and praised the lens and I don’t have proper tools and skills to make a technical review, I’ll just write down my experiences. Reviews can be found on the internet, e.g. by Photozone, Steve Huff, Pekka Potka, Mike Pouliot and Ming Thein. My own conclusion having read them all: it’s a good modern lens, but not a great one.

Crops and other factors

17 millimeters on a Micro Four Thirds camera is close to the classic semi-wide 35 mm on film. A tad wider technically and due to the different aspect ratio, feeling just a little more wide. Not quite a 28 mm though..

Several years ago, I said it aloud: 35 mm is the most boring focal length of them all. Maybe it is, maybe it’s just that I can’t see the way one should to shoot well with it. Or I just can’t see anything but one type of shot with it, someone somewhere with the background:

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The fast thing sees in the dark

The lens is fast. Both optically (f/1.8) and when focusing. On an E-PM2 body the autofocus is practically instantaneous and manual focusing is easy due to the pull-back manual focus mechanism. Very nice, even in practically no light:

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Yep, that was shot in a wine cellar lit by just a few light bulbs (1/30s, f/1.8, ISO 4000. Handheld). And there’s flare of those light bulbs too. And those bottles are all Freixenet cava.

What else?

On our trip, I had two other lenses with me, the Olympus 12/2 and the Panasonic 45-200 zoom. I first started with practically the 17 only, but later on used the 12 increasingly. There’s just something special about that lens, very hard for me to quantify, and the 17 lacks it. Not just focal length, but some character. However, I ended up shooting more than 400 shots with the 17, a little more than 100 with the 12 and only 3 with the telezoom, partly because it’s no too much fun changing lenses and mostly because there’s not much use for teles in European cities.

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To keep it or not?

The decision to be made, to keep the lens or to sell it? I still also have the old Panasonic 20/1.7, but I quite don’t see myself returning to that lens, purely because of the focusing. The 17 is a nice lens, but many times just not wide enough nor long enough, sometimes of course just right. Maybe sell these both and get the Leica-branded Panasonic 25/1.4?

Conclusion

The reviewers were right. The Olympus M.Zuiko 17/1.8 is a very nice, solid and speedy lens, but lacks some punch some others have. If the focal length is for you, I believe it’s the best autofocus lens available for MFT at the moment.

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Photos in the post

All the photos in this post were of course shot with the Olympus 17/1.8 on my Olympus E-PM2. They were shot in raw and processed with my presets and preferences in Adobe Lightroom. Colors are off, I know.. ;D

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