This is my first lens review so bear with me while I put together a review style. The 17mm f1.8 is the perfect lens to kick off my lens reviews with because, well, it may be a perfect lens! It is the latest addition to the (hopefully) growing stable of fast prime lenses from Olympus that already includes the 12mm f2.0, 45mm f1.8 and 75mm f1.8.
What’s in the Box
The Olympus packaging is barely bigger than the lens itself, yet somehow they manage to fit in a surprising amount of cardboard spacers. The net result is a small box that protects the lens very well. Of course front and rear caps are included as well. And what else… <crickets chirping>… now where did they put the hood? No hood is included with this $600+ lens, that is an extra item from Olympus that goes for another $80+.
As a fan of Olympus lenses and bodies it really feels like a slap in the face to be nickel and dimed like this. I would have no problem if they included a crappy plastic hood and offered their crafted aluminium hood as a step-up luxury item. I might even buy one for my favourite lens. But with the ridiculous pricing of their hoods across the entire prime line-up I feel screwed. So as many have done, its off to eBay (or Sim Lim square) to get a knock-off for a fraction of the price.
This is a small lens, but it is not as small as the 17mm f2.8 or the Panasonic 20mm f1.7. It protrudes out about a cm more than either. That really only makes a difference if you are trying to stuff your camera in your pocket though. The thing is that it is light enough you won’t feel the weight on your camera so it is natural to want to stick it in your pocket. Darn.
This is an all metal lens body that looks and feels great. The only exception is when you pull back the focus ring to reveal the distance scale there is a slight wobble in the slide, it doesn’t pull back straight. At first it was a bit disconcerting but after a while I was able to ignore it, it didn’t seem possible to damage the lens doing this.
Olympus has figured out fast focusing and by all accounts this is reflected across their line-up of silver primes. Testing on an E-PL5 proved time and time again that there is no hunting, just focusing. Instantaneous response made stealth street shots much easier with a quick point and shoot. Only in the lowest light would I ever see any hunting and that is just the body struggling to find some contrast to latch on to, not the lens doing anything wrong.
Olympus also added the pull-back focus ring that was popularised on the 12mm f2.0 lens. Pulling back the focus ring reveals a distance scale to aid in manual focusing. Interestingly, when using manual focus my E-PL5 only showed the magnification box when the distance scale was hidden. On the E-P3 you could click a couple of function buttons to get it to show in the pull-back mode but I haven’t figured out how to do that on the E-PL5.
I’m no good with the distance scale (poor depth perception) so I can’t comment much on that. What I can comment on is the manual focus ring turns very smoothly and was a joy to focus with. The one exception to the experience was the wobbly pull-back as mentioned above in the Build Quality section.
I shot daytime in good and bad light, at night in bright and poor light and inside. I found the lens to be an admirable performer in all cases. I could not come up with a scenario where it did not deliver the goods in image quality. It certainly is leaps and bounds above its older sibling, the f2.8 model, in every way: colour, contrast, resolution, centre sharpness, corner sharpness, build quality, focus speed, noise level and even looks.
I used it a fair amount in the evening and I had little to no issue with flare even when I had bright lights right in the shot. It handled flare much better than my 12-35 f2.8 that you will hear about in my next lens review. Flare was a non-issue even without the hood.
I love this lens, it just takes really nice pictures. I found it stuck to my camera almost the whole time I owned it. I love the focal length for walk around shooting, which is how I mostly shoot in Singapore. And I found myself continually amazed at the detail that this lens can catch even at 100+ metres away, I never expected that out of a wide angle when shooting in a busy city street setting with varying focus distances.
Here are a few samples below. All are shot handheld, the first three with the E-PL5, and the last one (garbage salad) was shot with the GF3.
- Wide f1.8 aperture brings some DOF control to m43
- Classic 35mm equivalent focal length
- Very sharp, even into corners
- Great contrast and colours
- Good flare control
- Pull back focus ring with distance scale
- Small size
- Not quite a “pancake” lens
- Pull-back motion on focus ring a bit wobbly