Monday, November 07, 2011

Panasonic Lumix 20mm F1.7 Pancake Lens

Luke Ding was kind enough to lend me his Panasonic Lumix 20mm F1.7 pancake lens for my usage on the streets. Thanks dude !! You rock.

Before I moved on allow me to clarify that this is NOT a review of any sort for the Panasonic Lumix 20mm F1.7 lens. I have had the rare opportunity to extensively tried this lens on and I shall share my honest opinion and points of view while shooting with it on my street hunting sessions. The main reason why I did not want to push out a user-experience review is simple: I was using the pancake lens on my own Olympus PEN E-PL1 body, and I strongly believe that to bring out the len’s full capability, you will need to mount it on a native Panasonic Micro 4/3 body. The Af speed and accuracy, the lens distortion and CA correction view in-camera software and overall compatibility may not be fully optimized for the use with my E-PL1 body, hence the images produced from my shooting may not accurately represent what the lens should be doing at its best. Hey, lets just set aside all the boring technicalities, and start to just really, really enjoy using the lens, shall we? I surely did not want to have a thousand and one considerations running through my head as I used the lens for the first time, I just wanted to have fun, and having plenty of fun I did with this wonderful lens.

So cute !!


Anston's Nikon D300 in action. Great camera it is.

Anston preparing his gear for capturing street light trails. Love his tripod too.

Checking out the bokeh of the pancake lens. Not bad.

Caught a kid.

Gotta love the catchlight on the kids eyes. Notice that there are stray reflections and ghostings at the side of the kid's cheek. No thanks to a cheap UV filter on the lens.

Everyone is taking pictures on this street.

I took this out of reflex. Burst of laughter from three girls.

Anyone lost some keys?

Street shopping can be paradise.


I have tested this lens very briefly on several encounters before, mainly because too many of my friends have this lens in their collection. Almost everyone I know who has a PEN who has at least used their micro 4/3 system for a while would have somehow ended up buying this 20mm F1.7, which should not be a surprise because this lens unanimously received extremely positive response from any gear review sites across the world, and the user reviews generally resonated favorably to this lens as well.

There really is nothing much to complain about this gem from Panasonic, and all micro 4/3 warriors should be thankful for a lot of wonders that the 20mm F1.7 brings:

1) Tiny and feather-light pancake design, creating a truly pocketable and compact combination with a smaller Olympus PEN or Panasonic micro 4/3 bodies such as GF3

2) The unusually wide aperture of F1.7, which provides two very important benefits for the user of this pancake lens: to be able to employ much higher shutter speed than the native bundled kit lens (F1.7 vs approximately F4.0 on the kit lens when zoomed into 20mm, which is about more than 2 full stops of EV advantage)

3) And at F1.7, the capability to produce background blur, the beautiful bokeh which many people love

4) 20mm lens coverage is just flexible enough field of view for everyday general shooting. It is a little bit on the wide end, but it is just perfect for lifestyle shooting. If you want anything longer, there is always the beautiful and irresistible Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 for your consideration.

5) Oh did I tell you I had a thing for pancake lenses? They are incredibly sexy and beautiful. You should find them sexy too.


I mounted the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 on my Olympus PEN E-PL1 (gosh I should be bringing this camera out more, have been under-utilizing it lately) and there I was, ready to pounce on the streets. I was joined by Anston, and we stormed Bukit Bintang and Sungei Wang area last night. After grabbing a quite bite for dinner, we roamed the streets there and snapped away merrily.


Oh dear I was on camera instead.

Sign languages, like literally.

Jalan Sultan Ismail.

In shock and disbelief.

Bokeh test 2.

Kids and alcohol are two common items on these streets.

Anston went low angle for some creative shots.

Killing time.

A kind of invitation.

Five foot way warriors.

Just for the record I rarely do night street photography, and I do not intend to do it often. Just a reminder to many of you beautiful readers who may not be too familiar with Kuala Lumpur, it is not exactly that safe walking around with your shiny camera on the streets here which are full of beggars, homeless and god knows what other kind of people all desperate to have that piece of camera of yours traded for a nice warm bowl of noodle soup for dinner. So seriously, if you want to do any stunts at night, be extra careful, travel with a few friends (preferably not girls or girly ones who can just scream and hide should anything happen) for purely safety reasons. There is no reason to put yourself up for unnecessary risks and danger. Yes, I admit the streets I usually walked to are not safe.

That aside, Anston was out with his trusty Nikon D300 and a gigantic tripod that seemed like you can use it to kill someone and still wound not have any dent on its sturdy metal legs. He intended to take some creative light-trail shots, and while he was stationed at a spot doing long exposure captures to record the motion and slow shutter speed, I attacked the passing by strangers and snapped them away with my PEN and pancake combo.

I stuck by one fixed set of settings which I did very minimal fine-tuning. I adjusted the settings to suit my shooting for this particular session only. I am writing this entry in a FULL paragraph, and listed the settings down in point forms because my usual style of writing it as the “side notes” at the top of entry somehow escaped the view of my readers, who would redundantly reply in my comments or emailing me asking me what settings I used for my camera to snap the photographs. Here, I share them, and I hope I do not get repeat questions again. Do keep in mind that I do not have one fixed setting for all shooting, and I set them appropriately corresponding to each shooting condition.

Aperture Priority mode for most shots, and some Shutter Priority to capture a little bit of motion blur

All images were shot handheld, with IS on.

ISO 1000 to 1600

EV 0

Aperture set to fixed F1.7 at all times

I shoot with S-AF all the time. (Single-AutoFocus)

Auto White Balance

Saturation, Contrast and Sharpness all set to 0

Gradation setting = Normal

Noise Filter = Standard

I shot all images in JPEG at LF (Large Fine) quality

None of the shots were taken with flash, all shot with available street lights.

The street lighting was rather dim, hence I needed to boost up the ISO to 1000, and at some situations, 1600 to achieve enough shutter speed to adequate freeze motion. I did not push beyond ISO 1600, because that is what I deemed to be the acceptable high ISO limit for my PEN. I purposely slow down the shutter speed in Shutter Priority mode in order to capture motion blur, which I wanted to incorporate in my image. The lighting varies from place to place, hence there is no constant color cast or balance of light source, with multiple light from different sources (street lamps, from inside the shop, car headlights, signs, billboards, etc), thus I just let the auto white balance to do its job. The Auto White Balance did its job superbly, it balanced the different sources of light very well, though not 100% colour accurate, but the images come out pleasant and comfortable to look at, with believable and lively night street colors. I did not shoot RAW this time, mainly because Olympus produced such great JPEG image quality, I should really make full use of the JPEG engine more. I did not use flash because the flash would have destroyed the natural and gritty feel of the night street in Kuala Lumpur.


What a way to earn money.

Another uncle going at it.

Purple man and a parked street bike.

Jalan Alor, where the restaurants chop your necks off with their ridiculously priced food.

Charcoal BBQ by the street walk.

Durians. Don't say you have come to Malaysia if you have not tried this fruit.

The durian seller.

The green light is another demonstration of why you should not use cheap UV filter. You can say that a good option is to take if off completely, but hey, the streets was moist, dusty and dirty. Its not even my lens.

Street beggars. Hip shots.

Proud to be a Malaysian. Yeah !!

So how did the Panasonic Lumix 20mm F1.7 pancake lens perform?

I particular love how small and light the lens is, seriously. It felt like I was carrying nothing on the streets.

The autofocus on PEN E-PL1 was not fast at all, and there was a noticeable, but slight hesitation each time it tried to lock focus. It was almost useless to capture any moving subject. I usually had no issue doing panning shots, even with the native 14-42mm kit lens, but on the 20mm F1.7, I have 0% success hit rate on panning, but hey, lets be realistic, the lighting situation at night was not ideal for the struggling PEN E-PL1 to begin with. For non-moving objects, under such dim and challenging lighting condition, the PEN and pancake combo did struggle to lock focus, and at times, the focus was not accurate. I would not blame this entirely on Panasonic, or associate this to the lens alone, but there is a real compatibility issue when shooting this Panasonic lens with PEN. Lets hope Panasonic and Olympus would release a joined service and firmware update to resolve this issue in the future. It is a shame, such a great lens, but its full potential cannot be realized on PEN cameras. Come on guys, both Olympus and Panasonic are under the same roof, you guys should hold hands closer together !!!

The image quality? Simply love it.

Even at 20mm, thanks to the F1.7 wide aperture, I can render very good bokeh. The bokeh is creamy, smooth and very desirable. I love bokeh, and I need bokeh In almost all sorts of photography that I ventured into. I simply love the fact that at 20mm which is quite a wide coverage, I can still produce amazing amount of bokeh. Oh did you see how sharp the lens was? I wont do the 100% view in this entry mainly because all my images were shot from ISO1000 upwards, and you wont get the optimum sharpness like what normally did with ISO200, but still, from the images, the lens was very, very sharp and does very well in capturing the street people portraits. I am in love with this lens.

What I do not like, or rather, how the lens is not suiting my own preferences, which in all fairness has nothing to do with the lens on its own, is the 20mm field of view. I personally (you may choose to disagree) prefer the 45mm or 50mm coverage which provided me a lot more working space between me and my subjects. I notice a lot of the street people got rather uncomfortable as I moved myself so close to them with the 20mm pancake, which I needed to in order to fill them up in my frame. I don’t crop my images a lot, and I like to fill my subjects in my frame fully. This 20mm is a disadvantage to my usual shooting style. However, I do acknowledge the fact that the 20mm is an important field of view, and having this prime can be real life saver in some situations. It can be used entirely on its own, as I have demonstrated in this entry, and it proved to be very capable.

I know many of you readers who came to this humble blog of mine are Olympus and Panasonic micro 4/3 users, and I am very sure many of you owned the lovely Panasonic 20mm F1.7 pancake lens.

Do share your thoughts, what you like and what you not like (which I think is not many, heh!) about the lens !!

36 comments:

  1. I like the colours! Very rich and vibrant! Despite its size (unlike your Oly pancake), it is suitable for casual shooting.

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  2. Chong,
    It is time to get a PEN !!!! Buy buy buy !!

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  3. Robin I to purchased this lens I thought about the 25mm Panasonic but in the end went for this. I have only used it a few times, but I to absolutely love it. It seems to give an almost 3d feel to pictures and the bokeh is as you say delicious.

    The size for me is perfect, it weighs very little and to be honest I have not noticed any glitches in using it on the ep3, I do appreciate I have not used it extensively so this impression is only based on the short time I have owned it.

    The last two images on my blog were shot with it and show its versatility. I can see it being a favourite companion together with the 12mm and 45mm. Heaven is an ep3 with the lenses mentioned.

    I would also like to add that I appreciate your images they open up a world to me that is new, I have not been fortunate enough to visit your part of the world as yet but it looks wonderful vibrant and so full of life.

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  4. Hello Shooter,
    Thank you so much for your kind compliments, you were being too kind !!
    I am glad you have had this 20mm lens with you, I am sure it will help you in raking in many beautiful images. Indeed the lens is very versatile in many aspects of photography uses.
    Heaven is the E-P3 with the lenses mentioned !!! Amen to that.

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  5. Great pics, and I like your story.
    I have the same kit and love it (here are a few pics on a Saturday morning in Florence), with the E-PL1 it even has some more IS.

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  6. First - great photos as always Robin!

    I bought this lens for my wife who has an E-PL1, and I'm quite jealous that a lens like that just doesn't exist for my E-520. I take lots of photos in the range of 17 or 18mm with my kit lens lately, and love it, so a high quality 20mm like this one would be nice to have.

    Thought about getting an WE-PL1 myself, just because of this 20mm.

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  7. Hello Alf,
    Thanks for the compliments !! Glad to find another photographer using the same kit !! Awesome photo set there mate.

    Hey Wolfgang,
    I agree with you, they should make a 20mm F1.7 just for 4/3 DSLR system !!

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  8. As soon as I finished reading this I took my E-PL1 and Pana 20mm and went for some night shutter therapy! By the way, I never shoot at night lol.

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    Replies
    1. Glad to have inspired you to go and shoot !! Photography is about going out there and click that camera.

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  9. Great pictures (as usual) Robin.

    It's a great lens but the focus slowness and hunting drove me crazy so I returned it. I really hope Panasonic make a Mk2 version with the same optics but vastly improved focus speed - then I'll buy it again!

    The 45mm f1.8 on the other hand - wow it is brilliant in every way. I just got it this week after reading your review (Olympus should have you on commission lol).

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the kind compliments Sam !! If Olympus pays me I think half of the people here will stop believing in what I have to say here !!
      Yes, I also wish Panasonic would fix their focusing issues on the 20mm F1.7.

      Delete
  10. Great pics! Can't wait to get my PEN. Where did you get your white protective case?

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    Replies
    1. The leather casing came together with the used E-PL1 unit I purchased from a friend. No idea where he got it from.

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  11. Just enter myself in this micro 4/3 world. And totally love it... nice compact with great image quality. Currently I'm using the Oly 17mm f2.8 and highly considering this Panasonic. Your images really help me to decide my next upgrade :)

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    Replies
    1. Hello Suzaidee,
      I am sure you won't regret getting the 20mm !

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  12. Hey Robin can you let me know if this lens is any better with e-P3? I have an e-P3 but don't really want to spend so much money on the 12mm 2.0 and this lens seems just as good apart from its construction. I've heard that barrel distortion is terrible when pairing this lens with a pen yet your images seem free of any distortion... Please let me know :)

    Thanks,

    Francesco

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    Replies
    1. Hello Francesco,
      The 20mm lens performs well in any micro 4/3 cameras, so there is no exception for E-P3. I have no problems with distortion, in fact I sometimes use distortion to add drama to my images.
      All lenses exhibit some sort of flaws to a certain degree. However, my photography style does not revolve too heavily on technical perfection.

      Delete
  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  14. These are fantastic shots. Thank you for posting them. I just bought an Olympus E-P3 and have been doing a lot of research on this particular Panasonic pancake lens. So... I was really glad to see your tests involving this lens mounted on a Pen.

    One question... I don't have much knowledge of filters, but I did notice that you referred to the "cheap UV filter" that you were using several times throughout your post. Could you point me to a particular UV filter that would be a good one for use with the Panasonic 20mm pancake and my Pen?

    MAXimum respect,
    Denny

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    Replies
    1. Hey Denny,
      Thanks for the kind compliments, and I am glad you found my sharing on this blog useful.
      About UV filters, the purpose of having them is to protect the lens from smudges and scratches. UV filter wont do anything else but that. Hence I would not recommend getting an expensive one, but a decent multi coated normal filter would do. (I use Hoya and Marumi brands). In Malaysia we have some very weird branded cheapo filters, which would badly degrade the photographs.
      Do not put too much emphasis on filters. If difficult situation as shown in this blog (flare, ghosting) is encountered, just take the filter off. The 20mm lens was not mine, hence I left the filter on for protection.

      Delete
    2. Robin- I see. Thanks for your explanation. I ordered a $7 (u.s.) tiffin uv filter. So hopefully it will protect my new lumix 20mm pancake without adding any artifacts/degredation. Thanks again!

      Delete
  15. Hi Robin,
    I have read through your blog review on M4/3 camera and lenses many times already and I really appreciate your real life testing on those equipment.
    Personally, I jumped from Nikon D90 with a lot of accessories into this M4/3 world due to the DSLR is very bulky and it has pull me back from carrying it everyday for shooting or even during travel. I bought an E-P3 to replace it and feel very lucky to see this great lens is available for the camera that I have bought. At first I bought it with kit lens, after that I bought a 14mm f/2.5, 45mm f/1.8 and finally the 20mm f/1.7. I also bought a Sony VCL-ECF1 Fisheye converter to attach to the 14mm f/2.5 which works great!
    I hope can shoot as many nice images as you do.

    BTW, I'm from Kuching. Hopefully we have a chance to meet up and go for shutter therapy together in the future. :)

    Thanks!!

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  16. Hi Robin,

    Do you think E-P3 with 20mm f/1.7 is enough for a light travel?

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  17. I just ordered the Panasonic 20mm (cannot wait to get it) and glad to see your blog. The images are very good representation of what I can expect at night. Love the angles of view and the colors are vibrant. Keep up the good work. Nice to get a glimpse of your location. Good for you to remind us all to think of safety when shooting in public as well.
    Many thanks!

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  18. In film days (remember film?) I had the Rollei 35S w/ excellent 40/2.8 lens. Great all-around camera! Rugged and small too. Now I have the fine but low-ISO-limited Panasonic LX3. I want to "move up" to a larger sensor. The EPL-1 with Panny 20/1.7 seems like a digital reincarnation of the Rollei, but with a faster lens. As an amateur m4/3 is more than adequate. ASP-C is nice but the EPL-1 with 20/1.7 will more than suffice I'm sure.

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  19. Fantastische foto's mijn compliment
    Ik ga hem ook kopen en de 45mm 1.8 met de nieuwe Olympus pen E PL 5
    Groeten Janny

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  20. A fine review. Thank you, Robin. The images speak for themselves. Very nice.
    This was the tipping point in getting me to buy an EPL-1 (new body now at a great price, US $140, Cameta Camera) and EX+ used 20/1.7 on Fleabay. It's the digital mirrorless reincarnation of the Leitz-Minolta CL rangefinder w/ Rokkor 40/2 or perhaps my Rollei 35S with 40/2.8 Sonnar I had back in film days. (Remember film?) Small but not too small. Well built though no tank. The LCD screen though low res is still more than good enough, with good contrast which helps. A great all-around, carry-everywhere combination. 20mm (40mm full-frame equivalent) is a very good compromise between the universal, 35mm semi-wide and the 50mm "normal" fields of view. f1.7 is fast enough and the lens is very high quality which has been attested to countless times online. There is something compelling about a prime. It helps me to "see" better photographically instead of using a zoom to look and alter things. All in all, one can't go wrong with this combination. It reinforces my photographic mantra: KISS. Keep it simple stupid.

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  21. I've got this lens on my E-PL5. I LOVE this lens. but will agree with you that it does tend to 'hunt' for focus on the Olympus cameras. But I've found that changing the AF setting to SAF/MF fixes that and speeds auto-focus noticeably . (and also allows for manual adjustment of the focus while shooting)

    Nice Pictures and a great 'non-review'. Thanks!

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  22. WONDER how the 20 1.7 compares to Olympus 17 1.8? I was all set to buy the 171.8 but Olympus freaked me out.

    I bought the EPL3 kit earlier when it was just out and there were no freebies but now, people who buy the same kit get a free 17 2.8.

    Yeah, I know marketing, promotion etc etc. But Olympus should at least allow those who bought the EPL3 earlier to buy the 17 2.8 at discount.

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  23. Great pics. Very inspiring. I picked up the 1.7 for my omd and love it. It's exciting to have a setup that's suited to LIFE

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  24. Hallo Robin

    Anonymous (from 1/12) again. Thanks for your review, Got the Lumix 20mm 1.7 today. It's great. A lot of people have said it's slow in AF (compared to the Olym 17mm 1.8) But I got it with the GF1 for $440. That's pretty good, I feel.

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  25. Hi Robin

    Really like your reviews and I'm glad there's someone out there championing Olympus and micro 4/3rds. Excellent photos here as usual.

    Steve

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  26. Dear Robin,

    I'm usually do beauty photoshoot with female model, am I doin the right thing if I use panny 20 to do it. Consider I have to choose what to buy first between oly 45 f1.8 or pana 20 f1.7. What do u choose? Thanks for your nice picts above.. :)

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  27. Wow, this review is just what I needed, I bought me an EPL-1 body to pair with old minolta lenses and it works awesome, but I want to make street photo and restaurant reviews, so a pancake lens is what I need, this review opened my eyes. Do you know if the incompatibility issues have been fixed with any firmware?

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