1. This is a user experience based review.
2. All images were shot in RAW and converted directly to JPEG (High Quality) via Olympus Viewer 2.
3. General camera settings, Noise Filter = OFF, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option maintain warm color = OFF), Gradation = Normal
4. No post-processing applied to the images, except slight brightness/contrast balance tweak. All images were as good as straight out of camera, with minimal cropping for better presentation.
This blog entry is a continuation from the previous Part 1 of my Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 review (click).
In Part 1 of my review, I have brought the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 lens to street shooting at Brickfields and Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur, testing how the lens performed in favorably good lighting condition. From the street shoot I found the lens to be very sharp corner to corner even at wide open F1.8, has very good distortion and CA control, and focuses very fast. How does the lens perform in poor light? That is the only question I intend to answer in this Part 2 of my 17mm F1.8 lens review.
As a reminder, allow me to clarify a few items. This review will be written from a photography-enthusiast’s point of view, because I am not a professional photographer. This will be a user experience based review, sharing on what I think and feel as I use the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 lens (mounted on Olympus PEN E-PL5) in real life shooting situations. Therefore, this is not a technical review as there will not be elaborative technical explanations, which can be easily accessible on many professional review websites such as DPreview and DXOmark.
The opening images, the city skyline of Kuala Lumpur being taken during sunset time, was shot at Jelatek. I was on the 16th floor of a low cost apartment, resting the E-PL5 with 17mm attached on my dying tripod and shot a series of images watching the sun went down.
F/5.6, 1/13sec, ISO200
F/16, 15sec, ISO200
F/14, 15sec, ISO200
Perhaps this new Olympus 17mm F1.8 lens was not exactly designed for landscape shooting as a priority, but at 17mm (34mm equivalent focal length) it is still considered a wide angle prime lens. Standing at the right position, the lens should be wide enough for some tighter perspective. Considering that the lens is very sharp from corner to corner, it can be quite an attractive option to shoot landscape shots where very wide angle is not suitable. Also take note of the start-burst effect of the street lights that this 17mm lens can do.
On a completely unrelated note, the newer white balance engine on the OM-D E-M5, which should be the same on the E-PL5, somehow over-compensates for warm source of light. As shown in the last image of the three above, when it was nearly dark, the warmer street light dominated the scene, and the camera decided to "whiten" the image, thus producing strong blu-ish cast. This can easily be corrected in post-processing, especially if you shoot RAW, and apply custom white balance settings.
DEEPAVALI: Festival of Lights
The rest of the photographs aside from the urban landscape shots were taken at Shree Laksmi Narayan Mandir Temple at Jalan Ipoh on the eve of Deepavali celebration. On this auspicious night, 10,000 lights (candles and small lamps) were lit all around the temple, ushering the coming Deepavali celebration, which is an important Indian celebration, also prominently known as Diwali, or Festival of Lights. Indian is one of the major races in Malaysia, hence I was very fortunate to be at the temple, witnessing such a beautiful cultural celebration !!
The shooting condition was very challenging, in many cases, the only source of light was from the lamps and candles. People do not stay still, and while the devotees of the temple moved about and light the candles and lamps all around the places, there was constant movement. Even shooting at wide open aperture of F1.8, higher ISO setting of 1600 or above was necessary to adequately freeze motion, and produce decent, usable shots. Do bear in mind that in this entry, we are reviewing the performance of the 17mm F1.8 lens, not the capability or low light shooting of the camera.
So how did the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 fare in Deepavali extreme low light shooting?
In short, the lens worked like a charm. Lets have a look at some images first !!
F/1.8, 1/60sec, ISO250
ISO3200, F/1.8, 1/640sec
I understand it was not necessary to push up the ISO to 3200 for this shot, but I was dialing down the EV compensation to darken the background with higher shutter speed (I was shooting aperture priority). Mistake was on the photographer's part.
F/1.8, 1/60sec, ISO3200
F/1.8, 1/80sec, ISO320,
The autofocus performance of the lens in such dimly lit condition was excellent. I am not exaggerating when I mentioned the lighting was very, very dark. I did not even turn on the focus assist lamp on the E-PL5. There was only very minor issues of the lens failing to lock focus, which was about 1-2%, and I'd say the problem would have been eliminated if the focus assist lamp was used. I admit the red light from the focus assist can be quite annoying, especially in an almost completely dark place, hence I disabled it. I'd say the autofocus performance of Olympus lenses is getting better and better with each new lens release.
About Shooting with 17mm Focal Length
I fully understand that the 35mm classic focal length, which this new Olympus 17mm F1.8 lens is trying to correspond to, is a very important focal length that many photographers would want to have. I choose to differ in opinion, and what I am about to say here is entirely personal, and subjective. Therefore, my opinion may not necessarily apply to the general crowd, or be relevant to you. Nonetheless, this is my honest sharing of how I feel about the 35mm equivalent focal length, after testing this new Olympus 17mm lens in street shooting, and now the Deepavali festival.
I think the 35mm is quite an odd focal length to use in any shooting conditions. In contrary to popular belief that it is a must have, or arguably the best focal length for street photography (looking at how almost every street photographers would recommend this lens) I do not see how this lens can work for my own street shooting. I shoot a lot of street portraits, especially close up shots of random strangers. At 17mm (equivalent 34mm), the lens is just too wide for any meaningful portrait shooting, with still very visible perspective distortion creeping in, and the human head, if the lens being too close, may appear "cartoonish". On the other hand, when I wanted the lens to be used to cover something wider, it is often not wide enough. In my opinion, 28mm and 50mm equivalent focal lengths are generally more practical in my street shooting, At 28mm, the lens should be wide enough to cover everything that needs to be covered for a wide angle composition. At 50mm, the field of view corresponds very closely to what the human eye sees, to my own eyes, even more closer than the 35mm. There is just something out of place about the 35mm, that it is not wide enough, and not long enough.
One may argue that I am not trained to fully bring out the potential of the 35mm focal length in my shooting. I agree to that to a certain extent, but believe me, if I want to make my images happen, I will squeeze everything I can out of the lens and the lens will work for me. It is not the case of me finding the lens not working, or having issues, but the lens being not practical for my own style and shooting preferences. I can still use this lens if I must, and get away with the shots that I needed, I do not have doubts on this. However, life sure is harder with this "neither here nor there" focal length lens, and often the images appear flat, and uninteresting. The main reason for this is the "normal perspective" that 35mm equivalent focal length provides, perhaps the normal perspective is indeed too normal that it has become flat and uninteresting.
Do not get me wrong, the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 lens is a great lens, it is sharp, very technically well controlled, and works very efficiently. It is also not a lens I will fall terribly in love with, unlike the M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 or even the 75mm F1.8 lenses. I find the 17mm a lot harder to use, and knowing the trouble to work with the lens, it is difficult to recommend this lens. Unless you know very well what you want from that particular focal length, and you know well that the lens will work for your own shooting methods.
F/1.8, 1/80sec, ISO1000
F/1.8, 1/80sec, ISO200
F/1.8, 1/50sec, ISO1600
F/1.8, 1/60sec, ISO800
F/1.8, 1/50sec, ISO1600
Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 Lens Review SUMMARY
What I like:
1) Very sharp, corner to corner
2) Very good technical control: minimal chromatic abberation, flare control, distortion control, etc.
3) Extremely good Auto-Focus performance, even in very low light condition
4) Solid built, and good handling
Note that I did not say I like the snapshot focus, (pull down the focus ring for manual focus option, with DOF scale), because I dislike zone-focusing and find it impractical in most shooting conditions. But if you love zone-focusing, especially for street shooting, this is a huge advantage for you.
What I dislike:
1) Since the lens is built with similar all metal construction, having snapshot focus mechanism, and high optical quality, the lens will not be cheap. To be entirely honest, I'd prefer a cheaper built quality, much like the 45mm F1.8, but with very good image output.
2) No hood included. Perhaps Olympus should reconsider their stance of not including the lens hood, this has been one of the loudest complains from the crowd.
If you are very sure you know what you want from a 35mm equivalent focal length, this Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 lens is a no brainer, in fact it is a must have lens to have, if you need a normal perspective shooting lens. There really is nothing much to complain about the lens itself. It has the great Olympuz Zuiko sharpness and near technical perfection. Everything about the lens, technically feels right.
F/1.8, 1/50sec, ISO500
F/1.8, 1/80sec, ISO1000
F/1.8, 1/50sec, ISO1600
F/1.8, 1/80sec, ISO6400
F/1.8, 1/30sec, ISO3200
F/1.8, 1/80sec, ISO3200
F/1.8, 1/80sec, ISO250
For prime lens collectors, this Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 just fits nicely into the entire collection.
I am sure many micro 4/3 users are dying to find out how this Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 performs against Panasonic 20mm F1.7. I cannot tell you whether the Olympus 17mm F1,8 is optically sharper, that you have to judge for yourself from the images I have shown in two Parts of my review, and I am very sure sooner or later more and more people will post up images online and do direct comparisons between the two lenses. However, two strong advantages the Olympus 17mm F1.8 has would be the much faster and reliable autofocus performance, and also more solid built quality.
Also, many would ask if there was good enough reason to upgrade from the old M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 pancake lens to this new 17mm F1.8 lens. Several reasons why the new 17mm F1.8 lens is better: 1) Widest aperture of F1.8, rendering better background blur, and advantage in low light shooting 2) better built quality 3) improved image quality with higher quality optics. To the old 17mm F2.8 pancake's defense, the lens itself is very cheap, and much smaller and lighter than the new 17mm F1.8 lens. I have no extensive shooting experience with the 17mm F2.8 pancake lens to make any further comments.
I have enjoyed myself tremendously reviewing the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 lens (though I admit it was not easy using this focal length), and surely shooting the Deepavali celebration was something new even to myself. I hope not only you have a general idea and understanding on how the new Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 lens performs in practical shooting conditions, but also have glimpse of Malaysian culture and tradition, which is very vibrant and full of life.
Photo credit: Luke Chua
I do have one more item to review before this year ends !! That will be the Olympus 15mm F8 body cap lens, which I shall be testing in the coming next few weeks.
If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to say something in the comment section on this blog entry, or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org