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.
Back in September, in the world's largest photography event, Photokina, Olympus has hinted that there will be one more product to be released for the Micro 4/3 lens line up, which is the M,Zuiko 17mm F1.8 lens. Thankfully we do not have to wait too long, and just a few days ago Olympus Malaysia has loaned me an initial production unit of the 17mm F1.8 lens for my testing and review purposes.
Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 Lens Features Highlight
1) Similar Optical Performance as the renowned M.Zuiko 12mm F2 lens
2) Similar construction and build as the all metal lens M.Zuiko 12mm F2 lens
3) Snapshot focus - pull down the ring for immediate switch to manual focusing, with DOF and distance scale for zone-focusing
4) ZERO (Zuiko Extra-Low Reflective Optical) Coating for minimizing ghosting and flare control
5) Fast focusing mechanism, and optimized for video recording (MSC)
For full specifications, please head over to Olympus's Official Page (click).
Snapshot focus - pull down the ring for quick switch to manual focus, with distance and DOF scale.
Olympus PEN E-PL5 and the M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 lens, such a handsome combo.
What is special about this new 17mm F1.8 lens?
Olympus users are well aware that there already is an existing 17mm F2.8 pancake lens, which was the first lens released alongside the first micro 4/3 camera from Olympus, the PEN E-P1, few years ago. Although I have not used the old 17mm lens myself, from general postings on photography forums (user opinion and experience with the lens) and reading some online review, it can be generally concluded that the old 17mm F2.8 pancake lens was a mediocre performer, and there was really nothing to write home about it.
Besides the old 17mm F2.8 pancake lens and the multiple versions of bundled kit lenses (14-42mm, 12-50mm), the rest of the M.Zuiko lenses released by Olympus for the micro 4/3 system, especially all the fast prime lenses have been nothing but excellent, both in terms of delivering impressive image quality (sharpness, technical flaw control, etc) and amazing autofocus performance. Coming from the history of 12mm F2, 45mm F1.8, 75mm F1.8 and 60mm F2.8 macro, each of the aforementioned lenses was a stellar performer. Therefore, it was about time Olympus started to have a revision for their old 17mm F2.8 lens, and release the new 17mm F1.8 lens to match the line of high performing fast prime lenses.
With the release of this M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 lens, Olympus has almost completed their set of high quality prime lenses for the micro 4/3 lens line-up, alongside 12mm F2, 45mm F1.8 and 75mm F1.8 lenses. The only missing piece is a 25mm prime lens, which was filled in by Panasonic 25mm F1.4, hence in the whole family of fast prime lens collection, Micro 4/3 system family can be considered complete.
About the Classic 35mm Focal Length
Many experienced and established photographers will never emphasize enough on the importance of using a classic 35mm focal length lens, either for learning photography, or shooting on the field. It is perhaps one of the most important focal length for street photography, where the 35mm is wide enough to fit in the environment and still maintain decent distortion control (28mm or wide would have introduced severe perspective and barrel distortion). 35mm is considered a normal prime lens, and has been one of the most popularly used prime lenses alongside 50mm. Both 35mm and 50mm corresponds very well to nearly as what the human eyes see, but I personally feel that 50mm is closer to my eyes' field of view. Consequently it is not difficult to see why the new Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 lens is so important, and will be popularly used as a general shooting lens, mainly because of the very natural perspective and normal view coverage that the lens offers. (Olympus micro 4/3 system has equivalent focal length factor of 2, thus 17mm x 2 = 34mm, close to the classic 35mm focal length).
I do believe that the choice of focal length is a very personal and subjective matter to discuss. However, while shooting, certain practical considerations should be made. Using a longer lens (tele-zoom lenses) would create too much compression, and the image appears distant and disconnected from the viewer. If wide angle is used, being too wide, there would be excessive perspective exaggeration and distortion that can be unintentionally distracting. Either the image is shot too wide, or too long, it will appear forced. Hence, the 35mm, together with 50mm focal lengths offer very natural perspective, true to what the human eyes can normally perceive, hence more "believe-able".
Street Shooting with the 17mm F1.8 lens
Most street photogaphers will strongly recommend having a 35mm focal length lens for street shooting, hence it is surely one of the first thing I brought the 17mm F1.8 lens out to do: street shooting. Olympus Malaysia has also loaned me the latest Olympus PEN E-PL5 to go along with the 17mm F1.8 lens. I was walking along Brickfields then ended up at Petaling Street in the morning. If you have followed my reviews recently you would know that I love to test the lens or camera on the street, mainly because of the abundance of subjects that can be shot and tested on. In this entry I am testing the 17mm lens mainly in favorable lighting condition.
F1.8, 1/320sec, ISO200
F/1.8, 1/2500sec, ISO200
IMAGE SAMPLE 1
100% Crop of IMAGE SAMPLE 1
The image is sharp even being shot at F1.8 wide open. The level of fine detail of the fabric texture captured was quite startling.
F/6.3, 1/1000sec, ISO200
IMAGE SAMPLE 2
100% Crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 2
F/1.8, 1/500sec, ISO200
IMAGE SAMPLE 3
100% Crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 3
Take note that shooting at F1.8, the depth of field is so shallow that the eye ball was in focus (and you can see yours truly in action) but the eye brow was already out of focus ! If I knew it was that shallow I would have stopped down the aperture for this shot, perhaps F2.8 or 3.5.
F/1.8, 1/1000sec, ISO200
F/4, 1/125sec, ISO200
Being a Zuiko labelled lens, the sharpness of the new 17mm F1.8 lens was excellent. Even being used at wide open F1.8, the level of fine details captured, as indicated in Image Sample 1, looking at the man's blue T-shirt, was very impressive. I did try to stop down the aperture to F2.8, F4 and F5.6, but did not quite see much difference in the increase of sharpness (it could be sharper, just not visible to my eyes), thus you actually do get very optimal sharpness, even using the lens at F1.8. Olympus is doing right with all their prime lenses now, surely their claim of having optical quality on par with their highly acclaimed 12mm F2 is not just a marketing ploy. There is a difference between just sharp, and being able to resolve great amount of fine details. You can artificially sharpen an image in post-processing to create the pseudo-sharp look, but you can never bring out the fine details if the lens was not good enough to resolve them. Consequently it is very important to have a great lens to work with.
Corner to Corner Sharpness
A huge advantage of using the micro 4/3 system is the even sharpness across the frame. The 17mm F1.8 lens is no exception, it is sharp even at the extreme corners. Take at look at 100% crops of Image Sample 7. Even in the corners, there is no visible softening of details, or traces of chromatic abberation.
Chromatic Abberation (CA) Control
CA control for the 17mm F1.8 lens is very good. The images are not completely free of CA, I do admit I see some small traces of purple or green fringing in high contrast areas, but they were so minimal you can almost neglect them. Also, just slight amount of clean-up can be done in post-processing if you intend to get rid of all the CA. Perhaps the only lens that shows completely no CA would be the M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro, which still baffles me till today on how the lens can manage such a feat, even being a macro lens. For a wide angle prime lens, the CA control surely is impressive. I am not sure if it was purely lens-corrected, or software correction processing done in camera, but I do think the result poses no issues for practical usage.
Flare and Ghosting Control
You will notice I have shot a lot of my images against strong source of light, and in such conditions, there was no ghosting or flare problems. The ZERO (Zuiko Extra-Low Reflective Optical) Coating does its job well, both in 12mm F2 and also the 75mm F1.8 lenses, and now the 17mm F1.8 lens.
F/1.8, 1/1250sec, 1/200sec
F/6.3, 1/250sec, ISO200
F/5.6, 1/1000sec, ISO200
F/8, 1/800sec, ISO200
IMAGE SAMPLE 4
100% Center Crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 4
100% Corner Crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 4
100% Corner Crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 4
F/7.1, 1/80sec, ISO200
IMAGE SAMPLE 5
100% Crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 5
F/5, 1/200sec, ISO200
I did not notice any barrel distortion shooting with this 17mm lens, it was very well controlled. Lines appear to be straight, with no noticeable curvatures (even if there is, it is not visible). Being a 17mm lens, it is still considered as somewhat a wide angle lens, which can be susceptible to some degree of perspective distortion if not used carefully. The perspective distortion is not the len's fault of course, it depends on where you stand and how you compose your subject. Of course, problems with perspective distortion will worsen with wider angle lenses, such as 12mm F2. This new 17mm F1.8 lens has very good control over distortion as shown in Image Sample 7.
The autofocus performance of the 17mm F1.8 lens, used on the E-PL5, was exceptionally good. In fact, it did feel slightly faster and better than the 12mm F2. Every single time I half-press the shutter button the focus locked on immediately, with no delay at all, and the speed to re-focus from near focusing distance to infinity, and vice-versa, was very quick, with no noticable lag at all. This may sound very hard to believe, but for the first time in any history of shooting on the street, in a full session I had 100% focusing hit rate, and completely no misses at all with the 17mm F1.8 lens.
I did not test the continuous tracking of the lens, because I already know that the camera E-PL5 (and also E-M5) is not doing very well in this department. Nonetheless, if you want to freeze action or moving shots, you can, just press the shutter button immediately as you hear the AF-confirmation beep sound. For example, have a look at Image Sample 8, the man was moving toward me, and I shot a series of 3 images, all using the same technique: half-press, hear the beep sound, and immediately press the shutter button. All images came out in perfect focus. This technique, I call it instant click to capture shots, have always worked, and for the 17mm F1.8 lens on E-PL5, it worked flawlessly.
Lens Handling and Feel on Hand
When I was shooting with the 17mm F1.8, it felt as if I was shooting with a mini version of the 12mm F2 lens. The build quality and look of the 17mm is very similar to the 12mm lens, just smaller, and lighter. The lens was solid and felt very reassuring. There is just something about an all metal constructed lens that felt superior to plastic lens, perhaps this was psychological but we all know it is a lot more expensive to construct something with metal than plastic.
One good thing I like about the 17mm is how small it is. Perhaps it is not that small in comparison to the older 17mm F2.8, which was a pancake design lens, but the new 17mm has the widest aperture of F1.8, and being a bright prime lens, I would say the size is still very small and compact. Coupling the lens with a small sized PEN body such as the E-PL5, I can carry around the camera around my neck, or hand holding it without feeling any strain at all. The lens felt very balanced being used with the E-PL5, and holding it steady should not be a problem.
F/1.8, 1/1600sec, ISO200
F/5, 1/100sec, ISO200
IMAGE SAMPLE 7
IMAGE SAMPLE 8
100% Crops from IMAGE SAMPLE 8
F/4, 1/1000sec, ISO200
IMAGE SAMPLE 9
100% Crop from IMAGE SAMPLE 9
F/1.8, 1/40sec, ISO200
One of the most passionate photographer I have known, Luke Chua (click to check out his fantastic work)
F/2.5, 1/30sec, ISO200
F/1.8, 1/80sec, ISO400
F/1.8, 1/80sec, ISO200
Close Up Shooting
The 17mm offers minimum focusing distance of 25cm, which is quite good for some decent close up shooting. Of course it is nowhere near macro capable, but at 25cm minimum focusing distance, thte 17mm lens can deliver good wide angle close up shots.
Bokeh Rendering/Shallow Depth of Field
I find the out of focus rendering of the 17mm F1.8 to be very smooth, creamy and pleasing to look at. I remember complaining about the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 for having very harsh bokeh and distracting out of focus rendering, even at F1.7 widest open aperture. I am glad to see Olympus 17mm can create much more pleasing out of focus look in the image.
If you want shallow depth of field, you will need to move closer to your subject. The closer you are to your subject, with the help of wide open aperture F1.8, you can create shallow depth of field, and blurring the background away. Perhaps care should be taken to make sure sufficient depth of field was achieved, in the case of Image Sample 3, looking at the 100% crop of the girl's eye, the eyeball was in focus, but the eye brow was already out of focus. I should have stopped down the aperture to F2.8, or even F3.5 for that shot.
The following set of images were taken at a local independent event called Pipit Wonderful Market, happening at Central Market, Kuala Lumpur. I went in the market after shooting at the Petaling Street.
F/1.8, 1/50sec, ISO1000
F/1.8, 1/13sec, ISO640
F/2.8, 1/20sec, ISO640
F/1.8, 1/100sec, ISO1250
F/1.8, 1/50sec, ISO1250
F/4.5, 1/100sec, ISO200
F/1.8, 1/200sec, ISO200
I have also made 11 full resolution images selected from this entry available for your pixel peeping fetishes. All the images were converted directly from RAW to JPEG in Olympus Viewer 2 software.
17mm F1.8 REVIEW PART 1 DOWNLOAD:
In my coming Part 2 of my Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 lens review, I shall test the lens in less than ideal shooting conditions, especially low light shooting, and see how the lens fares. I shall also show some other applications than just general street shooting. Then, I will discuss on the things I wish the lens could be better.
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 email@example.com