Monday, November 16, 2015

Spending a Weekend with Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 Pancake Lens

I am not going to lie to you, initially I wanted to bring the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 lens from the office, and use that only lens for my weekend shutter therapy. I wanted to revisit the lens and see if my personal trainings with the Fujifilm X100 has improved my execution of the 35mm equivalent focal length, especially when shooting on the streets. Unfortunately all the available units of the M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 have been loaned out. Not giving up, I picked up the much neglected M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 pancake lens as a substitute. After all, a 17mm lens is still a 17mm lens. 

I did not intend to do a review of the lens. I did not have the time to, and the 17mm F2.8 pancake has been reviewed by many other photographers before. Sufficient information about the lens is available and I do not see any way I can add more to that. As usual, what I can do is share as many photographs as I can. I will however, share my experience and thoughts after using the lens for one weekend, and a handful of photographs I managed to gather. 

The Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 Pancake lens was released at the time of the first Olympus Micro Four Thirds Camera, the PEN E-P1, which was in 2009 (6 years ago). General feedback from both reviewers as well as users highlighted that this lens is a good all round lens but not a stellar performer. Therefore I was not having high expectations on this lens. 

COOKIE vs PANCAKE

Either the pancake was super small, or the oatmeal cookie was huge. 

My experience and thoughts shooting with Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 Pancake lens

1) It is really small!
I still could not believe how tiny it was. I fitted it to my Olympus PEN E-P5 (since no one came forward to claim this possibly stolen unit, I am starting to use it now) and it was as if the 17mm F2.8 pancake lens was made specifically for PEN shaped cameras. I think we should have MORE of such pancakes, even if it was just F2.8, but at super low selling price (the only thing that came close was Panasonic 14mm F2.5). We could use small, slim 25mm F2.8, 35mm F2.8 and why not a 50mm F2.8 pancake lenses? I understand that having larger aperture would negate the possibility of constructing a pancake design, so F2.8 is actually very bright and acceptable, if the lens is truly super slim and small. 

2) Slowest AF of all Olympus M.Zuiko Lenses
The autofocus is slow. It was quite a stark contrast, coming from instantaneous AF using the usual 45m F1.8 and 25mm F1.8. It takes about half a second to more than one second to lock focus, and that is dangerous when you need instant response to capture action shots. I was glad that at least the focusing was dead on accurate, and reliable, despite the lack of speed. The only lens I could think of coming from Micro Four Thirds that could possibly slower than this, is the Panasonic 20mm F1.7. To be honest, these two lenses were the earliest of the Micro Four Thirds line-up. 

3) Good Image Quality, but Not Excellent
Looking at the image output from this 17mm F2.8 pancake lens, it actually lacked the "wow" factor, and reminded me of what I normally see coming out from the basic kit lenses. The image quality was actually good, on par or perhaps slightly better than what the Olympus kit lens can offer. Sharpness is adequate but far from matching the levels of the 17mm F1.8 or 25mm F1.8 lenses, and contrast was moderate. I can see why many people would recommend the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 back then, over the 17mm F2.8 from Olympus, as the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 was significantly a step forward in terms of overall image output (and not to forget, F1,7 is loads brighter than F2.8). 

4) Cost vs Value
Now that we know this lens underperforms in Autofocus, and has good but not excellent image output, would anyone get this lens? If you can find the M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 at ridiculously low price, or bundled with a camera purchase deal which actually is as if the lens is a free giveaway, take it. It is still a good 35mm equivalent lens, small and easy to carry around, and can produce beautiful results. However, if budget is not a concern, you are willing to spend more, there are many better alternatives, such as M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8, Panasonic 20mm F1.7 or even the new Panasonic Leica 15mm F1.7. Do take note that both the Panasonic lenses are not exactly 35mm equivalent but quite close. If 35mm is not a focal length that is very useful for you (like myself), I'd stay with the kit lens. Besides the super slim design and small size, I do not see any more advantage using this lens in comparison to any basic kit kenses (the F2.8 is not that much brighter than the basic kit lens). 

5) Me vs 35mm Focal Length
I think I am getting better at shooting with 35mm focal length now. I no longer forced the lens to be a wider lens or use it shooting too close to my subjects. I am more comfortable composing people with this focal length, and the key is to keep a distance and always, always watch what is happening in the background. What goes on in the background can either make the shot or break it. While the M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 may not be the best 35mm equivalent lens out there, but it was sure a joy to use! Especially so on the street, where sharpness, absolute image quality are not the priority. Story-telling and capturing the moments are more crucial. 

All the following images were taken with Olympus PEN E-P5 and M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 pancake lens

Puma
This was a lucky shot, I admit it this much. The AF was not instantaneous, but as the cat was about to jump, he (or she, let's just choose a gender) hesitated for two seconds, and that allowed me to lock focus! 

Standing Horizontally

Assorted Colors

Noodles Variations

The Push

Market People

Portrait of a Stranger 1
Tips on shooting close up portrait using the 35mm equivalent focal length: do not go too close, and do not de-center the subject too much. These steps are crucial to control perspective distortion, do produce a more natural looking perspective. 

The cats know

Roadside Food Vendor
I like how the 35mm equivalent focal length can be so versatile, capturing wide enough frame if needed. 

Hiding in the Shade

Place where Chicken Died

Through the fence

Starburst

Charge of Shirt
Did a hip-shot (shooting from hip without looking at the screen). People changing shirt, not exactly something you would walk up to and ask permission of shooting. 

The same cat, before the Puma Jump. 

Funky flare
This lens is probably the most susceptible to flare lens from Olympus in the current line-up. 

Grocery Store

Boots

Market People 2

Masjid Jamek LRT Station

100% crop from previous image. 

Closest Focusing distance

Closest focusing distance with the M-Con P02 macro converter attached. 

Twin Towers

KL Tower

One of my regular blog reader and commenter, Warren Chan! Thank Warren for joining me on last Saturday, hope you had fun. Funny seeing the Batman shirt. 

Arvind joining a small street shooting session for the first time. Hope to see you shoot more dude!

A very unhealthy, but super delicious lunch. 

That M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 Pancake lens looked soooooo good on the PEN E-P5. 


It was sure a fun weekend for me. I had a chance to shoot with a lens I never tried before, had visitor Warren with me on my shutter therapy and also Arvind a young lad (makes me feel younger when young people join me to shoot) and also plenty of good coffee and food. 

If you have been using Micro Four Thirds system since the beginning I am sure you have had some encounters with this M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 pancake lens. Do you agree with my experience and quick thoughts? Do you have anything to add? Please feel free to share. 

Please support this blog by liking my Facebook Page here (click). 

39 comments :

  1. I have to say, the lens, as used by you for the shots posted, appears to be sufficiently sharp. But as you say, for the type of shooting you were doing it would be okay (paraphrased). I continue to consider buying the 17 2.8 for some daytime street shooting at low cost. Alternatively, I like the 12-32 Panasonic, though I'm unsure how it would perform on the E-P5.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That 12-32mm! I tried hunting one for my GM1 (which I have sold off for the E-P5) to no success. I am also curious about how good the lens is.

      Delete
  2. Robin it was an absolute honor to watch and join you on shutter therapy. Thank you for letting me tag along and chatting about life in Malaysia. I actually like that pic with the lens flare, it's kinda cool. I've got one final question, what's the best camera lens to make my head normal sized? You must've switched lens at some point cause Arvind looks way better than I do. See you next year!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you could come and join in!
      Sorry about the large head photo, should not have used the 17mm. I think 25mm is ok, and 45mm is definitely much better in shooting people photos.
      I wonder what is Arvind thinking reading this haha.

      Delete
  3. The lens doesn't look as bad as people had complained. However, I think you could put dirt and oil on a lens and make the photos look just fine.

    It looks as though you found a place to shoot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the kind words. And no, the location was still Chow Kit! Only a small part was burned down (the best part).

      Delete
    2. Oh, well, that is good that so much is still there.

      The only fixed focal length lenses I use are the Panasonic/Leica 15mm f/1.7 and Olympus 8mm f/1.8 fisheye. I tend to walk around town late at night, in summer anyway, and they both work really well on the Olympus or Panasonic bodies that I have. I'd love to find an amazingly colorful place to shoot as you do.

      Delete
    3. Wow, you are a wide angle person! I am warming up to wide angle lenses these days. Thinking of that 15mm F1.7 too! Looks rather tempting.

      Delete
  4. I don't my mind shooting with my 25mm f2.8 on my e420 or on my e30. Pancake lens is my favorite lens..small, secretive, dirt cheap and cute! as long as i enjoyed every moment of it! Your blog always inspires me when I'm lost my appetite for shooting dudes.. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yes I still do have the 25mm F2.8 pancake, now you made me think of bringing the E-5 out for spin! Glad to know that you find some inspiration from here, do go out and shoot more!!

      Delete
  5. I have slowly picked up a handful of the entry level lenses to grow my collection, and have this one as well as Pana 14 & 20 mm lenses, and prefer the 17mm. I find myself going back to the 17mm 2.8 because it is fun to use. It pretty much lives on my E-PM2 that I picked up used on the cheap too, when I am not using my E-M5mkII.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd say the 17mm F2.8 Pancake is a perfect match for the E-PM2!

      Delete
  6. You taugth me an important lesson here: Don't force the lens to be narrower or wider than it is. Will remember that when shooting with my ƒ1.8, which IS a stellar lens at the right aperture and light conditions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Geir,
      that was my biggest mistake, i never composed my shots with a 35mm perspective, previously I always forced it to be a wide angle or tighter lens. now I do my best to use it as a 35mm perspective, i get much better shots!

      Delete
  7. Like I said before, you can make almost any lens look good, Robin. Great shots. I liked the colorful Boots shot and was impressed with the railway station at night shot. It may not be the best lens, but it is far from being a bad one. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Twin Towers shot was pretty impressive too.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for the kind words! Yes I agree, the lens is not superb but it is still a good lens.

      Delete
  8. Funky flare is a cracking shot. Like a old man sort of hidding behind all that funky light too, it's got layers of interest this one...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Digbats. I always find flare to add drama to some shots, but of course that should not be overused.

      Delete
  9. Funky flare is a cracking shot. Like a old man sort of hidding behind all that funky light too, it's got layers of interest this one...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love that shot too! Sometimes imperfections make the image stand out.

      Delete
  10. Hello, Robin!!!
    The images are great, as usual! It seems there is no need for the 17mm f1.8 objective to achieve great results!!!!
    Anyway I don't own this lens but I've read very good thoughts from anonymous photographers posted on the net.
    People are saying that it is very sharp despite the reviews from the test sites.
    I own instead the Sigma 19mm f2.8 which has also great results, at least for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The lens is adequately sharp, but I would not describe it as "very" sharp. But yes the sigma is a good lens too.

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

    ReplyDelete
  12. Finally you respon my comment on your facebook..thank you mate for the review. Can i ask you some questions, mate?

    1. This lens is never spoken by olympus user, they always say the 1.8 than this cute 2.8. They say this lens has some chromatic...whatever and lack of distortion when doing some cityscape. What do you think? For me, i don't give a think about ca or distortion, i just keep capturing as long as i love the object.

    2. I'm a street beginner, not a landscaper. I wanna ask you about the perfect lens. I owned this lens and the 45. My friends said that o should own a 25 mm or 17 1.8. Which one should i choose? I use my 17mm 2.8 on my epl5 and 45 on EM10 mark I

    Sorry if my english is bad, mate, i hope you understand

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agung, these technicalities like distortion and CA are not important to me when I shoot on the street. There is NO perfect lens. Only lens that is suitable for what you do. Whether it is a 25mm or 45mm it all comes down to what you use the lens for. If you truly are a beginner and you want to learn photography, using the kit lens 14-42mm for a while is not a bad idea. You most used focal length will be your next prime lens to buy.

      Delete
  13. I'd say this 17mm could be the most 3d it could get on m43. Your subjects pop with that lens despite all the "technical inferiorities" like sharpness-bokeh-blabla. Thank you for shooting with this lens. Please do more :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In terms of contrast the lens is good, but not excellent. 3D quality of an image depends largely on lighting. Take note that most of the subjects I shoot have well defined lighting with shadow depth and uneven highlights. That created the 3D feel and has nothing to do with lens.

      Delete
    2. This is the message i have been trying so hard to tell but still people always conclude with lens choice. It does not matter what lens you use, if you want good images, pay attention to lighting, composition and subject content. Asking me to use which lens more won't make anything better.

      Delete
  14. the 17mm f/2,8 is a very good lens. It's useless if you need the 12-40 pro, but a good idea if you're in budget or searching for lightweight combo.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeap, if budget and size are main concerns the 17mm F2,8 is a good choice.

      Delete
  15. I am glad to hear you will be shooting more with the e-p5. I replaced my Fuji X100T with an e-p5 and 17/1.8 and am loving the pen experience. Can't wait to hear about your continued work with the e-p5.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think in terms of overall experience and AF speed, the E-P5 is a better experience! Oh yes the day will come when the 17mm F1.8 makes a come back to this blog. Soon.

      Delete
  16. Optically the 17mm f2.8 is 'good', it is better than film era lenses, don't read reviews, look at these photos, do they not have a certain filmic quality?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am not too sure about film quality as I was never a film user (started photography late). But yes, I do like the output of the lens!

      Delete
  17. Hello Robin.

    with you, all lenses give good pictures :)

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hi Robin

    Thanks for your review its been really helpful as just got the 17mm f2.8 with the external viewfinder and the Olympus EP-1 at a bargain price second hand. I wanted a small camera with a 35mm lens, something I can carry around with me at all times. I have to say, its really not bad and if you can pick the lens up second hand (I got them for £140) - then its really pretty good.

    My main camera is a Fuji Xpro 1 with primes - and those lenses are clearly better, APS-C sensor and F1.4, they produce photos with a certain something. So the Olympus clearly isn't as good with 12 megapixel / micro4/3 and f2.9 - but it still takes a sharp picture.

    I wonder - how would the F1.8 17mm work on an original EP-1? would it make much difference? But then the whole set up becomes a difference in price.

    Anyway - thank you for your review

    ReplyDelete
  19. If you can find one of these at the right price it still is a useful addition to your bag - for sure not the sharpest, but great colours and the bokeh looks good too. If focus speed is a problem in street use you can always try zone focusing and have some fun catching those decisive moments.

    ReplyDelete