Comparative lens review: The Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 17/1.8

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Advance note: Images in this review were shot with an Olympus OM-D and the ZD 17/1.8 unless marked otherwise. Please go by the commentary rather than the reduced crops; I am looking at uncompressed RAW files on a calibrated monitor, not a websize JPEG. The review was completed with a final pre-production prototype lens. I’m told that image quality and build are representative of the finished product.

_Z260004 copy With (once again) poorly designed and optional lens hood. At this price…shame on you, Olympus.

One of the first lenses released for the fledgling Micro Four Thirds system was the 17/2.8 – equivalent to 34mm in full-frame talk, and the staple walk-around lens for most photographers. I’ve personally never been a fan of this focal length – it simply doesn’t fit with the way I see – so I tried it once on the first E-P1, and never paid it much attention since. That lens was a simple 6/4 design with a single aspherical element at the rear, and notorious for managing to pack many undesirable qualities into a single lens at once – it was slow to focus, suffered from serious lateral chromatic aberration at the edges at pretty much all apertures, and was extremely noisy while hunting to boot.

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Tuna.

Its sole redeeming graces were that it was sharp in the center of the frame, and very small. Most photographers ditched that lens for the Panasonic 20/1.7, which was a little longer, not much bigger, but over a stop faster and optically comparable. That lens made its way into my bag while I was shooting with the E-PM1 Pen Mini, turning the camera into a small and pocketable companion.

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Silhouette of a man

Olympus has been on a bit of a roll lately with its Micro Four Thirds lenses – first the 12/2, followed by the 45/1.8, then the 75/1.8 and 60/2.8 – the latter two of which are amongst the best lenses I’ve used for any system, period; the new M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f1.8 (hereafter known as the 17/1.8) is the latest to follow in this vein.

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What lurks beneath

The lens’ construction is closer to the 75 and 12mm lenses than the 45 and 60, which is to say it follows the High Grade requirements of being all-metal in construction (champagne-colored anodized aluminum) and having the ZERO optical coating. It has the same pleasant tactility and solidity as the 75 and 12mm lenses; there’s no plastic to be seen anywhere here. Unfortunately the lens is not weather sealed and has no visible gaskets, and once again, has an optional (and expensive) lens hood that makes it very difficult to remove the lens cap. Like the 12/2, the full-time manual focus ring override clutch activated by pulling the focusing ring backwards towards the camera. In this position, the ring exposes the distance scale which works in conjunction with the depth of field scale engraved on the static outer flange, and has fixed end stops at minimum focus distance and infinity. Unlike the 12/2, the possible distances are no longer fixed to several discrete ranges – pulling back on the ring and turning it slowly through its range of travel, you can see via the LCD image that the focus distance changes continuously. If there are discrete steps, they’re very small ones. This is great news – whilst the idea was a good one for reactive documentary photography, its implementation on the 12mm made it fairly useless in practice.

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Hop to rainbow row

Needless to say, autofocus speed is on par with all of the current generation of Olympus lenses – very, very fast indeed. It’s much faster than the 17/2.8 and Panasonic 20/1.7 – about the same as the 12/2, and slightly faster than the 45/1.8 (which is to be expected because that lens has a longer focus travel as required by its focal length). I did experience one or two issues with precision at longer distances wide open though – admittedly an unlikely usage scenario – the lens tended to lock at about 6-10m distance instead of infinity; as a consequence, images were borderline sharp but nowhere near what the lens can produce if focused properly. The 17/1.8 focuses down to a minimum of 25cm, which in practice means covering a 15x20cm object or thereabouts. It’s slightly less than the 20cm minimum of the 17/2.8, but curiously the real focal length of the 17/1.8 seems to be a bit longer, which lands up evening things out in the end. Close up performance wide open is not its strength; there’s a distinct loss of microcontrast that robs resolving power, that only starts to come back at f2.8 and smaller – this isn’t entirely surprising as the lens lacks any floating elements. In this area, I’d say it’s on par with the 20/1.7, and slightly worse than the 17/2.8.


Optical formulae. 17/1.8 at left, 17/2.8 at right.

The 17/1.8 is a much more complex lens than the 17/2.8 that preceded it. Firstly, focusing takes place entirely within the lens, in order to keep things fast and silent; the entire optical assembly no longer moves. It’s a complex 9/6 design that appears to have been done entirely by computer; I don’t recognize the optical formula at all. Olympus have spared no expense here – two aspherical elements, one HR element, and one DSA (double super aspherical) element go into the mix. Both front and back surfaces are flat, which presumably has a positive effect on flare; I certainly didn’t see any during my test images, which included several deliberately backlit shots and point sources within the frame. No doubt the ZERO coating helps, too.


MTF charts. 17/1.8 top, 17/2.8 bottom. Image from Olympus Malaysia

On the basis of the MTF charts alone, both lenses should perform similarly in the center, with excellent overall sharpness and contrast, and middling to good microcontrast. Towards the outer portions of the frame, the 17/2.8 drops in fine resolving power, and loses it in the corners. This is not because the lens isn’t sharp: huge amounts of chromatic aberration mixed in with field curvature rob resolving power. The 17/1.8, on the other hand, maintains its overall resolving power out much further towards the edges – remember this is at f1.8, against the 17/2.8 at f2.8 – with a dropoff only in the extreme corners. The complex wave form of the 60 lp/mm lines suggests that it’s probably due to some very odd field curvature, probably as a result of the complex optical design. The 17/2.8, on the other hand, has a simpler, less corrected, design, with resulting first- and second- order uncorrected field curvature. Geometric distortion is very low, however, and requires almost no correction in Photoshop.

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In a very quiet back alley somewhere, waiting for the person to complete the shot that never arrived.

In practice, what this means for sharpness is that the 17/2.8 was good in the center, but terrible in the corners and lacking punch and transparency. From what I’ve seen, the 17/1.8 markedly improves on this in practical situations; the sweet spot extends much farther out from the centre even wide open at f1.8, and by f4 performance is uniformly excellent across the entire frame – in some ways, reminiscent of the behaviour of the 12/2. Note that this is a lens which performs best if you place the focus point over the intended subject; focus-with-the-center-point-and-recompose is not going to yield optimum results due to the nature of the 17/1.8’s field curvature profile.

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Whole test scene.

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3-way comparison of center resolution. 100% version here. The 20/1.7 has the highest overall scene contrast, but the 17/1.8 wins out in microcontrast and reproduction of fine detail structures – personally, I prefer this as it gives me more latitude for processing before the shadows and highlights block up. The 17/2.8 is in the middle for macro contrast and on par with the 20/1.7 for microcontrast.

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Top right. 100% version here. Note purple fringing on the 20/1.7 shots, even at 5.6. That portion of the building is not overexposed according to the histogram. The two Olympus lenses exhibit notable CA, with the 17/2.8 being the worst offender.

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Top left. 100% version here. The 20/1.7 is oddly free of both CA and purple fringing in this corner; in fact, the performance here doesn’t really match the other corners – chalk it down to sample variation. This is the 17/1.8’s worst corner.

17-17-20-bottom right
Bottom right. 100% version here. We’re now seeing CA from all three lenses, with the 17/2.8 once again faring the worst. The 17/1.8 is slightly better than the 20/1.7. Interestingly, not much changes even when you stop down.

What will affect resolution (and perceived acuity) far more is lateral chromatic aberration. The 17/2.8 was notorious for this, and to be honest, the 17/1.8 shows a notable improvement over its predecessor, but CA is still present to f4. Both lenses have visible longitudinal chromatic aberration and spherochromatism that show up as fringes in the bokeh; the new lens is slightly better but still not perfect. This does not affect microcontrast as much as you would expect as the longitudinal CA occurs only in out of focus areas, which are devoid of microcontrast and fine detail structures anyway. In the in-focus areas, microcontrast delivered by the 17/1.8 is already good wide open, improving slightly to peak at f4. The 17/1.8 has about the same global contrast as the 17/2.8 at comparable apertures, but slightly better microcontrast and the ability to render more subtle tonal gradations.

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Whole test scene. Yes, that’s a Lego chess set. A custom one: goons vs. the village people.

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Bokeh, LoCA and spherochromatism, #1. 100% version here. I’d say the 20/1.7 looks best here, but it’s very nearly a tie with the 17/1.8.

Both lenses have surprisingly consistent color rendition despite their vastly different construction and coatings; that is to say, neutral to slightly warm, with decent (but still plausibly natural) saturation. Where they differ is in transmission: (see this article for the difference between T stops and f stops) it’s clear that the coatings used in the new lens endow it with significantly better lower internal reflection properties than the older lens. Despite having more elements and air-glass surfaces, the 17/1.8 meters with a shutter speed that’s about 1/3-1/2 stop faster than the old lens for a given fixed aperture and histogram (luminance) output. This is a useful gain in practical situations; it’s not quite see-in-the-dark territory, but good transmission characteristics combined with its relatively short focal length and the excellent stabilization system on the OM-D mean that its useability envelope is very wide indeed. Vignetting is also fairly negligible too, even wide open.

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Bokeh, LoCA and shperochromatism, #2. 100% version here. No prizes for guessing the 20/1.7 has the best rendition since it also has the longest focal length; this portion is a bit of a lopsided comparison.

The 17/1.8 renders out-of-focus areas with a rounded softness and lack of hard/ bright edges or double images, even against complex background textures. Whist you’re never going to get a large amount of defocus to your backgrounds with a real focal length of 17mm (that’s a property of the focal length) unless you get very close to your subject with a simultaneously distant background, what you do get with the 17/1.8 is very pleasant. I actually think the 17/1.8 delivers close to the right amount of bokeh for most situations at relatively near distance; enough to separate the subject but not so much as to completely abstract out backgrounds.

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Fear of the supervisor

Throughout this review, I’ve talked a lot about its predecessor, the 17/2.8; the other dark horse sitting in the corner is the Panasonic Lumix 20/1.7 G. It was my mainstay lens on the E-PM1 Pen Mini, though I’ve used it less since acquiring the 12/2 and 45/1.8 lenses. Though it has a slightly longer real focal length at 40mm equivalent, in practice the difference is minimal and no more than a step or two backwards or forwards. The 20/1.7 is a popular lens amongst enthusiasts because it was both fast and compact; value for money, too, if purchased with the original GF1 kit. It still retains its popularity today, because the only other fast 35-ish equivalent so far has been the Voigtlander 17.5/0.95, which is not only hideously expensive, bulky and manual focus only – all of which somewhat defeat the point of Micro Four Thirds.

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Caged laundry

What I find curious is that the 20/1.7 images render as though they are a slightly cropped version of the 17/1.8 – this is a good thing, as the optics on the 20/1.7 are excellent. Sharpness/ resolution, microcontrast, color transmission and even quality of bokeh are very similar; however they have completely different optical design philosophies. Where the 17/1.8 makes significant gains over the 20/1.7 is in autofocus speed; it’s simply night and day; not to mention the usefulness of the manual focus clutch.

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Hipster at sunset

For the 35mm (or therabouts) EFOV enthusiast, we now have four choices in the Micro Four Thirds mount – the Olympus 17/1.8 and 2.8; the Panasonic 20/1.7, and the Voigtlander 17.5/0.95. There are also myriad other options you could adapt from other mounts, such as the excellent Zeiss ZM 18/4. I’d consider the adapted options not viable simply because none of them were designed with telecentricity in mind, yielding poor results on M4/3 cameras – severe vignetting, color shifts in the corners and purple fringing are all common problems. The Voigtlander is an intriguing lens and a surprisingly excellent performer at f1.4 (it’s decent at f0.95) that also happens to have a very short minimum focus distance of just 15mm from the sensor, but it’s very much a special-purpose lens: you don’t buy this and shoot it at f2.8. There’s simply no point. And if you need one, I think you’ll already know it.

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Waiting for the bus

That leaves us with the three native AF options. I would not buy the 17/2.8 unless size is a critical priority, or you know that you’re going to be shooting only static objects stopped down; otherwise the slow AF speed will drive you crazy. The Panasonic 20/1.7 is in a similar boat; it’s faster to focus than the 17/2.8 and optically better, but nowhere near as fast as the 17/1.8. The 20/1.7 and 17/1.8 deliver similar resolution in the center, but they render quite differently – the 20/1.7 is punchier but has slightly lower microcontrast; the 17/1.8 has lower macrocontrast but better reproduction of fine detail structures – i.e. better microcontrast. In the corners, the 20/1.7 is the highest-resolving of the three, but shows strong purple fringing on top of CA which is absent from the other lenses. Interestingly, one thing I noticed with all three lenses was that corner performance was not really consistent – i.e. there were some minor tolerance-related astigmatism effects in play. All three lenses still suffer from longitudinal CA and spherochromatism, though. Ultimately, I think your choice will boil down to three things: price (the lens is to be around US$500 when it becomes available in December), whether you prefer the 40mm FOV, or 35mm; and how critical is focusing speed? If you shoot a lot of street or documentary work, then the ability to stop down and scale focus can be an extremely valuable asset. Overall verdict: recommended. MT

Thank you to Olympus Malaysia for supplying the lens review sample.

The Olympus 17/1.8 is available here from B&H

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Comments

  1. regarding lens hood – the metall lens hood for OM-Z 28 mm 3,5/2,8 is an eminent replacement for the one that is currently on sale for this lens. This is by the way a hint for many other add on items, you can often find an item that fits from your old collection.

    • Any hood with the right thread and depth will fit. However, it is still not acceptable that Olympus makes you pay (a lot) extra for cheap accessories that are standard from other companies. They certainly don’t include an old lens with purchase…

  2. Lots of very helpful discussion/advice. I just purchased the 17 1.8 as part of my 2 lens kit paired with the 75 1.8 for my OMD. I went with the Oly 17 over the Oly 12 or the Pan 25 1.4 because I hope to add the Pan 7-14 next year which I thought would be redundant with the 12. The choice between the 17 1.8 and the 25 1.4 was tough but I just love the 35mm perspective and the IQ seems close enough to the 25 to justify the choice in my mind. I have 3 kids and the 35 is wide enough to get a lot of nice candids of them together without the distortion of a wider lens. The great thing about all these m43 lenses today are that they are all so good you can custom build a kit that’s just right for you. BTW, I continue to be blown away by the 75. Thanks everybody.

  3. Hi Ming,
    Is it in your future plans a review of the great Panasonic Leica DG SUMMILUX 25/1.4 ASPH?
    I’m looking forward for your opinion about this lens as a part of a trinity for a mFT system: 12/2, 25/1.4 and 45/1.8
    I will pass the 17/1.8 as I already have the amazing pancake 20/1.7

    Thanks

  4. Ming thinks for the review and samples. I’ve also read your review of the Oly 12mm 2.0 M. Zuiko. I am very new to the game and along with the kit 12-50, which for a newbie is not very forgiving, I have found the M. Zuiko 45mm 1.8 and the Pani 25mm 1.4 to be magical.

    With the kit lens I found the shots at 12mm to be special when shooting streets in Amsterdam and in New York where I live.

    As I now need a faster wide lens I was, before this, the 17mm, came out saving for the 12mm.

    If you were in my shoes would you go for the 17 or 12 next? This is not an inexpensive hobby but with great lenses it’s so much fun and for a newbie the lens seems to really make all the difference.

    Thanks in advance for your opinion.

  5. I just got this lens and it became my favorite along with 75mm 1.8, but I still do not understand how the manual focus ring works? Can you explain please! And as always great review, Ming!

    • Select MF from the camera to use the ring in its freewheeling mode to focus. Pull it back to instantly override to a preset distance. This position has hard stops.

  6. Dear Ming Thein

    i just bought 17 1.8 and i have a problem with barrel distortion from raw file. I really love it but it distortion is unacceptable. Please suggest any way out.

    Thank :)

  7. Thanks for the review :-) Are there any differences between the 20/1.7 and the 17/1.8 regarding processing in camera or does the OM-D handle them equally well? I love shooting jpgs:-)

  8. Thanks for the nice review Ming. I just ordered the 17 1.8 after reading your blog and am looking forward to giving the Oly a spin in the New Year. There are lots of nice 46mm hoods on the market (if you don’t mind black metal and paying a lot less). I use one on my Panasonic 14 2.5 so no loss on the funky Oly hood.

  9. “Unlike the 12/2, the possible distances are no longer fixed to several discrete ranges”???

    I’d never noticed this effect, so after reading this above, I checked. The 12mm/f2.0 I have does NOT manually focus in ‘ranges’ on my OMD, and the “possible distances” are NOT “fixed to several discrete ranges” (IME).

    Slrgear.com measurements show theven the 12 gives no quarter to 20mm/f1.7 Panasonic lens until f5.6. These results gel with other reviews I read when the 20 was new-ish. The 20/1.7 has huge CA … as do the cheaper 17mms Even the 25/1.4 doesn’t open up a margin on the 12 until about f4.2.

    I will be interested to test this in a few weeks myself. I might hunt up a 20/1.7 to borrow for the test.
    Either lens will serve the purpose well, but I am left wondering if the pre-prod lens is really up to the final standard …

    • It’s only if you pull back the focusing ring into the MF mode with distance scale and end stops. If you manually focus with the camera body set to MF, it doesn’t have discrete ranges. This is a well-documented fact.

      Both 12 and 20 have reasonable amounts of corner CA, but the 12 is better in the center.

      • WHY would I go through a menu to focus when it has that nifty ring? But I tried it just now to check.

        I just tried MF by wire with magnification ON. I checked the 12, 14-42, 40-150, 45, 75, and 60 macro.
        There are NO visible ‘steps’ on ANY lens.

        My EM5 firmware is 1.5 – I’d suggest it was a BUG (now fixed) and I cannot comment on what it MAY have been like with this bug.

        • Do you have steps when you use the ring (menu still set to S-AF) and not the menu MF-by wire? You don’t get steps in the latter. I get about five or six discrete ranges with the former. I’m using 1.5, too. There may be some hardware changes that happened along the way, too – mine is an early lens.

          • Hi there,

            I just tried all lenses.
            Apart from the ‘jump’ to magnified view, no steps were visible, all smooth.

            I wonder – is your lens firmware up-to-date as well?

            • Yes, it is – the only conclusion is that it’s a hardware issue. Mine is a very early one.

              • I just got the 12mm f/2 to use on my E-P5, and I can confirm that it has the step focusing when the focus ring is pulled back. It focuses smoothly when the focus ring is forward and the camera is set to manual focus. FWIW, the lens serial number is ABR0003739.

                • Hmm, perhaps you got old stock/ early batch? That’s a very low serial number – lower than mine…

                  • I should have mentioned that this was a “limited edition” black lens I had sent over from Japan by an Amazon vendor. It was definitely brand new, but you’re right, it probably is old stock. Or it may also be that the black lenses have a different serial number range.

                    In any case, I think I figured this out. Here’s my theory:

                    *All* of the 12mm f/2 lenses have the step focus, both old and new.

                    And… Are you sitting down? The 17mm f/1.8 *also* has the step focus. It just has much smaller steps, so you didn’t notice them when testing it.

                    But what about Mick/Mi’s testing? Well, those tests were not done using the clutch focus at all. They were done using the standard manual focus selected from the camera body.

                    Why do I think so? There’s no mention in the comments of actually trying the clutch focus mode on the 12mm. This comment is what made me start to wonder: “I just tried MF by wire with magnification ON. I checked the 12, 14-42, 40-150, 45, 75, and 60 macro. There are NO visible ‘steps’ on ANY lens.” The other lenses aren’t related to this problem, and checking them all in the regular manual focus mode will show no step focusing. But the clincher was this: “I just tried all lenses. Apart from the ‘jump’ to magnified view, no steps were visible, all smooth.”

                    On my E-P5, the magnified view appears *only* when I select manual focus from the camera (and of course only if the magnified MF assist option is enabled in the menu). It does not appear when I pull the focus ring back. In fact, if I select MF from the camera, and then pull back the lens focus ring, the magnified view disappears after a few seconds.

                    I don’t have an E-M5, though, so it’s possible it’s different. But I strongly suspect that it works the same in this area, and this was just a testing error.

                    What about Peter’s testing? In this case it’s clear that the clutch focus was used, but this comment makes me wonder: “I can get critical focus on the subject I want, no stepping involved. Note I mostly checked discrete focus on subjects about 20 to 60 cm’s away…”

                    I also don’t notice the stepping when I focus on normal subjects, unless I have focus peaking on which makes it more visible. But if I do a more rigorous test it is very apparent.

                    Here’s how I tested it: I took a dishtowel with a printed pattern on it and laid it flat on a table. (Any flat surface with a pattern or texture would do.) I put the camera close to the towel at one end, aimed across the towel toward the far end. Then, with focus peaking on, I tried both the clutch focus and the regular manual focus.

                    It’s very easy to see the focus range move across the towel or other surface this way. The normal manual focus moves smoothly, but the clutch focus moves in steps.

                    Peter, if you’re still reading this thread, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I really have a hunch that you just didn’t see the steps because you were focusing on more typical subjects. I don’t see it either when I do that. But the towel test with focus peaking makes it very apparent.

                    Ming, you should try this test with your 17mm f/1.8 too. I see the steps clearly using this test, although the steps are much closer together than the 12mm. And my 17mm is fairly new; it came with my E-P5 a few months ago, s/n ABT207091.

                    So, my suspicion right now is that every unit of both these lenses actually does have the step focus, but it doesn’t really matter that much because the intended use of the clutch focus is more for zone focus when shooting stopped down. For a precise manual focus, the normal manual focus mode gives much more control – no steps and a much slower focus action.

                    • There’s no question that all of these fly by wire things have step focus – it’s just that the steps on some are so small as to be effectively continuous – this is what happens in normal MF mode. For whatever reason, clutched focus requires larger steps perhaps?

                      The black edition lenses are definitely old stock. My 12/2 has steps when the clutch is pulled back, but a later unit I tested did not.

                      I don’t have a 17/1.8, so I can’t check it. (35mm equivalent in any format is pretty useless for me.) I do remember specifically looking for this when I reviewed the lens, but had similar findings to you – there are steps but they are very small, and effectively a non-issue.

      • Peter Boender says:

        On the chance of going further off-topic on the 12mm f/2.0 in this review discussion of the 17mm f/1.8, here are my 2 cents:

        I can concur with Mi Deu’s findings. I checked the functionality of the manual focus ring on my 12mm f/2.0 (firmware 1.0) on my black OM-D E-M5 (firmware 1.2). With the ring pulled back, you get a slightly “heavier” feel when turning the ring and it FEELS like there might be some very mild click stops involved (but you really have to pay attention, the FEEL is just a little bit “grittier”), as compared to setting the camera to MF and leave the ring in the AF position, when the operation of the ring is much lighter and more smooth and “fluent”.

        The focusing result however, IMHO, is the same. In both cases I can get critical focus on the subject I want, no stepping involved. Note I mostly checked discrete focus on subjects about 20 to 60 cm’s away, as I figured that focus on subjects further away would be less critical due to the enlarged DOF at those distances (especially with a 12mm lens).

        So, for me, it boils down to the way I setup and handle the camera / lens combo. Currently I don’t have a button dedicated to MF, so the ring pull back feature is a nice extra feature that might come in handy when needed. I certainly wouldn’t describe it as useless. Seeing it implemented on the 17mm f/1.8 (and according to your review in an even better way) is a real bonus.

        I need to get more time on my 45mm f/1.8, to see if I often need MF. Because that would mean a different camera setup… Ah, those endless possibilities…

        • To be honest, one of the things I really liked about the last generation of Olympus lenses and cameras was the focusing speed – whilst instant-override MF is useful, I can’t say that I’ve ever used it in practice – one of the reasons being my sample appears to have the ‘multiple discreet zone’ issue…

  10. Happened to come across your blog and blown away with loads of helpful information. Love the way you explain in-depth details in your reviews. I got into m43 world recently with Pan GX1 (on budget for body).. have only the kit lens and looking for THE lens to start with. My interests (in order) are 1. outdoor portraits, 2. indoor portraits, 3. street shooting. Would you be able to recommend a best suitable lens based on these?
    Thanks!

  11. The 17/1.8 well presented, thanks for the education !

  12. Hi Ming,
    How does the 17/1.8 do on distortion. I’m looking for a wide, low distortion lens to use for panoramas.

  13. I use once in a while the Oly 17/2.8 just to have a small gear. Thus I can put my GX1 and the pancake lens in the pocket of my jacket.
    Anyway, the pictures are outstanding ! And the lens does not do it all ! THank you for sharing your talent !

  14. Great review Ming! Olympus finally manage to create a 35mm FX equiv. lens to match the performance (or if you like is “slightly better”) of the “3 years old” and amazing Panasonic Lumix G 20/1.7 ASPH.
    Beside the slow speed autofocus, the purple fringing (witch can be fixed very easily in ACR) & jugging from what you have write & what I can see from your images, the 20/1.7 has better contrast, better resolution (center & corners), better Bokeh, LoCA and spherochromatism and finally it looks so cute & sexy paired with the black OM-D!
    I don’t belive Olympus has given us enough reasons to upgrade (and to spent 550€) from the 20/1.7 to the ugly looking 17/1.8

  15. and panasonic Leica 25mm ??????????????

  16. Great review. I like the back ally shot. As I commented on Flickr.
    “Great light. I keep looking at it and I find it for some reason “mysterious” and “haunting” making it quite fascinating.”

  17. Dear Ming.

    I have been eagerly awaiting your opinion on this lens as I am considering it as the short end of a two lens kit with the OM-D (the long end being the 45/1.8).
    1) As I highly appreciate your figures of speech: Is it correct to say that the 17/1.8 is a great lens and a worthy addition to the remarkable Oly lineup of 12/2.0, 45/1.8, 60/2.8 and 75/1.8, but not great enough to be introduced into your “Pantheon of great lenses” like the latter two? ;)
    2) Ignoring the FOV difference and pitting the 17/1.8 against the 12/2.0 – which one would YOU pick as the wide end of a two lens kit, purely based on IQ?

    Thanks as always and all the best from Munich.

  18. Dwaine Dibbly says:

    Excellent review. Thanks so much. If “size is critical” is the only good reason to have the 17/2.8, then perhaps a comparison between it & the 15/8 body cap lens is in order. :)

  19. Beautiful photos with comprehensive technical and logical analysis & comparison. As always, your review is the most informative I seen so far. Thank you!

  20. As you note, Olympus is continuing their recent practice of marketing very expensive lens hoods separately from the lenses.
    Luckily, this practice creates an entirely new opening for other companies to produce the same item for less.

    I got a hood for my Oly 45mm from an eBay company for one-third of Oly’s price, and it’s just fine. Same odd bayonet mount, same finish, excellent fit. Same for my Fuji X100.

    One can only hope that the big guy’s are paying attention, and take the hint.

    • That’s not the point so much as the fact that the lens hoods should a) be included at that price and b) be better designed so you an actually get the cap off when the hood is attached rather than have to buy yet another separate cap just for that purpose…

      • Your a) was really my point too, although I sort went of on a tangent. These hoods cost (probably) less than $5 to make in quantity, and really ought to be included.

        I’m also not understanding why some of them need to be so complex, with removable (and losable) trim rings. I remember ancient times when every Nikkor (for instance) came with a light, reliable clip-on lens hood that neatly reversed on the lens. But I’m really old.

        • They still do – it’s a well-designed single piece of plastic that bayonets on, reverses off, and doesn’t move around when in place. I like hoods like this…

      • I take back the (implied) bad thing I said about Fuji.
        Just got a Fuji 35mm f1.4; it includes a nicely made pinch-cap for the lens, a well designed lens hood, AND a rubber cap that goes over the hood.
        Thank you, Fuji.

  21. In the “Silhouette of a Man” photo there is a thin white line all the way around the subject. Looks over-sharpened on my monitor. Was sharpening applied?

    • Yes, it’s fine at the original reduced size but the Flickr host applies more sharpening when resizing to other intermediate sizes. Most of the time this isn’t an issue, but occasionally haloes appear – you can’t win, it seems.

  22. Thanks for the review and comparison images. Here’s my take based on your samples:

    The Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 looks to have the best resolution of fine detail and overall sharpness both in the center and the corner as well as the least lateral CA of the three. It has the most longitudinal CA of the three, however. Also the most macrocontrast.

    Olympus 17/1.8 has the least longitudinal CA of the three but is less sharp and has more lateral CA than the Panasonic.

    • I don’t quite agree. In the full size images I’ve seen – and this is the problem making judgments from websize jpegs – the 17/1.8 has slightly more microcontrast and thus resolving power. However, overall contrast is lower which leads to the ‘less sharp’ impression. Lateral CA performance in the corners is a bit worse. The 20/1.7 however has purple fringing, which the 17/1.8 does not. Both have equally poor longitudinal CA.

      • 100% crops of JPEGs should be essentially the same as viewing at 100% in a RAW processing app for these purposes, as long as the JPEGs are high quality, which yours appear to be. Sure the color gamut is more limited, but that doesn’t substantially affect impressions of resolved detail or CA. I do realize the distinction between resolved detail and the effect of overall contrast.

        The purple fringing here is a form of longitudinal CA (IMO – I never believed in sensor bloom as an explanation for what is explainable on the basis of axial CA), hence my stance that longitudinal fringing is worse with the Panasonic lens. I also noted when processing RAW sample files from the new Olympus lens (provided by M43.eu) that the Oly 17/1.8 is very well corrected for longitudinal CA.

        • You might want to take a closer look at the bokeh crops. I’m seeing plenty of longitudinal CA there and spherochromatism, about the same amount as the 20/1.7.

          Sensor bloom and purple fringing definitely do exist. If you use a legacy, non-telecentric wide on M4/3 you’ll see plenty of such effects in the corners – which you don’t get with longer lenses, simply because there are no odd interference effects from non-parallel rays striking the sensor surface and its microlenses. If this was a type of CA, it would show a red-green or other color shift across the frame; instead it’s always axially symmetric and purple on towards the outside of the frame – precisely as you would expect if the effect is radial and worsening towards the edges of the sensor.

      • “You might want to take a closer look at the bokeh crops.”

        I’ve taken a very close look at the samples you’ve provided and the ones provided on other sites.

        “If this was a type of CA, it would show a red-green or other color shift across the frame”

        That’s what you would see for lateral CA, not longitudinal.

        “instead it’s always axially symmetric and purple on towards the outside of the frame”

        Rather than type something long and unnecessary about how and why I disagree, here’s a link to someone who summed up my impressions of this issue succinctly: http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/post/34365553

      • Just one more point: Each example of purple fringing you’ve shown for high contrast edges by the Lumix 20 also shows green fringing in the same crop. This cannot be explained by sensor bloom – has to be an optical aberration.

    • Mike Ronalds says:

      Yeah, the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 clearly is the best lens of the three. The Olympus 17mm f/1.8 focusses super fast. Pick one.

      • At least with my samples – the Olympus was pretty close to the Panasonic in optical quality, but of course had the focusing advantage. I’d actually say pick based on size rather than optics…

  23. MT, can you explain a bit on what does “ZERO coating helps” mean? Y zero coating?

  24. I won’t even pay attention to a review unless the person can shoot. If you can’t compose a shot how do you have any credibility as a reviewer? Your work is consistently fantastic. You always have a complete understanding of the technical particulars of the gear you review. But most importantly you back it up with the credibility of an excellent image maker. I can’t thank you enough for the time and experience you bring to your reviews. Sincerely Paul Lebel.

  25. nice review but I have to dispute one point. I have had both the 20 and 17/2.8, the 17 focuses faster than the 20 does. I’ve heard many other people say the same thing. The original 1.0 firmware of teh 17 lens was slower but after the oly update it was faster by a noticable amount.

  26. Hello Ming Thein,
    Can you comment if this lens is compared to Panasonic/Leica DG SUMMILUX 25mm f/1.4 ASPH in terms image quality & AF if we put the focal length aside?
    Regards

  27. That is great, a consistent test and tryout, who delivers results by comparison with lenses the public does know.
    You made a really valuable article, in a way that shows competences that are far beyond the technical knowledge, it shows real comprehension of the subject along knowledge of human nature, real teacher skills.
    Now I do have an idea of what the 17mm 1.8 is, and what is its place in the world.
    I do use Nikon and Canon FF cameras at work, micro 4/3 became my playground system at the point I left behind any DSLR in personal use. I do prefer using manual focus, and manual settings in camera, I also shoot a lot of videos, so my use of the camera is a bit out of the standard one. Well, I am making profitable use both 20 and 17 2.8 lenses. The first I like better for the FOV, and as night shooter, I do like and love the 17 2.8 deficiencies for candids, portraits, open flash uses. It do es have an unique taste that carves a little place in my world, despite, I agree with you, I’d never use it for architecture or when I do need clean and crunchy feeling in the picture.
    Another thing. I ‘ve never been a fan of 35mm focal length, just like you. Don’t you feel that 4/3 proportion somehow redesigns focal length perception and feeling? When I was shooting film (Contax) I loved 21, 28, 50 and 100, being 28 or the 45mm tessar my first choices, and hating the “in the middle”. Now I’m still redrawing my preferences.
    All the best, and cheers from Venice, the all-year-flooded city.
    Luca.

    • I think it sounds like the 17/1.8 might replace both lenses for you. Because it has fixed end stops, it’ll also be a lot easier to focus pull for video.

      Yes, 4/3 proportions throw things out – the 12mm doesn’t seem too wide since it nearly has the same horizontal FOV as my usual 28mm on FX; the 17 feels a bit more like a 40, and the 20 like a 50.

      Is Venice still flooded in summer? :)

      • ;-) Venice is “flooded”365 days a year. During wintertime water can rise, in high tides. This year was 140cm over sea average. S.Marco Square is at 85cm. You can go by boat… :-P

        • Whilst that must be extremely unpleasant to live in – I suppose nobody uses their ground floor anymore – it must make for some great photographic opportunities…

  28. Excellent review. Also the only pics I’ve seen so far which do any justice to this lens. I’d be tempted to buy one now whereas I wasn’t previously.

  29. Hi Ming,
    thabnks for the great review but in your fnal words, you forgot to mention the Sigma 19 2.8. From my point of you, it is the best choice for all those who don’t need maximum shallowe DOF, in this focal range. As I see it it – I’m anything but a pro, so it’s just a my personal opinion – it delivers a great IQ, it AFs fast and the price-performance ratio is second to nome. The only low: Equipped with this lens, the cameras need more time to get to working status when switched on.
    Anyway: For me who rather wants more than less DOF when shooting in this focal range, having the chance of saving some 350 Euros to get a lens that is – apart from the 1.5 f-stops advantage of the M.Zuiko – more or less on a par with it represents an attractive offer. Indeed, you are saving €410 if you want a original lens hood for your 17 1.8. And saving mpney is great in these days: After all there’s a fast M.Zuiko tele rumoured to be announced in January – and what about the OBS camera (One Beautiful System) that is supposed to be able to AF my FT lenses at full speed.
    So, I might have purchased a really really outstanding 17 1.8 for €800 or so – a lens such as the 75 1.8.
    But as I’m forced to make compromises anyway, I go for the clearly cheaper compromise that costs me just 1.5 f stops but nothing else. I’ve got good IQ, a fast AF, a lens hood and a lens bag. Thanks, Sigma, for a great lens.

    • Nope, I didn’t forget – I don’t have one, and haven’t used one. It would be therefore meaningless for me to pass judgement on something blind. Sounds like it might be worth investigating, though – even if it does seem to be a bit physically larger than the other lenses.

    • Geoff Howard says:

      A very interesting review with some superb images.

      However as this is a reply toDon Parrots comment I have to add my few observations to his comments. While I will not argue with his comment I must add that having tried the Sigma on my E-P2 I decided it was not good enough for my photography due to what I seen as totally unacceptable levels of Barrel Distortion, I had taken a variety of shots in an arcade where my dealer is located and was bitterly disappointed with the outcome, where the sides of the arcade showed bad distortion even a shot of the windows across the arcade were bad, perhaps it was a bad lens, in which case one has to question Sigmas quality control.

      If you think this is a comment against Sigma I will add the 18-50 2.8 EX DC Macro is the standard lens on my E-1.

      • My experience with Sigma has definitely been one of inconsistent quality control. It’s very possible to get one outstanding sample and one total dog from the same batch of lenses – with very close serial numbers. I also find that somehow they seem to drift out of calibration (no idea how) after time – I had a 30/1.4 some years back that was excellent when new, but eventually developed some strange decentering issues about two years down the line. My last Sigma lens.

      • Mike Ronalds says:

        I compared the Sigma 19mm f/2.8 with the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 once and optically it was no match.

  30. ecellent!

  31. Ming great piece but whats in the Tuna Dish?

Trackbacks

  1. Olympus Ep2 Zd 17mm F28 Kit

    [...] ever as this is a reply toDon Parrots comment I have to add my few observations [...]

  2. […] Reviews can be found on the internet, e.g. by Photozone, Steve Huff, Pekka Potka, Mike Pouliot and Ming Thein. My own conclusion having read them all: it’s a good modern lens, but not a great […]

  3. […] is billed as being at the top end of the lens lineup. Unlike the previous high grade primes (12/2, 17/1.8, 75/1.8, click on the links for my reviews), the 12-40 is ‘triple proof’ – fully […]

  4. […] is billed as being at the top end of the lens lineup. Unlike the previous high grade primes (12/2, 17/1.8, 75/1.8, click on the links for my reviews), the 12-40 is ‘triple proof’ – fully […]

  5. […] Reviews can be found on the internet, e.g. by Photozone, Steve Huff, Pekka Potka, Mike Pouliot and Ming Thein. My own conclusion having read them all: it’s a good modern lens, but not a great […]

  6. […] review really slaughtered the lens’ reputation to a point where Steve Huff and Ming Thein couldn’t save […]

  7. [...] by Robin Wong, a positive but not completely enthusiastic review by Pekka Potka, a similar one by Ming Thein, and finally the absolutely condemning conclusion drawn by Lenstip.com. That last one nailed the [...]

  8. [...] Comparative lens review: The Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 17/1.8 … _Z copy. Advance note: Images in this review were shot with an Olympus OM-D and the ZD 17/1.8 unless marked otherwise. Please go by the commentary rather than the reduced crops; I am looking at uncompressed . [...]

  9. [...] Thein did a comparative lens review of the Olympus 17/1.8, 17/2.8 and Panasonic 20/1.7 here. My advice is to read this carefully. Again, the new 17 is praised for its absence of color [...]

  10. [...] Pancake (bei Amazon und eBay) wo der Hammer hängt und liefert sich im Review von Ming Thein auf blog.mingthein.com ein heißes Duell mit dem LUMIX G 20 mm / F1.7 ASPH. (bei Amazon und [...]

  11. [...] Advance note: Images in this review were shot with an Olympus OM-D and the ZD 17/1.8 unless marked otherwise. Please go by the commentary rather than the reduced crops; I am looking at uncompressed RAW files on a …  [...]

  12. [...] Added 11/16 – Ming Thein – A comparative review – very good [...]

  13. [...] Comparative lens review: The Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 17/1.8 – Ming Thein | Photographer [...]

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