Dec 212012

I promised that, as part of my review of the Olympus 17/1.8, I would look into how this lens fares in bright sunlight, especially with the sun in or very close to the frame.

Thursday was perfect for that. We had a clear blue sky, bright sunlight and frost all over the landscape. It was brutal to the eye, it was a worst case for the lens. And here is how it fared.

The first four test images all have the sun in the frame. All four images are JPEGs straight from the camera. Like all test images, they also link to full size versions hosted at Flickr.

In the first three images, if you look closely, you can see a tiny colored speck, a flare, basically the image of the sun reflected on the sensor and then back from one of the glass surfaces in the lens. The fourth image seems free of any flares, or at least I can’t see any.

This is good. Very good. In fact it is one of the best results that I have seen so far. I am impressed. This lens’ anti-reflective coating obviously works.

The second thing that I wanted to know was, whether the lens would show purple fringing under extreme conditions. Actually the 20/1.7 showed excessive purple fringing and it did so regularly. My first tests in Vienna had hinted at much better behavior here, but I couldn’t be sure until I had extreme contrast on a sunny day.

Images #1 and #2 in this group are JPEGs straight out of the camera, #3 is what I made of the RAW version of #2 in Lightroom. #1 is the exposure chosen by the camera, #2 is a strongly overexposed variant.

In #3 you see that Lightroom got rid of lateral CA (automatically on import) and that I was also able to eliminate the remaining mild purple fringing. Additionally I’ve recovered the highlights. This expresses me even more. This is irrelevant as an image, but technically it fills me with awe.

The last two examples show bokeh at f1.8 and at f4. This is not the creamiest blur you can get, it gets much creamier when you get nearer to the shortest focus distance, but in many cases bokeh is not your foremost concern. Your subject is, but with a given subject you nevertheless want bokeh as good as it gets. Note also please, that twigs in winter are pretty much a worst case scenario. If anything will relentlessly expose bad bokeh, this certainly will.

This is really not an example of how good bokeh on this lens can get, rather it is an example of the worst you have to fear. And as such, this is also very good.

Well, here we are at my conclusion: The new Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8 lens is a wonderfully crafted lens, every bit as beautiful as the 12/2.0, and although it may be slightly (if at all) less sharp than the Panasonic 25/1.4 or even the Panasonic 20/1.7, it behaves marvelously. It focuses instantly and precisely, it has only mild lateral CA (which can be corrected losslessly), normal vignetting for a fast prime, is remarkably resistant to flares and exposes almost no purple fringing. It is a completely reliable lens with no bad surprises. I had the 20/1.7, now I have this one and I would decide just the same again.

The Song of the Day is “Frosty Morning Blues” by Betty Smith. Hear it on YouTube (beginning at 19:35).

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