Tag Archives: Olympus 17/1.8 Review

2256 – Frosty Morning Blues I

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).

2254 – Use Me

In the last post I have shown some test shots taken with the new Olympus 17/1.8, and I found its performance definitely acceptable, taken for itself and also compared to its competitors.

I have also mused about why I think that public perception sees this lens in an undeservedly unfavorable light. What I didn’t do was showing any proper pictures taken with that lens.

Here are four of them, three taken on Monday evening, the Image of the Day on Tuesday night.

Ever since I sold the 20/1.4, I somehow missed a lens in that focal range. I bought the Panasonic 25/1.4 because everybody raves about it, and while I love its performance, I sometimes want something wider.

The 17/1.8 is equivalent to 34 mm on full frame. 35 mm is one of the classic focal lengths for street photography, 50 mm is the other, 24 and 28 are frequently too wide, 85 mm and longer may also appeal to some photographers. It’s hard to argue though, that 34 mm is within the core range that most photographers find comfortable for street use.

To me this lens fits like a glove. It is unobtrusive, it makes fine images, it is fast, and otherwise it just works. You put it on your camera and you forget about it. It’s a tool, and as such it is a fine one.

Some people think this lens is too expensive, especially compared to the Panasonic 20/1.7. Is it?

I don’t think so. Its build is much better, its autofocus performance is better, and while the 20/1.7 may be slightly sharper, I always had a problem with purple fringing. Of course this is an especially grave fault for me, because I really like to shoot into the light, but I guess it should be a consideration for everyone. Purple fringing on the 20/1.7 can be excessive, five, seven pixels wide, and when it occurs, it relentlessly eats into high-contrast edges. You can ease the pain by selectively desaturating, but you can’t properly correct it.

If I have to choose between the two, I rather take the Olympus. It is more reliable, it gives me less surprises. I use it and I don’t have to double-check. I always get what I expected.

Of course this is no final judgment. I have yet to see how the lens performs with the sun in or near the frame, if it ghosts or flares. Obviously this is important to me. So far I am satisfied though.

The Song of the Day is “Use Me“, a collaboration of Mick Jagger and Lenny Kravitz on Jagger’s 1993 solo album “Wandering Spirit”. Hear it on YouTube.

2253 – Puttin’ On The Dog

It’s interesting, sometimes a new product appears and for some reason everybody believes it is a dog. This is exactly what happened to the new Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8.

There was one inital and very favorable review 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 coffin, now it’s a dog.

Is it?

I’ve had the lens since Monday evening and all this talk about not enough sharpness made me take some test images.

The first was taken near the shop where I bought it. On the left side you see the JPEG straight out of the camera, on the right side a quick conversion in Lightroom. The thumbnails link to full sizes on Flickr.

This is f1.8, ISO 400 and 1/40s. The building is huge, thus although the focus point is far away, at f1.8 we are still not hyperfocal.

An aspect ratio of 4:3 is pretty unusual for me, but I really wanted an uncropped image to show you true corner performance. The result does not look in any way bad to me, but let’s have a look at a better example.

In this image I tried to shoot straight at the ceiling. This is a normal height office room, therefore DOF at f1.8 is very shallow. Lighting is uneven and in Lightroom I have tried to compensate for that and for lens vignetting. This and the fact that I didn’t expose to the right raises noise, and you can also see that I didn’t manage to hold the camera perfectly parallel to the ceiling. On the left side there is a slight magenta halo around the edges, in the right upper corner it is green, only somewhere in between it is exactly in focus.

Does this look wrong? Actually I don’t see a sharpness problem here. I know this is unscientific, I know this is not precise, but what I see is some sloppy technique, bad exposure, mild longitudinal CA, considerable vignetting and only good corner performance wide open. Technique and exposure are my fault, longitudinal CA is a weakness of all fast primes (with the exception of some obscenely expensive Leica lenses), and this leaves vignetting and corner performance.

The much praised Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25/1.4 (mind you, praised by me as well!) also vignettes to a comparable degree, and actually I find the corner performance of this lens not bad at all. It’s not perfect though, but stopping down only a bit increases performance. As a worst case, I really can live with that.

In my opinion the real problem of this lens is not what it is, it is what it not is.

What this lens is not, is the kind of wonder that people seem to have expected: a 34mm lens on par with a 35mm Summilux on a Leica M. Sorry, it’s not. Of course the Leica is seven times more expensive and of course there is only a weak relation between lens performance and lens price. To those who want to focus manually on an outdated body design, using one of the best lenses in the market, well, it may be worth seven times more than the 17/1.8. Heck, they may even think it’s 20x as worthy and they may consider it a bargain. It is all relative.

Compared to its more likely competitors, the 17/1.8 fares well. It is faster than the Sigma 19/2.8 (which I never had) and it is an obvious upgrade to the old Olympus 17/2.8 pancake (which I’ve used a year ago on the E-P2). Its build is much ahead of both and obviously so is its price.

More difficult is the Panasonic 20/1.7. The Olympus focuses much faster and more silently than the 20/1.7, it is sharp, maybe not as sharp, but that’s hard to tell. I’ve sold my 20/1.7, thus I can’t compare. Overall the performance of the 17/1.8 is more even than that of the 20/1.7. For instance the 20/1.7 has a strong tendency to show excessive purple fringing. I don’t speak of CA here. CA can easily be corrected, purple fringing can not. The 17/1.8 is not completely free of purple fringing, but what I see is only mild, even under extreme conditions. I have no good example to show you, but I have tried, found it OK, and this also coincides with all the other reviews.

The Voigtländer 17.5/0.95 is a clear case. It’s twice as expensive, 4.5 times as heavy, bigger, manual focus only, much faster but with bad corners wide open and heavy CA and edge glow. If you need one you already know it, if you want one, you should consider its substantial drawbacks.

Compared to the 25/1.4 the 17/1.8 is lighter. Both are well built, personally I prefer the look and feel of the Olympus, but essentially it’s a draw. Of course the Panaleica has more bokeh, but that is due to it being slightly faster and due to the longer focal length. Sharpness? Again, both are sharp, I suspect that both are sharp enough to outresolve the OM-D’s sensor. Maybe the 25/1.4 more so, but that is speculation. We will know for sure in three years, with the next iteration of the sensor.

If all that is so, why the bad rap? Really, the 17/1.8 does not suffer from any of its few mild faults, it suffers from the fact that the 75/1.8 came as a sensation into a vacuum and that the 17/1.8 is only an excellent competitor in a crowded market.

Part of this post was taken from one of my comments in a Flickr group. The image of the “dog” was made Monday morning using the 25/1.4. Proper images taken with the 17/1.8 will follow in the next post.

The Song of the Day is “Puttin’ On The Dog” from Tom Waits’ 2006 album “Orphans”. Hear it on YouTube.