Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8

I think it was Homer Simpson who said: "35mm is a way of life, 35mm is my way of life, and I aim to keep it." Maybe he just didn´t mention explicitly 35mm? D´oh, anyway, I do mention and I mean it. 35mm lens is my way of life. 35mm lens lends my way of seeing the world to my images. Now 17mm is the new 35mm as I shoot with Olympus OM-D.  Cameras may change but 35mm way of photography was the same for me in the -70´s:


In the -80´s:

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In the -90´s:

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In the 2000´s:

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And last Saturday night:

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The last one of these images is shot with the new Olympus 17mm f/1.8 lens. I think I have never been waiting for any lens to arrive so much and for so long. For over three years, ever since I started using PEN E-P1. The original 17mm f/2.8 pancake introduced with PEN series was not good enough for me. I sold it quickly away. Luckily the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 lens came soon afterwards and it has been my 35mm substitute ever since. The other substitute has been the 12-60mm f/2.8-4 zoom from Olympus FT series. The latter lens is by far better than Lumix by image quality, but at 17mm its speed is only f/3.1, focusing is very slow and it´s too big and heavy to be carried around always and everywhere. So the Lumix 20mm has been my most used lens with the next used (12-60mm) seeing only a little over half as many exposures. I have never liked my Lumix too much because its field of view is a bit too narrow for my taste, its corners have too soft contrast relative to the excellent center and it shows huge fringing against the light. I have learned to use it but hate it every time I prepare images for bigger prints. Too much work just correcting contrast differences and fringing. Note: Everything I write in this blog is in the context of shooting RAW with Olympus OM-D (or new PENs) and tweaking files in Adobe Lightroom 4. 

Is this lens IT?

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Here´s a typical scene where Lumix 20mm runs into troubles with fringing. The new 17mm lens on the left shows practically no fringing, only slight longitudinal chromatic aberration is seen after Lightroom´s CA correction is on for both lenses. From the point of correcting fringing, this scene would be easy. A million branches and leaves of trees is different because fringing can usually be corrected only partially with Lightroom´s Defringe tool. As you can see the Lumix lens has a different kind of rendition than Olympus. Edges are "edgier" but at the same time the railings are more eaten by light. Aperture is here at f/2.8.

Vertailu f28.jpg

This comparison (of 100% crops) has Olympus 17mm in top row, left: center, right: corner. Bottom row is Lumix 20mm, left: center, right: corner. Aperture is again at f/2.8. Corner crop is from where the corner focusing point is situated. Neither lens shows de-centering and both have practically perfect automatic (software/Lightroom) distortion correction. Lumix shows slight slanting of rectangles in spite of it in the corners. The main difference here is that the center of frame is noticeably better in Lumix. Corners are similar for any practical need. Actually even there Lumix shows more resolution but has also weaker (micro) contrast.

None of these differences would  be noticeable in an A3 print. On a 1920x1080 screen looking at maximum size (fit) image, this is what really is seen:

Vertailu f28_HD.jpg

No difference at all... While pixel peeping, you must always think about what you actually need and will use.

I wrote earlier about the difficulties with marked center-to-corner difference. In fact, what we see above in 100% crops is slightly favoring Lumix because it keeps worsening to the absolute corners while Olympus is more even across the frame. Those crops above have the same sharpening/noise reduction in Lightroom. Lumix is so sharp in the middle that any more sharpening risks halos. Olympus could tolerate some more sharpening and/or clarity (which above is at 0).

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Here I added a small amount of USM sharpening (90/0,5/0) to the Olympus row. Lumix has still more resolution both in the center and corner because no sharpening can introduce anything which isn´t there in the first place. But still, already now both Olympus frames look sharper... Sharpness is a strange thing, it is not just about resolution but very much about (micro) contrast. In that category Olympus is better, and because its image quality is so even across the frame it is easier to work with. Now, with local adjustment brushing Lumix corners could again be raised to the same (or higher) level. I have done this so many times... doable yes, it only means more work. If you look at my images, it is so obvious why I want sharpness across the whole image. Some of you shoot differently and are happier with other kind of rendition. Well, the IT question seems to be unanswered still!

How about other apertures?  

Aperture f/2.8 is very illustrative because it shows the trend which goes throughout all apertures from wide open up to f/8 which was the smallest I tested. Both lenses reach their top by f/4 and become clearly diffraction limited by f/8. Olympus 17mm is as good as it gets already by f/2.5 in the center. All in all these lenses are quite close to each other and already small "mistakes" in comparison can turn the tables like my little sharpening example above shows.

Oh no, here it comes again!

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So, what is this then? This is what IT should have looked like, at least. Left: center, right: corner. These crops are shot with Zuiko D. 12-60mm f/2.8-4 zoom lens at 17mm and wide open, i.e. f/3.1.  That´s why I did not bother to show any more comparisons between those two primes. Neither of them gets nearly this good at any aperture nor with any fancy sharpening. This is why I will keep on using this zoom and hoping that some day Olympus will learn to make THE REAL 17mm prime lens. Still, I will buy this new 17mm lens because, after all, it is a step forward in my use for reasons illustrated. 

No camera porn?

No, no product shots this time. Go to any Olympus web site.  

M. Zuiko 17mm lens is a nice lens to use. Small and well made. Autofocusing is lightning fast and silent. It is a joy to walk with; walk to the spot where you by experience know you get the right angle, raise the camera, shoot, walk on... Fast, unobtrusive. It also has the same, very practical pull-push focusing ring as M. Zuiko 12mm lens. And it also comes in the same champagne silvery finish, sadly with no hood, of course. You should always use lens hood for the sake of (micro) contrast. The starting price is 499 €, which, I may say, told me already before I tried this lens where it sits optically. Price and quality goes hand in hand. If you feel this is expensive, you will also find this lens being very good. For me the goodness starts to be seen from size A2. Speaking of drawing conclusions, actually I already said good bye to my highest hopes a few months ago when I first saw the prototype of this lens with its small front element. It shouts out so loudly: Hey mister photographer, I am heavily software corrected! Have a nice day!