The Olympus 17mm F/1.8 lens is an interesting lens. I’ve held off reviewing this for a while. There are so many reviews online…but i’ve really wanted to get to know the lens. It gives a traditional field of view of “35mm” in terms of a “full frame” sensor. Actually it is pretty much a 50mm field of view when comparing to medium format since the 4:3 ratio is the same versus the 3:2 of 35mm cameras. It seems there is a major divide among people. Many people LOVE a 50mm equivalent view, while others love the 35mm. I juggle between both…but ultimately am a 35mm person. I can live with just one 35mm lens and need nothing more. There is a lot of stiff competition out there among good 35mm lenses. The Leica 35mm summicron and summilux, Canon’s 35L, Sigma 35 Art, Zeiss 35mm, Fuji 24mm, Fuji X100, Sony RX1, etc… These lenses are often small and compact but pack a huge punch in terms of look and quality. Slightly wide…but still not too wide. Zoom with the feet to get tight…but never too tight. I love this focal length.
So Olympus’ answer to the fast 35 is the 17mm F/1.8. You can read specs online, but it’s basically a small light weight lens with a manual focus clutch and nice feeling construction. You can see it here next to the 12-40 Pro lens. Even with the hood on, the lens is tiny in comparison. Not quite pocketable with the larger cameras…but close. On an E-Pl, it may just fit in a larger coat pocket, especially without the hood.
You can see in this next shot the manual focus clutch. You pull the focus ring towards you to reveal hard stops. You can manually focus like a classic lens. It is still focus-by-wire though. That being said…you can actually focus CLOSER by manually focusing without the hard stops engaged. You gain a few inches. (6.5″ MFD) The close focus is quite good for a lens of this nature. This allows for tighter portraits to be made, or to fill the frame with smaller objects without switching lenses. I love it. I especially like portraits with this focal length. You get a little distortion close up…but its ok. You can choose between tight or wide with only changes in your distance. No wonder this became a classic street focal length!
Overall I like this lens. I don’t LOVE it. In fact, often I find myself taking a classic X100 in my bag instead of this lens. I get the same focal length, the weight is only slightly more, and I get a backup camera should anything happen to my main setup. And the two are very similar in quality. Nod goes to the X100 lens. Then again, the sensor and lens are designed for each other. Anyways, back to this lens. This is not the sharpest lens. What is strange is that at normal viewing…it looks excellent! It looks more than sharp enough. If pixel peeping…you can see it is not the sharpest M43 lens. It’s not bad…but it is a shade behind the 45 and 25mm Oly lenses. Then again, for the price you pay, it is a great lens. It focuses very fast on the Olympus cameras. In fact, its one of the faster focusing lenses i’ve seen. This lens really plays nice with contrast adjustments. You can make soft pastel looks, or hard contrast B&W easily. The lenses never overly forces it’s look in one direction. Bokeh is pleasant, and specially wide open and up close.
This is the lens I often grab for family gatherings, or just going out for fun and I don’t want a large camera setup. I can shoot landscape with it, I can shoot nature close ups, I can shoot street scenes, I can make shoulder up headshots, etc… I can do it all. Leaving the lens wide open works just fine too. Quality stopped down remains even and constant. You pick a little sharpness by F/2.8, but honestly you don’t really need to. Its just fine wide open.
In this next photo, take notice of the the signpost. Near the base of the sign, just above the grass, there is a Bee hovering. In the original photo, you can actually zoom in and make out the bee in pretty good detail. I was amazed. This sign was only about a foot high.
In conclusion, I really do like this lens. Am I hoping for an F/1.0 or F/1.2 Pro version of the 17mm focal length with much more bite… YES. If that would be revealed, I would order it in a heartbeat. If not, this lens fills the focal length just fine. If you are split between the 25mm and 17mm focal length…you may be happier with the 25mm. If 25mm is too tight for you…go with this lens. I tried the Panasonic 20mm hoping for a good middle ground and I thought something was wrong with my camera. Focus was lethargic in comparison. I could NOT live with focus that slow. This lens focuses instantly. I do LOVE the colors I get with this lens. I love how close I can focus. Focus ring could be tighter, but it’s got a decent feel for focus-by-wire. The lens feels solid. Filters are cheap due to the 46mm size. If the focal length is your thing, this is a great grab-and-go lens. If you are after the most extreme quality in terms of definition and sharpness…the 12-40 Pro at 17mm is the better lens. Refer back to the size comparison at the top to be reminded what that trade off means though.
I would give this lens a shot if I were you. You may just love it.
If you do decide to pick one up, you always order from Amazon.