Olympus’ 17mm F/1.2 Pro. The third in the ultra fast prime series is one I was looking forward to. The 17mm 1.8 prime was never my favorite. It was decent…but not spectacular. Nor even extremely good. I have a thing for this focal length. I have always been very fond of a good semi-wide to normal view lens. The Canon 35L, Leica 35mm Summicron, Voigtlander 35mm Color Scopar and Nocton, The Fuji X100, etc… On every system I always have a lens of this style. The 17 F/1.8 always left me wanting. Now Olympus has the 17 F/1.2 Pro. This is the lens I was waiting for. Would it be Olympus’ summicron? That’s what I was hoping for.
This is going to be more of me sharing my experience with this lens than a real “review.” I unfortunately only had the lens for a limited amount of time. Much less than I would have liked. And it rained almost the whole time. Same with the images. It never made it to the client work I wanted to try it on. So I really spent time around town with it using it the way I would other street style lenses I like. Still…I’ve shot long enough with enough lenses to know when something works for me or doesn’t. Something to keep in mind as you read.
So as usual Pro Olympus build…metal, lens button, manual clutch, and SOLID. Lots of glass elements. Same size roughly as the 25 and 45 Pro, or the 12-40 Pro. Here it is in comparison to the 17 1.8.
Major different when you seen them from the glass side! The 1.8 could easily fit in the 1.2. The 1.2 takes 62mm filters which is nice since that is shared with the 12-40 pro. This lens also weighs a lot more than the 1.8. To be expected I guess.
As I found with the 45mm Pro…the 17 Pro has a wonderful focus ring. When the clutch is used for manual focus, it has a wonderful throw, feels accurate, and is ultra smooth. Manual focusing is excellent. Aside from quality…which we will get to… I was truly hoping for a lens that was about half this size. A great compact street style lens like the summicron. Then again, that is a manual focus lens. One could hope right? I know I was dreaming. So let’s compare to something a little different. The Fuji X100. This lens is LARGER than an X100 in every way. Actually, it is easier to carry an X100 as a backup even, or as your fast street lens and then gain a backup camera as a result. The Olympus outperforms it in every way however. I know this is not a comparison most would make. However, in my bag, this is a decision I consider for this focal length.
Moving on… lets actually talk about the 17mm Pro on its own though. This must be one of Olympus’ finest lenses. It really feels great in use. Super fast focus, quiet, and image quality wide open is excellent. This is not the lens I would buy to stop down. And it doesn’t disappoint. One of the key areas that I look for in a lens like this is close focus. Olympus nailed it, and it honestly performs better than any other lens like this i’ve used.
What is in focus is actually nicely sharp. Most of the softness you see is bokeh and transition. Depth of field at this distance is barely anything. Look under the cone on the pavement and you can see just how shallow that area is. You will absolutely need to magnify your view in order to nail minimum focus distance. Just hand motion will set you off. Look at those first two shots in the series, it looks as if you applied a blur filter in photoshop… and that is only from a foot or two away. That is out of camera. Do you need more that that! Talk about bokeh! And on shiny pavement that has so many spots this could have been a nightmare if it had busy blur. Nothing… it just melts. No fussiness, no shapes…just gone. Wow.
If you get back a little further. The 3 – 10 foot range, at F/1.2 gives you amazing 3D pop between sharpness and out of focus transition. For being a semi-wide, and this shot includes so much of the scene, non of it is distracting. The sharp area really keeps you focused. I think this is some of the best rendering i’ve seen in a lens of this style.
So what else do lenses like this suffer from? Usually chromatic aberration. I have to say, I was impressed. Overall, aberrations are minimal if any. I only got a little with strong light sources in frame wide open. Take a look at this next scene. The crops are from just above center.
Notice the worklights in the 1.2 shot have a little purple around them. Overall though…not bad and easily removed with a single click on lightroom. Other high contrast areas, in other images too, exhibited nothing more than this if any. Once you stopped down, it disappeared as well. I don’t remember at what aperture it disappears, but it was quite soon.
Second item to pay attention to in this shot is detail. Notice that the F/7.1 shot, yes, is sharper…but 1.2 is not giving up much at all in resolving. At F/2 or F/2.8 this lens is insanely sharp. Wide open you still have an excellent, considerably sharp lens. I wouldn’t hesitate using it wide open at all. It does gain a little stopping down though.
Let’s look at a few more images. The rendering of this lens… it just draws so nicely. All of these are at F/1.2 unless I notate otherwise.
I love this shot of the keys. Between the depth of field and the toning, it gives a nice cinematic look.
And of course, we couldn’t look at a lens like this without a bunch of black and white could we?
This is a multi-purpose focal length…a do anything kind of lens. This lens focuses close enough for unique views, close enough for portraits, is wide enough for story telling shots, and just does everything well while offering amazing light gathering. I am biased towards lenses like this. The only fault I honestly see is the size. I really wish it were half the size. Or even just shorter. This is the lens I want to carry with me everywhere. It is my desert island lens. I personally could live with just this one lens. Except I can’t. It’s too large for what I want a lens like this for. I want this lens to be a companion. This lens is more of a commitment. Especially with the lens hood…it’s definitely not small. You will also absolutely need to get into electronic shutter, or use a neutral density filter if you expect to shoot wide open in the middle of the day. F/1.2 brings home a lot of light. The way this lens draws however is really beautiful. It’s a lens that makes you want to tell stories. This is the look I want to document my life with. I still haven’t decided if carrying it around is worth it over the F/1.8 though. Or an X100 for that matter. (though…I still have a bayer x100 from 100 years ago… X-trans and I don’t get along) The 17mm Pro blows it’s alternatives away. And that is where I am stuck. What a great lens though.