Olympus 17mm F/1.2 Pro Lens experience

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.

Lens hood on
Lens hood off

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.

Lens hood is included and has a button for release.
Great manual focus ring

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.

X100 Comparison
Side by side

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.

Close focus
even closer
It keeps going!
Minimum focus distance

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.

3D pop

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.

Wide scene

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.


15 responses on "Olympus 17mm F/1.2 Pro Lens experience"

  1. Thank you for the information and opinion. I’m trying to make a decision: the 17mm f/1.2 Pro or the 7-14mm f/2,8 Pro. Probably won’t afford both. I mostly shoot outdoors and the faster lens may not be necessary, but I love the potential for shallow field of focus. On the other han, the versatility of the slower lens has a big attraction.

    Every time I read about one of them I make up my mind until I read again about the other. Any advice or thoughts of rationale?

    • Those are two VERY different lenses. If you read my experience with the 7-14, those are still my sentiments. Basically the 7-14 is the 12-40…but wider. In fact, it is the best wide angle in M43 hands down. It is also one of the better wide angles of those focal lengths i’ve used period. The sides don’t smear much at all, and they retain sharpness when stopped down very nicely. 7mm is frankly extreme. If you enjoy this focal range, there is no better lens. You can even use filters via a special adapter…and large filters.

      I know there has been a trend to go wider and wider lately…and it’s not a trend for me, that’s for sure. In fact, I prefer NOT to go wider than 12mm or a (24mm equivalent) except in very rare circumstances where the shot really calls for it. I just don’t see like that. I prefer to shoot panoramic if I need wide. On the other hand 17mm is my happy place. I love that focal length…but I almost never shoot it for work. I shoot it for me. It is how I “see” the world. It is the lens I use when I want to shoot just for me. I like shooting close up, I like wide landscapes, even portraits at that focal length. And I love it wide open or stopped down. I feel it is just the right size window for the world. Especially on a 4:3 sensor because we have extra height. I think the best lens combo is a fast 17mm and the 45mm. Two bodies, two lenses…no need for anything else. I used to travel like that and was served very well by the simplicity. So I am partial towards the 17.

      If you must pick only one of those… pick the one that you will honestly UTILIZE most. If you truly shoot at very wide all the time, and you love that… go with the zoom and pick up a cheap 17 or 16mm lens to play with on the side.

      If you are like me and rarely shoot ultra wide…go with the 17…and then pick up a laowa or other similar cheap wide prime to explore with for fun. That might be enough if it is just exploration.

      I bought the 8-18mm panasonic over the 7-14 simply so I could use regular sized filters. I needed the 8mm end for interiors with a polarizer. It was purely a business buy and I have never taken that lens with me outside of a job since. I just don’t really think that wide. However…there is never NOT a 17mm equivalent lens in my bag. That’s me.

      I have always justified any lens purchase based on use pretty much. My other way to justify a lens purchase is this. Rent it. And if you cannot bear to send it back after a week…you found your lens. I rent all the time and generally have no problem sending gear back. The gear that I just can’t bear to part with…that is what ends up getting bought.

      It is too easy to buy on potential. Potential is always just potential…but sometimes never manifests. That’s where “fun” lenses are nice. I just bought a fujian 25mm 1.4 CCTV lens because I wanted a fast normal lens with crazy bokeh swirls and imperfection. I just didn’t want to actually spend money on a lens I would never use. It was like $15 online. I get to play around with it, it has potential for video on occasion…but satisfies the need knowing I won’t be using it much. I spend the big money not on potential, but on my shoot everything with it lens. Otherwise you end up with a closet of really great stuff…that you just to grab for. I have two SX-70s, a 500C/M, a Yashica 6×6, and more… because I LOVE shooting medium format slides and polaroid. I never do. Those were potential based purchases.

      I hope this helps a little instead of adding confusion even further!

  2. Thanks for that thoughtful (and time-consuming) response. It helps a lot. I’m kind thinking the same way. I’m not a pro and not trying to be, so the option of getting the Pro 17 and a cheaper wide zoom makes sense. Thanks a million.

    • No problem. The 17 pro is a pleasure to use. It really is. And if you love isolating subjects and really getting that 3D look, it does it. I realized my review page was missing a link. I reviewed the Laowa a while back. And they just announced a 9mm prime for MFT. The 7.5 was good…not my favorite due to flare…but the 9mm should be well better.

      Here is the link to the review.

  3. Without a doubt the 17mm f1.2 is one of my favorites to use on the Luminary Ceremony at a Relay for Life event. Here’s the link to one example.


    • F/1.2 is quite a lot of light gathering… It is amazing what fast lenses like this can actually do in dark environments. Especially wide lenses that have more inherent depth of field. I’m actually rather looking forward to a potential 12mm F/1.2.

  4. Mine will be here by the end of tomorrow. Anxious to give it a spin. Film at eleven.

  5. Hello Tony. Thanks for your opinión. But, can yor tell me where the lens is made..? Japan, I suposse… Regards from Sapin. NANO.

    • Thanks Randy! So there we have it. Vietnam it looks like! In fact…I a recent interview talked about Olympus moving camera production there too. I just checked, my Em1X is Vietnam as well.

  6. please compare this lens with 16mm F1.4 DC, very interesting glass, and just too absolutely working with 1.4. The difference in price does not cover the difference in quality. IMHO

    • I need to rent the 16mm. I definitely like the Lens Fn button and the manual focus clutch. I do use those a lot. However, the sigma seems like a great lens, and they have had a string of real winners lately with the art series.

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