At some point I’ll have the time to throw together a full on M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 review, but for now here is my mini-review (also Disney vacation photography blog to come).
To start with, this is a very worthy successor to the M.Zuiko 17mm f/2.8. It focuses faster (my fastest focusing lens), is quieter, 1 1/3rd stops faster, Bokeh quality on roughly the same level (and a lot easier to get out of focus parts of the image), CA is improved some and resolution is a bit better (though, honestly not a huge amount better). It is also still a fairly small lens and the pull back ring for manual focus can be useful from time to time. A lot easier to toggle manual focus than hitting a button first (really, it is).
Olympus 17mm f/1.8: f/2, 1/40s, ISO400
The lens also seems to handhold a bit better at really slow shutter speeds. I have a number of 1/3-1/4s shots that turned out nice and sharp with the 17mm f/1.8 (though it is a bit hit and miss) and with the 17 2.8, anything slower than 1/5s was as rare as hens teeth for sharpness. I think some of it is just how to hold the camera as the slightly larger lens gives a better grip than the pancake does.
Olympus 17mm f/1.8: f/2.5, 1/100s, ISO1600
There is a fair amount of vignetting wide open. At a guess in the range of 1.5 stops, but this mostly disappears with just a little stopping down. It’s noticably reduced at just f/2 and by f/2.8 it is mostly gone. Ghosting and veiling is reasonably well controlled and lens flare is very minimal.
Olympus 17mm f/1.8: f/13, 1/800s, ISO200
Lens resolution is a bit more disappointing than what I had hoped. I knew it was no stand out star, but I guess I am just spoiled by so many other amazing lenses, like the 12/2, 25/1.4, 45/1.8 and 60/2.8 (especially the 60/2.8). Most of my other lenses you can see some mild improvement stopping down one stop and then very slight improvement stopping down one more stop (exception, the 25/1.4 that sees modest center and corner improvement at f/2, a fairly large jump in corner resolution at f/2.8 and a little more at f/4, but the center is already at max at f/2.8, but even at f/1.4 it is very good).
Olympus 17mm f/1.8: f/2.2, 1/1600s, ISO200
The 17mm f/1.8 has what I would consider very good center resolution wide open, but only okay corner resolution. It continues improving center and corner until at least f/4.5 or f/5 where it hits its maximum resolution. At that point it would have what I consider excellent center resolution and good corner resolution (never really hits very good corner resolution, there appears to be a fair amount of aspherical aberration going on). It is all arbitrary, but if I had to do a 1 to 10 scale, comparing it to the old 17/2.8, the 17/2.8 wide open was maybe a 7.5 in the center and a 5.5 in the corners and at f/5.6 it was maybe an 8 in the center and a 6 in the corners. The 17/1.8 wide open is maybe a 7.5 in the center and a 5.5 in the corners, at f/2.8 it is maybe an 8 in the center and a 6.2 in the corners and at f/5.6 it is maybe an 8.5 in the center and a 7 in the corners. As good or slightly better than the 17/2.8 at the same apertures, but never excellent. I’d consider the 12/2 a 9 in the center and an 7.5 in the corners wide open and a 9.5 in the center and an 8.5 in the corners at f/4 (the 60/2.8 I’d consider a 9.5 and a 9 center and corners wide open and a 10 and a 9.5 respectively at f/4)*.
It can easily produce an 11×14 and look nice and crisp in a print, even in the extreme corners, if stopped down even a little. There is slight softness in the corners noticeable wide open. If you got nose grease on the prints you’d probably notice even stopped down a little, but from lap distance you’ll never notice a difference. Perfectly acceptable to me and still at least a bit better than the 17/2.8 (but oh, for the resolution of the 12/2 in a 17mm lens…and don’t talk to me of the PL15mm f/1.7. Maybe some day, but its a little wider than I’d really like and it still costs an appreciable amount more).
Olympus 17mm f/1.8: f/2, 1/60s, ISO1600
The focal length is nice and handy for environmental portraiture and the aperture is wide enough to get some nice blur, especially if you get a bit close to your subject. Of course if you get close enough you’ll get some pretty nasty perspective distortion, but it is still perfectly usable as a portrait lens, which something wider is really hard to do, unless you are only using it for full body portraits or larger (with 17mm you can still do half length portraits and mostly be okay). It also tends to be a great walk about lens. Sometimes something longer or wider is good, but a combination of mostly wanting to shot my family at Disney, wanting to keep lenses changes down and go lighter (I’ll discuss that in my Disney piece. I’ve got a lot more pictures I need/want to pull from for that blog) and 17mm just generally working pretty well, the 17mm f/1.8 was used for something like 60% of my pictures at Disney (if you cut out the ones I did at Animal Kingdom where the 60/2.8 was nearly glued to my E-M5, it is closer to 80%). At least pre-17/1.8 my PL25/1.4 was used for probably 60-70% of my photography, but with the increase quality of the 17/1.8 over the 17/2.8, the shallower depth of field, faster focus and extra light gathering, I am thinking that the PL25/1.4 is probably going to get pushed closer to half of my photography. Maybe even less! GASP!
It doesn’t mean I don’t adore the 25/1.4. I really, really do. Heck, I like the lens better than my 17/1.8 for a variety of reasons (FoV, resolution, Bokeh, CA, etc., but not everything is done with a 50mm equivalent field of view and the 17mm does make a better one lens walk-about kit).
Olympus 17mm f/1.8: f/2.8, 1/320s, ISO3200
Some of the few other notes I have on the 17mm f/1.8 is that the CA is improved over the 17mm f/2.8. It is still apparent in some cases, but better. Also that focusing. Oh that focusing. So fast, so utterly silent so generally accurate. One note I do have as some other users/reviewers have remarked, there does seem to be a certain amount of field curvature, which I think is part of what is impacting lens resolution in the corners at infinity which is probably partly why stopping down continues to make noticeable corner improvement up in to the f/5 range, where as the center sees a fairly large jump from 1.8 to 2.8, but then only very minor improvements. It doesn’t make f/1.8 shots focused at infinity useless, but it does make the corners softer.
Olympus 17mm f/1.8: f/1.8, 1/2500s, ISO200
The color and saturation with the lens are very good and contrast decent, though not exceptional.
overall the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 is a nice lens, but not exceptional. I wish Olympus had focused a bit more on the astigmatism and field curvature with the lens, even if it meant a slightly larger lens. That said, I certainly don’t regret my decision to buy the lens and I’ll definitely be using it a heck of a lot more than I used my old 17mm f/2.8. If you can pickup a used copy, I think it is an excellent purchase for the price. Brand spanking new…I don’t know. On sale (often $50 off and I think I’ve seen it $100 off new once), I’d probably bite the bullet. Without having used the 15mm f/1.7, but having read extensive reviews (and having once stayed at a holiday inn express), the extra price of the 15mm f/1.7 seems worthwhile if you could get the PL15mm on sale compared to a full price 17mm f/1.8. Sale versus sale or full price versus full price, I’d probably still have to come down on the side of the Olympus. Unless of course you want the slightly wider angle of view or need to go really big in prints and need the extra resolution.
The Olympus 17mm f/1.8 is a good enough lens that will probably satisfy you, but I still wish it was a little better or a little cheaper (or both. Both would be nice).
Olympus 17mm f/1.8: f/1.8, 1/10s, ISO640
I’ll dream of the day that maybe Olympus or Panasonic will come out with a really high quality 17mm f/1.2-1.4 or something. Who knows, it could happen. Micro 4/3rds seems like it has a lot of life left to it, so maybe someday.
*A further note on resolution, having owned a Panasonic 14mm f/2.5, the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 is very similar in resolution and performance. It has much better CA control, faster focusing, but similar contrast and resolution. Maybe a hair better in the center and slightly worse in the corners. Obv different field of view as well as being a full stop faster.