The Olympus 17 mm 1.8 is announced at Photokina 2012 and has been ready for sale within a few months. In December, we have received a copy for an Olympus 17 mm 1.8 review. The field of view of this micro-43 lens corresponds to the field of view of a 35 mm lens on a camera with a full frame sensor. This is a popular focal length, including for street photography. The image that you get approximately corresponds to that of your own eyes. Moreover, the field of view of a 35 mm lens is substantially greater than the field of view of a 50 mm standard lens. Nowadays there are so many micro-43 lenses for sale, that even with a 35 mm focal length, you already have a choice of multiple lenses. In addition to the Olympus 17 mm 1.8, there is an Olympus 17 mm 2.8, Panasonic 20 mm 1.7 and a Sigma 19mm 2.8 for example. Compared to the Olympus 17 mm 2.8, the 1.8 version is brighter, but also larger. The Olympus 17 mm 1.8 is, compared to the Panasonic 20 mm, about as bright, but it has a wider field of view.
Olympus 17 mm 1.8 AF @ f/1.8
Olympus 17mm 1.8 MF @ f/1.8
On this Olympus 17 mm 1.8 lens is a ring, which acts as an AF / MF switch. If you slide the ring towards the camera body, a distance scale becomes visible. See the figure below. In addition, the focusing ring stops at 25 cm or infinity then and the focus ring has a pleasant resistance when focusing. This takes away the concerns that some photographers have against the electronic focus-by-wire system.
On the test camera (Olympus OMD-EM5) are multiple focus modes. If you opt for the mode single AF + MF, you are basically using the autofocus. Nevertheless, you can manually overrule the AF (focus by wire) at any time to get a creative effect, as in the pictures of the same tree above. This is a feature only to be found at other brands in lenses with a USM or HSM AF motor.
In terms of appearance, the Olympus 17mm 1.8 lens reminds of the Olympus 45 mm 1.8 lens. However, the 17 mm has a full metal body. A striking feature of this lens is that the front lens is completely flat. This may provide a contribution to preventing ghosting.
The design of the Olympus 17 mm 1.8 is quite complex for a lens with a fixed focal length. A total of 9 elements in 6 groups are used, including 1 DSA (Dual Super Aspherical) lens element, 2 Aspherical glass elements and 1 Super HR element. The large 1:1.8 aperture not only makes it possible to shoot sharply in the dark without a tripod, but this large aperture also makes the Olympus 17 mm 1.8 1 of the few micro-43 lenses with which you can play with the depth of field.
The Olympus 17 mm 1.8 lens is equipped with a high-speed AF with MSC technology (‘Movie & Still Compatible' autofocusing). The drive of the autofocus runs rapidly thanks to the internal focus "with screw-drive" mechanism. AF is completely silent, which is particularly important for video. The reproducibility of the AF is very high and there is no front focus or back focus. Even in low light, the Olympus 17 mm 1.8 on an Olympus OM-D E-M5 focuses quickly.
With Olympus, the image stabilization is not built in the lens, but in the camera body. This IBIS (in-body image stabilization) is very effective, which we have noticed in previous Olympus lens reviews. Since the advent of digital photography, photographers are increasingly aware of camera shake. As a rule of thumb for high-resolution digital cameras, you can assume a shutter speed faster than 1 / (2 * focal length * crop factor) if you want to shoot without a tripod. With the Olympus 17 mm 1.8, a shutter speed of less than 1/60 is recommended for a sharp picture shot out of the hand. The image here is taken with a shutter speed of 1/10 second. In the image are leftovers of color bokeh: the lights of the Christmas tree behind the focusing area are reflected in the Christmas decoration, showing a green border. In practice, you only encounter color bokeh in lenses with a higher brightness than f/2.8 and it disappears at smaller apertures (f/2.8 and higher).
Click on the image for a magnification.
The vignetting is high for a standard lens on a camera with a relatively small sensor. At full aperture, the vignetting is more than 1 stop. Stopping down helps in moderation only; with no aperture the vignetting is less than 0.3 stops. In the examples below, you can see that even at aperture 11 some vignetting is visible when you photograph a smoothly exposed subject.
The vignetting of RAW files is about a quarter stop higher across the range than the vignetting of jpg files. This might be due to the in-camera correction of distortion of the jpg files, with the extreme corners disappearing after cropping by the camera.
Move your mouse over the graph for the Imatest results for vignetting of RAW files.
Distortion Olympus 17 mm 1.8
The jpg images of the Olympus 17 mm 1.8 stored in the Olympus OM-D E-M5 test camera are completely free of distortion. The same applies to RAW files that you open in Lightroom or Photoshop. Very different is the story, however, if you use a different RAW converter. An uncorrected RAW file shows 5% barrel distortion. That is very high.
Move your mouse over the graph for the Imatest results for the distortion in RAW files.
Even at full aperture, the bokeh is not completely round, as you can see here. What you see are the corners of the aperture. The farther you stop down, the clearer the corners become visible. What is also striking in the bokeh are the annular patterns. Due to vignetting, the bokeh of a point-shaped light source in the corners and at the edges gets the appearance of a cat's eye, in lieu of the circle that it should be. This cat’s eye bokeh disappears when you stop down. Above aperture 2.8, no cat’s eye bokeh is present anymore.
Move your mouse over the image for an illustration of the cat’s eye bokeh.
The Olympus 17 mm 1.8 lens elements have ZERO coating (Zuiko Extralow Reflection Optical) for reduced internal reflections. It works very well. Even with a bright light source shining directly into the lens, we have encountered no ghosting. There is just some flare to be seen in the immediate vicinity of the source, as you can see in the magnification. When a lens is that highly resistant to flare, the complaint that the lens hood must be purchased is not so great. With this lens, you can safely go without lens hood.
Resolution Olympus 17mm 1.8
At aperture 1.8, the resolution is lower than in the other apertures and the edges and corners are also slightly less sharp than the center. From aperture 2.8, you see no difference in resolution in the center, at the edges or in the corners. The image is sharp from corner to corner. However, this lens does not reach the resolution that an Olympus 45mm 1.8 or Olympus 75mm 1.8 shows.
To illustrate the difference in resolution of the Olympus 17 mm lens at aperture 1.8 and aperture 4.5, we have made two image croppings of the area that is framed with red lines in the picture. The images were taken with aperture preselection at ISO 200 and a shutter speed of 1/1600 sec (f/1.8) and 1/250 sec (f/4.5). If you only look at the image taken with f/1.8, that one is pretty sharp, but the picture taken at f/4.5 clearly shows that it can be sharper.
Click on the image for two croppings of the center resolution of Olympus 17 mm 1.8.
Chromatic aberration in jpg files is fairly low, so you will have little trouble with it in practice. When enlarging to 100%, you can recognize lateral chromatic aberration in the corners of some images, in the form of green and purple edges at sharp contrast transitions. RAW files even have some more problems with that than jpg files.
Below aperture 2.8, you may also encounter longitudinal chromatic aberration (color bokeh), in the form of green edges behind the focus point or red edges before the focus point. Here you see a 100% image cropping of the branches on the right next to the house of the photo above taken at f/1.8. We are used to more of Olympus micro-43 lenses with fixed focal length.
Move your mouse over the image for the Imatest results for chromatic aberration.
Look at the Olympus 17 mm 1.8 reviews of Robin Wong, Ming Thein or PekkaPotka. Their practice shots show the fun you have when shooting with a 35 mm (mm @ FF) fixed focal length lens.
WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens when you save the files in the camera as jpg, including all in-camera lens corrections (distortion, chromatic aberration). This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".
Pure RAW score: This table shows the performance of this lens when the file is stored in the camera as a RAW file. This score approaches the intrinsic quality of the combination of lens and test camera. If you make use of Photoshop, Lightroom or SilkyPix for converting RAW files, then the RAW scores for chromatic aberration and distortion are the same as the jpg scores.
High resolution from corner to corner
Low distortion jpg files
No internal reflections by flare
Comfortable manual focus
High (5%) distortion uncorrected RAW files
Vignetting, especially at aperture <2.8
Rings in bokeh
The Olympus 17 mm 1.8 is a nicely built lens with which you can focus quickly and accurately, automatically or manually. On this Olympus 17 mm 1.8 lens is a ring, which acts as an AF / MF switch. The focus ring stops at 25 cm or infinity and the focus ring has a pleasant resistance when focusing. This takes away the concerns that some photographers have against the electronic focus-by-wire system. The AF is also completely silent, which makes this lens very suitable for video. At full aperture, this lens already draws quite sharp in the center. From aperture 1.8, the center resolution increases further up to 2.8 and remains sharp from corner to corner at aperture 4. Vignetting is high for a standard lens on a camera with a relatively small sensor. Chromatic aberration in jpg files is fairly low and only visible at large magnifications. Yet we are used to more of Olympus micro-43 lenses with fixed focal length in this part.
If you are looking for a high brightness and a nice creamy background, a choice for the optically better performing Olympus 45 mm or Olympus 75 mm lenses is more obvious than an Olympus 17 mm 1.8. If you have no objection to a slightly lesser brightness, the Olympus 9-18 mm is more versatile in terms of focal length and optically just as good.
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.
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