Olympus 17mm f/1.8 Lens Review

by Jerry Jackson Reads (11,831)
Editor's Rating
10.00

TG Ratings Breakdown

    • Performance
    • 10
    • Total Score:
    • 10.00
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Overview

  • Pros

    • Good image quality
    • Lightweight yet durable
    • Easy-to-use manual focus ring
    • Fast and quiet AF
  • Cons

    • Manual focus ring and AF not mechanically linked
    • Not the absolute sharpest lens available for micro 4/3

Quick Take

Paired with the OM-D E-M5, this is the perfect go-anywhere lens. The new 17mm f/1.8 has good image quality, is easy to use and has fast AF.


When it comes to street photography or candid photojournalism photographers have relied on 35mm lenses for decades. The 35mm focal length provides a wide perspective that captures your subject and its surroundings but it isn’t so wide that it distorts the image. Think of 35mm as a “Goldilocks” lens — not too wide and not too long, just right. Unfortunately, modern crop sensor cameras transform traditional 35mm into more of a telephoto lens and that’s not ideal for street shooting. The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8 MSC lens is the ideal solution to this problem. Now photographers who use Micro Four Thirds cameras like the OM-D E-M5 have a 35mm equivalent lens with a fast aperture ready to capture any situation. Is this the best lens for Micro Four Thirds? Here’s a hint: I might leave this lens permanently attached to my OM-D.

 

If you’re a photographer who is new to the Micro Four Thirds system of cameras and lenses then you might not be aware that all Micro Four Thirds cameras have a sensor that is essentially half the size of traditional 35mm film. As a result, any lens that is mounted to a Micro Four Thirds camera has a “crop factor” of 2.0x – meaning a 17mm lens becomes the equivalent of a 35mm lens on a “full frame” DSLR or 35mm film camera. Olympus makes this a little more confusing since they market the M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8 lens as a “Wide Prime” lens. Granted, the 35mm focal length is considered wider than a traditional “normal” lens like a 50mm prime, but most photographers don’t consider 35mm to be quite wide enough to capture large groups of people indoors. In short, this 17mm lens and its 35mm equivalent field of view is great for candid photography and spontaneous situations where you want some background in your frame, but you probably won’t use this lens if you want to capture grand sweeping vistas of mountain ranges.

Overview of Lens
The Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 lens weighs 120g and its diameter measures 57.5×35.5mm making it much smaller than most 35mm equivalent lenses on the market but not quite as compact as “pancake” lenses such as the older Olympus 17mm f/2.8 or the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lenses. As a prime lens it has a set focal length of 17mm and no ability to zoom in or out (you “zoom with your feet” by walking closer or away from your subject when using a prime lens). The 17mm f/1.8 lens has seven circular diaphragm blades that help to render round, specular highlights in the background and create a more pleasing “bokeh” effect in the defocused areas of the image. The all-metal lens is also equipped with MSC auto focus drive technology which assures fast and quiet autofocusing. The 17mm is one of the newest lenses to feature Olympus’ proprietary ZERO multicoating technology which Olympus claims produces pictures better contrast than previous lens coatings. Currently, this lens retails for $599.99.

Build and Design
As previously mentioned, the 17mm f/1.8 prime lens has an all-metal lens barrel that makes this lens feel quite durable in your hands. The lens lacks any weather sealing to make it dust-proof or splash-proof but it should survive abuse that would destroy cheaper lenses with plastic construction. This lens incorporates 9 elements in 6 groups and uses Dual Super Aspherical (DSA), Aspherical, and High Refractive index (HR) glass elements. In layman’s terms all that special glass is designed to eliminate chromatic aberrations and reduce optical distortion. The overall build of the lens is pretty lightweight considering it feels like a chunk of metal in your hand. All that metal construction means the lens is heavier than the partially plastic Olympus 45mm f/1.8 but much lighter than the all-metal Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens. Those users wanting the smallest and lightest 35mm equivalent lens are probably better off with the older Olympus 17mm f/2.8 pancake lens, but the new 17mm f/1.8 lens does have several key advantages. 


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