Conclusion - Pros
- Extremely small size and light weight - the perfect match for the E-P1 and GF1
- Fast maximum aperture
- Impressive image quality at all apertures
- Good build quality, proper manual focus ring and non-rotating front element
Conclusion - Cons
- Comparatively expensive (at least at launch)
- No lens hood
The Lumix G 20mm F1.7 ASPH is a lens that we've been looking forward to seeing for real ever since Panasonic first showed a mock-up back at Photokina 2008. The good news is that it's been well worth the wait - the 20mm is an excellent lens, especially considering its tiny size. It does well in all aspects of our studio tests, and produces fine images in a wide range of situations while also focusing quickly, silently and decisively. On compact Micro Four Thirds bodies such as the E-P1 and GF1, it offers impressive image quality and low-light capability in a package significantly smaller and more discreet than any DSLR system. The last few years have seen Panasonic rapidly improving its cameras; the 20mm F1.7 sees the company flexing its muscles in the field of lens design and showing it means business here too. We're unashamed fans of fast primes, and it's great to see Panasonic providing one relatively early in the development of Micro Four Thirds.
Of course many Micro Four Thirds owners will be most interested in deciding between the 20mm F1.7 and the Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 17mm F2.8 Pancake. We were a little underwhelmed by the Olympus lens - it's competent without being outstanding - and in our opinion the 20mm is a much better choice. It's only a little larger and heavier, yet outperforms the 17mm in every aspect of our studio tests, while capturing almost three times as much light. However it is more expensive (although by how much depends greatly on where you live), and some users will still prefer the 17mm for its wider angle of view and E-P1-matching styling.
Speaking of angle of view, that 40mm-equivalent may initially look strange and unfamiliar, but we suspect many buyers will be in for a pleasant surprise. It's not a focal length which particularly enables you to generate visual impact through tricks of perspective, or via subject isolation from the background as with telephoto - instead you have to work on composition, and observation of light. The successful images that you get with this lens can have a natural, unforced look to them that may well make them some of your favorites.
With the fast F1.7 maximum aperture, Panasonic has also placed a shot across the bows of the other manufacturers producing similar cameras and lenses, who have apparently decided that F2.8 is good enough. In contrast the 20mm pancake lets in a stop and half more light, so a shot which would require a shutter speed of 1/20 sec at F2.8 (for example) becomes relatively comfortable at 1/50 sec F1.7. This makes the lens much more flexible in low-light situations; you're less likely to get blur through either subject motion or camera shake, and so can frequently shoot indoors without needing flash (thereby avoiding the 'rabbit-in-the-headlamps' look which has plagued social snapshots ever since small flashes were first mounted on compact cameras). And while the lens itself doesn't have image stabilization, if you use it on an E-P1 with its body-based IS you can shoot hand-held in vanishingly low light levels, such as at night under low-level street lighting (of course you'll still get blur from subject motion, which IS can't prevent).
Of course this being a Micro Four Thirds lens, it's important to acknowledge that the final image quality is aided by the close integration into the system of software corrections for distortion (and, when using Panasonic's own cameras, lateral chromatic aberration). While this is apparently anathema to some people, we think it's just intelligent use of the possibilities offered by digital processing - we're in favor of any method which helps users get better pictures more easily. Anyway in the case of the 20mm, the degree of distortion is relatively low, and the required corrections therefore small. It's also important to appreciate that while lateral chromatic aberration is not corrected when using this lens on the E-P1, the images don't suffer very much from this as the degree of fringing isn't very high (and many users will happily take Olympus's trademark color rendition in exchange).
Overall, we can't help but conclude that the 20mm F1.7 is the first must-have lens for Micro Four Thirds, and one which especially makes sense with the compact-bodied E-P1 and GF1. On these cameras it provides a winning combination of small size, high all-round image quality and excellent low-light capability. The only real negative is that it's quite expensive (at least at launch) compared to similarly-fast normal primes for other formats (such as the Nikon 35mm F1.8G DX). But given the quality you get in such a small package, we think it's a price worth paying.
|Detail||Rating (out of 10)|
|Ergonomics & handling||8.5|
There are two samples galleries, 31 images on the Olympus E-P1 and 16 on the Panasonic DMC-GF1. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.
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Panasonic 20mm F1.7 Review Samples