We've been shooting with the Olympus 17mm F1.8 lens for a while now and have put together a sample gallery showing the sorts of things it can do. We've also prepared some notes on the experience of shooting with the 34mm equivalent fast prime for Micro Four Thirds and included some shots that match ones we included in our Sony RX1 gallery. Beyond that we've tried to show a the lens at a series of apertures to show how the lens behaves.

First Impressions

The 34-40mm equivalent focal length range is already pretty well served for the Micro Four Thirds system - with users being able to choose between Panasonic's Lumix G 20mm F1.7 ASPH, the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 and Sigma 19mm F2.8 EX DN, depending on exactly how much they want to spend. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but it's not immediately obvious that there's a need for another lens in the same territory.

However, our first impression of the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 is that it more than justifies its existence. Spend any length of time with the 17mm F1.8 and it's hard not to conclude that it adds a useful extra option and does a lot to justify its additional cost over the existing models (its list price is $70 more than the excellent Panasonic 20mm, though it's new enough that it currently commands more of a premium than this in most shops).

Build-wise the 17mm shares the high-end metallic construction of Olympus' 12mm F2.0 and 75mm F1.8 lenses, giving a reassuring sense of quality and durability (though they've not been in the wild long enough to know if that perception is correct).

Manual focus behavior

The 17mm also includes the pull-back manual focus ring and distance scale we first saw on the 12mm. This retains its position as one of the best focus-by-wire manual focus implementations we've encountered - the slightly heavier damping and the solid end-stops to the focus travel do a great job of giving the feel and usability of a mechanically-coupled manual focus lens. Sadly this isn't always brilliantly handled by Micro Four Thirds camera bodies.

On both Olympus and Panasonic bodies you have to manually activate magnified focus every time you want to check focus, even if you've already switched the body to manual focus mode and engaged manual focus assist / LV close-up mode. The manual focus is stepped but those steps are very fine, so you have to be really paying attention to spot it.

With the focus ring in the forward position, the 17mm behaves like any other Micro Four Thirds lens - switching the camera body to manual focus provides the usual speed-sensitive manual focusing behavior in which you can continue to rotate the focus ring without ever hitting end-stops. It will also activate magnified focus mode if you've engaged it in the menus.

The 17mm F1.8 isn't as small as the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 pancake but it does feature Olympus' snap ring manual focus system. Pulling the focus ring back reveals a distance scale, engages manual focus mode and gives an impressively mechanical-feeling manual focus experience.

However, the 17mm's focus is actually driven by a linear motor which, combined with a small, light internal focus unit means it autofocuses as fast as the camera can instruct it. Focus is almost instantaneous on both Olympus and Panasonic camera bodies. This gives a clear advantage over the Panasonic 20mm, whose geared motor and unit focus design doesn't offer the snappiness of the latest lenses used on the latest bodies. The 17mm is also extremely quiet when focusing, making it much more appropriate for video work.

We haven't had to opportunity to test the image quality in detail but, while not as sensationally sharp as the 45mm F1.8 and 75mm F1.8 lenses, the 17mm appears to do pretty well and with neither corner sharpness nor distortion showing much to be concerned about.

Like most fast primes the 17mm F1.8 shows fairly obvious longitudinal chromatic aberration at large apertures, most visible as green fringing around bright areas behind the plane of focus. As usual this reduces progressively on stopping down, and disappears entirely by F4. There’s a little lateral chromatic aberration, visible as red/cyan fringing towards the edges of the frame, but this is easy to remove in raw processing if necessary. However Olympus doesn't include correction information in the lens, so it’s not automatically corrected.

Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 Samples Gallery

Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 preview samples - posted 6th Feb 2013

There are 26 images in the samples gallery. 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.