Monday, December 10, 2012

A Deeper Look at the New Olympus 17mm f1.8 Micro 4/3 Lens

Ming Thein ( has done a very nice write-up on the new Olympus 17mm f1.8 lens. I covered the announcement of this exciting new lens a few days ago.
Unfortunately, Ming copyright protects all of his images, so rather than using one of his excellent images, I grabbed this one (also nice) from
Shot With Olympus 17mm f1.8 Lens
Image Source:
Ming compares the new lens to two existing ones: the Olympus 17mm f2.8 and the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7. I have the 20mm f1.7, and it's an amazing little lens. However, Ming's article brings out one very important feature of the new Olympus lens that really has me interested - a real depth of field scale! More on that later.
Ming says that the Olympus 17mm f1.8 is built similarly to the new Olympus 75mm f1.8, that is, it's one of their premium lenses, with no plastic construction. I can say that the 75mm is built very nicely, and feels great in the hand. Ming also says the expensive Olympus accessory hood is poorly designed, and makes it hard to remove the lens cap.
Focus is reportedly "very, very fast," even when compared to the Lumix 20mm lens. I have never felt that the 20mm is slow to focus, but I have read it in other places. Focus speed is not enough to interest me in the new lens
The new Olympus lens focuses to a minimum of 25 cm.
Ming reports that the field of view difference between the Lumix 20mm and Olympus 17mm f1.8 is nearly negligible; from that standpoint it makes me think that it's not worth adding the Olympus lens to my kit.
However, as I mentioned above, the fact that the 17mm has a depth of field scale may change all that. You see, none of my Micro 4/3 lenses have any type of focus scale or depth of field indicator on the lens body. Importantly, you also cannot trust the scale on lenses adapted to Micro 4/3 from other mounts; they are usually not correct. This means that doing zone focus manually (where I use a set f-stop and manual focus to allow for very quick shooting on the street) is impossible, other than a trick for setting hyperfocal distance. This is a major drawback, as I love to use a small aperture (usually f8), and manually focus to get a very large range of distances in focus. I also like to use the depth of field scale to tell me how far away the minimum point of clear focus will be. With my Leica, for example, I can look down and tell myself mentally "anything beyond 8 feet is mine." This new Olympus lens will make that possible on a Micro 4/3 body. Therefore, I've got to give this lens a try.
The new lens is reportedly going to be priced at around $500, and should be available in the US in December.
(Click Here) to read Ming's full review.
The new Oly lens is not yet on Amazon. Here's a link to the very nice Lumix 20mm f1.7: