Olympus 17mm f/1.8 M.Zuiko Review

This premium but not quite Pro lens from Olympus is the equivalent of 35mm, which is my favourite lens length to use on my film camera, very versatile in that its nice and wide but you can still get close enough to use it for portraits when needed. It’s been a great length to use for my travel photography and hence my interest. The 17mm f1.8 has a nice metal build quality and is still of the compact size that makes micro four thirds so attractive to people, while also packing Olympus’ snap back manual focus ring which is a subtle nod to the lenses of yesteryear. I’ve found this to be quite practical on occasion in terms of prefocusing and while the distance scale is a touch small to be very practical it’s still useful for those who may need help regarding manual focus and distance. In general, this lens is built to a very high standard and ergonomically is great to use.
In terms of results, this lens is a bit of a hard one to review. It’s somewhat of a mixed bag in that it’s got a great physical feel to it and is built to a high standard and is also very easy to leave on your camera as a general carry around lens. This lens also focuses quickly and after using it in many varied situations including indoor, outdoor, wedding, food etc I can honestly say it very rarely missed focus, with the usual result being a swift lock meaning most shots were in focus without any problems. This was reassuring in low light as a lot of people will be buying this to use in those scenarios due to its large f1.8 aperture.
Optically this lens gave good but not outstanding results. It’s been said that it’s not as sharp as the cheaper 25 f1.8 from Olympus or the comparable lenses from Panasonic, such as the 20 f1.7 which focuses slower but is sharper and cheaper, and although I haven’t used either of these I can see from my results how there is definitely room for other lenses to give better results.
I found it to sometimes not have as much fine detail as I would have liked and whereby for example the 12-40 Pro blows the 14-42 EZ lens out of the water, the difference between the 17 1.8 and the kit pancake lens is much smaller – the main one being the 14-42 has more blur towards corners, add to that the ez lens is also pysichally a more compact lens and you’re left with the only noticeable benefit of this lens being it’s fast 1.8 aperture. While for some people this is reason enough to purchase, considering this lens commands quite a premium price, one that’s much more than for example the 25 1.8 or 45 1.8, it becomes somewhat of a diminishing return on price.
I became a huge fan of the 35mm focal length as I usually keep it attached to my AE1 while using film as this is a pin sharp lens which is also light and very versatile – basically it exceeds the expectations I had for it. I feel that the 17 1.8 tends to be a touch underwhelming, not because it’s a bad lens, as it gives good results, but more because Olympus has made some stunning pieces of glass for the micro four thirds system and you can’t help but feel that this could have been better, especially when noticeably cheaper lenses in their range give noticeably better results.
Considering the build quality and ergonomics of this lens, if only it gave the optical results to match its price tag then it would have been a micro four thirds classic and a must have for a versatile carry around lens.

Pros: -Solid build quality
-Manual focus ring is very useful
-Depth of field scale can be very handy for some people
-Fast focus

Cons: -Optically, could be better
-Expensive for the results given
-Considering it’s more than twice as expensive as the 14-42 pancake lens, it’s definitely not twice as good.

2 Replies to “Olympus 17mm f/1.8 M.Zuiko Review”

  1. Andrey Khludeyev says: Reply

    As usual, great, detailed review. I have this lens and like it, regarding quality, size and price, however I found that I don’t use it quite often. Can not explain why it is objectively, but may be your review a kind of does it. Thank you Larry.

    1. Thanks Andrey! Sorry for taking so long to reply, have been away for the last week or so. It is kind of hard to put into words, especially with how much I love the 35mm lens on my film camera. Maybe sometime I’ll try the Panasonic 20 1.7 as its also nice and cheap and I may like that more, but for the time being the 17mm 1.8 seems to just be staying in its box and not getting used a lot with the 12-40mm 2.8 going everywhere with me!

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