Mar 17

Review: Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8

Olympus has been focusing on the higher end with their lens releases over the past two years, and this trend continues with the release of the M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8.  With a fast aperture and a field of view like the classic 35mm lens on full frame, this is a lens that has been desired for some time among Micro 4/3 shooters.  Olympus released a slower, 17mm f/2.8 pancake lens with the

Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8

Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8

very first Olympus Pen, but that lens had its share of problems, with relatively high chromatic aberration and only average sharpness.  With the new f/1.8 version, Olympus gives the lens its high-end silver metal body that was first seen on the 12mm f/2 and 75mm f/1.8, as well as the focus clutch mechanism seen on the 12mm f/2.  Let’s see how this new lens performs.

If you haven’t read my reviews before, I do not generally perform resolution tests or make charts to track quality measures.  I take a real world approach to my reviews and evaluate how a lens or camera handles and works in regular use. A special thanks goes to LensRentals.com for the review sample used for this review.

Around the Lens – Build Quality

As with Olympus’ other high-end primes of late, the build quality of the 17mm f/1.8 is outstanding.  The lens has a metal body with a metal mount, and a focus clutch mechanism that reveals a distance scale and has hard stops, giving a real manual focus feel, despite being a ‘by wire’ focus mechanism like all Micro 4/3 lenses.

The 17mm mounted on the Olympus OM-D E-M5

The 17mm mounted on the Olympus OM-D E-M5

The lens is small and solid and built to very tight tolerances.  The lens features internal focusing, so length remains constant. Some people get up in arms about the silver color, but I quite like the way the lens looks, and it feels like a solid piece of kit.

I’ve said it in every Olympus lens review I’ve done, but it continues to require saying: Olympus needs to stop skimping on the accessories.  When you get the lens, it comes with, well, the lens and caps.  That’s it.  No case, no hood, nothing.  It’s getting old, and the milking of customers for accessories that should be included needs to stop.  The lens hood for the 17mm f/1.8 is a nicely finished metal hood, and quite small given the small size of the lens and the wide-angle nature.  The hood costs between $62 and $80!  That’s not a small up charge, that’s highway robbery.  Even Sigma is including lens hoods AND zippered cases with their $199 Micro 4/3 lenses.  Time for Olympus to stop with this game.

Handling and Autofocus

With its great manual focus ring and small size, the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 handles beautifully.  While not quite ‘pancake’ size compared to the Panasonic 14mm and 20mm lenses, it is a small lens that feels right at home on the OM-D or any of the Pens or GF/GX cameras.  Great size and balance.  Below is the 17mm f/1.8 next to the smallest real lens for the Micro 4/3 system (discounting the 15mm body cap), the Panasonic 14mm f/2.5.  It’s bigger, but not by all that much:

Olympus 17mm f/1.8 and Panasonic 14mm f/2.5

Olympus 17mm f/1.8 and Panasonic 14mm f/2.5

The 17mm f/1.8 also has fantastic autofocus capabilities.  On something like the OM-D or the Panasonic GH3, the 17mm f/1.8 focuses nearly instantly.  Only when going from closest focus to infinity is any real focus time noticeable, and even then it’s fast.  The 17mm f/1.8 locked extremely quickly and accurately in every situation I threw at it.  This is a huge improvement over the 17mm f/2.8’s relative sluggishness.  The autofocus is also nearly silent and works very well for video work.

Next: Image Quality

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad


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  1. David S


    Thank you for the review. Very helpful. I’m looking for a 35mm equivalent lens for either my OM-D or X-E1 and you’ve now convinced me to wait for the Fujinon 23mm 1.4 to make its eventual appearance.

    While this lens sounds good for some uses, I’d also prefer it be good at landscapes too.

  2. bousozoku

    So, it’s merely good (not great) but since it’s not as expensive as other micro Four-Thirds lenses, it’s a relative bargain?

    I may have missed the part about whether it is sealed for weather and dust but I had always assumed that it was not.

    Maybe, Olympus’ next iteration at 17mm will actually be great, weather-sealed, and remain at the same price.

    1. Scott

      I paid the equivalent of US $490 for my one, and at that price it is not a bargain. Not many m43 primes are more expensive – only the 12/2.0, 45/2.8 Macro and 75/1.8 that I can think of.

      It is not weathersealed.

      The clutch-focus system is pretty useless – something that this reviewer has not mentioned.

      However, I still like the lens a lot. My one is plenty sharp in the centre and is screamingly fast to autofocus. Corner sharpness is pretty good when stopped down to f8.

      1. bousozoku

        That makes me sad. I hope you don’t feel cheated.

        I took the leap to micro Four-Thirds a few weeks ago but I’m really uncomfortable with the choices and I ended up buying the Olympus MMF-3 adapter to compensate, so that I can use my Four-Thirds lenses. I need to be able to shoot in the rain and after photographing out in three hurricanes with Olympus equipment and no trouble, I need to remind myself not to take my Four-Thirds mount Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 out in the rain.

        I hope Olympus (and Panasonic) come to their senses and treat more than the hobbyists.

      2. Don Pope

        I find the manual focusing system to be quite excellent. Feels almost like a legacy manual focus lens. What is not as useful is the DOF scale. It is rather vague and imprecise. They should have put more numbers in the “near” end of the scale.

        1. Gert Jan Bollen

          I am confused with the DOF scale it is way to pessimistic!

          If I compare it with the DOF calculator.
          set to 3 meter it is sharp (circle of Confusion for Mft = 0.015mm) from inf to 1.35 meter at aperture 8

          But according the lens scale i need aperture 22 :-)

        2. Gert Jan Bollen

          I am confused with the DOF scale it is way to pessimistic!

          If I compare it with the DOF calculator.
          set to 3 meter it is sharp (circle of Confusion for Mft = 0.015mm) from inf to 1.35 meter at aperture 8

          But according the lens scale i need aperture 22 :-)

          Kind regards Gert Jan newbe in MFT

  3. Big C

    This 17mm f/1.8 is a big disappointment if you ask me. Way too expensive for what you get. Merely good image quality. The Panasonic 20mm is mulch sharper and contrastier then this dud. The only thing it has going for it, is it’s focus speed. But I wouldn’t pay premium for that alone. Maybe if the price becomes more realistic (about 300 dollars) I would consider it. For now, I just hold on to my beloved Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake. Smaller, cheaper, and optically noticeably better.

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