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Thursday, 15 November 2012


I have a feeling Santa will receive many letters asking for this one...

By now I think many potentially interested parties may be sick of the months of drip-drip of "It's coming!" teasers preceding this lens.

Yes, it looks like it will be a lovely must-have lens for Micro 4/3 folks (along with that 45mm). If it's really as nice as all the hype and hoopla promise the $500 will be a bargain basement value. Personally, I've decided not to invest any further into Micro 4/3. But I certainly would be eager to try one of these at the first chance!

(BTW, your pre-order link to B&H does not lead to the product.) [Thanks--should be fixed now. --MJ]

Say, what's up these days with all the lengthy delays between announcement and availability? (No, I don't really expect an answer.) It's really grown beyond reasonable in many cases. Don't you think so?

If it is as good as they tout, this could be a game changer.

A good 35mm equivalent has been missing from m4/3 — good as it is, the 20mm is to close to the 25mm for my own purposes.

So this lens and an EPL5 will cost approx $1150 or a Sony RX1 at $2800 dollars - would I be able to tell the difference between them?

"what's up these days with all the lengthy delays between announcement and availability? (No, I don't really expect an answer.) It's really grown beyond reasonable in many cases. Don't you think so?"

I do think so...it's often frustrating. (Although not as bad as the old days. Remember the interminable wait for the 6-MP Contax or the years-long vaporware status of the Pentax 645D?) However, B&H doesn't usually accept pre-orders unless they're very sure the product has a firm shipping commitment. Remember the little boy who cried wolf...eventually the wolf did come. [g]


35mm-e? That's telephoto to me!

It does, however, look like a lovely piece of glass. I do much approve of the more retro design in cameras and lenses at the moment. Nice to see a lens with distance scales on it. Only thing missing is an aperture ring.

I shall stick with the Lumix 20mm f/1.7. One of the very best lenses available for m4/3 at any price.

Dave Wilson,
Me too, and I agree--but admit it, you're tempted, aren't you? I am....


When I read "it also comes with a premium price" I thought you meant "Leica premium price", but this is a fraction of what a 35mm f1.8 Leica lens would cost.
We'll see really premium price in small sensor cameras/lenses with the crazy Hasselblad Lunar (aka ghettofab NEXT7) :-)

Tempted yes, but no sale.
I have 3 m/4/3 cameras, two EP-2s one with a 14mm and the other with a 45mm, a playful pair to hang around the neck.
I took this photo of my 10 year old twins with the 14mm two weeks ago http://fab4foxes.com/nyt2012/index.html
I have a GF3 without a lens, for $49 I ordered the 15mm body cap lens from B&H six weeks ago, still back ordered.
For $500 I will buy a lens for my D800E, perhaps a 20mm, money much better directed.

My first question is, will this lens, like nearly every other native Micro Four Thirds lens, have outrageous barrel distortion that is automatically corrected in JPEGs but very visible in RAWs if you don't use Olympus' own RAW processing software? If so, then I'll stick to using vintage manual-focus lenses that don't require software correction to cover extreme optical defects.

I'm certainly tempted because of the faster autofocus. Lumix 20mm remains one of my favorite lenses because of the way it renders in the lovely 4/3 proportions but for the kind of subjects I shoot (mostly children), increased autofocus speed is very welcome.

Finally: a 35mm EFoV fast prime that isn't a big lump (yet has a respectably sized focusing ring) for FourThirds format. If only they'd have done something like that for FourThirds SLR cameras.

I'd love a lens like this for my E-1. It would make a perfect mate to the Konica Hexanon 40mm f/1.8.

It will never happen, I'm sure ... sigh.

I wish Canon would get some of these $500 "premium" prices on their new lenses. So jealous...

it also comes with a premium price (remember, some people like that): $499

You have the soul of a Pentaxian, Mike. That is most assuredly NOT a premium price if you shoot Nikon or Canon. Or Leica. Or Sony. Or Fuji. Or...

@Craig, yes this lens, like every other m43 lens has its distortion corrected in both RAW and JPEG.

In RAW it's embedded and the RAW converter reads it and makes the corrections. Which converter do you use that does not support it? Because I've tried both Lightroom and Aperture and both apps do this without even giving me a choice not to.

I think that you all have missed the most important thing about this lens. Olympus has made and, presumably still makes, a very nice 17/2.8 lens for the m4/3 system. I can almost afford one for my E-PL1 from KEH :/ However the 17/1.8 will probably help drive the cost of new & used 17/2.8 lenses down to where I will, in fact, be able to afford one soon.

That 17/2.8 may not be the latest, greatest & fastest lens on the m4/3 market, but it would make an impressive step up for me with my kit zoom & legacy manual focus lenses.

Now if someone would only make a 25/2.8 I could afford...

I will not be buying this lens, as I have the 14mm and wouldn't ordinarily buy focal lengths that close together. If I didn't have the 14mm, I might be in, as my favorite 35mm lens is the venerable Nikkor-W, which is also small and f/1.8.

But I have an historical question for our benevolent overlord. Who foisted the 35mm lens on us as a mandatory focal length? David Douglas Duncan? Eugene Smith? I know why we're stuck with 50mm lenses--the historical accidents of Ernst Leitz and Cartier Bresson leap to mind--but what photographic innovators made the 35mm lens so popular to begin with?

Nice one, a priori.

But I wish Olympus aligned its products somehow.

Go figure :
-The 75mm has the same finer grained blue-ish tint as the silver OM-D body, while the 12mm & it seems the 17mm have the pearl champagne finish to match the E-P line of bodies.
-You get weather sealing on the 12-50 cheapo, the not so cheapo 60mm macro but no weather sealing on these 12mm,17mm,75mm high grade to premium lenses.

-Olympus introduced the Fn button on lens on the 12-50mm lens but nowhere else since that one. I guess it doesn't really match the "vintage" experience, but what about the 60mm macro ?

Oh well, it would be boring if everything was well sorted out.

Now back to the lens, on some earlier sample shots, it seemed visibly less sharper than the 20mm but it seems its bokeh and general character are more pleasant. The fact it's got a quick focus is a huge plus. Now just imagine what a 20mm mkII with an ultrasonic drive would be if not the best lens in the world ;).


Well, I might possibly get this for the 35mm equivalent and the fast aperture. Will trade in the old, slow as a dead dog focusing Panasonic 20mm if it is as good a lens otherwise.

@Craig: RAW files loaded into Lightroom have the distortion for Olympus/Panasonic m43 lenses automatically corrected. At least it is in mine.

Get Lightroom instead of Photoshop and save yourself several hundred dollars. Your existing Photoshop will fill the few 'gaps' in Lightroom. Have a good break.

I've been following closely and looking at every sample I can find.

Robin Wong had some nice ones today:

There were also some good ones including RAW files for download here:

I'll never replace or sell my Lumix 20, but I will be adding the Olympus lens. It doesn't seem to have the absolute sharpness of the Panasonic, but it gives me a 35mm equivalent lens, seems unusually free of longitudinal CA (longitudinal CA is one of my pet peeves in a lens), and has really pleasing bokeh character to my eye. Strikes a wonderful balance of size, weight (120g), AF speed, build and optical performance. Price not so bad for all of that.

Craig said "My first question is, will this lens, like nearly every other native Micro Four Thirds lens, have outrageous barrel distortion that is automatically corrected in JPEGs but very visible in RAWs if you don't use Olympus' own RAW processing software?"

The answer is yes and no. Yes it has the same amount of marked distortion seen with lenses like the Oly 17/1.8 and Pana 20/1.7 when processed without software correction. And no, the distortion is not very visible if you don't use Olympus' own RAW processing sofware. It's also automatically addressed in the most popular 3rd party RAW processing apps, including Lightroom/ACR, Aperture, and C1.

Your second question? :)

As much as I love the performance of the Lumix 20mm, it's just that little bit too long. Just my preferences. I need 17 and this is going to be hard to resist.

Ken Tanaka's right! Doesn't really matter to me as I'm not in that price bracket but if I was it would be enough to make me purposely go somewhere else. They can't even supply the (probably outsourced) 15mm lens cap.

Am I the only one who actually likes the original 17 2.8? I use one on a little EPM1 and it makes for a nice little P&S combo. @ 5.6 even the corners are acceptably sharp.

I have the f2.8 version, which despite all the internet nay sayers isn't a bad little lens, but if the reviews of this new one are good I will buy it. I have a real soft spot (excuse the pun) for Olympus Zuiko lenses and 35mm equivalent is my standard.

Dear Craig,

1) Most u4/3 lenses don't have "outrageous" barrel distortion (the 12mm f/2 being a lens that does, as noted in my review).

2) Adobe Camera RAW automatically corrects geometric distortion. There's no need to use Olympus' software (I never do).

pax / Ctein

The more I read reviews and see the real-life images of the 17mm f/1.8, the more it appears to me that this lens is another missed opportunity by Olympus to create high quality lens for the Micro Four Thirds, in comparison with their Four Thirds SHG lenses.It does seem that the 17mm lens tested in these reviews still needs some IQ-"tuning" to explain its relatively high price (in comparison with the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 or Panasonic 20mm f/1.7).

The manual fly-by-wire focus is my other concern, as the prototype that I hold at the Photokina had the same fiddly pull-down ring with sparse DOF and distance scale for zone-focusing, as Olympus 12mm f/2. Moreover, the pre-production 17mm lens focused past the infinity mark as well.

*"Each lens element is polished to an ultra-high level of working precision only possible with the progressive techniques developed by Olympus master craftsmen, and carefully assembled to ensure maximum accuracy and reliability."

Heh. A Rodney Matthews image popped into my head on reading that - shades of gnomes!

best wishes phil

Why do lenses like this have barrel distortion to begin with? Is it inherent on the small format? It just seems lame, consdering how many elements they had to work with, the aspherics, etc. olympus of old had no problem making great lenses in the OM system. Software correction is a band-aid at best , compared to optical correction in the lens itself.

Just to belabor a point that doesn't seem to be brought up very often, there's a reason that some of us 35mm lovers have already found our perfect m43 lens in the Panasonic 20mm. Yes, I know it's supposed to be equivalent to 40mm, but only if you consider the diagonal coverage, which strikes me as a slightly artificial metric. Horizontally it feels longer than 40mm, but vertically it's shorter. It's all a question of how you see.

In other words, just because you like a 35mm lens on a 35mm frame, don't automatically assume that you "need" a 17mm. Try the 20mm if you haven't, and see what you think.

I'm a 35 (and 35 equivalent) shooter, for this reason beside my film camera I bought a couple of years ago a specific camera )a german one, named x1). But the idea of an OM-D + 45/1,8 and this 17/1,8 is really tempting...hmmm, I don't own an OM-D, yet.

I was rather puzzled and amused to read the following paragraph in the press release:

"The Snapshot Focus mechanism lets users easily take spontaneous, blur-free images by shifting the focusing point to a specific distance. Sliding the focus ring back reveals range markings on the lens barrel, including distance and depth of field scales, which can be used as guides as the user adjusts the focal distance by rotating the ring."

Is this the first-ever explanation of a manual focus ring in a press release? And manual focus described as a "spontaneous"?

How times have changed!

@Amin Sabat and @dav1dz

Aperture (unfortunately) does not do lens correction. It is a much requested feature.

PTLens is one option for Aperture users (a plugin and standalone app) to correct for lens distortions though you have to determine the distortion yourself (once then save it as a preset) for newer lenses.

For more see http://www.losko.de/files/lens_correction.php

@Ed Why do lenses like this have barrel distortion to begin with?

Because simple distortions are easy to correct in software and by loosening up that requirement in the lens design you can correct the other aberrations that can't be corrected in post-processing (e.g. reduction in MTF at the edge of the image circle (corners)).

Hi Mike,

Had this lens for a couple of days now. Have just posted my review and impressions (and comparison with the 17/2.8 and 20/1.7): http://blog.mingthein.com/2012/11/17/olympus-zd-17-1_8/


I'm glad I saw that particular image of the lens. Looking at the DOF scale, I think it is less useful than I had hoped.

I had at least hoped for markings for f/4 and f/8. Even if that meant slower AF in order to add a longer MF throw..

Dear Rod,

Yes, and let's hope it's better implemented in this lens than it was in their 12 mm f/2. There the manual focus ring was so badly flawed as to make it essentially useless (both extremely imprecise and extremely inaccurate).

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

I owned an OM-1 and a few lenses way back in the day.

The olympus stuff was really well made then and some of these new parts look to have a similar feel. The zuiko lenses are really very good.

Though I am not likely to switch to Olympus now, I always have a little love for the company. They really make excellent things.

@Ken Tanaka "Personally, I've decided not to invest any further into Micro 4/3.". Ken i'm curious - why?
I've come to depend on your usually having the latest hardware, as we consumer mortals just read of it's "imminent" release :)
While we poor provincial sods in L.A. can't even touch the goodies yet, you've usually supplied a well written, down to earth review.
Tuck has (as you said) butterflied (butterflew?) from m43 - et tu too? Tell me it ain't so Joe.

I'm sure it's a nice lens, and I'll probably end up buying it eventually, but it seems to continue Oly's odd recent practice of producing new higher-end lenses in silver only.

Guess that's to allow them to market an $800 "Special Edition" black version later.

I have time all through the fiscal year of 2013 to save up for it.

My 2,8/17, purchased with the E-P1 as my first mft combo, will never be sold. Thats still a dream team when small size, decent IQ and near automatic handling are required.


I am not buying that explanation. Mtf quality is a result, not an abberation to be corrected. There must be more to it, perhaps due to format size, flange distance or something else.

@ Gabe: (Actually it was someone else who remarked on Kirk Tuck's exit from micro 4/3.)

I've made few bones about the fact that I have had tremendously enjoyment trying-out a wide variety of cameras during the past several years. The sea-change from film to digital has injected an energy and liveliness to photography unimaginable just a decade ago. The micro 4/3 format has delivered a significant slice of that fun, as a high-value proposition photography platform.

But as I'm far more committed to the photograph I find it's time to filter-out some equipment distractions. I enjoy my E-P3 and E-M5. They're both excellent cameras but they're just not my chosen core platform.

This is simply a personal decision not a statement of judgement.

@Ken Tanaka: I'm sitting here looking at my relatively new (six months?) D800e with a relatively new (four months?) 70-200. I've been taking it out to my deer-hunting tree-stand in Wisconsin this year, instead of a gun. I haven't seen any deer yet, but It has occurred to me fairly forcibly that I'm not really a photographer-for-photogaphy's sake (I don't make big art prints or work under especially difficult circumstances anymore), and that I wish I had my GH2 and 100-300. It's all really uses and circumstances, isn't it?

Dear Ed,

What Kevin and others are telling you is correct.

Lens design is a trade-off in correcting image quality. You're trying to optimize many different characteristics at once, including MTF, overall contrast, resolution, and microcontrast. Yes, they are “results”, but so is spherical aberration, lateral chromatic aberration, and astigmatism. They are all consequences of an optical design, not innate physical characteristics that you're keeping or eliminating.

Now here's the thing: Once you have gotten to a fairly decent lens design (all modern designs are a lot better than fairly decent), you're always making trade-offs. Improving one characteristic (say, increasing micro-contrast or reducing lateral chromatic aberration) will make some other one worse. The only way to make a characteristic better without degrading another one is to add more controls that you can adjust. That means, physically, a larger or heavier lens element, an additional lens element, additional aspherical or diffractive surfaces, a new exotic glass, or more floating elements. Doing that increases the size, weight, and/or the cost of the lens. There's really no limit to how well you can correct a lens, all away down to the diffraction limit, so long as you're willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars and carry around something the size and weight of a 2 L soda bottle.

Most consumers balk at a point way before that [smile]. So, a lens design is a compromise between what the buyer will tolerate in terms of size, weight, and cost vs. what they'll tolerate in terms of image quality.

Some aberrations you can correct in software very effectively. For example, residual lateral chromatic aberration can be corrected in software with pixel-perfection. Many very good modern digital camera lenses show a degree of lateral chromatic aberration that would not have been tolerated in a film lens of the same caliber. That's because the image converters can do an excellent job of removing it. It's another control for the lens designer. Instead of adding another lens element, they add a software tweak and get the same or better results without increasing the size, weight, or cost of the lens.

In fact, the 12 mm f/2 Olympus lens that I reviewed and did not love has a considerable amount of lateral chromatic aberration. I didn't downgrade it for that (I don't recall if I even mentioned it) because the software converters could correct it perfectly.

The latest version of ACR can do a fair job of correcting for longitudinal chromatic aberration. Not anywhere close to perfect, but it can reduce its impact.

Now, as for geometric distortion, software can correct for that, but not as perfectly as it can correct for lateral chromatic aberration. Correcting for geometric distortion introduces what looks like astigmatism. In other words, it's one of those trade-offs like changing the lens design. If you do it right, it's a win; the amount of astigmatism added doesn't dominate and you get an overall improvement in image quality. Most lenses that I've tested that have software-corrected geometric distortion don't show any obvious degradation of image quality as a result of that.

My quarrel with the 12 mm was that the Olympus lens designers didn't balance their trade-offs correctly. They allowed so much geometric distortion through that after correction astigmatism was visible and was the dominant residual aberration in the corners. They went too far trying to use one control to correct one aberration and failed to strike a balance. That's not a failure of the concept, that's a failure of the design.

All classes of lenses are prone to some kind of flaw or another. Some designs are more likely to suffer from geometric distortion and the lens designer has to work harder to avoid it. Others are more likely to suffer from chromatic aberration and the lens designer has to work harder to avoid that. For example, both extreme wide and extreme telephoto lens designers have to work harder to control lateral chromatic aberration and telephoto lens designers have to deal with more longitudinal chromatic aberration.

If you think dealing with any of this in software rather than hardware is lame, well... that's a philosophical position you're stuck with. You might be willing to pay the penalty in cost or size to get it corrected in glass, but most people wouldn't. What you should really be concerned with, in my ever humble judgment, is how the final photograph looks, not how it gets that way.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

"There must be more to it..."

Ed - My guess is they could either make a $2000 lens that doesn't need correction, or a $500 lens that does. Simply engineering trades.

@ John Camp: "It's all really uses and circumstances, isn't it?"

It surely is, John. I'm considering writing a little piece on a subject closely kindred to this observation, if only to get my thoughts together and out of my nose. Not to hijack this topic but here's the teaser: What happens when you realize that one little, relatively inexpensive, camera can handle many of your photo tasks? Why keep or use so many other cameras?

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