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Home » Olympus 17mm F1.8 Review – Epic Bargain or Cheap and Nasty?

Olympus 17mm F1.8 Review – Epic Bargain or Cheap and Nasty?

Olympus 17mm F1.8 Review

In this Olympus 17mm F1.8 review, we’re looking at one of photography’s great bargains. Not only is the Olympus M.ZUIKO F1.8 relatively affordable, but it’s also tiny, well-built, and optically excellent. Therefore, if you think this lens is for you, you’re probably right.


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Olympus 17mm F1.8 Review – Contents

What is the Olympus 17mm F1.8

Focal Length

The Olympus M.ZUIKO 17mm F1.8 is a small, fast-aperture, prime lens for Micro Four Thirds. And as a prime lens, the Olympus 17mm’s angle of view is locked in at approximately 65 degrees, similar to that of a 35mm lens on a full-frame camera.

The Olympus 17mm F1.8 Lens for Micro Four Thirds

As a result, the Olympus 17mm F1.8 is a very suitable lens for everyday photography and a traditional favorite for journalistic and street photography. In other words, the Olympus 17mm is a good choice for capturing scenes, group photos, and environmental portraits. Read What is Focal Length in Photography.

Aperture

At the heart of the Olympus 17mm F1.8 is a large F1.8 aperture capable of capturing more than eight times as much light than your typical F5.6 kit lens. Thus, the Olympus 17mm is ideal for taking noise-free photos in dimly-lit environments.

Read What is Aperture in Photography for more information

Another benefit of the larger F1.8 aperture is background blur. While the Olympus’s 17mm focal length is much too short to blur your subject’s background to oblivion, you’ll still be able to get some subject-background separation. Read What is Aperture in Photography.

Handling and Construction

The tiny Olympus 17mm F1.8 feels exceptionally solid and well-built with a mixed plastic and metal construction. However, unlike many other more expensive Olympus and OM System lenses, the Olympus 17mm F1.8 is not weather-proofed.

Even Olympus’s cheapest lenses are well-built.

One thing I like about the Olympus 17mm is its manual focus clutch. By pulling the focus ring towards the camera, the lens will reveal a focus scale and switch to manual focus mode. This is the optimum AF-MF solution as it places focus control right under your finger and thumb instead of hunting for a switch or digging through your camera’s menus.

Olympus 17mm F1.8 Construction. Source: Olympus.

Unfortunately, the Olympus 17mm optics are fully-exposed at the end of the lens, yet Olympus was too stingy to include a lens hood in the box. While I have not found glare to be a problem, the same cannot be said about the price and inconvenience of buying a lens hood separately. Sort it out, OM Digital Solutions!

Olympus 17mm F1.8 Specifications

Olympus 17mm F1.8
Price (US$)$499
Focal length17mm
Angle of view65 Degrees
Maximum apertureF1.8
Minimum apertureF22
Diaphragm blades7 Rounded Blades
Lens construction9 Elements in 6 Groups
Optical Image StabilizationNo
Minimum focus distance25cm
Maximum reproduction ratio0.16x
Filter-attachment size46mm
Dimensions (approx)57.5mm x 35.5mm
Weight (approx)120g
Source: OM Digital Solutions

Olympus 17mm F1.8 Performance

Image Quality

As a fast prime lens, the Olympus 17mm F1.8 is as sharp as you’d expect, delivering performance well beyond the point of diminishing returns. The lens exhibits heavy vignetting and barrel distortion at its widest apertures, but both can easily be corrected in camera or post.

The Olympus 17mm F1.8 delivers a gentle and smooth-looking background blur

Furthermore, the Olympus 17mm F1.8 shines bright regarding subjective image quality. Although the Olympus 17mm is no bokeh machine, it does render blur very well. Plus, images pack plenty of contrast. Overall, the Olympus 17mm produces sharp, attractive images.

MTF Chart for Olympus 17mm F1.8

Autofocus

The Olympus 17mm F1.8 will focus from near (25 centimeters) to infinity in less than half a second. Unfortunately, I can’t be more precise, but in practical terms, the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 feels instantaneous, wiping the floor with many other lenses.

Maximum Magnification

The Olympus 17mm F1.8 has a maximum magnification of 0.16. In other words, the 17mm can project subjects onto your camera’s sensor at 16% of their original size.

Olympus 17mm F1.8

This is not surprising for the lens of this class but remains a disappointment nonetheless since my ideal walkaround lenses enable me to take large photos of small things.

Olympus 17mm F1.8 Shooting Experience

I adore small, affordable prime lenses such as the Olympus 17mm F1.8, as they give so much for so little. Thanks to its discrete dimensions, the Olympus 17mm enables me to take pro-grade images without attracting attention, particularly when mounted to a smaller M43 camera, such as my Olympus OM-D M5II.

Olympus 17mm F1.8

Furthermore, at 120 grams, the Olympus 17mm F1.8 weighs less than my haircut (probably?) and is small enough to fit into almost any pocket. As a result, the 17mm goes everywhere my camera does and serves as a great companion lens for my standard zooms.

When taking photos, the Olympus 17mm F1.8’s autofocus is insanely responsive. It feels instantaneous, and switching between auto and manual focus is immediate and satisfying, thanks to the 17mm’s focus clutch.

Of course, we can’t discuss shooting experience without mentioning the Olympus 17mm’s divisive 35mm equivalent focal length. You might love 35mm, but I’m firmly in the 50mm camp finding the 17mm’s 35mm equivalent focal length somewhere between too wide and not wide enough. Read 35mm vs 50mm lens.

Nevertheless, I’ve decided to face my prejudices head-on by making 2023 a 35mm year with the Olympus 17mm F1.8 playing the starring role.

So, if you love the classic 35mm focal length, you’ll love the tiny, affordable, and sharp Olympus 17mm F1.8 because, frankly, what’s not to like?

Olympus 17mm F1.8 Compared.

Olympus 17mm F1.8 vs Olympus 20mm F1.4 Pro

By many measures, Olympus 20mm F1.4 Pro is better than Olympus 17mm F1.8. For instance, the Olympus 20mm F1.4 is 2/3rds of a stop brighter, has a weather-proof construction, and has better optics. And I prefer the 20mm focal length.

Then again, the Olympus 17mm F1.8 is half the price, much smaller, lighter, cheaper, and packs a manual focus clutch, whereas the 20mm F1.4 Pro, absurdly, lacks even an MF/AF switch.

Therefore, the otherwise excellent Olympus 20mm F1.4 is hardly a stone-cold upgrade over the Olympus 17mm F1.8, but depending on your needs, it may serve you better.

Olympus 17mm F1.8 vs Olympus 17mm F1.2 Pro

The Olympus 17mm F1.2 Pro is designed to loan Micro Four Thirds users some benefits of full-frame cameras. And so it does with its huge, bright background melting F1.2 aperture. But like its full-frame equivalents, there are some downsides. Namely, the Olympus 17mm F1.2 Pro is neither discrete nor cheap.

But it is weather-proofed, features the manual focus clutch missing on the 20mm F1.4 Pro, and has the best maximum magnification (x0.3) of the three. Nevertheless, I consider the Olympus 17mm F1.2 an entirely different proposition to the Olympus 17mm F1.8 and barely comparable despite a common focal length.


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Conclusion

The Olympus 17mm F1.8 is affordable, discrete, and produces attractive-looking images. And thanks to its focus-clutch party trick, it even stands out from its more exotic alternatives.

Olympus 17mm F1.8

Regarding technical image quality, the Olympus 17mm F1.8 does ‘suffer’ from some barrel distortion and vignetting. But given such technicalities can be entirely resolved in-camera or with software, I’m not sure suffering is the right word.

But if you are chasing optical perfection, there’s always the Olympus 20mm F1.4 Pro and Olympus F1.2 Pro. However, by choosing either, you’d be losing a lot. For instance, the tiny Olympus 17mm F1.8 is a lens you’d be happy to carry anywhere, and it attracts no more attention than a smartphone camera. And outside of a 400% pixel-peeping session in Lightroom, I doubt you’ll want for nothing regarding image quality.

So, assuming you’re a fan of the classic ’35mm’ aesthetic, the Olympus 17mm F1.8 is an absolute bargain and a lens you’ll be happy to live with.

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