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My thoughts on the 20mm f1.7 vs the 25mm f1.4. Which is really superior?

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by napilopez, Jan 16, 2013.

  1. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    So I just posted this in very similar form in another thread, but figured it was such a long post I'd just make a new thread about it.

    Which lens is really better? I recently sold my 20mm to fund my purchase of the 25mm, and had them together for a short amount of time. The main reason I purchased the 25mm, however, was because my 20mm banded on my new OM-D at high sensitivities, and I shoot at iso 1600+ too often for me not to care. What follows are my thoughts on the two lenses.

    One of the main complaints against the 20 is its focusing speed. I think we've all been spoiled by how fast many m4/3 lenses are at focusing, because when using my friend's T3i with a couple of lenses a few weeks ago, I was surprised to find it focused generally slower than my 20mm did, especially in low light! The thing is the 20mm isn't actually a "slow" lens per se, and most certainly not when compared to lenses across different systems. It's only slow relative to the newer M4/3 lenses(particularly on newer bodies).

    I'm a bit harsher on the 25mm than most on this forum seem to be. Although I sold my 20mm for the 25mm, in my experience the 20mm on the OM-D is most definitely sharper than the 25mm if you're pixel peeping, is a more practical indoors focal length(can be used for across the table shots), is less prone to flare wide open, has significantly less longitudinal CA even at the same aperture, and even produces substantially better bokeh.

    Note that I say "better", not more. It seems 90% of users say the 25mm has better bokeh than the 20mm, but my direct comparisons show the opposite to be true. It's simply that in many similar scenarios where you do get bokeh, the flaws of the 25mm are lessened due to its greater quantity, despite lesser quality. Here's a particularly obvious example from Cameralabs' comparison of the two lenses, matched for framing.
    (Source here: http://www.cameralabs.com/reviews/Panasonic_Leica_DG_Summilux_25mm_f1-4_H-X025/)

    Here's 25mm's bokeh. Note the odd(and imo, unappealing) drop-shaped bokeh near the sides of the frame, and the nasty artifacts within the bokeh circles:
    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Leica DG Summilux 25mm f1.4 ASPH lens sample image at f1.4 by Cameralabs, on Flickr

    Now the 20mm. Although its bokeh near the edges is also non circular, the cats-eye shape is much more appealing to me, and it suffers from none of the ugly artifacts within the bokeh circles that the 25mm has:
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    Panasonic G VARIO 20mm lens sample image at f1.7 (closer to match 25mm samples) by Cameralabs, on Flickr

    And for reference, here's a shot of the 20mm from the same distance as the PanaLeica, to get the same perspective distortion on the face. Rather dramatic difference for "only" 5mm in focal length difference, no? It also showcases just how much more bokeh you will get with the 25mm shooting from the same place wide open.
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    Panasonic G VARIO 20mm lens sample image at f1.7 by Cameralabs, on Flickr

    Despite the better bokeh of the 20mm, this comparison also demonstrates the advantages of the 25mm: dramatically less perspective distortion for portraits, and much better contrast. This contrast and focal length practicality are what mainly keep me with the 25mm other than the banding issue. The AF speed is nice too, although not a huge factor for my uses. The 25mm undeniably has that Leica character in it's rendering. It has superb contrast which makes it look sharper at smaller viewing sizes, even though virtually all numerical measurements and 100% crops I've seen show the 20mm to be sharper center to corner(albeit negligibly to many).

    I do a lot of portraits when hanging out with friends. With the 20mm, I was pretty much obligated to switch to my 45mm for decent traditional portraits, which ended up with the 45mm being my most used lens. With the 25mm, thanks to the narrower angle of view and greater aperture contributing to less perspective distortion and more subject isolation, there are few occasions where I actually have to switch lenses. In fact, it's making me consider selling the 45mm to fund the 75mm, where there would be a larger FL and subject isolation difference against the 25mm. But of course, on the other hand, I have less of an ability to shoot landscapes and architecture in the crowded streets of NYC. For that I now use the wide end of my new 12-50 kit lens.

    I think the differences between these two lenses show what I've seen referred to as the differences between Japanese and German design. Japanese designed lenses may oftentimes be superior technically and quantitatively: better MTF numbers, less CA and the like. But these German lenses tend to have character and superior ability in areas that are harder to measure with numbers, such as contrast and color rendering.

    That said, there are occasions where I really like how the 20mm renders things. This shot is not exactly wonderfully composed, but I really liked the subjects and rendering on this overcast day:

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    FunP-10 by napilopez, on Flickr

    Its lower contrast can also be useful for limiting the dynamic range of a scene, particularly on older sensors. This was edited with some heavy shadow and highlight recovery in LR4, and I'm pretty sure would have been blown out using the 25mm on my G3:
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    reee-2 by napilopez, on Flickr

    Overall, the 20mm has a very "clean", natural look to me, but to some it doesn't stand out as much:
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    Dress by napilopez, on Flickr

    The 25mm, on the other hand, can create this sort of "larger than life" look that practically demands attention even if the image isn't so spectacular otherwise. I can usually tell when an image has been shot with it without needing to look at the Exif.

    Note here the shallow DoF/bokeh!(even if a little yucky at the highlights). Like in the first 20mm image, this was also an overcast day, yet it looks so much more contrasty than that one:
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    Simmyday-5 by napilopez, on Flickr

    It's still plenty sharp:
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    Miles-6 by napilopez, on Flickr

    And again, the 25mm has a contrast and character to it that makes it uber appealing, at an angle of view practical for portraiture:
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    Westville-40 by napilopez, on Flickr

    NOTE: My processing when I mainly used my 20mm was quite different, but I think the lens characteristics still come through. None of these shots were with hoods, so I'm not considering how that may affect contrast.

    In the end, I do think the 20mm is actually the better lens overall, at least when it comes to bang-for-buck. It's cheaper, sharper, has better bokeh quality, less longitudinal CA, and is more practically sized. In many ways, it showcases some of the best qualities of M4/3 as a system. But the 25mm certainly has it's advantages, and undeniably has a character to it that makes it hard to resist for many, including myself. It all depends on how you weigh each lens' respective pros and cons. In my case, the 25mm won out, but I do miss my 20mm now and then.

    I think if Panasonic ever released an MKII version of the 20mm that AFs faster and doesn't band on the new Sony 16mp sensors, we would have a much more interesting comparison.
    • Like Like x 24
  2. dhazeghi

    dhazeghi Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 6, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    Wow, interesting set of examples and quite a number of great images there! I tend to agree that the 20/1.7 doesn't always get its due, though I'm quite happy that I sold mine.

    But it's also slower than the Panasonic 14-45 which is an even older design.

    I've seen no indication that the PL 25 is a German design. Everything I've read or heard says Panasonic engineers designed it just as they did the 20/1.7.

    I think it's more analogous to the old days when the 50/1.8s were generally better lenses than the 50/1.2s. Faster designs simply require more compromises.
  3. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez

    As for the German design thing, from my understanding the lens is made by Panasonic, but to Leica standards. I think it comes out in the lens' rendering, which amongs M4/3 lenses the only lens I see that renders similarly is, fittingly, the PanaLeica 45mm f2.8. Thus, I definitely think the Leica influence is there. I used to not really believe and/or understand the different rendering of different brands, but as my processing has become more consistent, I begin to notice certain qualities each brand seems to bring among my regular panasonic lenses, the PanaLeicas, my M. Zuikos, and my FD lenses. But certainly the compromises of having a faster lens are often true.
  4. WT21

    WT21 Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Feb 19, 2010
    Does the P20 band on the EPM2 and EPL5, also?? I thought it was just the OMD.
  5. jloden

    jloden Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 15, 2012
    Hunterdon County, NJ
    Interesting notes on the bokeh quality, that's not something I've ever looked at that closely so I'd never noticed.

    For me, I like the 25mm overall better because it's more contrasty, faster AF, a faster aperture for more shallow DoF, and I like the 50mm equivalent focal length perhaps a little more than 40mm equivalent. Lastly, for me personally, I *prefer* the larger lens size that so many people complain about. I find the 20mm pancake to be convenient only on a rangefinder body like the GX1 or GF series when I am trying to go as low profile as possible. Otherwise I find the 25mm balances very nicely on larger bodies like the G3, G5, and GH3 where the 20mm pancake feels awkward as there's nothing to really hold onto with my left hand.

    All that to say: that's why there is no "superior" lens for everybody. That's why this is such a long-standing debate between the two lenses and so many people find themselves jumping from one to the other and back again. It's all in which thing or combination of things is your yardstick for measuring a lens as to what will pull you toward one or the other.
  6. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Truth! And interesting about the lens size. I don't mind it too much now that I usually carry my stuff in a camera bag, but last winter when my coat pocket was my primary resource, the 20mm sure came in handy! I really wish the focusing ring on the 25mm were smaller though!
    • Like Like x 1
  7. aimawayfromface

    aimawayfromface Mu-43 Rookie

    Jan 19, 2012
    I have to say I really love 20mm vs 25mm comparisons. And I'm not being sarcastic; I really can't get enough of 'em ;)  I think it's because this focal length range is my favorite for general purpose people photography. I've had both lenses myself (I did sell the 20mm recently however because I discovered I preferred the 25mm focal length a bit more), and have a feeling for both. The 20mm is a little sharper at 1.7 compared to the 25mm at 1.4, but the 25mm becomes sharper stopped down even as soon as 1.8. Color and contrast are more appealing on the 25mm with a lot more "pop" to images, whereas the 20mm is flatter--some would say more natural. And of course we all know about the differences in focus speed and noise by now.

    So on the one hand the 25mm has the edge in brightness, IQ, and focus noise/speed, but it's much bigger than the 20mm. In a system in which one of the main selling points is smaller physical size, this is an important consideration. This along with its lower cost elevates the 20mm to be on par with the 25mm with all factors considered.
    • Like Like x 2
  8. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    I think I find myself preferring the 20mm focal length a little bit more, although that might be because my only other fast lens at the moment is the 45mm f1.8, and 25mm and 45mm feel a little closer than I'd like. But at 20mm f1.7 there isn't enough subject isolation to make it useful for portraiture(stand too close, you get too much distortion, stand too far, you lose the bokeh). I think a 20mm f1.2 would be very nice XD. But then again, I suppose we have the nokton f0.95 for that!
  9. arentol

    arentol Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 29, 2012
    Great photos and thanks for the insight. I do have one comment though. In regards to this:

    I have to say that I feel the strongest of the three "portraits" is the 20mm taken from the same distance as the 25mm shot. Having that extra bit of background in there really helps turn it from a "portrait" with some random stuff in the background to a true environment portrait, which I feel gives it much more impact.
  10. Ulfric M Douglas

    Ulfric M Douglas Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 6, 2010
    This is NOT something often heard ;
    It is explainable by individual copies, right?

    If you have a Lumix 14-45 how do you find centre-ish sharpness compared to both of these primes?
  11. ptolemyx

    ptolemyx Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 19, 2012
    Vancouver, BC
    As in all things photographic, it depends...
  12. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    I don't own the 14-45, unfortunately. That said, center sharpness on my 20mm basically can't possibly be appreciably sharper on the 16mp sensors once stopped down past f2, from my experience.

    At f2.5, you can clearly see it outresolving my old G3's sensor in this 100% center crop, even though it's noise reduced in LR:
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    Capture by napilopez, on Flickr

    And here's one 100% extreme corner crop, also at f2.5:
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    corner by napilopez, on Flickr

    I can't imagine demanding anything sharper than that at 100% on the G3, especially after noise reduction.

    For some MTF numbers:

    Testing on a 16mp sensor, Lensrentals shows the 20mm to be the sharpest overall of all M4/3 lenses:
    LensRentals.com - Wide-Angle Micro 4/3 Imatest Results

    On the 12mp E-PL1, Lenstip shows the 25mm and 20mm to have essentially equal center performance, with the 20mm leading in edge performance at wide apertures, but the former having better edge performance stopped down.
    Panasonic Leica DG SUMMILUX 25 mm f/1.4 ASPH. review - Image resolution - Lenstip.com

    SLRgear shows the 25mm to be very slightly sharper than the 20mm, testing on an E-P1.

    My experience has been very much in line with lensrentals' results. It's just that for many images, particularly those that aren't naturally very contrasty, I suspect the 25mm looks sharper because it naturally renders thing with greater contrast. Thus, particularly at smaller viewing sizes, the 25mm will look sharper, even though it might not actually be resolving more detail.

    I would also expect this might explain the different sharpness results from the 16mp tests(and my own experience) and the 12mp tests, where the added contrast helps lenses resolve more detail at the edges, whereas on a more resolving sensor you might see there is actually more resolution with the 20mm.

    Another explanation is that I think the 20mm may show more lateral CA at the corners of the frame than the 25mm at relative apertures in contrasty settings.

    In any case, I just tend to think people hold the PanaLeica on a really high pedestal which, although deserving, might be exaggerating its performance relative to other lenses.
    • Like Like x 2
  13. tanngrisnir3

    tanngrisnir3 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Oct 18, 2011
    ^^^ This.

    And the fact that the 20mm often had bluish/purple fringing in critical areas of high contrast for landscape.

    Better color, micro-contrast and AF. I practically threw my 20mm into the pacific a few times at evening beach shoots because the damned thing just would. Not. Focus.

    I switched and I'm just not going back.
  14. snype

    snype New to Mu-43

    Jan 16, 2013
    New Hampshire
    I've had my OM-D for about a week now - my first 4/3 camera - and bought it with the PL 25/1.4. So far this lens floors me with its sharpness. I love the fast and accurate focus too. The images are breathtaking and have that "look."

    Now to build up my prime lens collection!
  15. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    What body were you using? When I got the 20mm I was using the G3... I never really had issues with AF accuracy that I so often hear about. Not really more than with other lenses. It was just slower. No AF assist lamp either, although I did use shutter release priority instead of focus priority. Don't remember it having issues with my OM-D either, although I didn't have as much time with it.

    Then again, I also often prefer to MF at night(one of the advantages of an EVF).

    But when it comes to tracking moving people, or shooting street close up from the hip, the 25mm is a relative godsend.
  16. tanngrisnir3

    tanngrisnir3 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Oct 18, 2011
  17. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Since I never really used a hood on my 20mm, I wonder how much of a difference it actually makes? Again, the more expensive coatings of the 25mm do show their effect in the three comparison images I posted. In neither standing position for the 20mm does it approach the contrast of the 25, despite that one being a half stop wider open. It's very obvious when you look at the blacks of the 20, which are never really black but instead take on some of the color of the surrounding light.
    • Like Like x 1
  18. mattia

    mattia Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 3, 2012
    The Netherlands
    I enjoy the 20/1.7, and will likely keep it because it was a) pretty cheap and b) is tiny. The AF thing is a pain, though, and it isn't just 'system specific'. Other than my 50/1.8 and Sigma macro, every single Canon system lens I own focusses much faster than the 20/1.7. And quieter. Yes, they're the higher end stuff, but still.
    • Appreciate Appreciate x 1
  19. digitalandfilm

    digitalandfilm Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jul 18, 2011
    The 20mm Panny has excellent sharpness & contrast:

    View attachment 252035

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    However.. low light and nice color goes to the PL 25:

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    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
    • Like Like x 1
  20. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Thanks for sharing! Your second 20mm shot shows where I think the "sweet spot" for portraits is on that lens wide open. Impressive focusing job on that one!
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