Test Olympus 17mm f/1.8 Sharpness Series

Amin Sabet

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I shot a test series to examine Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 performance throughout the frame across a variety of apertures: f/1.8, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, and 8.

If you prefer a more hands-on approach to evaluation, download the RAW files below and have at it:
http://mu43rawfiles.s3.amazonaws.com/oly1718raw/PC230001.orf
http://mu43rawfiles.s3.amazonaws.com/oly1718raw/PC230002.orf
http://mu43rawfiles.s3.amazonaws.com/oly1718raw/PC230003.orf
http://mu43rawfiles.s3.amazonaws.com/oly1718raw/PC230004.orf
http://mu43rawfiles.s3.amazonaws.com/oly1718raw/PC230005.orf
http://mu43rawfiles.s3.amazonaws.com/oly1718raw/PC230006.orf

Meanwhile, if you don't care about ultimate edge and corner sharpness because you plan to shoot subjects where this doesn't matter so much, ie people, then see this series instead. And if you really don't care about tests and just want to share some of your photos with this lens, we've got a thread for that too.

The zones examined in this test are shown by the yellow boxes below. 100% crops are then presented for each zone at each aperture. All processing was done from RAW in Lightroom 4.3.

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Center:

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Mid-left-lower:

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Mid-right-upper:

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Left edge:

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Right edge:

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Far-upper-left:

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Far-lower-left:

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Far-lower-right:

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As evident from the files, color fringing correction, while easy to do in Lightroom, was not applied. Barrel distortion has been corrected in Lightroom, which robs the image of some sharpness. Also remember that depth of field (DOF) will affect this kind of test. For example, the proximal corners are outside the DOF at the low f-numbers.

The right edge crop shows that my lens has some decentering (lens elements are not perfectly centered, so one edge is sharper than the other). This is true for most lenses, and I consider my copy of the lens to be within specifications (not defective) in this regard. It's no different than most lenses I've bought over the years.
 
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Microman

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Thank you for all this work. Build quality of this lens is decent, but performance wise it fails to convince me. After the excellent 12mm, 45mm, 60mm and 75mm, this lens is a disappointment.
 

NJH

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Its the mid right upper sequence which is so disappointing to me. On the flip side though I am used to the lens on my X100 which is likely worse at F2 and doesn't really get sharp across the frame till F4 much like this Oly lens. Is it really so bad? Probably a bit overpriced right now for what it offers.
 

jamespetts

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Its the mid right upper sequence which is so disappointing to me. On the flip side though I am used to the lens on my X100 which is likely worse at F2 and doesn't really get sharp across the frame till F4 much like this Oly lens. Is it really so bad? Probably a bit overpriced right now for what it offers.
I suspect that the lens deserves to be considered decent if it were only at a lower price. I rather suspect that the price will diminish over the next year or so to be perhaps only slightly more than the 20mm f/1.7. I also wonder whether this lens might end up being bundled with the replacement for the E-P3: it would be a good kit lens, I think (people may recall that the E-P3 was offered with the 17mm f/2.8 as a kit lens as well as the 14-42mm). Indeed, I wonder whether that was precisely why it was designed to be small and relatively cheap to manufacture (hence possible compromises on quality)?
 

Jonathan F/2

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I suspect that the lens deserves to be considered decent if it were only at a lower price. I rather suspect that the price will diminish over the next year or so to be perhaps only slightly more than the 20mm f/1.7. I also wonder whether this lens might end up being bundled with the replacement for the E-P3: it would be a good kit lens, I think (people may recall that the E-P3 was offered with the 17mm f/2.8 as a kit lens as well as the 14-42mm). Indeed, I wonder whether that was precisely why it was designed to be small and relatively cheap to manufacture (hence possible compromises on quality)?
The 12-50mm was released around the same time last year without a body. A couple months later it was announced as the kit lens to the OM-D. The 17mm, could indeed be the kit lens for the upcoming E-P5 or whatever next is coming out.
 

jamespetts

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The 12-50mm was released around the same time last year without a body. A couple months later it was announced as the kit lens to the OM-D. The 17mm, could indeed be the kit lens for the upcoming E-P5 or whatever next is coming out.
Interesting! What was the RRP for the 12-50mm back then, and what does it sell for new now?
 

alessandro

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... and I consider my copy of the lens to be within specifications (not defective) in this regard. It's no different than most lenses I've bought over the years.
Honestly, seeing your samples I would not say that. It looks under-par.
 

Amin Sabet

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Honestly, seeing your samples I would not say that. It looks under-par.
If by "par" you mean "average", then I agree with you that it seems like it has more than the average amount of decentering. 50% of lenses will have more than the average amount of decentering. When a lens has more decentering than the vast majority based on what I've come to expect from years of buying lenses, I consider it to be out of spec/defective. This copy of this lens is a bit disappointing, but I don't consider it to be defective.

If you look at SLRGear's blur plots for various lenses, you'll see that this amount of decentering is within the statistically normal (where 95% of lenses perform) range. For example, here is their Canon EF 50/1.4 putting in a pretty rough upper right corner even after being stopped down a couple of stops:

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McDark

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Its the mid right upper sequence which is so disappointing to me.
Methinks it's so soft at larger apertures just due to DOF... Am I right Amin, what do you think? And where was the focus point?

Excellent work BTW, thanks Amin.
 

b_rubenstein

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DOF doesn't come into play that far from the subject with a 17mm lens. The lens may not a flat field of focus, but the difference in sharpness from the left to right side of the frame indicates an out of kilter lens.
 

milez

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so far, all the shots taken with 17/1.8 looks acceptable to me
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Amin Sabet

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Methinks it's so soft at larger apertures just due to DOF... Am I right Amin, what do you think? And where was the focus point?

Excellent work BTW, thanks Amin.
DOF doesn't come into play that far from the subject with a 17mm lens. The lens may not a flat field of focus, but the difference in sharpness from the left to right side of the frame indicates an out of kilter lens.
Yes, I think the lens isn't giving symmetrical performance. For what it's worth, I tried a second copy of this lens which was similar to the one shown. As I mentioned above, this is a common phenomenon with nearly all manufacturers in my experience.
 

mgear

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Thanks for the review!

Even though I don't own any Olympus primes, they all seem to produce a satisfying level of quality and character from them. Now if only the barrels were black.
 

kuau

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I just got one, I did some infinity tests at F5.6 and F8, iSO 200 and on a tripod 2 second delay, corners are not that great for a 35mm equivalent lens. 2/3rds of the frame are sharp though. I am assuming field curvature at work.

I may return it.
 

inthecage

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I think it's important that you mentioned DOF affecting the results, because at 1.8 your gonna see it in 100% crops. How much of it though is hard to quantify. Just from my playing around with the 25 pany at 1.8 or so, DOF is very real when you zoom in to crops like that. Personally, the lens looks very good to me. By 4.0 it's really pretty crisp and even 1.8 usable in the corners.
 
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