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Pancake Lenses

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by chrism_scotland, Jun 1, 2011.

  1. chrism_scotland

    chrism_scotland Mu-43 Veteran

    483
    Jun 1, 2011
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    Hi folks,

    I'm planning on picking up a M4/3 body in the next couple of days (EP1 or GF1) but looking for some advice on the pancake lenses.
    It seems that the 20mm is a must buy so that will be getting bought, but I'm a bit stuck between the Oly 17mm and the Panasonic 14mm, I can get a brand new EP1 for £200 or a bundle with the 17mm for £300.

    I'm looking at the 17mm being a better deal right now for only £100 but is the 14mm a better lens?
     
  2. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    I have both the 14 and the 20. I found that there isn't much FOV difference between the two lenses. The difference in FOV between the 17 and 20 must be negligible. If it was I, I'd get the 14 and wait for the µ4/3 25mm f/1.4 to be released, just to enjoy greater difference in FOV.

    I found both lenses, the 14 and the 20, to be very sharp with quick focus.

    G
     
    • Like Like x 1
  3. dixeyk

    dixeyk Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 9, 2010
    I have the 14 and the 20 as well and just to add a different opinion here...I much prefer the 20 FOV. I cut my teeth on photography using an old fixed lens RF cameras with fast 40mm lenses so the 20 feels more natural to me. That said they are both excellent lenses. FWIW I find my 14 a lot faster focusing and quieter than my 20 but not quite as sharp.
     
  4. WT21

    WT21 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 19, 2010
    Boston
    Oly is supposed to be releasing a 12mm pancake (rumor has it). The 20mm is an excellent lens. Maybe get that one, and wait out the month of June for the Oly announcements??
     
  5. chrism_scotland

    chrism_scotland Mu-43 Veteran

    483
    Jun 1, 2011
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    I take it of the current pancake lineup the 20mm is the one to have? Might contemplate purchasing that and the Panny 14-45 for now as I've seen it relatively cheaply.
     
  6. dixeyk

    dixeyk Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 9, 2010
    I don't know if this is useful but I have the 14, 20 and 14-45 and I just put the 14 up for sale. The 14 is a great lens and I can see it's appeal if you shoot a lot of WA. For me it didn't really offer me anything more than I already have in the 20 and the 14-45.
     
  7. Linh

    Linh Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 14, 2009
    Maryland, US
    this =) I, too, do not find 14 a big enough difference. I know some do, but I would much prefer pair a 12 with my 20.

    Or the 14 w/ the 25/1.4, but that 25 isn't going to be a pancake I don't think.
     
  8. mauve

    mauve Mu-43 Top Veteran

    892
    Mar 9, 2010
    Paris, France
    I've got both 20 & 17. The best that can be said about the 17, is it makes for a stylish see-through body cap. The lens itself is a poor performer by all metrics, its only saving grace being a to have a 35mm lens FOV of the 24x36 film days. It's apt for some street shooting, but overall it's a deceiving lens.

    Now, to sweeten somewhat my harsh opinion, consider although I'm not fond of the lens, I'm unlikely to part with it. Its balance on the e-p1 is nice, the manual focus is good, but the results are not in the same ballpark as the 20.

    For some applications, the 3 mm difference between the 17 and 20 can be quite useful to have too.

    Buy it only if you have a very, very, very good deal on it.

    Cheers,
     
  9. chrism_scotland

    chrism_scotland Mu-43 Veteran

    483
    Jun 1, 2011
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    I've got the choice of a brand new Silver EP1 body only for £200 or a brand new Silver EP1 Kit with the 17mm & finder for £300 so for £100 is the 17mm worth it? I guess if I don't like it I'd at least make my £100 back selling it based on some of the prices on Ebay.
     
  10. Armanius

    Armanius Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 23, 2010
    Houston
    Muttley
    If all rumors come true, then we m4/3 users may have primes of the following focal lengths:

    12/?, 14/2.5, 17/2.8, 20/1.7, 25/1.4 and 45/2.8.

    I believe there was/is also a rumor of an Oly fast 50.

    To make the lineup complete, I'd love to see a superwide pancake. Perhaps something along the lines of a 9mm F2.8.
     
  11. mauve

    mauve Mu-43 Top Veteran

    892
    Mar 9, 2010
    Paris, France
    £100 for both 17 and vf1 seems about right. The vf1 is a bit gimmicky considering it's only a passive VF suited only to the 17 FOV with no feedback at all, but selling both as a combo in case you don't like them should make it a blank operation overall. If you can find a buyer.

    To be bluntly honest, a 14-42 mkI kit zoom is optically a better lens than the 17 alone. But the 17 is a joy to handle, its limits only show on screen afterwards, when post processing. It's a lens I'd love to love, but I can't really overcome the nagging feeling the pics I took with it could have been better had I chose any other lens in my bag at that moment.

    Cheers,
     
    • Like Like x 1
  12. chrism_scotland

    chrism_scotland Mu-43 Veteran

    483
    Jun 1, 2011
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    Is the 17mm really that bad? It seems to get hugely differing opinions!
     
  13. mauve

    mauve Mu-43 Top Veteran

    892
    Mar 9, 2010
    Paris, France
    Here's my opinion in full (part of an article I'm in the process of writing). Others may disagree, for good reasons. Photography is about balance, trade-offs and expectations.

    Cheers,


    ps. Warning, ridiculously long reading...

    ---------------------
    Lenses :

    My biggest gripe with the e-pen as a system lies with the lens lineup. Upon release to market, Olympus had managed to give the new e-p1 camera only two native lenses, one being a 14-42 mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom, optically lifted from its 4:3 SLR system, with a twist (literally), and the other a 17 mm f/2.8 prime. The sheer number alone wasn't incredibly encouraging. Just two lenses was bordering on greediness, considering the vast number of regular 4:3 lenses that could have been re-factored into the new micro format with very little adjustments. Hopes were high they would be incredibly good to offset the poverty of offer.

    So let's review those : while not stellar, the zoom is in line with kit zooms sold by other brands of cameras, better than many, even. The folding mechanism of the barrel makes it pleasant and pocketable, and the speed and field of view is suitable for most daylight, outdoor shooting. In short, a decent lens, coming handy when needed, a solid performer within its field of application, sharp and nicely contrasted except really at the far end where it becomes a bit soft – within expectations. But the promises of µ4:3 included superior low-light performances, in line with DSLRs, and clearly, this zoom isn't tailored to any kind of indoor, available light photography. This wasn't unexpected, therefore not open to criticism. What can be criticized, though, are small details : strange filter thread diameter (40.5 mm), rotating front lens making the use of polarizing filters impractical, wobbly structure leading sometimes to non welcomed blurry pictures (rarely, but that's no excuse), and a general 'leisurely pace' for the (slightly noisy) focusing motor. No show stoppers, but those concerns are still nagging enough to firmly put the lens in the consumer market segment. And they certainly were annoying to so many potential buyers that Olympus finally released a much improved, movie compatible (read, silent), 'Mark II' version of that lens in kit with the e-pl2, addressing all those weaknesses, as well as paving the way for a line of optical add-ons expanding even more the capabilities of this improved version. Happy late comers...

    The 17 mm pancake is another story altogether. The best that can be said about it is, it looks damn good on the camera. So good in fact you can take pictures of an e-p1 + 17 mm for hours, highlighting the magnificent balance of shapes and the sumptuous curves of the object. So good it was featured in a Coco Chanel advertisement released in glossy fashion magazines in 2009. So good, lastly, that still to this day it elicits mesmerized looks and inquisitive questioning from passers by in the street. It sure gives you credibility as a photographer ! But the crux of the problem isn't to look at the camera, but to take pictures with the camera, and that's where the troubles begin. The 17 isn't a bad lens; in fact, objectively, it's a bit above average considering its targeted market. It's worse than that : the 17 is a disappointing lens.

    Cold reason and comparisons tell us that the sharpness is decent; not top of class, but enough to look good in tests – but then, it's the least a prime can offer. Contrast is very average, which is more surprising considering Olympus has a long standing habit of releasing contrasty lenses. Therefore, the 17-made images don't bode very well in a mix of pictures all made through Olympus glass, which is annoying. Consistency of results produced with various lenses from a given brand can be an important selling point, and the 17 fails this, compared to previous generation lenses, and even compared to the standard zoom ! So, while acceptable purely from a benchmark point of view, the contrast is in fact the first cause of disappointment.

    The second cause of disappointment is the measly 2.8 opening. While a notch better than the 3.5 maximum aperture of the kit zoom, it can't be said to be a fast lens. And while it can be blamed on the pancake design to some extent, it's far from being a satisfying explanation considering Olympus had in the 80's the fastest interchangeable pancake in 35mm film format with the OM 40 mm f/2.0, an impressive lens by all accounts (and that's without even speaking of the very good 42mm f/1.7 fixed lens of the 35SP rangefinder). The 17 isn't displaying much of family spirit here.

    But it gets worse. This lens displays an unbelievable level of chromatic aberration (CA). Unlike its older sibling, the 4:3 standard, which posited a lens tele-centric design to avoid such a thing, the µ4:3 standard relaxed this stance and promised to get rid of CA through in-camera processing, but the e-p1 processor doesn't correct CA in-camera at all – and in fact, no e-pen does in-body CA correction yet, not even the latest e-pl2. As a result, every picture with fine, high contrast details (think tree branches against a blue sky) looks like a rainbow with red and blue outlines showing ominously. One might think that in the very least, Olympus would have enabled the lens to be used at its best by cameras doing actual in-body CA correction such as the G range from its partner, Panasonic, or its own hypothetical, yet-to-be-released, CA corrected models – after all, this is the purpose of a standard for interchangeable lenses. But one would be wrong : Olympus dispensed itself from following the rules it contributed to write, so the lens firmware doesn't provide this information, and therefore, even on a G camera, the CA goes uncorrected, and won't be corrected either on a future Olympus model, however high-end, unless there is a firmware upgrade for the lens made available prior to that model entry on the market.

    It can nonetheless be argued to some extent that CA is easy to address with a little amount of computer post-processing. Truth be told, this doesn't appear as a mere possibility, but more like an absolute necessity to the quality conscious photographer : CA produces atrocious false colors around dark objects on color pictures, and adds to the general feeling of over-softness of the lens, even on black and white images, because it blurs outlines and destroys whatever little micro-contrast the lens managed to produce in spite of its weaknesses. But it comes with a catch. On a digital camera with a Bayer matrix array sensor (all cameras except Fuji Foevon based models), the image is recorded in gray levels, and colors are deduced from a complex algorithmic processing called “demosaicisation”. This computation works very well, but can't discriminate on the origin of colors that get interpolated, and therefore includes false colors such as chroma noise and CA in its process. It's akin to having spots of jam on a shirt : the algorithm “smears” the spots deep in the image fabric making them more difficult to remove afterward. So like all color defects, removal is best achieved before the demosaicisation processing takes place, and this implies working from RAW images. And in turn, starting from RAW for the purpose of CA removal drives the photographer head on into the second major defect of the lens : the optical distortion.

    I would gladly have excused a reasonable amount of optical distortion from the defect list. I am quite happy with the trend of lens makers to release cheaper, smaller lenses with a modicum of optical distortion, leaving to the camera the grunt work of straightening lines in software. And as it goes, the e-p1 does live up to its claim : camera-processed images show near zero distortion out of any native µ4:3 lens, 17 mm pancake included.

    But there is a hidden cost to pay here; while lenses are advertised at their true optical focal length, the camera has to digitally “zoom” into the corrected area to avoid showing a pin-cushion shaped image. To be clear, the camera straighten the image, creating arc-circle empty parts in borders, and crops out those empty parts, to expand the good area, losing some degrees of the advertised Field Of View (FOV) in the process, as well as interpolating dimensions to fit the claimed height and width of the sensor in pixels (digitally increasing the apparent resolution by creating “imaginary” pixels). When the amount of optical distortion remains small, this trade off isn't of much concern. But in the case of the 17 mm f/2.8, the distortion is positively huge. Therefore, the optical 17 mm focal length becomes a more restricted true 18 or even 19 mm, and the small sensor (compared to a DSLR APS-C sized sensor) isn't even used at its fullest. This is bad because it lowers the already modest optical abilities of the lens, and leads to the creation of digital artifacts in detailed areas of an image. And of course, it impedes on the ability of the photographer to re-frame in post processing, any further crop over an already processed image increasing the level of visible digital noise.

    And when processing RAW files – which, we've seen, is almost a necessity due to the much needed CA correction – this optical distortion has to be corrected by the photographer in software too, because the camera can't help anymore. It's another step in the workflow, and depending on the software used and the computer power, it can add significant time and troubles to the operation.

    Getting real, how does those flaws translate in practice ? Well, shooting can be said to be the saving grace of this lens. The handling and balance are superb. The so-called focus-by-wire works extremely well, at least once you have setup the rotation preference to suit your habits in the camera parameters – my camera came setup for infinity counter-clockwise and close-up clockwise, which is opposite directions to my OM manual focus lenses, and it took me time and much curses to realize this, and even more so to find the menu section where this parameter lives. The focal of the lens is slightly wide and feels very natural in a urban environment. So ergonomics are somewhat pleading in favor of using it a lot. The very compact form factor of the camera such equipped is a constant call to get outside and picture about everything coming your way, and it's a real treat to do so.

    But physics and reality get their revenge once you download your memory card to the computer : the optical flaws previously discussed become glaringly obvious on screen, way before one hit 100%, 1:1, pixel-peeping resolution. The CA is especially a constant torture to watch, and a trained eye can notice it even on black and white images. This is a shame considering the jpeg engine of the camera is so good most of the pictures taken through other lenses can be readily shown without further RAW adjustments. I still shoot RAW+jpeg for archival purposes, or for those occasions I want to make some custom processing, but the pictures made through this lens send me back years earlier to the days when I had to process every single picture I made with my old Pentax DSLR through a full RAW workflow. This was necessary to extract all the 'juice' from the latent image because that camera's processor was slow, first generation, and not able to squeeze that much data into a jpeg file at shooting speed, therefore had to cut corners on quality. And I don't blame Pentax to have done so in those days, because both optics and sensor were first class. But I curse Olympus for having released today a lens that needs digital pampering beyond the camera's ability to deliver its best results, and for being ultimately the limiting factor of the camera's image quality.

    In the end, are the pictures any good ? Yes, they can be. The mix of all those shortcomings combined with a fair amount of post-processing leads to pictures displaying a somewhat “dreamy” quality, as some of its proponents kindly puts it. More objectively, it can be said that the lens has a kind of retro imaging style, but this is only because the flaws it exhibits were unheard of since at least the late 50's ! When used for the first few times, it can lead to some leaps of inspiration, like any novelty photographic item such as a Holga or a Lomo camera. But once the dust has settled, the kind of image produced constantly by this lens (blurry edges, strong vignetting, soft contrast) becomes tiring and somewhat 'cliché'.

    To finally nail the coffin, on top of its own inner flaws, this lens suffers also from three external, independent facts :

    The 17 mm focal is equivalent to a 35 mm lens of the 24x36 film era. This focal may have been the most widely used by photo reporters everywhere on the planet since the mid-30's. Therefore, everyone knows by past viewing experience how such a lens should perform. And to most of us, the reference point is images made by the likes of Cartier-Bresson through a Leica Summicron 35 mm f/2, one of the best lens ever if there's one. Of course, the comparison doesn't do the Olympus 17 mm any good.
    This 17 mm lens is incredibly expensive considering its poor level of performance. At circa 300 € retail, it's smack in the ballpark of the Canon and Nikon 35 mm f/2 full frame lenses, both of high optical quality and giving a full stop more of aperture for the price. Where's the economical advantage put forth by Olympus marketing department, promising simpler and cheaper lenses for the system ? To be noted, those competing lenses are heavier, because they harbor a lot more of optical glass, which is the most expensive part of any lens. Therefore, all the economical advantage gained with the new format has gone straight into Olympus' greedy pockets, completely at the expense of its clients, without any quality advantage in return. Unfair, to say the least, but bordering fraudulent would certainly be more accurate.
    Coincidentally with the e-p1 release, Panasonic has launched a fantastic pancake lens in a native µ4:3 mount to complement its own µ4:3 mirrorless camera, the GF-1, this prime lens being a 20 mm f/1.7 with incredible performances, vastly out-performing the poor Olympus 17 mm by several orders of magnitude on almost every aspects. Better sharpness, better contrast, wider aperture, much better CA control, better distortion control (though far from perfect) – all of this at a very similar initial price point, with a field of view angle just a notch shorter, and the barrel sized a bit bigger. Then again, the comparison between both has not done any good to the already criticized Olympus' optical design. The only bad comment one can make about that Panasonic lens is that it looks as misplaced on an e-p1 as a spare tire bolted to the rooftop of a classic Porsche 911 car. The pairing of the 20 mm and the E-pen body won't make the cover of Vanity Fair any day for sure, but a picture taken with that combo very well might – which, from a photographer's point of view, is the most important.

    Having copiously lambasted the lens, what conclusion can we make about Olympus strategy when it released such a poor performer as the standard prime lens for its new system camera (and, until now, its one and only prime available to retail) ?

    First thing, it can't be believed for a single second such a design slipped out of R&D without anyone noticing how disappointing it was. Olympus is maybe one of the oldest optical company still around today, it has a huge experience in lens design, and it made a conscious managing decision to release a budget lens disguised as a top class prime – it even went as far as advertising it as complying to its flagship factory Q&A guidelines, which may be true to some extent, but this piece of glass is totally substandard considering the amazing usual optical level of lenses bearing the “Tatsuno Quality” moniker. Secondly, this decision wasn't made on a whim in a late design stage, nor to provide a hasty plug to fill a perceived hole in the marketing of the system just before the release to market. A late 2008 Olympus concept Micro 4/3 camera was shown in Japan sporting a lens mockup externally identical to the actual 17 mm. Therefore, at that time, we can be sure the design was already frozen, and the factory tooled up for production. The conclusion is, this lens is a premeditated departure from Maitani's era “lens first and foremost” rule.
     
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  14. Covey22

    Covey22 Mu-43 Regular

    91
    May 3, 2011
    New England, USA
    I'm evaluating the 14 for a review and I have the 20 as my personal prime. Between the two pancakes, I really prefer the 20 for speed and a more normal FOV. That's not to say you can't get compelling pictures with the 14. But even though it's a 28mm equivalent FOV, it handles like the ultra-wide that it is. And if you're not careful with an ultra-wide, you're going to get into trouble, especially with unlevelled subjects and the expected optical distortions that come with the actual focal length. In those regards, the 20 is more forgiving. The extra speed, even though very few lenses operate optimally at wide-open, is also another compelling feature. Both produce outstanding image quality. You just have to carefully consider one focal length versus the other in terms of the photographs you like to take.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  15. WT21

    WT21 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 19, 2010
    Boston
    I'm in the States, so I don't follow UK pricing, but that seems like a pretty good upgrade. The 17mm should go for something like £100-200 itself, and the viewfinder should be at least £50. You can always resell them if you don't like them. I've got the VF1 with my 20mm, but only because I had the 20mm first. I like that little VF a lot, specifically for pre-set hyperfocal shooting, when the LCD isn't really relevant, but the VF1 would be a much better match to the 17mm in terms of FOV than my 20mm.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  16. dixeyk

    dixeyk Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 9, 2010
    Tell us what you REALLY think. :biggrin:
     
  17. chrism_scotland

    chrism_scotland Mu-43 Veteran

    483
    Jun 1, 2011
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    Thanks everyone, EP1 ordered with 17mm but I'm on the hunt for a 20mm to go with it.
    If the 17mm is that bad I'll sell it on and put the cash toward a 14-45 or 14mm pancake.
     
  18. Alanroseman

    Alanroseman Super Moderator Emeritus

    Dec 21, 2010
    New England
    Hi Mauve,

    I hadn't heard from you in a while, now I know why... you've been typing.

    That was long, but it was an interesting read. I think some may see this as being written by an Olympus hater.. I know that isn't the case.

    Rather, I took it for what I believe it was meant to be. An airing of disappointment from a long time Olympus aficionado. You expected the best from a company that has performed for you on a consistent basis for many years, and you feel they let you down with this offering.

    Well written, very thorough examination from an experienced end user.

    Thanks for taking the time to write and post.

    Alan
     
    • Like Like x 1
  19. Ned

    Ned Mu-43 Legend

    Jul 18, 2010
    Alberta, Canada
    Sounds like a good plan, Chris. :) PEN bodies and Panasonic lenses for a full micro four-thirds setup has always been my favorite. I use Zuiko lenses on my PEN, but they are all Four-Thirds, not Micro Four-Thirds.
     
  20. ~tc~

    ~tc~ Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Oct 22, 2010
    Houston, TX
    Just for accuracy since it appears you are going to publish this, it's Foveon, and they are (at least now) owned by Sigma not Fuji
     
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