Thoughts on the Olly 17mm f1.8 vs Panny 20mm f1.7

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by snerkler, May 3, 2014.

  1. snerkler

    snerkler Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 27, 2014
    I'm looking at getting a good fast 'every day' lens and am considering the Olympus 17mm f1.8, and the Panasonic 20mm f1.7. The difference in focal length and aperture doesn't really concern me, but I have to say that the size of the Panny is preferable.

    However, IQ, AF speed and build quality are more important than the size. So how do the 2 compare in these areas? I understand that there is a mkI and mkII version of the Panny, what are the main differences in these? I've read a lot about the Panny having slow-ish AF, does the version II fix this?

    Also, out of interest what's the Olly 17mm f2.8 like?

  2. phigmov

    phigmov Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 4, 2010
    I've got the 17 f2.8 & 20 f1.7 - these were effectively Gen 1 M43's lenses. Of the two the 20mm is almost in the 'legendary' category for everything apart from AF speed, the 17mm is much maligned but not as bad as people make out - its quite possibly slower to AF than the 20mm.

    If a wider angle, AF speed and the manual focus clutch (if you're a fan of zone-focus) are a priority then the 17 f1.8 is likely to be the one to get.

    If you want sharp images, compact size, a slightly more normal view and slightly improved low-light performance then the 20mm is the one to get.

    The old 17mm can often be had dirt cheap (see also the 14mm) if you did go for the 20 and still wanted something wider. Most people are likely to jump straight to the 14mm and skip the old 17 as a great, decent AF budget wide prime (unless you were wedded to the 35mm view as opposed to the 28).
  3. snerkler

    snerkler Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 27, 2014
    Thanks for your post. 14mm is a little too wide for a walkaround lens for me. 35-40mm is ideal. I'm new to m4/3 and just bought the EM10 and just got the one lens, the 14-42 EZ pancake. Just to get an idea of AF speed, is the P20 comparable to this, slightly slower, or noticeably slower?
    And you say the P20 can be picked up dirt cheap, would you mind giving me an idea of what sot of price you should be looking to pay for an excellent condition one please? (UK prices preferably)
  4. GFFPhoto

    GFFPhoto Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2013
    The 17 renders nicely but is not very sharp for a prime. The 20 is superb optically. I'm told the 17 focuses faster, but I've never had an issue with the AF performance of the 20. The clutch focus of the 17 is a nice feature, the size of the 20 is a nice feature. I use the 20 and love it. The samples I've seen from the 17 on the web look nice, but the various lens tests have always scared me off from actually buying it. Although it renders nicely and looks good on the web, I'm afraid I'd be disappointed if I actually used it because it tests as one of the softest primes in m43 (but who knows, maybe I would be pleasantly surprised if I actually tried it).
    • Like Like x 1
  5. snerkler

    snerkler Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 27, 2014
    Thanks. Ideally I'd like to try them for myself but I'm only in a small town and the stock of lenses isn't great :(
  6. phigmov

    phigmov Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 4, 2010
    Sorry, you may have mis-read - the 17 f2.8 is dirt cheap. The 20 tends to hold its value reasonably well.

    My fastest lens is the 45 f1.8 - it feels much snappier than the 20, even on older bodies. I haven't got any concrete figures though - the more modern lenses just feel faster.

    Heres a comparison video on YouTube -

    I do like my 20mm - its pretty much glued to my E-PM1 is a compact social-function lens.
    • Like Like x 1
  7. pdk42

    pdk42 One of the "Eh?" team

    Jan 11, 2013
    Leamington Spa, UK
    The Oly 17/1.8 sharpness isn't too bad IMHO. It's not as good as the 25/1.8 or 45/1.8, but it's quite useable even for large prints, esp if stopped down to f4. In fact, at f4, it's a perfectly good landscape lens with good sharpness across the frame. Even at f1.8, it's more than acceptable with a little sharpening in LR. It's a pity it's not up with the best primes, but its other characteristics (AF, lack of CA, good flare resistance, build quality) more than make up for it
  8. GFFPhoto

    GFFPhoto Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2013
    Thanks for posting that. I always thought the the complaints about the slowness of the AF tended to be a little exaggerated... now I have numbers. its 1.3 tenths of a second slower!
  9. sgreszcz

    sgreszcz Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 7, 2012
    I have both the p20/1.7 and just bought the o17/1.8. I've been shooting with the p20 for a couple of years and I love the sharpness, rendering and 'pop' of the shots and the small size. My main subjects are family, especially two kids under 4 so I rely of face detect on my em5 and epm2 a lot and get quite frustrated my the p20 slow/missed focus. When it hits focus the results are good!

    I got a good deal on the o17 and started using it. I haven't had much time to pixel peep yet, but it is really nice to have instant focus! I generally like the panasonic lens rendering compared to olympus (also on p25 and p35-100). I also prefer the 20/25mm field of view however I think I just need to get used to the wider 17mm.

    I'm probably not much help to you, as I haven't decided which one I will keep. I did get the 20mm for a steal a few years ago from the Argos eBay site at a time when panasonic offered £50 cashback on lenses. The o17 I also got from Canada with an epl5 double-lens bundle so after selling that kit in the uk the lens was close to free. I might just keep them both for now...

    If I get a chance I can link to a couple of compare shots JPEG out of camera (I don't have time to process raw).
  10. Ulfric M Douglas

    Ulfric M Douglas Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 6, 2010
    At 20mm or under, but not as wide as 14mm, right?

    Olympus 17mmF2.8 takes great photos and is small and cheap to find used.
    Sigma 19mmF2.8 focuses fast but its a bit big for what it is, cheap to buy new.
    Olympus 17mmF1.8 is stylish, metal and focuses fast. Not cheap.
    Lumix 20mm is small and very sharp. Not cheap.
  11. snerkler

    snerkler Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 27, 2014
    Yep, that's pretty much the ones I'm looking at.

    Thanks for all the other replies guys, very useful. sgreszcz I'd be interested in your thoughts when you've spent a bit more time with the 17mm.

    So it is a compromise of sharpness (panny) vs speed of use (olly) then. I think my best bet is to wait until I can get my hands on the Panny 20mm to see how slow it actually is. It might be a case of 'it's fast enough for me'. If it is I think I'll go for this. From that youtube link the Panny does look a bit tardy, and does hunt a little. However, it does look very low light and I don't tend to shoot in very low light very much at all.

    If the Panny isn't for me, how much difference is there in the 17mm f1.8 and f2.8 in terms of IQ and AF? I don't pixel peep a lot btw.
  12. SkiHound

    SkiHound Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 28, 2012
    I've never used the 20 so, FWIW. The reputation of the 20 is that it's very good optically and is a sharper lens. It's also reputed to not be an especially fast focusing lens. I have the 17 f/1.8 and I'd call it a quirky lens. In terms of pure sharpness it doesn't really match the 12-40, which, IMO, is very sharp. Wide open the f/1.8 is fairly sharp in the center but noticeably less so in the corners. There's also some vignetting. Stopped down it's sharper at the corners and edges. It also has quite a bit of field curvature in terms of focus point. I think it's really a street/social lens. It's very nice handling and very fast focusing. I was very hesitant to buy this lens based on reviews. I bought it really as a small, light, fast focusing lens to use when walking around streets. I find it a very fun lens to use in that capacity, and I like the images. I wouldn't describe the lens as soft. It's capable of making very nice images with good detail. But if you're pixel peeping it's not as sharp as the PL25. Without ever using it my guess is that for static images, buildings, architecture, stationary people, landscapes, etc., things where focus speed really doesn't matter the 20 is probably a better bet. For capturing street scenes and such the Oly is probably better. I really enjoy the lens, it's just fun to shoot with. Keep in mind there will be a PL 15mm lens that should soon be available and will be a competitor in this category.
    • Like Like x 1
  13. dejongj

    dejongj Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 3, 2013
    Whipsnade, UK
    Real Name:
    I fully agree with that! I don't get people in here saying it isn't is bloody brilliant, and near perfect for street work...super fast instant focus, point, click, and in focus capture....Superb little lens and perfectly focussed and usable wide open...
  14. nuclearboy

    nuclearboy Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 28, 2011
    Ellicott City, MD
    Real Name:
    I have owned two copies of each of these lenses.

    The 20 is my favorite. You can generally learn to live with the focus speed. Occasionally in lower light it will hunt forward and backward past the focal plane and miss completely. This is frustrating and if you shoot in low light all the time the 17mm is the far better lens since it will focus for you. In decent light, the 20 works well for me and it has better IQ.
  15. snerkler

    snerkler Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 27, 2014
    Thanks for this, very helpful. The lens would be an all purpose lens and so there will be times (hopefully) where I'll need it for some street work, but also would use it as a general lens for city breaks etc so will be used for buildings, basic landscape etc. As you can see I'm wanting a bit of an all rounder really, and one that's going to give me better/more detailed images, shallower DOF and lets in more light than the 14-42 kits lens. This lens would not be used for when I want my best shots (I plan on getting the 45mm f1.8, and if I can afford it one day the 75mm f1.8), but something that would give me really nice shots and be flexible in terms of what I can shoot with it.

    This is one of the reasons I'm still contemplating the 17mm f2.8, as I do plan on spending money on other better lenses eventually and this seems like it could be a cheap way to get a 'replacement' for the 14-42 EZ for when I want to let in more light, and or get shallower DOF. However, if IQ's no different to the kit then it's not worth getting imo, even considering the light advantage.

    I know there's the 12-40mm f2.8 which would suit my needs very well, but the whole point of getting the EM10 was to decrease bulk compared to my DSLR, and whilst it would still be smaller than my A77 with 16-50mm f2.8 it's not 'small'. Plus I can't afford that lens currently anyway ;) So my thoughts are if I could get away with a 'do-it-all' prime for most things this would be ideal :)
  16. snerkler

    snerkler Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 27, 2014
    Thanks :)

    I think given the opinions so far I think it best that I hunt down a Panny 20mm and test the focus speed and take it from there. Depending on those results I may have the then decide whether the 17mm f2.8 will be good enough, or whether it's worth spending 3 times as much on the f1.8.
  17. mrjr

    mrjr Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 25, 2012
    Here's my opinion on it. I've had the 20mm in the past (with a Panasonic body, where it performs better), and I own the 17mm now.

    The 20mm could produce some great images, but it just didn't fit for me. It was never wide enough when I wanted to take in the scene, and it was never tight enough for the portraits I wanted to make. It's really not a focal length that I find to be widely useful. And with a baby turning into a toddler, the AF really couldn't keep up, especially indoors in the evenings. Plus, I always felt afraid of damaging the lens since because of the focusing mechanism that moves in and out on the front of the lens (I admit, though, that this probably wasn't a rational choice or a likely scenario). I sold it many moons ago, and replaced it with the PL25, and was very, very happy with it, especially for my family shooting.

    But I always longed for something in the classic 35mm (equivalent) focal length, and neither the 14mm nor the 19mm really felt right as an all-rounder, and as a small 2-lens kit with my 45mm. So I sold them and got the Oly 17mm.

    I love that lens. Where the AF speed of the Panasonic is downright pokey, the AF speed of the Olympus is instantaneous in anything but darkness (even then, it will probably lock focus). It's sharp, and feels great to handle.

    I have to address the "sharpness" issue here: I think sharpness is probably the most overrated lens characteristic, and yet it's the only one many people emphasize. Pretty much all the lenses are sharp, even viewing on a 24" monitor. That's huge! I think pixel peeping just makes for unhappy people, and distracts from the enjoyment of your photographic process and your images. I can put your mind at ease: the 17mm takes sharp shots. Especially since you have said you don't pixel peep much, I think you will be very pleased. I just hate to listen to people insinuating, or even stating outright, that "it just isn't very sharp" because that is bollocks.

    The most important lens characteristic IMO is focal length, and the 17mm is just right (that's also IMO, of course.) It's wide enough for me for walking around; it can take in many scenes. It's pretty great as a snapshot lens for chasing a toddler. And it's my go to lens for environmental portraits. It's very versatile, and it definitely spends more time on my camera than any other lens right now.

    That's not to mention the super cool snap focus ring, and the quite nice out-of-focus rendering, and the better-controlled chromatic aberration (compared to the 20mm on an Olympus body). It's just a solid lens.

    In terms of pricing, the 20mm mk1 would be cheaper (probably around $250 used), and the 17mm and the 20mm mk2 will be similarly priced. Maybe slightly less for the Panasonic used, but really close, especially since Olympus lets go of 17mms refurbished for $300 when they have stock.

    Anyway, that was much longer than I meant it to be, but I hope that helps.
    • Like Like x 7
  18. snerkler

    snerkler Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 27, 2014
    Very interesting, and useful. I personally don't get too hung up on sharpness, which is why I try to talk about IQ. Contrast, colour rendering, bokeh etc are very important features, and also how much detail is captured. Don't get me wrong, sharpness is important but I'm yet to find a lens that you can't sharpen up in processing, which I do to 99% of my images.

    I'm guessing as everybody seems to be ignoring the f2.8 that this lens isn't worth considering :wink:
  19. mrjr

    mrjr Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 25, 2012
    The problem as I see it with the 17mm f2.8 isn't so much itself – it's the alternatives. Sure, it exhibits some chromatic aberration, it's a slow focuser, and it's not the sharpest lens around. But that doesn't mean it's a bad lens. It's just not very good compared to the alternatives.

    As a pancake, it's overshadowed by the 14mm, which is smaller, much faster focusing, and sharper, and by the 20mm, which is much sharper and brighter. And by the 14-42mm EZ and Panasonic 12-32mm, both of which can zoom and are just as sharp.

    As a cheap, wide-ish lens, it's overshadowed by the 14mm, as above, and by the Sigma 19mm which is sharper, focuses somewhat faster, focuses much closer, and is cheaper.

    It can make nice images, but it's just probably not a good use of limited lens dollars unless you really love the focal length and absolutely need a 1 stop larger aperture than your pancake kit lens.
  20. snerkler

    snerkler Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 27, 2014
    Thanks, just the sort if info I needed. Ruled that one out then :)