The venerable 35mm lens. It’s a focal length that’s considered a must for most photographers. Not too long and not too wide, many photographers consider the 35mm in the “Goldilocks Zone” — that is, just right!
The 35mm is versatile, great for everything from environmental portraits to landscape photography. Wedding photographers view the 35mm as indispensable as the 24-70mm and 70-200mm.
Why am I talking about 35mm, when this lens is 17mm?!?
Great question. Since Olympus uses a small micro micro four-thirds sensor, we have to apply something that’s called a “Field of View Crop Factor (FOVCF).” In other words, we take the focal length and multiply it by two to give us a full-frame equivalent field of view. Which means the 17 x 2 equates to a 34mm field of view. So no, it’s not actually 35mm, but it’s really close!
Olympus makes photography fun
I’ve been a fan of Olympus cameras and micro four-thirds in general for awhile. I started my YouTube channel over 7 years ago reviewing Olympus and micro four-thirds cameras and lenses. I loved the compact size and weight and the amazing image quality these tiny bodies and lenses are capable of producing. The cameras and lenses are so compact and unobtrusive — so easy to take on a hike or a road trip.
Micro four-thirds is pure photographic bliss for those of us in love with photography. Olympus made — and still makes — photography fun!
As time wore on, other manufacturers started offering cameras with much larger sensors at similar prices. Photographers like me were enticed by the image quality of larger sensors — particularly in low light. Olympus found itself at an increasingly competitive disadvantage and they needed to do something to compete.
In 2013, one of Olympus’s solutions was to launch the PRO line of lenses. First with the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO. Followed by a series of zoom lenses and then a series of primes. All of these PRO lenses had amazing build and optical performance and a high price tag to match. Olympus made the decision to use the PRO line to improve its competitive position and capture a share of the professional photographer marketplace.
As an Olympus shooter myself, I found myself in love — OK, I admit it — I was in lust with these PRO lenses! I always wanted a fast 35mm equivalent prime for my Olympus cameras. Which leads us to today’s review, the Olympus 17mm f/1.2 PRO.
Much like the others in the line, the build of the 17mm is exceptional. It could be summed up as robust yet surprisingly lightweight. Aesthetically beautiful, made out of metal and coming in at just under 14 ounces, the 17mm is a bit scrawny, yet it is still heavy for something so relatively small. You’ll have to hold it in your own hands for that last part to make any sense. It’s light, yet solid.
The focus ring is ribbed a tactile, it’s reasonably dampened with some resistance. The lens hood and lens cap are also built to a high standard. The front filter thread is a common 62mm. Like others in the PRO line, the 17mm is vigorously weather sealed for the most extreme of weather conditions.
One area where Olympus continues to excel is their outstanding implementation of the manual focus ring clutch mechanism which is built into nearly all of Olympus’s PRO lenses. Just a simple tug on the focus ring and out comes the focus distance meter. Though these lenses are “fly by wire,” the focus distance meter is accurate and works similarly to a standard analog distance meter. This is a great feature for filmmakers.
On the downside, the focus ring isn’t quite as refined as others in the line. I like a little more tactile resistance, and I’m not feeling it with the 17mm. Apart from that nit, build is exceptional overall.
AF speed and accuracy
Olympus has incorporated the MSC (Movie and Still Compatible) focusing system. In my experience, this has proved to be uber fast and accurate even wide-open at f/1.2. With the phase detect AF system of the E-M1 Mark II and Mark III, autofocus is instantaneous. I’m not experiencing the hunting and jackhammering I’ll have sometimes in mirrorless camera systems.
When I’m shooting video on both the E-M1 Mark II and III, the camera and the lens lock on to faces quickly, accurately and most importantly, smoothly. The 17mm and the E-M1 Mark II and Mark III would be a fantastic companion if you’re a vlogger.
Bottom line, AF speed and accuracy doesn’t get much better than this!
It’s got the build and it’s got the AF speed and accuracy thing down, but in the “rubber meets the road” department, how are the optics? When I use micro four-thirds cameras and lenses, I shoot wide-open the majority of the time. I do that because, even wide-open, there’s enough depth of field to get my subject in sharp focus.
At f/1.2, the 17mm is sharp in the center of the frame. As I look closer to the edges, there is some image quality falloff, which isn’t that surprising. When I stop down a bit to f/4, the lens gets sharper, but the edges don’t improve notably. However, when stopped down, even slightly, I do find my images have a wider depth of field and less of the 3D effect that I love.
Speaking of the 3D effect, one of the areas I’m most pleased with is the bokeh. At f/1.2, the out of focus sections in my images are smooth and buttery! If I want to maximize the shallow depth of field capabilities of the 17mm, I’ll need to get closer to my subject. When I do, the lens is capable of isolating the subject and melting the background.
One of the nice things about using micro four-thirds lenses is the built in lens profile corrections, meaning vignetting, distortion and chromatic aberrations are negligible.
On the downside, even though the optics are sharp in the center, they’re not that much sharper than the much more economical 17mm f/1.8.
In my opinion, the 17mm f/1.2 PRO hits a rough patch in the value department. In spite of fantastic build, fast, accurate AF and sharp optics in the center of the frame, Olympus does command a premium for the 17mm. When I compare results to the 17mm PRO’s kid brother, the 17mm f/1.8, the results are very similar.
Now I admit, the 17 f/1.8 isn’t built nearly as well nor is it quite as fast and accurate in focusing. And of course, it doesn’t have the f/1.2 aperture, but optically, they’re similar. Granted, they’re similar from f/1.8 onward.
Which to me means, Olympus is asking a lot for a lens which is built better, is stylish and has awesome weather sealing. The PRO certainly looks prettier but speaking for myself, I judge value based on the results I’m able to achieve in spite of a lens’s shortcomings.
The 17mm PRO is the better lens to me, but not by all that much. If I put two images side by side taken with both lenses at f/1.8, I think the viewer would be hard pressed to tell the difference. When I consider the price difference between these two lenses, I’m having difficultly recommending the 17mm PRO over the 17 f/1.8.
It comes down to what you need, I prefer results, but I know many photographers want to take their lenses into the elements. If you’re one of those people, you’re going to love the 17mm PRO. If you’re an enthusiast who wants better images than what he or she can get out of their cell phones, you’ll want to consider the 17mm f/1.8.
- Outstanding weather sealing for shooting in the harshest of climates
- Excellent implementation of AF/MF clutch mechanism
- Super fast and accurate AF
- Smooth video AF transitions from close to far subjects
- Smooth out of focus bokeh rendering
- Not that much better optically than the much more economical 17 f/1.8
- Focal length: 17mm
- Aperture range: f/1.2 – f/16
- Aperture blades: 9, rounded
- Elements/Groups: 15/11
- Dimensions: 2.69 x 3.43″ / 68.2 x 87 mm
- Weight: 13.76 oz / 390 g
- Angle of View: 65°
Though the 17 PRO is an overall excellent lens capable of fantastic imagery. For the difference in price, I don’t feel like it’s much better optically than Olympus’ 17mm f/1.8. If you need the extreme weather sealing and the f/1.2 aperture, then there’s certainly a case to be made for the PRO. If you’re a more casual shooter, then I’d look elsewhere.