In the previous post I discussed my choice of Olympus longer focal length lenses. Now it's time to look at the shorter focal lengths.
Olympus 17mm f1.8: The Unlikely Friend.
Let's start with a lens that for a long time sat in the "waiting for something better" category, but has ended up being my go to lens. I would have once thought this highly unlikely due to the focal length (I tend to like slightly longer focal lengths) and my early feelings towards its performance. Liking this lens taught me a lot about myself and lens design philosophy. Reviews tended to fall into two camps. On the one hand are the "number testers" who quickly found much to criticise such as poor sharpness, lots of chromatic aberrations, poor edges etc. They universally praised the build and handling, but were luke warm on the optics. By direct test comparison, the lens falls short of the Panasonic primes, their pro zoom and Olympus's own Pro zooms, but that's not the whole story.
My favourite reviewers are users, not measurers. Ming Thien, Steve Huff and John Kennerdell all heap praise on this lens and their only measure is use. The more I use it, the more I like and trust it.
At one point my first one was sold, but every possible replacement fell short somehow. Panasonic's optically superior (?) 15mm f1.7 Leica back-focussed (placed focus behind the intended point consistently) on both my EM5 mk1's. The 20mm focusses too slow on older EM5's and its manual focus is not pleasant. The 14mm was too slow in maximum aperture for my uses (and a bit "fiddly" small). Buying the 17mm back became a reluctant reality, but I have not looked back. One of the lenses' best features is the elongated Bokeh rendering. I think this is a throw back to an older way of handling shallow depth of field, often a forced reality in the early film era. The lens drifts from focussed to out of focus in a smooth and leisurely way, mostly invisibly. This makes wide open use easier than with a lot of "modern" rendering lenses as your near misses are not dramatic unlike the sharp/soft rendering common in many lenses like the Panasonic 20mm f1.7. It's great for zone focus and lightning fast grab shots both for how its MF/AF work and its rendering.
Olympus 25mm f1.8: The Very Nifty 50.
Not much to say here, but yay! Every kit should have a perfect fast 50mm equivalent. My preference is for a 40/60 equiv. combo, but as a "one lens" option the 50mm equivalent is ideal and it sits better between the 17/45 combo. It's a problem solver with few faults. The colour is beautiful, it's really sharp (45mm like), transitions well and is pleasant to use. Their is a little CA wide open on mine, but it went unnoticed for ages and is easily fixed (many review it as CA free, but mine has a little). After owning the Leica 25 f1.4, I can say they are both very good, but different. The Oly is the no nonsense doer, the Leica is the slightly flawed, but occasionally brilliant option (a hard to define "bigger" look maybe). The idea of owning both has been entertained, but if pressed the Olympus is just more reliable in its image making.
Where is my wide angle? Truth is I do not use one much, so getting one will be simply as a filler, a "just in case lens". The options are:
The Panasonic 20mm f1.7. The first great lens for the system, now in its second form. On Panasonic or the newer Olympus cameras it's ok, but on the older ones the focus sucks and the manual focus ring is not "one finger" operation like the 17mm. By some standards good enough, but not M43. What cannot be denied is its optical performance.
12mm f2 Olympus. Almost as expensive as the pro 12-40, this one has always been out there, but my need does not justify the cost.
14mm Panasonic. It is great, cheap, sharp and light, but too close to the 17mm and 2 stops slower. The autofocus is fast, but manual focus is a bit fiddly. I have owned this one before, but sold it when faster lenses came along. The 15mm is even better, but back-focus issues put it out of the running.
The 12-40 Olympus. Probably the best landscape lens option as it excels at edge to edge sharpness through is entire range, but it's heavy (by M43 standards). Nothing to complain about here except size and weight. By the way, they all have a slight rattle when the barrel is extended - it's normal.
The Panasonic 12-35 f2.8. The purple barrelled Panasonic is to my eye sharper in the centre (on par with the 25mm Oly) at the expense of edge sharpness. It's lighter and smaller than the Oly pro lens and the colour looks to be a little softer/lighter. The filter thread is also a handy 58mm. I prefer this one to the Olympus due to its form.