REVIEW: Olympus 17mm F1.2 PRO (Micro Four Thirds)

F1.2 is an aperture that turns heads, and thats exactly what the Olympus 17mm F1.2 PRO does. But is it worth it?

There are a lot of really impressive things about the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0767MMV1Q’ text=’Olympus 17mm F1.2 PRO’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’803798f3-fa34-11e7-9492-17a3b961c02e’], one of them being obvious – that f1.2 aperture. It is something not many OEM brands are doing these days – breaking that F1.4 barrier. In the case of Olympus it’s likely more about necessity than actually wanting to do it (in order to compete with the look of larger sensor cameras Olympus must push their optics to the extreme).

But is the Olympus 17mm F1.2 PRO simply a gimmick to grab the headlines in hopes of bringing in more business, or is this lens one that stands on its own merit and deserves to be in the kit of serious Micro Four Thirds photographers? Let’s get into the review and you can see for yourself.

Pros & Cons

Pro

  • Fast & Silent AF
  • Great build quality
  • Good low light performance
  • Excellent Bokeh
  • Weather Sealing

Con

  • Large for a Micro Four Thirds lens
  • Heavy for a Micro Four Thirds lens
  • Very Expensive

 

Gear Used

For this review, we utilized the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0767MMV1Q’ text=’Olympus 17mm F1.2 Pro’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’8f3de135-fa34-11e7-bb00-8b5db6f54977′] in combination with the [amazon_textlink asin=’B01M4MB3DK’ text=’Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk II’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’8978adb7-fa34-11e7-9f06-eb84335bd074′].

 

Tech Specs

These specs have been taken directly from the official Olympus information page regarding this lens. You can find that here.

  • Focal Length: 17mm
  • 35mm Equivalent Focal Length: 34mm
  • Lens Construction: 15 Elements in 11 Groups (1 Super ED lens, 3 ED lenses, 1 ED-DSA lens, 1 EDA lens, 1 Super HR lens, 1 aspherical lens)
  • Dust & Drip Proof: Yes
  • Closest Focusing Distance: 0.2m
  • Maximum Aperture: f1.2
  • Minimum Aperture: f16

 

Ergonomics

Let’s just start out this section by getting the obvious out of the way: this is not your average Micro Four Thirds lens. Not only are we talking about considerably more glass, but the lens itself is all around larger and heavier than what most of you are likely thinking when a Micro Four Thirds lens comes to mind. This is not to say it’s a bad thing. In fact, if you are used to APS-C or Full Frame lenses then the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0767MMV1Q’ text=’Olympus 17mm F1.2 PRO’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’9594f59d-fa34-11e7-b080-670319006ed8′] will feel fairly normal to you. But for your average Micro Four Thirds photographer, this lens could be an adjustment.

The weight of the lens in combination with the OM-D E-M1 Mark II is nothing someone used to an APS-C or Full Frame DSLR would notice as odd. The combination was a little front heavy, but honestly, we didn’t find it to be that big of a deal. The lens fit well in the hands and, assuming a fairly standard shooting posture, the camera and lens together felt nice.

As you would expect from an F1.2 lens this thing features a rather large (for a Micro Four Thirds lens) front element. Its design is dominated by the focusing ring with a function button located on the left side of the lens.

 

Build Quality

As previously noted and hinted at, the Olympus 17mm F1.2 offers excellent build quality. It feels solid, sturdy, and well built from the front element to the lens mount. It’s clear that Olympus put a lot of time and effort into not just the optics of the lens, but also how the lens looks and feels. Which is honestly something we would expect from a lens marketed as a professional tool and on store shelves with such a high price tag.

The focusing ring feels smooth and has a good amount of resistance. The manual focusing mechanism, which is enabled and disabled by a push/pull of the focusing ring, is solid enough that it doesn’t get changed mid-shoot without you noticing. However, it can get changed while you are pulling the lens out of your bag (or putting it in) and the camera will not AF if the lens is in MF mode. So you may run into that frustration from time to time wondering why the lens isn’t focusing. Luckily if you are familiar with the lens and the camera then you should figure out the issue fairly quickly. Ideally, as much as we like this design, it would also just make sense to put this functionality on a switch like most other lenses out there to avoid this problem altogether.

However, that small gripe aside, the rings feel good, and the buttons and switches feel good. The lens is built very well and you can tell that after just a few moments holding it.

 

Ease of Use

The 17mm F1.2 PRO is about as easy of a lens to use as any other in this day and age. If you prefer manual focus, you can do that easily. If you prefer to just slap the lens on your camera, throw it into auto mode, and snap away on a family vacation, you can do that too. This lens really has no issues that we ran into when it comes to ease of use, with the one exception being the manual focus mechanism that we noted in the build quality section.

This lens will be a real joy to street photographers and portrait photographers. We honestly can think of very few niches of photography where this lens would not be useful at all on any occasion. So take that as you will, but this is a very easy to use and versatile lens that we can see finding a good home in many Micro Four Thirds kits.

 

AutoFocus

Auto Focus with the 17mm F1.2 is excellent in combination with the E-M1 Mark II. In our testing this camera/lens combo was able to keep up with everything we threw at it – yes, even wide open at F/1.2. We shot everything from standard stationary portraits to landscapes, to urban geometry and action sports. The pair was always able to focus fast and accurately, with almost no problems except while shooting action sports and trying to utilize an AF frame that was too small. Once we adjusted the AF frame to be better suited for fast moving subjects the camera and lens were able to easily lock on and track the subjects.

17mm (or a 35mm FF equivalent) isn’t exactly a common choice for action sports shooting, so we don’t expect many of you out there to be trying these out for that purpose. But just be aware that the combo does work just fine in that scenario, assuming you were expecting it and set up the camera and AF zone to be better suited to that type of shooting.

 

Image Quality

Well, the 17mm F1.2 Pro is sharp. This may well be one of the sharpest lenses, even wide open, that we have ever had our hands on. It follows in the steps of the 25mm F1.2 PRO as being a great all around performer with good bokeh and image quality traits that will have Micro Four Thirds photographers droolings.

Bokeh

The bokeh, as you may expect given the wide F/1.2 aperture, was a big point of the Olympus presentation regarding this lens. Olympus has developed what they are calling ‘Feathered Bokeh’ which is just their way of saying that they have developed this technology to provide photographers with ideal bokeh rendering based on Olympus’s analysis of bokeh and how photographers react to various looks.

If we are honest, the bokeh looks fine. It’s certainly not the most bokehlicious lens we have ever tested, but it’s also not the worst. In certain situations, the bokeh exhibited some odd looks, like with perfect bokeh balls in some places, but cats eye and other bokeh abnormalities in others. We think if you are coming to Micro Four Thirds from other systems with larger sensors you may find yourself disappointed by the bokeh at F1.2 compared to what you are expecting.

But if you are a long time Micro Four Thirds shooter, or are simply used to the system, then the additional bokeh and look of that creamy F1.2 will be a nice addition to your arsenal. It all depends on what perspective you view this lens: on its own, it looks and performs well. In relation to other Micro Four Thirds lenses it looks favorably well. But when you try to stack it up against the bokeh from other F1.2 lenses you may find yourself disappointed.

In short, it’s good, fine, decent, whatever word you want to use – just not the best, or most impressive.

Chromatic Aberration

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B0767MMV1Q’ text=’Olympus 17mm F1.2 pro’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’a86a46b8-fa34-11e7-8200-b7868d257085′] did exhibit some chromatic aberration when shot wide open, and in some cases, it was intense enough that it was more difficult than we would like it to be to correct in post-processing. That said, it was not really a dealbreaker for us: chromatic aberration on lenses that are this fast wide open is not an uncommon issue. However, given the price of this lens, it would have been great to see this controlled (either optically or through software) a little better.

As noted though its certainly not a deal breaker for this lens. Just something to be aware of if you plan to shoot with a lot of high contrast areas in your shot.

Extra Image Samples

 

Overall Conclusions

Ok, so now it is time to really talk about this lens in an overall sense and how we see it in the marketplace. If you are someone who is already heavily invested in Olympus or the Micro Four Thirds system then the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0767MMV1Q’ text=’17mm F1.2 PRO’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’b1dd1985-fa34-11e7-a142-c169eec473c4′] is a lens you will want to at least consider. The build quality, image quality, overall handling, and capability make this an excellent option to help you bring the look of your images closer to that of what your APS-C or Full Frame competition are producing.

However, if you are someone who is looking at these lenses and thinking about making a switch to Micro Four Thirds in order to take advantage of the size and compact nature, we feel like you may end up disappointed in the results you get – especially after you see the hit your wallet takes from it. A flagship body to really take advantage of this lens, like the E-M1 II, is not exactly inexpensive, and then you add to it the cost of this lens on its own. If you take that kit and compare it to what you are likely doing with your current APS-C or Full Frame kit and how much you spent on that, chances are you are doing more with what you have now, having spent less.

 

Now, if the small and compact nature of Micro Four Thirds is something that appeals to you or is maybe even necessary to you then you just simply need to decide if the cost for this sort of kit is worth it. There is certainly something to be said for spending money on things you need; our hesitation here is that we aren’t seeing how this is just realistically the case for most of you out there. A Fujifilm or Sony kit can be just as small and compact, and most likely for significantly cheaper. So it really comes down to your personal priorities and how those stack up to your budget.

In the end, our opinion of the Olympus 17mm F1.2 PRO really comes down to this – the lens is good optically, built well, and performs excellently, but in the end just ends up being a lens we feel most of you should pass on due to the extreme price. If you can justify the cost of this lens to yourself then you will not be disappointed. But the capabilities, in our opinion, will not be worth the premium cost to most of you.

 

Maybe consider this lens as a rental when you need it, rather than a permanent addition to your kit. We are giving the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0767MMV1Q’ text=’Olympus 17mm F1.2 PRO’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’c1c843eb-fa34-11e7-921b-297caf4bca31′] 4 out of 5, with honestly the only thing keeping it from a full 5 stars is a price tag that we feel really makes the lens unrealistic to most photographers who would be considering it and benefitting from its capabilities.

So, is it a gimmick? No, this lens is the real deal. It’s just a really expensive real deal and we feel like most of you will probably (and rightfully) balk at the pricing.

Anthony Thurston

Anthony is a Portland, Oregon based Boudoir Photographer specializing in a dark, moody style that promotes female body positivity, empowerment, and sexuality. Besides The Phoblographer, he also reviews gear and produces his own educational content on his website.