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Spending a Weekend with Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 Pancake Lens

I am not going to lie to you, initially I wanted to bring the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 lens from the office, and use that only lens for my weekend shutter therapy. I wanted to revisit the lens and see if my personal trainings with the Fujifilm X100 has improved my execution of the 35mm equivalent focal length, especially when shooting on the streets. Unfortunately all the available units of the M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 have been loaned out. Not giving up, I picked up the much neglected M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 pancake lens as a substitute. After all, a 17mm lens is still a 17mm lens. 

I did not intend to do a review of the lens. I did not have the time to, and the 17mm F2.8 pancake has been reviewed by many other photographers before. Sufficient information about the lens is available and I do not see any way I can add more to that. As usual, what I can do is share as many photographs as I can. I will however, share my experience and thoughts after using the lens for one weekend, and a handful of photographs I managed to gather. 

The Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 Pancake lens was released at the time of the first Olympus Micro Four Thirds Camera, the PEN E-P1, which was in 2009 (6 years ago). General feedback from both reviewers as well as users highlighted that this lens is a good all round lens but not a stellar performer. Therefore I was not having high expectations on this lens. 


Either the pancake was super small, or the oatmeal cookie was huge. 

My experience and thoughts shooting with Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 Pancake lens

1) It is really small!
I still could not believe how tiny it was. I fitted it to my Olympus PEN E-P5 (since no one came forward to claim this possibly stolen unit, I am starting to use it now) and it was as if the 17mm F2.8 pancake lens was made specifically for PEN shaped cameras. I think we should have MORE of such pancakes, even if it was just F2.8, but at super low selling price (the only thing that came close was Panasonic 14mm F2.5). We could use small, slim 25mm F2.8, 35mm F2.8 and why not a 50mm F2.8 pancake lenses? I understand that having larger aperture would negate the possibility of constructing a pancake design, so F2.8 is actually very bright and acceptable, if the lens is truly super slim and small. 

2) Slowest AF of all Olympus M.Zuiko Lenses
The autofocus is slow. It was quite a stark contrast, coming from instantaneous AF using the usual 45m F1.8 and 25mm F1.8. It takes about half a second to more than one second to lock focus, and that is dangerous when you need instant response to capture action shots. I was glad that at least the focusing was dead on accurate, and reliable, despite the lack of speed. The only lens I could think of coming from Micro Four Thirds that could possibly slower than this, is the Panasonic 20mm F1.7. To be honest, these two lenses were the earliest of the Micro Four Thirds line-up. 

3) Good Image Quality, but Not Excellent
Looking at the image output from this 17mm F2.8 pancake lens, it actually lacked the "wow" factor, and reminded me of what I normally see coming out from the basic kit lenses. The image quality was actually good, on par or perhaps slightly better than what the Olympus kit lens can offer. Sharpness is adequate but far from matching the levels of the 17mm F1.8 or 25mm F1.8 lenses, and contrast was moderate. I can see why many people would recommend the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 back then, over the 17mm F2.8 from Olympus, as the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 was significantly a step forward in terms of overall image output (and not to forget, F1,7 is loads brighter than F2.8). 

4) Cost vs Value
Now that we know this lens underperforms in Autofocus, and has good but not excellent image output, would anyone get this lens? If you can find the M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 at ridiculously low price, or bundled with a camera purchase deal which actually is as if the lens is a free giveaway, take it. It is still a good 35mm equivalent lens, small and easy to carry around, and can produce beautiful results. However, if budget is not a concern, you are willing to spend more, there are many better alternatives, such as M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8, Panasonic 20mm F1.7 or even the new Panasonic Leica 15mm F1.7. Do take note that both the Panasonic lenses are not exactly 35mm equivalent but quite close. If 35mm is not a focal length that is very useful for you (like myself), I'd stay with the kit lens. Besides the super slim design and small size, I do not see any more advantage using this lens in comparison to any basic kit kenses (the F2.8 is not that much brighter than the basic kit lens). 

5) Me vs 35mm Focal Length
I think I am getting better at shooting with 35mm focal length now. I no longer forced the lens to be a wider lens or use it shooting too close to my subjects. I am more comfortable composing people with this focal length, and the key is to keep a distance and always, always watch what is happening in the background. What goes on in the background can either make the shot or break it. While the M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 may not be the best 35mm equivalent lens out there, but it was sure a joy to use! Especially so on the street, where sharpness, absolute image quality are not the priority. Story-telling and capturing the moments are more crucial. 

All the following images were taken with Olympus PEN E-P5 and M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 pancake lens

This was a lucky shot, I admit it this much. The AF was not instantaneous, but as the cat was about to jump, he (or she, let's just choose a gender) hesitated for two seconds, and that allowed me to lock focus! 

Standing Horizontally

Assorted Colors

Noodles Variations

The Push

Market People

Portrait of a Stranger 1
Tips on shooting close up portrait using the 35mm equivalent focal length: do not go too close, and do not de-center the subject too much. These steps are crucial to control perspective distortion, do produce a more natural looking perspective. 

The cats know

Roadside Food Vendor
I like how the 35mm equivalent focal length can be so versatile, capturing wide enough frame if needed. 

Hiding in the Shade

Place where Chicken Died

Through the fence


Charge of Shirt
Did a hip-shot (shooting from hip without looking at the screen). People changing shirt, not exactly something you would walk up to and ask permission of shooting. 

The same cat, before the Puma Jump. 

Funky flare
This lens is probably the most susceptible to flare lens from Olympus in the current line-up. 

Grocery Store


Market People 2

Masjid Jamek LRT Station

100% crop from previous image. 

Closest Focusing distance

Closest focusing distance with the M-Con P02 macro converter attached. 

Twin Towers

KL Tower

One of my regular blog reader and commenter, Warren Chan! Thank Warren for joining me on last Saturday, hope you had fun. Funny seeing the Batman shirt. 

Arvind joining a small street shooting session for the first time. Hope to see you shoot more dude!

A very unhealthy, but super delicious lunch. 

That M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 Pancake lens looked soooooo good on the PEN E-P5. 

It was sure a fun weekend for me. I had a chance to shoot with a lens I never tried before, had visitor Warren with me on my shutter therapy and also Arvind a young lad (makes me feel younger when young people join me to shoot) and also plenty of good coffee and food. 

If you have been using Micro Four Thirds system since the beginning I am sure you have had some encounters with this M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 pancake lens. Do you agree with my experience and quick thoughts? Do you have anything to add? Please feel free to share. 

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