Thursday, February 21, 2013

Panasonic 20mm F1.7 Experience

Olympus E-PM2 with Panasonic 20mm F1.7 lens

I’ve used this lens almost exclusively for over 6 months now and I feel it is the right time for me to write my experience using it for such a long time.  This lens was the first M43 lens I purchased after buying the E-PM1 twin lens kit.  I enjoy using the 24-42mm IIR kit lens, but wanted something smaller and faster.  I used to own a 24mm F2.8 lens with my Canon EOS 550D and really enjoyed that focal length.  The 20mm lens is very well received by the M43 community and I decided it will be my lens of choice.  The reason I chose this lens over the 25mm F1.4 was the size.  It is significantly cheaper and also much smaller.  One reason I bought into M43 was because they are small, therefore it makes no sense to put a large lens on a carry around camera.

Initially, the lens was used with my Olympus E-PM1.  I had great success using this combination, even in very low light.  Now I do not bother to fit the clip on flash that came with the camera.  I just shoot it wide open at ISO 3200 and very rarely I need a flash.  You can see what can be achieved using this combination at my works' Christmas party photos.  All photos were shot without flash and I am very happy with the results.  I do not miss not having a zoom lens on the camera and I am happy to use my legs to zoom.  Of course you cannot zoom into distance objects, but when you do not have the option of zoom, you learn to work with the focal length and make the best out of what you’ve got.

A couple of months ago, I bought the Olympus E-PM2 as an upgrade for its latest imaging sensor which is shared with the OMD E-M5.  So far, I am very happy, as it is significantly better than the E-PM1.  The image quality and high ISO performance is so much better.  Now, the 20mm F1.7 lens is permanently on the E-PM2.

Enough of my rambling, so what is my impression of this lens?  Here are “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” of this lens.

The Good

Sharp, even wide open.
Love the small size of this pen cake lens.
Make a camera like Olympus E-PM2 almost pocketable.

The Bad

Slower to focus (relative to Olympus MSC lens).
More distortion than I like for a prime, although this is automatically removed in Panasonic cameras or RAW software.

Image showing distortion, the vertical lines
 on the wall should be straight

The Ugly

Poor chromatic aberration wide open, again automatically removed in Panasonic cameras or RAW software.

10% crop showing purple fringing

Fringing removed in Lightroom

My recommendation is to buy this lens if you want a small general purpose carry around lens.  Do bear in mind the limitations listed above.  If you want something smaller but wider, then the 14mm F2.5 is a better choice.  For me, the size, low light performance and sharpness is more important.  If distortion and CA is a worry, I will shoot RAW and correct in post.

At the moment, there is no other lens at this focal length, cost, size and speed.  The closest lens in term of speed and focal length are:

Panasonic 25mm F1.4 - Sharp fast lens and better for bokeh, but significantly more expensive and larger.
Olympus 17mm F1.8 - Sharp fast lens, slightly larger, but again more expensive.
Sigma 19mm F2.8 - Very sharp, it is a slower lens and physically much larger, but at a bargain price.


  1. Hi, thanks for this review. I'd like to ask you 2 things:
    1) Have you experienced some "banding" problems in your e-pm2 with the 20mm?
    2) Are distortion and CA automatically corrected in Lightroom?
    Many thanks!
    Regards from Portugal

    1. I've not seen any banding issue that everyone talk about, but I do not shoot above ISO 3200. I heard you only see it at ISO 6400.

      Yes, Lightroom can correct distortion and CA, but you have to do it manually as it does not hold a database of Olympus lens.