Olympus introduces another fast prime

Olympus today announced the latest fast prime addition to their already impressive lineup of micro four-third lenses – the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f1.8. (to use their official lingo for this lens). Essentially, this lens gives the time honored and very popular 35mm focal length field of view (34mm to be exact if you are picky, but who’s counting?) in a fast package with a large bright aperture of f1.8.

What this means, essentially, for me at least, is that the world of m43 has suddenly become more interesting for traditionalists / photojournalistic types / fast lens aficionados   like me who like fast single focal length lenses. Yes, of course I’m aware that Oly has had the 17mm f2.8 pancake for a while already with the first introduction of their Pen cameras, and also gorgeously built 12mm f2, and the equally superlative 75mm f1.8 and not forgetting the 45mm f1.8, a beautiful portrait lens. But the 35mm field of view has long been the mainstay of photojournalists and documentary photographers, and while the 17mm comes close, at the widest aperture of f2.8, it is neither fast enough for low light work without bumping up ISO, nor does it give the depth of field separation I crave with the f2.8 aperture on a m43 sized. sensor.

Panasonic lovers will now be up in arms for my failure to mention the 20mm f1.7 panny lens, but the 20mm gives a longer 40mm equivalent field of view, and as a Panasonic lens, it doesn’t play well the in-camera lens corrections on Olympus cameras (I’m looking at the OMD). Finally, we have a native Olympus 35mm equivalent lens with a fast bright aperture, and not only that, one that is built to the same standards as the rest of what I call the super prime family – the 12 f2, 45 f1.8 and the 75 f1.8 – solid metal construction (albeit only in one color – chrome), with a depth of field scale nicely revealed when one pulls back on the manual focus ring – this action also activates manual focus and one can turn the manual focus ring ala lenses of old for manual focus, with a damped focus mechanism complete with end stops for focal travel, that feels as solid as any old manual focus lens, even if the focus is really electronic.

Essentially, for documentary photography, one can now have a solid body – the OMD, with a complete set of lenses replicating the traditional focal lengths of 24mm (the 12 f2), 35mm (17 f1.8) and 90mm (45 f1.8) with a longish lens thrown in for good measure (the 75 f1.8), all at fast bright apertures of f1.8 to f2. This is a formidable combination – many of the iconic images seared into our minds over the history of photography have been taken with lenses with focal lengths ranging from 24mm to 90mm of which this set of Oly lenses now adequately cover, and by extension, the m43 system.

For official sample images by Olympus, check out their official page.

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