I was out shopping for an Olympus 25mm f/1.8, when Panasonic decided to hit the shelves “running” with their 25mm f/1.7 at a hugely discounted introductory price. At that point I decided to give the Panny a go!
Given the cheap price you would not expect Leica-like quality in terms of build, so yes the lens is plasticky – but with a metal mount. The upside is that is so light you will have to check if it’s actually mounted on your camera…
Panasonic, by the way, gives us a nice hood, and we’ll see that we will definitely need it. To install the hood you’ll have to remove first the “decorative” ring on the lens; unlike the one on the Olympus kit zoom, that I almost managed to loose because how loose it was, this one is so tight that I almost feared breaking the lens. By the way, the hood is reversible so it will not occupy that much more space in the bag, and the cap is of the “center pinch” kind, so you will be able to easily fit it on the lens even when the hood is on. Kudos to Panasonic.
Now, given for now I used the lens just a day, I’ll keep things nice and short; should I reconsider some of my findings after having spent more time with the lens I will update the review.
- Extremely light
- Pretty darn sharp at all apertures, corner to corner, with the exception of f/22 (due the effects of diffraction)
- Decent, almost neutral, bokeh (but loads of CA in the OOF areas up to f/2.8…)
- Wide focusing ring (even too wide, see below)
- Beautiful rendering
- Really nice sunstars, Ken Rockwell will be happy 🙂
- The vignetting at f/1.7 is there, but to my eyes is not excessive (be warned though, I often add a bit of vignetting to my pictures anyway even when it’s not there)
- No stabilization (if you intend to use it on a Panasonic body); given how big the lens is this is a big point against
- The focus ring is too wide, so it is almost impossible not to bump, inadvertently engaging the focus magnification
- On an Olympus E-M10 it has troubles focusing on relatively near objects (from around 1m and less), even when the subject is large enough to cover an entire AF sensor; it will still give you the green focus confirmation signal, but it will have in effect focused on the background (I guess this can be fixed with a firmware upgrade)
I had to focus manually on the pole; it refused to do so in AF (even in “small AF points” mode),
despite the fact the fencepost was covering the entire area of the AF sensor
- Flare (see below)
- Really large for a m4/3 “slow” (i.e. not f/1.4 or faster) lens
- Quite tight to mount (on an Olympus camera at least)
- Way too much CA up to f/2.8 in high contrast areas AND in out of focus areas for my taste – even after the automatic correction in Lightroom (but possibly a fair enough performance for the price point)
- Strange “mosaic” artifacts appearing in the pictures when reviewing them on the LCD or on the EVF of the E-M10 (this could be the camera’s fault, not the lens); luckily no artifacts on the actual pictures
About the flare
You will definitely need to use the hood: the lens does not handles reflections well – sometimes verging on disastrously bad – even when the source it’s outside the frame. See below two examples, from extremely good to extremely bad.
For comparison, the Olympus kit zoom 14-42 mk II has almost no trouble at all shooting straight into the sun, and I’ve never felt the need for a hood. From what I’ve seen in forums etc., this seems to be an unpleasant characteristic of many Panasonic lenses, even pro ones like the 12-35mm f/2.8. Even a 30-odd old lens like the Contax Zeiss Planar 50/1.7 it is head and shoulder better than this (btw, even in terms of sharpness wide-open!), check the pictures below (first one Panasonic, second one Contax; both at f/1.7, the Contax has been shot on a Sony A7r).
If you right click the following picture you can download a full size shot at f/1.7, processed in Lightroom (my usual color corrections, CA correction, and capture sharpening).
Summing up: IMHO Panasonic should buy a coating technology from someone else or outsource the coating process, but in terms of pure optical performance this lens is nay excellent. That said, the next month there will be an Olympus event in my area, so given I shoot into the light a lot I might end up exchanging this for the Olympus 25mm f/1.8 when I’ll get an opportunity to try it out one, should the M.Zuiko score a better performance in terms of flare resistance.
EDIT: we are now in 2021 and this has become one of my all time favorite lenses. In combination with the Olympus OM-D E-M10, it keeps pushing amazing sharpness and colors, that a 16Mp m4/3 sensor should have no business to produce…