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Friday, October 18, 2013

New Lens - LUMIX G 20mm / F1.7 ASPH

Tiny lens that's big on performance...
For initial thoughts on my newest lens acquisition, read on...

While I've often recommended "fast" lenses for my friends (f/2.8 and larger), and have a few for my APS size Canon, I've been reticent to spend any real money acquiring lenses for my Olympus EPL-2. But the weight and performance of the little Olympus worked so well enough on a trip to Ireland, that I've decided to take that kit on an upcoming trip to Italy, rather than lug around my DSLR, regardless of how many nice lenses I have for it.
Indeed, a recent test walk I did, lugging the DSLR, spare batteries, a 24mm f/2.8, a 50mm 1.8, and a 70-200 f/4 for a sample 3 mile walk, left me wanting to explore pressing the little olympus into service even more.
But outside of some legacy Nikon glass I've been using with my EPL-2, the kit lens (14-42mm f/3.5-5.6) and the recently purchased zoom (40-150 f/4-5.6) are pretty slow, which makes them less than ideal for Europe, with all of its Cathedrals and Museums and night scenes in piazzas.

Enter the Panasonic LUMIX G 20mm / F1.7 ASPH. This lens has long been considered the best lens in the micro-four thirds lineup, and for good reason. Its small (considered a true "pancake" lens), sharp, contrasty, fast (f/1.7) and relatively affordable compared to fast DSLR lenses (the LUMIX G 20mm / F1.7 runs about $350 new).

First Impressions? This lens is very sharp, and its sharpness wide open at 1.7 is very impressive, as lenses are traditionally soft until you stop down one or two stops. And the wide aperture was definitely appreciated. I was easily able to hand hold at 400 iso inside Duke's Chapel here on campus, which is good, because the small sensor in the EPL-2 can get noisy fast at higher iso's.
If you're familiar at all with this lens, you'll have already heard how sharp, contrasty and fast it is. But you'll also have heard a few pans as well, and they're mostly true.

The Bad - while this lens is "fast" as far as aperture and the amount of light it lets in, its really slow in the auto-focus department. I mean, really slow. If something is moving and not in the brightest light, it just won't be able to keep up. I knew this going in, so I wasn't thrown too badly by it. After a few missed focus attempts in low light, I resorted to manual focus which actually works out ok for me, as I'm old enough to have experience in quick manual focusing. The good news is that the manual focus ring on the 20mm is wide, easy to locate when you're behind the eyepiece, and damped very well for a very nice feel.

Here are some samples from today's first outing with this lens. I purposely shot wide open, at 1.7, just to see what this little lens was actually capable of:

1/15 @ f/1.7
1/45 @ f/1.7
1/10 @ f/1.7

1/30 @ f/1.7
1/8 @ f/1.7
I chose this shot to test how super bright areas (the window behind) affected edges.
I have heard that fringing can be severe with this lens on some cameras in this situation.
It seems to be performing very well here, with no correction on my part.
1/30 @ f/1.7

1/6 @ f/1.7
While the 20mm has an effective focal length of 40mm on the EPL-2, and therefore considered a "wide-normal"
its still able to give shallow depth of field if the conditions are right.
So, I was very happy with my initial foray into the chapel, as it was overcast at the time and quite dark inside. The sharpness and speed of the 20mm very much surpassed the performance of my lowly kit lens. Happy for now with my low-light results, I went outside to look at contrast and bokeh:

1/1000 @ f/1.7 (iso 200)
Very sharp where in focus, and very dreamy bokeh where not - so far so good...
The detail captured here is at least as good as I could have done with my aps-c DSLR, if not better

1/4000 @ f/1.7 (iso 200)
The fall off and "modeling" of the oof areas here is quite nice.

1/750 @ f/1.7 (iso 200)
With more detail in the background, the bokeh is starting to look a little busy, but still quite pleasing.

1/1000 @ f/1.7 (iso 200)
The focus locked quickly onto this moving bee, showing that focus speed is really mostly a low-light issue
with this lens/camera combo (panasonic lens on Olympus body)
So, having only had this lens for a day, I'm liking it very much. And its doing what its supposed to do - expand the capabilities of my current Olympus kit. And it seems to be doing that very well.

So my kit for Italy is looking like:
Olympus EPL-2, VF-2 viewfinder, the 20mm 1.7, 14-42mm (28-84 equiv), and the 40-150mm (80-300 equiv). All of this tucked into a Domke 802 bag probably weighs less than just the body of my old canon 20D.

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