Is it worth getting a 17mm lens?

Mar 8, 2023

I get asked quite a lot of questions on a routine basis, and sometimes in order to be even remotely helpful it warrants a detailed reply. Here’s a recent one, completely unedited as I thought it might make a useful post for anybody wondering about my thoughts on the subject.

The original YouTube comment:

Thank you David, beautiful images. Before this video, I really would not think about taking an image of rock! Thanks for the inspiration. If I may, I have a question. I am building my kit of Olympus lenses. Is it worth getting a 17mm lens? Do you use that lens often? Many thanks, Peter.

My reply:

Hi Peter, thanks so much for your kind feedback.

I guess the best way to answer your question would be to ask what other lenses you have in your bag at the moment?

In terms of build, usability and image quality, it is peerless around this focal length in the M4/3 pantheon. With the obvious exception of the M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.2 Pro. which, of course, comes in at three times the price and is about the size and weight of the average beer barrel! Although intense pixel-peeping will show the f/1.8 lens to have a very marginally inferior image quality, in every other respect, and specifically in terms of my own landscape photography requirements, the f/1.8 option is a very easy decision to make.

Possibly a slightly Olympus bias here, I’ll admit, but nonetheless I’ve never felt remotely let down by it. And I have tried comparable lenses around this focal length from Pana-Lumix.

But in all honestly dropping this in between the M.Zuiko 12mm f/2.0 and the 25mm f/1.8 sometimes means that if I’m travelling ultra-light then the 17mm is abandoned and lonely on the shelf. In these circumstances, a composition which is a little too wide for the 25mm but at 12mm is a little lost in the frame is often overcome by shooting at 12mm and cropping in as required. Not a great solution, but it can be mitigated for landscapes by shooting in high-res on the top-end Olympus bodies, so not too many pixels are eventually discarded.

All that said, under normal circumstances the 17mm would always be with me. It’s still pretty light and compact and I ever only travel ultra-light when hiking very long-distances, with camping gear or scaling the Eryri peaks.

Another great use of the 17mm is street and general travel photography. I find in those circumstances that 12mm is too wide and 25mm often just a little too tight. At a 34mm full-frame equivalent, the 17mm slots in nicely. I’ve used it many times for this sort of thing.

So all in all it’s a strong “Yes” from me, but of course, if you have that range of focal lengths covered by another fast lens such as the 12-40 f/2.8 Pro, then it might not be an essential purchase for you. If you have the 12-45 f/4.0 and want something faster and opening up to shallower DoF for creative purposes, then it would be a good accompaniment.

One last thing, I’ve used if for astro-photography too and much prefer this focal length for dark-sky work than ultra-wide lenses such as some used between, for example, the 7.5mm f/2.0 Laowa and the MZ 12mm by other photographers. But that’s just a personal creative preference.

Hope this is all helpful. πŸ˜ŠπŸ‘

Landscape Photography From Eryri and Anglesey on Video No 204
Llanddwyn Island Milky Way, Anglesey
I’m often asked about the equipment I use.

You'll find details of most of it on my Β GEAR PAGE


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