Revisiting the Panasonic 20 1.7 on the Olympus E-P3
By Steve Huff
Almost two years ago I reviewed the amazing little Panasonic 20 1.7 lens for Micro 4/3 mount on an Olympus E-P2. I LOVED it then and today I love it just the same. This is one of those lenses that if you own a Micro 4/3 camera and have never shelled out the $350 or so for this lens then it should be a crime! Yes, this lens is THAT good and well worth the cost. Even though Panasonic released the new 25 1.4 recently (which I have been patiently waiting for) this little 20mm pancake is still worth owning due to its small size and fantastic performance. The fact that it gives you a 40mm equivalent on your M4/3 camera almost makes shooting something like an E-P3 similar to shooting an old Leica CL (well, besides this is not film, nor manual focus).
on the E-P3
The fact is that this lens can seem to do no wrong. Between this, the SUPER GOOD 12mm and the new 45 my E-P3 has been a happy camera, and I have to be honest. Some of the images I have seen from this combo recently make me realize that the M4/3 format is capable of sooooo much more than many may think. Also makes me realize that my E-P3 has also really done no wrong! It gets the exposure right every time. The color is delicious right from the camera. The AF is super fast. The touch screen on this camera is much more than a gimmick. The images are pretty sharp right out of the camera. No mush or softness at all. Hmmm. Imagine if this had a slightly larger sensor! It never will though as Micro 4/3 is a set size… but if it did, it would be even better.
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So today, almost two years later I can still HIGHLY recommend this lens if you own a micro 4/3 camera. If you do own a M4/3 camera and DO NOT own this then BUY IT NOW. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
I will admit that I sold my original copy a while ago and just recently “re-discovered” this lens. This time it will find a permanent spot in my collection, even if I do end up with the new Pan/Leica 25 1.4 as well. It’s small, it’s light, it’s sharp, it provides some decent bokeh, it renders light nicely and it’s a knockout. It even focuses quite a bit faster on the E-P3 than it ever has though it is not as fast as the new Oly lenses.
I will now leave you with some recent snap shots I took with this lens on the E-P3.
Using the light from his phone, I set the E-P3 to ISO 1600, the lens to 1.7 and took this shot. When you click the image and view the larger version you can see just how sharp it is, even at 1600 (noise reduction was turned off, and this is a JPEG)
At 1.7 and ISO 1600 the lens performs well on the E-P3. This was shot in darkness with the light source being a candle. Higher ISO is easily possible with Micro 4/3.
The color I get out of this lens is usually on the cooler side but I like it. The blues and greens are rendered differently with this lens than say the Olympus 17.
Wide open at 1.7 the lens is plenty sharp and gives a bit of shallow death of field as well
Haircut time – Alien Skin conversion…
1.7 – JPEG – Even wide open and from a JPEG there is plenty of sharpness and detail.
Using the flash of the E-P3 – for the 1st time ever 🙂 – I think these girls were dancing to the “Electric JUGGaloo”
If you click on the image below you will see how sharp this lens can be wide open… Almost LL (Leica Like)!
My favorite local brewery in Phoenix – Sun Up
Up close and wide open – This will give you sharp detail at the focus point and the max amount of blur in the background.
Shot this in the Diorama mode of the E-P3
Just a shot to test color and bokeh…
and a selfie in the car…
It seems kind of silly to me to buy this lens too since I already own the Panasonic 25mm f1.4. Does anyone believe the 20mm f1.7 is a superior lens to the 25mm f1.4? I doubt it. The focal lengths are close enough, and the 25mm is a little brighter. I can’t justify buying this lens just because it’s small…unless I sell my 25mm. But what would I be giving up?
I just gotten the silver 20mm f1.7 II and using it with EP3 :0)
Just wondering how to get such “clean” shot with only the candle as light source? Is that OCC jpg or convert from raw? Any different setting on the ep3 to get that kind of result? Referring to the 2nd black and white photo. Really nice.
The 20 is no slouch! Check out the link below, a simple OOC jpeg from the Oly E-PL1 w/ Panny 20. Click on “original” below the image for full, detailed view. Then click on the image itself to pixel peep.
Steve, are you planning to compare 20mm to the P/Leica 25mm?
I just got 25mm and next to it 20mm pictures look somehow plain to me…
Would like to see know your opinion. Thanks in advance.
You are correct, the 25 1.4 is richer, more dimensional. The 20 is GREAT as we all know, but the 25 is actually better.
Tks again Steve.
Decision just made (w/ a little help)
very best regards
acording to m43 forums, Panasonic 20mm gives _very_ poor performance in low-light/night situations shots (might be a bit better on newer Panasonic bodies, but with Olympus cameras this lens can’t focus properly or even focus at all).
Panasonic 14mm is complete opposite – one stellar night shooter, and one would expect F 1.7 would do better on 20mm, but it isn’t.
So the question is, did you have any problems with focusing using this lens at night with E-P3? I was almost ready to extend my collection but then I saw this forum info and has been glad I got 14mm for portability first. Thank you.
P.S. I’m not interested about manual focus, I am carrying pancackes for P&S capabilities and quick-catchy moments where I need 3-5 photos immediately once I switch on the camera. I can’t really play with (manual) focus for a minute. Yes, mostly London nights shots.
I do not shoot in the dark, but in all low light situations with the E-P3 I have not had one issue with the 20. That is just my personal experience. I posted night shots over a year ago with the lens and the E-P2, again, no problem.
nice review (as usual…)
If you take this EP3 Panny 20mm combo;
against the new V1 or J1 Nikon 1 series (w/ their 10mm lens)…
Which one would you prefer, since you have done some nice shooting with the V1 recently and also like so much the EP3??
Happy holiday season and prosperous 2012…
I really enjoy both cameras, the E-P3 and V1 but at this stage, between the two, I would have to go for the V1 for everything it does right. I would lose out on the fabulous lenses that I can use on the E-P3 but the V1 and 10mm is a great little setup. Just feels ‘right” using it.
TKS a LOT for the reply and attention Steve.
I’m a new reader of your site but can tell you IT IS AMAZING and joyful to read your reviews and comments…
I was looking for the J1 (because of the flash and its size) compared to the V1… but
Do you think I could live by without the built in flash (if I choose the V1) even in indoor low light pictures??
I know I can purchase an additional flash for the hotshoe anytime sooner…
Please, another helping hand again…
I’m about to (finally) make up my mind and order it asap….
Tks again + take care
Id go V1 over the J1 as they are almost like two totally different cameras. The V1 has the EVF, is built better, has a larger buffer, better LCD screen on the back, feels better, and the flash they do sell for it is exceptional. The J1 is a little smaller but not as well in the build. The EVF in the V1 is worth it to me. Good luck!
First thanks for this very interesting review !
Well, I am very interested into this lens but I am hesitating a little bit between E-P2 and E-P3…Since you had had both comb which one would you suggest for a photographer that would like to do some photojournalism jobs. I also must mention that I am thinking about using the EVF and not the screen to shoot (as I am used to do with my leica)
Additional question : compare to the 17mm 2,8 form oly, how far better is the 20mm ?
Thanks for the answers
Id go E-P3 all the way with the 20 or new 25 1.4.
Steve, the shot of your son getting his haircut inspired me to take my GF1 w/ a Pany 14mm lens to my boys haircut appointment yesterday. Here’s a few shots. JPEG’s / out of camera. Thanks for the “inspiration”. 🙂
These are FANTASTIC! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for the great article, Steve! Nice to revisit the classic m4/3 lens. I picked up the PL25 and I love the image output, but I still leave the house more often with the 20/1.7 due to the reduced size and weight.
I have owned the panny 20mm f1.7 since Ep1, my first m43 camera since early 2010. I have since moved on to Ep2 and just moved to epl2 some 7 months back. All this while I have been using the panny 20mm and I am still thrilled each time I used the oly+panny 20mm combo. Each new camera gives me something new to work, to be thrilled about. I love this lens the first time I had it in my hands in 2010 and still love it even more now.
It’s a super combo with EpL2 due to its lightness. You can hold it single-handed and take pics easily. Now I an looking forward to an Ep3.
Thanks Steve, for the re-discovery journey. This just confirmed my confidence and affection for this little lens.
I think EVF is still the issue. I am mid-40’s and can’t easily focus using LCD — the whole reading glasses thing. To make the EVF an extra cost accessory puts the camera a bit out of reach. I have read some favorable reviews of the Nikon V1, favorable for both focus speed and the built in EVF. If Olympus survives this latest scandel, and “if” is really the right word because from what I have read the Japanese don’t buy products from companies mired in scandel, then I am hopeful the next offering from Olympus builds one in. Maybe Panasonic will see Nikon as a threst once the “sensor is too small” crowd quiets down and realizes it’s a good camera.
The one thing I dislike very much about this lens is the sound it makes. When you turn the camera on this lens sounds like you have switched on a printer or something like that.
I hate this, the 14mm is so silent in comparison , it gives the whole package a feeling of robustness, much more pleasureable IMO.
Image quality wise , I agree with everyone, it’s very good though.
8/11/2011 any Australian readers. Panasonic Auz have been out of stock for ages, and they don’t really know when it will be back in. 🙁
This lens was one of the reasons for me to get into Micro Four Thirds – this and the promise of high image quality in a compact package. I was not let down. And to this day, it is my only MFT lens and lives happily on my E-P1, which I am still using until it breaks down one day, as it is still producing great results.
Awesome combo no doubt, although i tend to shoot the EP series with old Minolta glass… Here’s a few shots with EP3-Minolta Rokkor X 50mm F2 MF lens…
Videos ( http://www.ffmeetup.com/videos.html )
Stills ( http://www.ffmeetup.com/FFMeetUp-11-3-4-2011/ )
Keep up the good work Steve!
Thanks for the article, Steve. I’ve had my 20mm for over a year and considered selling it when I picked up the 25mm. Glad I didn’t, actually. I think I need to bring it back out and start shooting with it again!
Damn it Steve! Everytime I’ve almost made up my mind to upgrade from my GF1 and 20mm to something new I read and article like this. Thank you for keeping me grounded. I’ve always cared much more for light/composition/sharpness than I ever did for dynamic range and high iso quality. I still make more “wow” shots with my GF1/20mm than other camera I own. This is a fantastic post.
I have always been curious about the Olympus 17mm 2.8, ever since you mentioned that you actually preferred the colour and rendering of that lens over the 20mm (it was a while back). I find it really hard to pinpoint what it is about the 20mm, it’s super sharp and technically perfect, but I just find it a little sterile compared to the 25mm Nokton which has so much character. Do you still feel the same way about the 17mm or have you had a chance to try it on the E-P3?
I bought the 20mm a year ago but have barely used it and I feel as if I’m keeping it just because everyone else keeps telling me how good it is!
It just goes to show how I have Sony NEX on my mind. I kept thinking “He must have shot that in “vivid” mode.
Steve, your references to the old Leica CL and this lens being the equivalent of that camera’s 40mm lens got me thinking that the GF1 may have been designed with the Panasonic/Leica link in mind?
The GF1 is very Leica-like, and would have made a fine, new digital CL, had Leica apparently not wanted to offer a micro43rds camera (maybe because it would have eaten into the M8/M9 market?).
So equally, this 20mm lens may have been designed to Leica standards as there may have been a time when it might have been a Leica branded optic?
Notice every sentence ends in a question mark, as this is all just conjecture…
One thing for sure, I feel that the GF1 will/is regarded as a digital camera classic, and the 20mm lens one of the best from any manufacturer. And the two together are a very happy combo!
Of topic, I’m very eager to read your thoughts and review of the Fuji X10…I do so hope it’s a winner!
This has been my favorite lens. It sits nicely between wide angle and 50mm; wide enough so you don’t always have to switch to an actual wide angle lends, but long enough to use for portraits with sweet bokeh.
I had the E-P2 with this lens and it was just great, just great in about any situation that lends itself to the 40mm equivalent view.
I sold the camera because of the EVF(2), which was a bothersome wart when taking the camera out of a bag.
There really should be an MFT Pen with a built in evf…
Yes there should be and hopefully will be in 2012. I just hope that if they do this, they release it with a built in EVF, a more pro style dial control system AND I would be fine with them staying at 12MP, but would rather them improve the sensor quality further for DR and noise instead of jacking up the MP to 16 or whatever.
+1 on the improvement on the DR. At current resolution and noise performance of m4/3 and APS-C sensors it should really become the priority No.1 for the future models.
steve, use your “bully” pulpit for this cause. just like with the NEX7–keep the 16mp sensor with the new, more pro-like features. whoever gets this right will get the grail!
thanks for your efforts and platform.
Can I get an amen?!
The 20mm Panasonic is nice but I’m hoping Olympus is launching a compact fast 20mm with the same design and build, lightning fast AF, focus ring AF/MF switch as the 12mm has.
That would be nice huh?
This is very useful info. As you seem to be the wizard of these things, are there plans in the works for an EP-4 with a built-in viewfinder? That’s what is holding me back from a camera like this.
I really do not know. I have HEARD of a Pro Pen but nothing is confirmed. Sorry, wish I knew.
I found this site a few weeks ago and checked almost every article 🙂
but it looks like Steve has a lot of fun with the E-P3.
I’m still not sure what to buy, but this one is high on my list! (as a replacement for my oly c5060)
We get the point Steve – it is a great lens 🙂
I really agree that EP3 together with Olympus and Panasonic prime lenses is, in spite of “dated” (so they say) sensor, the most balanced mirror-less AF system. Even though I have my heart set on GXR, the EP3 with the 12, 20 and 45 lenses is pretty much all one needs in a compact package.
It hurt pretty bad when I sold this lens. The only other time I felt like it was when I sold the Olympus 50mm f2. Although I’m happy with the Nex-5N, I’d really like to add a m4/3 cam back into the fold so I can play with the awesome primes. Probably will pick up the Pana/Leica 25mm and Oly 45mm and call it a day. Then again, the Nex 50mm 1.8 could cancel out my desire for the Oly 45mm. I just need to wait till the damn thing comes out. Patience!
Try that 45mm, I got mine about a week ago. What a lens, irrespective of price. And simply unbelievable when considering the affordable USD400.
+1!! The 45mm lens is really a marvelous little jewel! It renders images sooo beautifully, it’s extremely sharp across the board, wonderful bokeh, and 90mm f1.8 is a great length / aperture size for portraits. I feel that the sony 50mm will be a little short at 75mm equivalent.
I also haven’t been super impressed with the sony NEX lens results…not that sharp to my eyes (both the 24mm and the 50mm).
Since the Fujifilm X100 and the Olympus e-p3 with the 20mm panasonic would cost about the same I wonder, which one is the better? I love the results of the panasonic lens, but I think I would prefer the handling on the X100 over the e-p3. How would you choose?
Well, that is tough. The X100 feels a bit better in my hand but is much slower in actual use, along with the quirks like turning the ND filter on if there is sun and you want to shoot at f/2. The E-P3 is much quicker and easy to use with dials and knobs. One sets the aperture, one does Exposure Comp. Quick menu for changing ISO, etc.
Out of camera images are great with both the Fuji and E-P3. I guess you can look at it as the E-P3 is more of a system camera and the X100 is not. Both are fantastic. BUT the E-P3 wins for usability and video (though the Sony beats them both for video) and the newer lenses are really good, along with this classic 20.
Besides handling differences and as an owner of both, the X100 is the utimate aps-c sensor IQ machine. Its DR and high iso performance are in a different league when directly compared to the EP3. Particularly the limited DR is something which can be a real limitation with mft.
I own both the X100 and a GF1 with the 20mm. I mostly shoot street photography, walking the streets with the camera always on and ready. 9 times out of 10, I grab the GF1. As Steve says for the E-P3, the GF1 is much more responsive than the Fuji X100. I will probably get the GX1 when it gets out. This being said, if your type of photography allows you to take your time and be patient, the Fuji would be wonderful. I should also add regarding the GF1 (any m4/3 as a matter of fact), that another winner for me is the 7-14mm. This super-wide angle zoom is so small and yet just really amazing. I also have a D700 and would not even consider using the 14-24mm (I would probably stop walking after 2 or three corners).
I find it strange that you are still waiting for the 25 as I got mine several months ago. Mind you, I’m waiting to even see a 12 or 45.
I lucked out an was able to buy the 12, 25, and 45 all this week from adorama and bh photo. They happened to get a shipment of all those lenses all at once!
Agreed. Great format. Great camera. Great lens.
I look forward to getting this lens as soon as I dive into m43. Sounds like a real winner.
In five years time we’ll laugh about the sensor size issue, as it will be a complete non-issue. At the same time, m43 owners will be quite happy about the tiny size of their lenses.
It’s not that fast on de E-P3 as for example the oly 45 1.8 is.
But further its nice.
Steve, your reviews of the EP-3 and the Pan 20 mm f1.7 weighted a lot in my decisions and now I’m a proud owner of the exact same setup on the first image :). The 20mm is an excellent lens. The EP-3 is also very, very good (except for the in-camera software, the menus and some features are a bit awkward to use).
Sorry, I meant E-P3.
It is a great lens. It is what MFT is all about…
I (hope!) am procuring an order for the new Panny/Leica 25mm f/1.4 today as the merchant told me he would have some this afternoon. I own the 20mm and most likely will keep it because of its size..but what swayed me to be buying the 25mm was an article that I read from a Leica shooter who also owned two MFT bodies (one Oly, one Panny), the 20mm f/1.7 and purchased the new 25mm f/1.4. He said that he was stunned sometimes when he open the files from the 25mm…and kept using the term LL, as Steve did above. He was wowed by the lens…really WOWED. So I hope I am not disappointed…and I am sure that Steve will cover that lens here as well.
care to share the link to the article? I’m curious 🙂
Alex, I was afraid someone was going to ask that…I just did some digging in my browser history…..it is a VERY extensive 3-part article about the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4. Great stuff. Lots of photos. Here is the link to the first part…after that you are on your own!!!! LOL!
I have a panasonic GF1 + 20mm pancake combo…and this lens has stayed on my camera for 2 years straight. It really is an amazing little lens that is incredibly sharp! I know a lot of people say that larger sensors are better, but I feel that if you’re not a pro photographer and just shoot for pleasure, m4/3 is an amazing format. I look at a lot of other mirorless cameras out there and am never impressed with the sharpness of the photos when compared to m43 and good primes.
In the past few weeks I purchaed the 12, 25, and 45 mm primes that were just released than they each impress me more than the next. Focus really has improved over the old 20mm pancake, which can feel a little slow and clunky at time. While people are complaining about lack on new exciting bodies for m43 lately, I feel that panasonic and olympus have really been pushing getting great lenses out instead…which makes a world of a difference!
+1 (and Alex, I am hoping we will see the body we have all been waiting for in the next year to go with all of these GREAT new lenses).
I loved this lens when I had my EP1, you article is makes me want to re-buy to the EP3 and this lens again. Problem is, I can’t afford it right now! Damn you Steve Huff 😉
Steve: is there any AF speed/accuracy improvement using this lens on the ep3 compared to the older models? (especially in low light)
Yes, it is faster on the E-P3. It seems much quicker than it did when I had it on the E-P2
that’s strange, I am pasting the very recent comment from the m43 forum about problems with this lens at night on Olympus bodies (even E-P3 which I own):
Last night I couldn’t get the 20mm/e-p3 to focus about %90 of the time in an oddly lit bar (shooting “portraits” only). It was endlessly searching and also false-hitting.
You have an awesome blog and I jumped once you started using E-P3, but would welcome (another) 14mm vs 20mm dilema & comparison. 14 mm is a bit soft at the edges but is not critical, is stellar night/autofocus shooter, is half priced, lighter, smaller but unfortunately too-wide for some.
The 14 is wider and slower than the 20. The 20 is for those who like shallow death of field, the 14 doesn’t give you much of that unless you are up really close. Two totally different lenses. For the record, my E-P3 never had one issue focusing with the 20. Its not a blazing fast focusing lens like the Oly 12 but I had no complaints. Then again, I do not think I shot it in the dark.
What metering did you have the camera on. Spot would be good for low light as the camera only has to worry about a small part of the frame. If you had it in auto or full or whatever is the “safest” setting, it could be confused with the lighting. Always go spot when lighting is difficult. Unless you want the subject to NOT be the focus of the photo.
This lens is amazing, for the price and the size! and remember that if m43 was a larger sensor format, this lens could never been so tiny!
Thats a legend told by sony,
the truth is that you have plenty of full frame lens at the same size, like the konica hexanon 40mm f1.8 to name one
The Nikon 50 AIS 1.8 Pancake too…. put that on a Nikon EM and you have something smaller or equal to these EP3 things and for BW nothing quite looks like the real thing. However depends on what aspect ratio that you like…..