The mild wide angle prime dilemma for micro four thirds

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A mild wide angle lens with close to 35 mm full frame equivalent focal length renders a quite natural perspective while fitting a bit more into the frame than a standard lens. Such a lens is a very good walk around lens, and I miss having one of those. I own the Panasonic 12-32 f/3.5-5.6 compact zoom which is nice, but I miss the simplicity and sometimes the brighter aperture of a small and light prime at a slightly wider focal length than my 25 mm standard lens. On MFT, the obvious contenders are the Panasonic Leica 15 mm f/1.7, the Olympus M.Zuiko 17 mm f/1.8 and the newish Sigma 16 mm f/1.4 DN Contemporary. The problem is that all of them compromise on something, so I feel that there is a bit of a dilemma as to which lens to choose if you are after a mild wide angle lens.

I think the 17 mm Olympus has the more useful focal length, especially for me since I already own the 14 mm Lumix f/2.5 pancake. I actually bought the Olympus 17 mm a while back, but I soon found that it was less than ideal. What I didn’t like was the colour rendering and the lack of sharpness. To me, the colours looked bleaker and the lens just wasn’t sharp compared to my Panasonic Leica 25 mm f/1.4, the Lumix 20 mm f/1.7, the Lumix 42.5 f/1.7 or even the Panasonic 12-32 f/3.5-5.6 compact zoom. So I sold the Olympus 17 mm after only a few days of owning it. I know many people love this lens, but I suspect it is more for its focal length and practical size than for its image quality. It also comes without a lens hood which I think is strange.

The Panasonic Leica 15 mm f/1.7 seems like a better performer in the reviews I have read. It cost a bit more, looks slightly longer than the Olympus 17 in size, has an aperture ring most people would never use, and has a focal length that gives a more exaggerated perspective. Even so, the PanaLeica 15 is probably one of the best choices for a general walk-around lens on MFT as it is small, sharp, has a wide aperture and has a mild wide angle focal length. It comes highly recommended by many reviewers. I already have the 14 mm f/2.5 pancake, so I feel that buying a lens that is so similar in focal length, even if it is a much better lens, is a bit of a waste, especially since I would have preferred a focal length closer to a 35 mm full frame equivalent.

The third choice is a new contender, the Sigma 16 mm f/1.4 DN Contemporary for MFT. With 16 mm focal length it is in that sweet spot close to a classic full frame 35 mm where the perspective is less exaggerated than with really wide wide angle lenses, while at the same time, you get a lot of the scene into the frame. It has excellent sharpness and nice colour reproduction and a wider aperture than the other alternatives if the reviews are to be trusted and it is priced competitively. The problem with this lens is that it is LARGE. It’s two and half times longer than the Olympus 17 mm. Nice to get a wider f/1.4 aperture, but not if the price is such a large size. One of the things I like about MFT is the compactness and lightness and one of the benefits of using a prime instead of a zoom is that many primes are quite compact, as the two earlier lenses exemplify well, while also delivering good image quality. So even if this lens is in many ways excellent, I am reluctant to buy it since it is a bit impractical.

This image was shot with the Olympus 17 mm f/1.8

When you think about it, there are actually a couple of other alternatives as well. The Olympus 17 mm f/2.8 pancake is a small and light contender that has even worse image quality than its f/1.7 counterpart, so that is not an option for me. The faster Olympus 17 mm f/1.2 is large, heavy and expensive (in relative MFT terms). Since I like standard lenses, one would think that I would love the 20 mm f/1.7. While not a mild wide angle, it is very close to being one and could be used for the same kind out and about shooting where something wider than a 25 mm (=50 mm FF) could be useful. The 20 mm f/1.7 was actually the first prime I got. I liked the small size and weight, the wider standard lens focal length and the excellent image quality, but I disliked the slow autofocus enough that I eventually sold it since I sometimes missed shots because of it. I don’t want to own lenses I can’t trust. It is just a waste of money to have lenses lying on a shelf at home instead of in my camera bag.

A few days ago while searching for prices on a Sigma prime that I lust for, the 56 mm f/1.4 DN Contemporary, I stumbled upon the Sigma 19 mm f/2.8 DN Art. After reading some reviews, it seems like it has better image quality than the Olympus 17 mm and faster autofocus than the Lumix 20 mm. It is also much cheaper than any of the other alternatives and is quite compact and light. It’s not as wide apertured as some of the other alternatives, but it is a bit faster than my zooms for low light. On wide angle lenses, fast apertures do not produce very shallow depth of field anyway and you would seldom shoot with a wide angle if that is what you are after, so f/2.8 is probably fast enough. It seems to be more popular among Sony Alpha users in its E-mount version where it gives a 28.5 mm equivalent focal length if the pictures I find on Flickr is any indication of popularity. The MFT version costs about a third of the Olympus 17 mm new and according to reviews delivers better image quality, so it seems like a real bargain.

I think I might buy the Sigma 19 mm since I do miss a walkabout lens that is wider than my 25 mm Summilux and since it is so cheap that I can afford to take a chance on a less praised lens that might fit my aesthetic ideals and my other kit quite well. I really liked the focal length of the Panasonic 20 mm pancake and this slightly wider lens will give me a perspective almost like a standard lens while fitting more into the frame. If I do buy it, I will probably write a blog post about it after a period of use to share my experiences with this lens.

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