Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 Aspheric G- Series "Pancake" Lens Review

User review of the Panasonic Lumix 20 mm f 1.7 lens

The following is an actual user review of the new Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 "pancake" prime lens for Panasonic and Olympus Micro Four Thirds digital cameras.

Great lens for Bokeh effect

Shallow focus is achieved using the wide, fast f1.7 aperature.  Photo: Edward M. Fielding
Shallow focus is achieved using the wide, fast f1.7 aperature. Photo: Edward M. Fielding

Super flat pancake lens, beware of lens flare

When I was researching cameras, I was looking to return to the world of full function cameras after descending into the realm of point and shoots. I wanted something that would offer a lot of features without being overwhelming while at the same time not being too bulky so that I'd actually use the camera. I settled on the Micro Four Thirds format, less bulky, mirror less format that is an alternative to DSLRs and purchased a Panasonic Lumix G2.

At the time of purchase I had been reading rave reviews of the very compact "pancake" lens in the Panasonic Micro Four Thirds line up the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 Aspheric G- Series Lens. So many of the actual consumer reviews of this lens stated that this had become there standard lens which rarely leaves their camera body. I had considered ditching the kit lens and just purchasing the body and this lens but in the end I decided that buying just the body is only a savings of $100 and where can you get a lens for $100s. Also at the time of my purchase the aftermath of the Japanese earthquakes were being felt in the photo market and this highly sought after lens was hard to find. Some sellers even jacked up the price to over $800!

Sadly B&H Photo would have given me $100 off if I had bought the camera and this lens at the same time but they were out of stock. Two weeks later the lens was back in stock and I snatched one up.

This lens, called the H-H020 by Panasonic is a large maximum (F1.7) aperture 'normal' prime in a very compact 'pancake'-type body. Compared to Olympus's 17mm F2.8 pancake, this lens gathers a stop and a half more light so Olympus owner are also snatching up this lens as its very good in low light and with that large aperture you can really throw the backgrounds into fuzziness.

Panasonic has managed to squeeze a 7 element, 5 group design into that compact barrel, including two aspheric elements to help reduce distortion and chromatic aberration into this very fast lens. There's a 7-bladed aperture system, using curved blades designed to give an attractive, smooth effect to out of focus highlights. Rounding off the spec is a minimum focus distance of just 20cm although this lens doesn't have built-in optical image stabilization.

On the camera the pancake lives up to its name. Its only 25mm thick! The 40mm-equivalent angle of view is a 'perfect normal' lens, with a focal length equal to the sensor diagonal. It kind of like the 50mm lens my old film Olympus had.

Here are some of the highlights of the lens:

  • small, handy and with good fastness at the same time,
  • excellent image quality in the frame centre, including the maximum relative aperture,
  • good image quality at the edge of the frame,
  • chromatic aberration well-corrected,
  • good work against bright light,
  • accurate autofocus.

If there is a downside to this lens its that the Auto Intelligent feature on the Panasonic DMC-G2 defaults to the 1.7 aperture which can get annoying if you don't want extremely shallow depth of field for every shot. If find myself shifting to the aperture priority mode and when I want to step the lens down for deep depth of field this lens can deliver.

Lens flare issues

After using this lens for several months now, one of the issues with this lens is lens flare issues that can show up as low contrast in areas of the image. Flatness and low contrast can be the result of lens flare issues. Be careful of adding filters to the lens which and only increase the problem.

Another issue to aware of when using IA or automatic settings is that it will default to the widest aperture, so if you don't want shallow depth of field, make sure you switch to aperture priority mode. At small aperatures this lens is very sharp. In the wide open apertures you'll have blur in the front and back of the subject.

Try out this lens for the Panasonic Lumix G2. Its bound to become one of your favorite Micro Four Thirds lenses for low light conditions and when you want to throw the background out of focus.

Options

For other compact Panasonic lens the options include the Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5 G Aspherial Lens which is a sharp wide angle lens and the new Panasonic Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42/F3.5-5.6 Lens which is a very compact zoom lens of the type you might see on a point and shoot but is actually out of Panasonics "X" line of the top quality offerings.

Low Light Test - Panasonic f1.7 20mm

LUMIX GH-1,G 20mm F1.7 - Video at night

Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 Aspheric G- Series Lens

Lens Test - Panasonic 20mm f1.7 lens Micro Four Thirds

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