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What is the point of a pancake lens? Set to buy an Olympus E-PL1...

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Bloodflowerz, Apr 10, 2010.

  1. Bloodflowerz

    Bloodflowerz Member

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    Hello all,

    Firstly, I would like to thank Johnmcl7 and Dr O for their great advice on choosing a good camera for low light and portrait photography.

    I was orginally considering the following cameras:

    Fuji F200EXR
    Fuji F72/80EXR
    Panasonic LX3
    Canon S90

    ...but based on great feedback from John and Dr O, I spent some time looking at DSLR due to the larger sensor and night and day difference in picture quality in low light / high ISO pictures, when compared with compacts. Unfortuanately, I found DSLR a bit too big for my liking so, instead decided to go for a Four Thirds camera, in particular the new Olympus E-PL1.

    I have compared pictures of the Olympus to the Canon G11 , Panny LX3 and all the camera listed above and the difference in image quality is amazing! The bigger sensor makes a hugh difference. I have also compared the Oly to entry level DSLR cameras like the Pentax K-x and yes the Pentex has slighlty better images at high ISO but there really is not much in it. Also, to my eyes, the Oly has better images than the Panasonic GF1, less noisy, better colours. All these comparisons were made at DCResource.com. Brilliant site.

    Anyways, I'm looking to get Olympus E-PL1 with both 14-42mm & 40-150mm lenses. This would make it a good all round travel camera. However, I'm a bit confused about the 17mm 1:2.8 Pancake lense and what it can be used for? As far as I undertsand, its a static lense offering 34mm (equiv. 35mm). What advantages does this lense have (excluding size) and when would I use it?

    Thanks in advance for any help.

    :thumbsup:
  2. Johnmcl7

    Johnmcl7 Member

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    I may be a little controversial here but honestly I don't think there's much point in the Olympus 17mm pancake, it's not a very good lens optically and at F2.8 it doesn't offer as much light gathering capability as it could. The Panasonic 20mm F1.7 is a much better lens both optically and thanks to its wide F1.7 aperture much more useful for both low light and shallow depth of field shots. The problem with the kit lenses is that to get the size down they have to to limit the apertures so neither the 14-42/40-150mm are very bright which is fine for general use but in poor light it makes their use very limited.

    I have the Panasonic GH1/GF1 with the 7-14mm, 14-140mm and the 20mm F1.7 - when I'm just out general out and about shooting I normally use the 14-140mm or the 7-14mm for ultrawide with the 20mm sitting in reserve if I want to do any shallow depth of field shots. However if I'm going out for the night to poorly lit pubs or people's houses, I usually don't even bother taking the 7-14mm/14-140mm lenses as their maximum F4 aperture just isn't bright enough most of the time. That's when the 20mm F1.7 comes into its own as with a minimum 2.5 stop improvement in light gathering ability it remains usable in poor light, before it was released I really missed having a lens like this and had to use bulkier 4/3 lenses instead. It can be a bit limiting having no zoom capability but at least it can get the shots where the zoom lenses just can't.

    With all that in mind I'd really budget for the 20mm F1.7 which I realise isn't cheap, at the moment it's the only low light lens available for micro 4/3 with the only other options being either cheap legacy lenses with manual operation or using 4/3 lenses which is going to be expensive. Although I'm a fan of micro 4/3 I'm a little hesitant about your choice for mainly shooting low light because of the higher cost and lack of lenses, although the Pentax is bulkier there's a massive choice of decent wide aperture primes as Pentax have pretty much the best legacy lens support of any company (in terms of operation, although micro 4/3 cameras can mount just about any lens ever made, non 4/3 lense are manual operation)

    John
    • Thanks Thanks x 1
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2010
  3. Bloodflowerz

    Bloodflowerz Member

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    Thanks John! Brilliant! So with the Panasonic pancake lens, would you still need to use flash in low light/ indoors? Also, which of the three lens would you recommend for portrait photography? I read human eye has roughly equivalent field of view as a 50mm lens and that causes little to no distortion? The Panasonic lens would translate to 40mm on the Olympus. Would that be acceptable?
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2010
  4. Bloodflowerz

    Bloodflowerz Member

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    Thanks John. I was originally mainly looking for best low light performance but I will be going abroad later this year so I need a good all round travel camera. I orignally had the Panny TZ5 and I was extremely disappointed with indoor / low light performance. The Olympus, with the right lens, will be ideal.
  5. Johnmcl7

    Johnmcl7 Member

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    It's a tricky question, the 20mm F1.7 is going to let you shoot in lower light than the kit lenses without using the flash but you're still going to have to ramp up the ISO in poor light and you're also at the mercy of the which direction and colour the available lighting is. At least with the 20mm F1.7 if you do need the flash, you can use the wide aperture, boost the iso and lower the power on the flash so you don't get that horrible washed out flash look.

    The 20mm is a little short of the ideal portrait focal lengths (around 50mm to 85mmish equivalent) so in good light the 40-150mm may be better as it would also allow a little more distance but as long as you can be reasonably close to your subjects the 20mm would be my pick. The wide aperture allows for shallow depth of field quite easily and also makes it far more usable in low light. This is a portrait shot with the 20mm of my current subject in training taken obviously from sitting in the driver's seat:

    [​IMG]

    John
  6. Mike.P®

    Mike.P® Active Member

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    Who cares what the point of a pancake lens is when it looks this good :rotfl:

    [​IMG]
  7. shotokan101

    shotokan101 Well-Known Member

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    ...obviously not a Pen!s substitute then :devil: - it looks horrible - short - dumpy and unnatural IMO on that body :eek:

    JIm
  8. Mike.P®

    Mike.P® Active Member

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    All down the personal taste I suppose, I think it looks great and a nice unobtrusive setup for street shooting. :thumbsup:

    I have always liked stuff that is a little different though .. probably why I went with Pentax over Canikon on the first place. :rolleyes:
  9. shotokan101

    shotokan101 Well-Known Member

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    You're right Mike - aesthetics are very much a matter of taste and I can see the "operational" advantages of the construction - especially on the 4/3s and micro 4/3s where "normal" lenses on adapters just look plain daft IMO :cool:

    Jim
  10. chrism_scotland

    chrism_scotland Member

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    I used to love the look of my 25mm Olympus Pancake on the E-620 although it wasn't the best lens optically.
  11. Jammyb

    Jammyb Active Member

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    Doesn't look much like a pancake though, more like a chocolate biscuit.

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