• Mon. Nov 29th, 2021

Hope for a New Pen F? OM System 20mm f1.4 Review

ByCandice Hansen

Nov 4, 2021
Hope for a New Pen F? OM System 20mm f1.4 Review

Over what seemed to be an AOL 9.0 internet connection, the folks at OM Digital solutions briefed the press on the new OM-System 20mm f1.4. Typically, I’m respectful and sit through the entire thing. But I knew that as soon as I saw the lens that I didn’t need to sit, though. My eyes brightened. The nostalgia of the early mirrorless camera era coursed through me. Could it really be? Is the new OM Digital solutions company really going to find a way to diversify its portfolio again? Rendering the visual equivalent of a 40mm f2.8 on a Micro Four Thirds sensor, the OM System 20mm f1.4 is a fantastic lens. And quite honestly, it’s probably one of my favorite lenses to be released this year.

Too Long, Didn’t Read

The OM System 20mm f1.4 PRO lens is positively astounding. Small, well-designed lenses like this are genuinely why you fall in love with the system. It focuses very quickly, although Olympus tends to prioritize subjects around the center. It’s sharp, has gorgeous bokeh, boasts weather sealing, is as small as a standard shot glass with a bit more girth. I think the $799.99 price tag will be more justifiable when a weather-sealed Pen F hits the market. But shooting with this lens is also just pure fun. Using the OM System 20mm f1.4 reminded me of all the excitement I had when the Pen F first came into my hands. Set it to grainy black and white mode and just shoot! You’ll be so happy!

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Excellent build quality

  • Super small

  • Finally, OM has a great 40mm lens!

  • Fast

  • Lightweight

  • Great image quality

  • Shooting with this lens gives me all the initial joys I had with the Pen F

  • $799.99 price point will make a lot more sense if/when a new weather sealed OM System Pen F comes out.

Cons

  • OM’s autofocus system still tends to prioritize subjects in the center, and this isn’t the best for street photography. Even if you set it to face detection, we’re finding it doesn’t do so well with folks wearing masks. But once this is fixed, this is the absolute best lens that every street photographer needs to get.

  • A bit of purple fringing. But that’s easily fixable. Or just shoot in Grainy Black and White Mode because it makes you happy.

Gear Used

We tested the OM System 20mm f1.4 on the Olympus OMD EM1 Mk III with the latest firmware updates. We also used it with the PolarPro Belay camera strap.

Innovations

The OM System 20mm f1.4 isn’t necessarily doing anything innovative, per se. However, it’s the first 40mm-equivalent lens to have an IP rating attached to it, to my knowledge. For what it is, it is indeed the smallest 20mm f1.4 lens on the market; but it’s also for a smaller camera system. Panasonic has long had a 20mm pancake lens, but the OM System 20mm f1.4 is far more robust. Within the Micro Four Thirds system itself, you could say that this is innovative. You could also say it because 40mm lenses are only now flooding the market. But in the grand plan of it all, it’s just a good 20mm lens. Nothing is specifically innovative about it.

Tech Specs

These specs are given to us by Olympus:

  • 11 elements in 10 groups,including Super ED, Super HR, ED, and Aspherical lenses

  • Splashproof, freezeproof and dustproof performance as the PRO lens series. In fact, this is an IPX1 rated lens. That means that dripping water on it will have no harmful effects.

  • 0.25 meter close focusing

  • 9 Aperture blades

  • 58mm filter thread

  • 257 grams in weight. It’s like half a pound.

  • $799.99

Ergonomics

The OM System 20mm f1.4 an overall small lens. It boasts a 58mm front filter thread, for starters. This is incredibly small!

Here’s an overall look at the lens. As you can tell, it’s weather-sealed. In fact, Olympus gave this lens an IP rating, which is incredibly rare in the photo industry.

Here’s the OM System 20mm f1.4 right next to a shot glass. As you can see, it’s pretty much as tall as a shot glass. If anything, one can reasonably say that t’s a bit shorter and fatter. For sure, it’s small.

The lens is so tiny that the focusing ring takes up pretty much the entire body. As such, it gives the lens an excellent ergonomic grip.

Build Quality

The OM System 20mm f1.4 is weather-resistant for sure. Just look at our product photos. In fact, this is, to my knowledge, the first 40mm equivalent lens to have an IP rating attached to it. I’ve asked other manufacturers, particularly Leica, about such ratings. And they’ve never done them for the lenses. As such, you can pretty much guarantee that this lens is durable.

In the hand, it also feels excellent attached to the OMD EM1 Mk III. I walked from Bryant Park in Manhattan down to the West Village with it on the camera. It felt light and well balanced with the camera. Seriously, as far as build quality goes, I have no complaints at all.

Ease of Use

This is a simple lens to use. Put it on the camera, point, shoot, and enjoy the photos. It’s that simple. It doesn’t have the pull-back focusing ring to snap into manual focus mode. And for street photography, that may be annoying. At the same time, though, it’s still more than useful for candid shooting. With no controls on it, it’s hard to screw up here.

Autofocus

Here’s where the review is a bit of a mixed bag, and I’m not blaming it on the OM System 20mm f1.4. Is this lens fast? Yes. I put it in the hands of a friend who was also incredibly impressed with the speed. Quite honestly, the OM System’s best speed has always been with the tap-to-shoot settings on the LCD screen. But when choosing the focusing point manually and letting the camera do the work, it is always pretty swift.

If anything, my problems have more to do with the intelligence in the OMD EM1 Mk III. It doesn’t always detect faces, and it’s sometimes even harder for the system if the face is behind a mask. Further, this camera puts a greater emphasis on focusing on what’s in the center. For candid photography, that’s fine! You can set the camera to Continuous autofocus, focus the camera, and then recompose pretty quickly. But for street photography, the rapid pace is sometimes too much for the OMD EM1 Mk III. I’m explicitly blaming the camera because this is genuinely one of the fastest lenses I’ve used for this system. And with a significant firmware update or a new camera, I think that the OM System 20mm f1.4 could possibly even keep up with Sony and Canon.

Most importantly, here’s the thing: if you don’t get the photo perfectly in focus, it’s not the end of the world. I know that a lot of old-school thinkers and the Japanese tend to obsess over it. But there’s something to genuinely be said for the beauty in the imperfections. Like Fujifilm, if you “screw up” but embrace the looks that the camera gives you, it’s hard to complain.

Image Quality

Oh, man! The image quality from this lens is a two-component thing. Purely by itself, you’ll never want to stop it down. OM Digital Solutions (OMDS) says that the bokeh is “feathered.” And that sort of makes sense. Instead, I think it’s just creamy and gorgeous. In fact, I believe that bokeh has a bit of a gorgeous character to it. If you’re a Fujifilm shooter, it looks like the Fujifilm 35mm f1.4 original. That lens has a Sonnar type design, but I don’t think the OM System 20mm f1.4 has that. It’s also very sharp. And while there’s a minor issue with purple fringing, I believe this can be fixed in post-production or wholly negated.

Bokeh

Look at this bokeh. Seriously, look at it. How can you not like it? It reminds me of paintings. It’s creamy, blurry, and overall gorgeous. It does a great job working with contrast and sharpness to make the subject stand out. Again, I indeed can’t complain about the bokeh quality here. This lens is excellent for street photography in some ways, but don’t discount it and the bokeh it produces.

Color Rendition

Here’s a photo at ISO 6400 shot with the OM System 20mm f1.4 and the OMD EM1 Mk III. The colors are lovely. They’re not as vivid as something from a full-frame sensor. But they’re still charming. Still, I’ve always said that you should use the Olympus Art Filters. And below, that beautiful color gets negated. It instead turns into a moody photo with a look you can’t deny.

Lens Character

In high contrast areas, the OM System 20mm f1.4 will deliver purple fringing. In reality, you can get rid of that pretty quickly in post-production using Capture One or Lightroom. I didn’t find it personally to be offensive. Other “issues’ may include distortion, but it didn’t bother us with this lens. Otherwise, the lens is booming with character. Below is a photo with and without the art filter.

Sharpness

I stared at the photo above for a while when I used the OM System 20mm f1.4. If you’ve been shooting for years, it should excite you. This photo was shot using the OM System 20mm f1.4 and the OMD EM1 Mk III. And in my eyes, it looks like Kodak T-Max 400 that was well scanned. Is there grain? Sure. But so what? It’s sharp. It’s capable. And it balances the sharpness out with incredible bokeh.

Extra Image Samples

From day one, the Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. You’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a whole section in our Extra Image Samples area to show off edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.

Edited

Unedited

Any photos in Black and white in this section were shot using the Grainy Black and White film art filter. Basically, I’m using this lens how it should be used in my eyes.

Conclusions

Likes

  • The bokeh

  • Sharpness

  • Overall image quality

  • Small size

  • Light weight

  • IP-rating is fantastic!

Dislikes

There isn’t any denying that I really like this lens. The OM System 20mm f1.4 has a lot going for it. It’s sharp, fast, boasts beautiful bokeh, has an IP-durability rating, and is small overall. What’s to not like? I think that street photographers will love this lens. However, they’re going to like it more if a weather-sealed Pen F ever comes out. In fact, if it does, this lens should be included as a kit option offering. The autofocus could be better, but I’m blaming Olympus cameras for that. Maybe when a new OM System camera hits the market, that could be fixed. Then there’s the price tag of $799.99. Is it worth it? Yes. But the current camera system leans heavily towards bird, wildlife, and landscape photographers. If Olympus shows that it wants to support the wedding, candid, and street photography crowds more, then they’ll have something extraordinary here.

By itself, though, the OM System 20mm f1.4 is worthy of a ton of awards.

We’re giving the OM System 20mm f1.4 our Editor’s Choice award and five out of five stars. Want one? Check out Amazon for the latest prices.

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