M. Zuiko 17mm as a Portrait Lens

These are not formal portraits. The lighting is not purposely set, nor is the subject posed. She is seated in the corner of a room, and there is a southeast facing window directly in front of her. There is a second window to camera left. I adjusted the blinds to allow more light on her. In two of the images, she is not facing the camera — looking at her cell phone. In the final image, she looks up. I was fortunate enough to get the hint of a smile, and capture two catch lights, in her eyes.

Looking at her Phone

Looking at her Phone

Looking at her Phone

Looking at her Phone

Eureka -- A Smile

Eureka — A Smile

The camera was a Olympus OMD-EM5. Normally, I do not use a M. Zuiko 17mm as a portrait lens. On the EM5, it has an effective focal length of 34mm which is just at the top end of what I consider to be a wide-angle lens. Wide-angle lenses are often not considered portrait lenses simply because they can distort perspective: Elements closest to the lens are often made to appear larger, relative to the rest of the image. In other words, if you want to make a person’s nose look bigger, shot them from close range with a wide-angle lens. 🙂

Even though I filled the frame, the loss of perspective was avoided by standing back a few feet from the subject, and cropping tightly in the final version. Some clever pundits say the crops are for farmers, not photographers. However, I cropped my images in the darkroom, beginning in the early 1970s, and I am not hesitant to crop them in Lightroom, today, when I feel it will improve the final image.

In the first image, I shot a partial profile, then stepped back, and shot from a lower camera angle. A word of warning: If you do shot from a low camera angle, from close distance, be careful not to appear to be shooting up the subject’s nostrils — not, usually, very flattering. In the final image, I called her name, and released the shutter just as she looked up.

All three images were made at f2.8, ISO 400, and hand-held at 1/30 — not an issue* with the EM5’s excellent 5-axis stabilization. Post-production was in Lightroom. There was a little cropping, as well as the conversion to black & white. I used Gavin Seim’s Black Pearl preset for the conversion, then tweaked the contrast and white clipping.

Olympus makes two 17mm lenses. There is the faster f1.8 with a street price (December 2014) of about $500 and the slightly slower (but still fast) f2.8 Pancake version, which you can find for about $350. Both are excellent values.

While I bought the 17mm as my walk-around, or street lens, I think, when handled properly, it can be a credible portrait lens.

M. Zuiko 17mm f2.8 Pancake Lens

M. Zuiko 17mm f2.8 Pancake Lens

*EDIT: As another photographer pointed out, the images are ‘out of focus”. I prefer to call them ‘soft’. Soft focus, essentially, has two definitions. One is due to a flaw in the lens. The other is achieved by stretching gauze or a nylon stocking over the lens, or even by smearing petroleum jelly on the lens, to create soft look. In my case, it may just be the shaking hands of an old photographer! 🙂

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John D Smith

Out off Focus

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