Another one of my portraits made Jarek Klimek's top picks for Google +. This time is was for one of the images done for Katie Beasley (now Katie Milner) at the Wheeler House. It's always a nice surprise to be featured considering how many photos get uploaded to Google + each day!
Today we took the day off from the cubicles and headed out to the ball park for some baseball and Barbecue. We got there early, ate well and headed into the game. It's our annual event. I think I missed it last year, but really enjoyed myself this time. I got to take some pictures and the game ended up being a no hitter for the Braves through the middle of the 8th inning. Thanks go out to Greg for pulling it all together and managing the mound ball bets. I didn't play but its fun to watch! Thanks to everyone else for bringing food and good company. Below are some pictures from the day.
About a month ago I got to do a great portrait session with a friend of the family. Katie is the morning traffic person for Fox 5 Atlanta. She was getting married on Memorial Day weekend but wanted to create a special present for her Grandmother. Katie had picked out her own dress for her wedding, but her grandmother still had the dress she was married in so many years ago. In fact, Katie's Grandmother and mother were both married in the dress. Katie wanted to make some special portraits in that dress, and also wanted a few of herself in her new dress, without all the wedding day pressure and insanity.
I started scouting locations but Katie had an idea to use a wedding venue that her friend owned. We met at the Wheeler House in Ballground GA. I had seen their website so knew I was going to be able to get that classic southern look. Graciously, The Wheeler House gave us access to both inside and out for the entire shoot. A week or two out I was getting really excited, but also a little worried as I had never visited the location. It was a pretty good drive away from Johns Creek and my day to day schedule just made it impossible to scout it out.
Finally the day of the shoot arrives and it is pouring rain all day. It figures. Now I am getting really worried, but due to the wedding schedule and restrictions on Katie's time, this is the day we have to do the shoot. We scheduled for 6pm and it looked like we were going to get a 2 or 3 hour window of no rain. I figured we would do an hour outside and an hour inside. It worked out perfectly. We worked our way around the yard racing the storm clouds (with blue tarp for under the dress in tow - Thank You Cindy and Katie's mom for hiding it so well!). Just as we hit the last location that I had picked out in my walk around, the rain started coming down again in buckets. We went inside, Katie changed into the dress she was going to be married in, and we did the indoor shots. It all worked out great and we got some great images. We (Courtney and I) were unable to attend the wedding as we had all the kids and were unable to get away for the weekend, but on the wedding day I got an iPhone picture of Katie presenting the framed pictures to her Grandmother and there was not a dry eye in the house!
On a final note, some of you that read my blog know I am moving away from DSLR's and Nikon. This is the last shoot done with my Nikon gear. From here on out it is Olympus and Micro 4/3rds and the Fuji X system. No more Nikon Safety Blanket! I'm not really worried about the camera and lenses but more so trying to wrap my brain around a new lighting system. Wish me luck!
This last Saturday we went to the Johns Creek Georgia festival at Johns Creek Walk. I was just taking some family snapshots when i decided that of course we needed a picture of the Llama. I snapped a few and when I got home and put them through Lightroom I found this one. The two tough guys crack me up.
For the last three years or so (ever since the release of the Panasonic GF1) I have maintained two camera systems. I have a Nikon DSLR system and a Micro 4/3rds system. I won't go into the specifics of each but lets just say I pretty much have a full pro set of bodies, lenses and the lights for each system. The lights are actually all Nikon Speedlights but I use them in manual with my M4/3rds gear. I understand that to date Micro 4/3rds is just beginning to be recognized as a pro option, but since the release of the Olympus OMD EM-5 it has been more than capable for the working portrait shooter. For a long time I used both systems but as Micro 4/3rds and Mirrorless in general have progressed I have used those systems for about 95% of my personal photos. The system is more than good enough for me. There are really only a few reasons I have stayed with the Nikon system.
- Security Blanket - DSLR's are by far the most flexible systems around. I never worry that I may encounter a situation that I can't work through with my Nikon gear. The downside is to have that flexibility I have to bring 30+ pounds of gear with me. I never do that to go on a family outing or to just shoot for fun. I can't be bothered.
- Continuous Auto focus - Micro Four thirds still doesn't do this worth a crap but I have to imagine it will change. The Nikon 1 system has shown it is possible to build a mirrorless system with good continuous auto focus. That being said the single point auto focus is so fast on my OMD, often times I can work around this.
- Radio TTL capability - Micro Four Thirds has TTL and High Speed Sync capability but it does not have radio triggers that support it so it will have to be line of sight unless you want to shoot full manual and be limited to sync speed. This one is a bit of a pain but I will be able to work through this as well.
That's pretty much it..... Am I going to argue that the image quality of my OMD is as good as my Nikon D600? No, I'm not, because it isn't. That being said, if the OMD is good enough for my personal photography (and I am very particular) why wouldn't it be good enough for the 20-30 portrait sessions I do a year? It will be. Many people will say that you can't get shallow depth of field with M4/3rds. That's just not true. Clearly it is not as easy as on a Full Frame DSLR but sensor size is just one part of the DOF equation. I certainly have never found this to be an issue and at times, being able to shoot wide open and get both eyes in focus, even if the subjects face is at a slight angle, is an advantage. As in all things related to photography there are trade offs. You just need to know your gear and how to use it.
The funny thing is I get most of my work through word of mouth and Facebook. When people see my personal stuff on Facebook they want me to recreate those images for their families. All those images are done with M4/3rds. When I prep to go do the shoot I drag out enough DSLR gear to sink a small yacht. For some reason I think that what's good enough for me ( a self admitted perfectionist) won't be good enough for a client who to date, only has iPhone pictures of their kids.
So why switch now? Why not just maintain both systems as I have done over the last 3-4 years? I guess I just don't see the value in it anymore, and quite honestly, with four kids there are always things that pull at the family resources. Having so much money tied up in gear that I only use to do a small photography business just seems silly. Secondarily, by selling the Nikon gear I can fill in the few lenses I need in M4/3rds (Panasonic 35-100 2.8 and the Olympus 75 1.8) to have a full kit. Lastly, unless I get rid of my security blanket cold turkey, I will always use the Nikon gear for paying shoots. There is no reason I can't do my type of photography with the M4/3rds gear I own and get amazing results.
I don't want this to be a "The DSLR is Dead" post. It's not. I love my Nikon gear. It allows for the ultimate in flexibility. I think the point for me is that after months of research and reflecting on exactly how I shoot, I have come to the conclusion that the amount of money tied up in the Nikon system, just in case I need that flexibility, does not make sense for me anymore. I have extensive experience with M4/3rds and know what the trade-offs are. Each person has to decide for themselves. The reality is I don't shoot sports or action, except on rare occasion, and it is usually just for fun so it is not critical. I can do High Speed Sync with Micro 4/3rds as long as I am line of sight, and lastly, I honestly feel very self conscious dragging around a huge DSLR unless I am doing a paid shoot. The one real concern I have is doing children's portraiture with fast moving kids, indoors, in low light..... I can work around that though. I just need to bite the bullet. If you have made this move already, leave a message and let me know it will all be ok ;-) This has been a really hard decision. I have started the long process of listing all my DSLR gear on Ebay. I am nervous as hell but have not entered into this lightly. I know there are a lot of people that say "why not just keep both". Honestly I would love to, but the dollars involved are just too high to justify it. I had to make a choice, and this seems to be the right one for me. Time will tell.
How do you get out of a rut with your photography? I go through it often. It seems like I shoot the same things over and over. I like to do a lot of portraits so even though it is "the same" it usually works out to be different. Recently I have wanted to mix it up. Early in the year I tried to take on a black and white year long mentorship on Google Plus. It is a wonderful program but just took more time during the week then I really have. I recently found another user community on Google + that is a little more informal and has weekly themes. So far I have really enjoyed it. It gives me a little direction (open to interpretation) and forces me outside of my comfort zone. In a lot of ways I think it will help my portraiture as well, as it opens my eyes to new possibilities. This week the theme was play. The picture of my daughter's feet below is as valid a portrait of her as any other. Without the theme I would not have shot it. Get out and play. What are you doing to expand into new areas?
I have been delinquent in posting some of the images from family sessions I have done over the last few months. This session was done right before Christmas with Kendra and Tyson and their three wonderful kids. Football fans in the Atlanta area may recognize Tyson. We had a great day and the kids were really a lot of fun. Definitely not shy or hard to work with. We did a few of the obligatory group shots for their Holiday cards and then we just went and played in the back yard.
I know a lot of people have been writing about the Fuji X100s. I just recently picked one up and after shooting with it for about a week I figured I would throw my initial impressions out there. This is by no means a scientific or even remotely quantitative type of review. It's just my experience using the camera compared to my other gear which is a combination of Micro 4/3rds and Nikon DSLR equipment.
Why? I guess the first question to ask is why did I even want this camera? If I had to be 100% honest the real answer is "I just did". This was entirely a self indulgent purchase (though some of my other gear had to be sacrificed to make it happen). It has incredible looks, solid construction and so far the reviews and the experience have not dissapointed. It really does not fill a need that I couldn't fill with some of my other bodies utilizing a fixed 35mm lens. That being said I did start this year with one major artistic goal. That goal was to add more context to my portraits. I am primarily a people photographer. I have spent a lot of time learning to use different lenses and lighting techniques to create the images I do. What I have found however, when looking around at photographs that I admire, they are usually what would be classified as environmental portraits. They show the subject in greater context. It's a technical exercise to learn how to use an 85mm f1.4 to blow out a background. It's a technical exercise to then flash some well shaped light onto the person to make them pop. I like those pictures but often times they tell me very little about the subject. I wanted to move into the realm of creating pictures that provide a sense of who the subject is by including them with their environemt. To try and force this issue, I have been shooting with a 35mm equivalent on one of my Micro 4/3rds bodies for a number of weeks. What I have found is that it has helped. Using a 35mm equivalent you can't take the easy way out and just get super tight or you will introduce all kinds of lens distortion that will make your subject look like a mutant. You have to step back and include environment. In addition when you step back you can't create super shallow depth of field. You actually have to frame your subject and use a good background. The results of this exercise even over a short time have really helped me towards my goal. The Fuji X100s was made for this type of shooting. I made the leap to a fixed lens camera.
Out of the Box - First impressions were very good. The camera feels solid and has a traditional style and feel. The first thing that jumped out at me when I started using it was how nice it was to have real dials to change things like aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation. This is not something you typically get on a "compact" camera. I have a Panasonic GX-1 body which is a similar form factor and it is much more fiddly to adjust. The Fuji X100s function button defaults to ISO. There is White Balance on the back dial and focus settings on the left side of the body. Essentially you have every one of your major controls accessible without a trip to the menu. In addition there is a quick menu which gives you fast access to every other thing you might need to get at such as file quality/size ,timers, color settings etc. I won't go into detail as that has been covered extensively in other reviews. All I really needed to know is that once I set some of my default options in the menus there is not a need to go back to change basic settings. Changing the spot focus point requires a button press prior to moving the point which is not ideal but it is not a big deal. This is a photographers camera.
Add ons - I knew this was a camera I was going to love. I had no doubt. I felt like shooting with a fixed lens on Micro 4/3rds was helping me creatively and I thought about this camera as something that I would buy and keep for a number of years. I think we are getting to the point that low light performance and iQ are good enough. Also, I am of the mindset that bad light is bad light. Most light that requires me to shoot above iso 1600 probably sucks. Usually I am better off using a strobe, which I am very comfortable with. I decided I was going to dress the X100s up exactly as I wanted from the get go and keep it for a long time. I purchased a Thumbs Up EP-2S and Opera 4 soft release from Match Technical. I ordered direct from Tim and had the items in a few days. The Thumbs up transforms how the camera feels. I can't imagine it without the extra grip and stability provided by the EP-2S. Awesome product. I also purchased a Gariz Half Case in brown and a Lance Wrist and Neck Strap from Lance Camera Straps. Lastly I picked up the JJC LHX100 instead of the Fuji brand hood. The JJC is $19, the Fuji $99. Fit and finish on the JJC is great. Its a perfect match and fits snugly. Not a lot more you can ask for in a lens hood. These are all the items you see on my camera in the above picture. It was another couple hundred bucks but I think all the items are well worth it and are a good match for such a premium camera.
Using the Camera - Ugh another interface to learn. Right now I am pretty familiar with Nikon, Panasonic and Olympus camera interfaces. They all have their quirks. Olympus is by leaps and bounds the most convoluted and difficult to understand. Nikon and Panasonic are pretty easy once you read through the manual and play with things. Fuji falls into the second camp with Nikon and Panasonic. Some things were not obvious at first such as rear LCD display modes and the various view mode combinations. That being said I spent the first night going through the manual and after that everything made sense. With my Olympus OMD I could read that damn manual 20 times and there would still be stuff I don't understand. Anyhow, once you get it set up there is not a lot of need to go beyond the quick menu very often. One glaring exception for me is flash exposure compensation. Honestly since it is doubtful that I will buy Fuji TTL strobes it probably doesn't matter much. I will just use my Nikon strobes with triggers in manual. I did however set the on camera flash to -1 and left it there. Its a little too hot for basic daytime fill. One other thing that is a bit annoying is that the ND filter on/off option is not in the quick menu. It requires a menu dive.
The hybrid viewfinder was totally new to me and is something that if you have not experienced it is a bit hard to explain. Essentially it is a Heads Up Display with greater than 100% view. It's really slick. With the intent of the camera in mind, I have tried to set it up old school. I chose to have no image review and typically leave the rear screen off. I am trying to use this camera with a little more intentionality than I typically use. Turning off auto chimp helps. One of the caveats is that the optical viewfinder does not work in macro mode so you need to be aware of that if you switch to macro. The EVF is also very nice and honestly this is my choice when I am working with a high contrast backlit scene as it allows for pre-chimping. You adjust exposure compensation and what you see is what you get. Also, the bottom right corner is not blocked by the lens hood like it is in optical mode. Either option is really nice. The optical is great as there is no delay and the EVF is great when you want to dial in EC or are in very low light.
The camera is as fast as you would expect a modern camera to be. I got a good class 10 card and write times seem very snappy. It does six frames a second in high. I did try it the other day but I don't really see that as something I will be using much on this camera. Single point auto focus is very solid. I don't think it is as fast or as reliable as my Olympus OMD but it is very good. Unless you are chasing running kids I doubt it will ever be an issue. To be honest I have not tried continuous auto focus yet but based on what I have read I am not expecting much. Manual focus is very good with both focus peaking and split image manual assist. The auto iso function is great. It lets you set a default iso, a max iso and a minimum shutter speed. My only complaint is that if you take it off of auto iso it doesn't remember your settings next time you put it back on. You have to reset it unless you want the default settings. I set the max iso at 1600 and the minimum shutter speed at 1/40th.
There are a million things I am not going to cover as the review sites have already done so, but there are two more things that really jump out at me. The first is silent mode. This camera with a leaf shutter is almost dead silent. The shutter is a barely audible little click in this mode. Somebody across a restaurant booth won't even know you took a picture. It has all kinds of different sounds that you can program to different functions but I just leave it in silent. It is perfect. You can turn it on and off by holding the display/back button. One thing to know is that the on board flash will not fire in silent mode. If you want a little daylight fill and you are in silent, you may end up scratching your head wondering why the hell it won't fire. The second thing that really stands out is related to the leaf shutter and was one of the biggest reasons I bought this camera. It will sync with manual flash at speeds well over traditional sync speeds. I haven't tested it extensively yet but was able to get up to 1/1000 of a second using Pocket Wizard Flex and Mini triggers. Add in a built in three stop ND filter and you can shoot pretty wide open while controlling the sun using off camera strobes. Fuji does offer High Speed sync with their external flashes but there is no way in hell I am buying another set of strobes for each camera system. I have a stack of Nikon strobes and this allows me to do things with them that I could not with my Micro 4/3rds system.
Image Quality - I don't know that I have a lot to add to this discussion. It is really good. It falls firmly between the OMD and my Nikon D600. That being said all three of those cameras deliver files that I could be happy with for the rest of my life. I rarely choose a system to use these days based on image quality. It is usually based on a function they provide that another system does not. If i need continuous auto focus and High Speed Sync I grab my DSLR. If I want everything but those two items in a small package I go with Micro 4/3rds. Either choice however usually involves me packing a bag and making choices. Then when I am shooting I am swapping lenses and wasting time. The Fuji X100s is my take everywhere camera. It constrains me, but in many ways frees me to shoot. Somehow I got off track of iQ but I think its tough to get bad iQ with any of the mainstream formats these days.
Things that stand out as specific to this camera are the film modes and the colors. Forever I have been hearing about the "Fuji colors". WTF? Color is color. In RAW that is true. When you look at the Fuji jpegs they are awesome. The film modes add a lot of choices. I have taken to shooting RAW + JPG Fine and using the various film modes. Often times I import them into LR and don't touch them. They look great out of Camera. Thats new for me and will save me a lot of time and really makes the case for the Fuji X100s as my take everywhere camera. I have read a lot of issues about the RAW conversion problems before the most recent update to Camera RAW. I got the camera the same day as the update so I have been spared that debacle. The conversions seem fine to me but I am not much of a pixel peeper.
Iso performance is really good. I shot indoors yesterday in a poorly lit convention center that was probably built in the 60's. the lighting was horrible. I shot at 1600 and it was fine. The files were sharp and any noise that was present easily came out in post. This is important to me but I don't do indoor sports photography or dark wedding halls so I am of the mindset that if a camera gives me a solid iso 1600 performance I'm good to go. The fact remains that indoor fluorescent light that made me shoot at 1600 was crappy light. Crap light is crap light and high iso will not add good light. If the pictures were that important to me I would have brought a strobe and shot at iso 200. That's just me, but for my purposes once a camera can shoot well at 1600 I don't really care. Right now Micro 4/3rds, APS-C and Full frame all pass that barrier.
Final Thoughts - Is this a camera that can do things that other cameras in the price range can't? No, not really. It is definitely a niche camera. If you are looking for a camera to blow out backgrounds while you make portraits this is not your tool. If you get close enough to your subject to do that they will hate you when they end up looking like cartoon characters. If however you are looking for a camera that feels good in your hands, has excellent image quality and easily accessible manual controls the Fuji X100s is a winner. Some people see the fixed lens as a limitation and a deal breaker. I looked long and hard at the Fuji XE-1 and one lens but in the end I didn't need another system. I wanted a camera that I could take with me anywhere, that had a classic style and looks. I wanted a camera that challenged me to make great compositions rather than just blowing out backgrounds. I wanted a classic camera that would remain a trusted tool for years to come. This was that camera for me. My system camera bodies come and go on the treadmill of advancement. Based on the iQ and performance of the X100s I am having a hard time seeing why this wont be "good enough" many years from today. Please feel free to leave comments or ask questions. All the images in this article (except the picture of the X100s) were done with the Fuji X100s as I am getting to know my new favorite camera. I am looking forward to creating many more.
This question comes up in my mind in cycles every couple of months. Some of it stems from the fact that I took my photography from a hobby to doing paid work. I really hadn't intended it. I didn't start in photography with the idea that I am going to learn this craft and turn it into an income stream (no matter how meager that really is compared to the effort put in). I started it because it just grabbed me and will not let go. Sometimes though , like everyone else, I can get caught up in "gear acquisition syndrome". Something comes out and I just have to have it.
Currently I own two full systems. I am a Nikon shooter with both a full frame and crop body along with a pretty full line up of pro glass, Nikon strobes, radio triggers and modifiers. This was my first "real" camera system. This is the system I use for all of my family and kids portrait sessions. It was built over a number of years and right now represents a considerable investment. Then came Micro Four Thirds and the Panasonic GF-1. I had to have it. Interchangeable lenses, compact form factor, solid construction and great image quality as long as the light was good. Sign me up. There were some restrictions to what you could do with it at the time, so it was completely necessary to keep my Nikon gear. Over the last few years I have accumulated lenses and bodies for the system. I can use all of my Nikon speedlights and associated modifiers. The bodies have gotten better over time, improving their low light performance and focus speed. With the event of the Olympus OMD EM-5 this thought just keeps cycling through my head. "Why do I keep all this Nikon gear?" To be honest, I really do love it. The image quality and the ergonomics are second to none in my opinion. The problem is I rarely use if for anything but paying work. If I shot all week that would be fine. The reality is I have a day job, a wife and four kids so I really only shoot a few jobs a month on average. They tend to get bunched together in the spring and fall but it averages out to a few a month. Ninety five percent of my personal photography is done with Micro Four Thirds and my phone. The funny thing is most of my jobs come through social media where people see my personal pictures (taken with M4/3rds cameras) and want me to duplicate those types of images for them, but when I do so I get worried that somehow the gear that I use for my own pictures will not be good enough for theirs. As a result I keep two full sets of gear. Kind of stupid as I sit here and write this.
Why do I hesitate selling my DSLR system and moving completely to Micro Four Thirds? I think there are a few reasons. The first one is probably simple gear lust. Every time I pick up my Nikon DSLR and do a job and use the lenses and lighting gear I just love it. The image quality, the ergonomics, pretty much all of it. What I don't like is the weight and size of the system. When it comes time to pack for vacation I rarely consider bringing my DSLR. I feel like I get excellent results with my OMD or GX-1. I am not going to tell you that I don't see a difference between my Nikon D600 and my M4/3rds gear but I certainly have no issue with the files that come out of the OMD or GX-1. Some folks claim that you can't get shallow depth of field out of a M4/3rds camera. It's just not so. You might have to work a little harder for it but if you understand the relationship between DOF, aperture, subject and background distance you can get excellent results. In fact in many cases it can be advantageous to have a deeper DOF. You can shoot wide open and get both eyes in focus even if they are on slightly different planes....
The second reason I have been hesitant to sell my DSLRs was continuous auto focus. Single point auto focus is now amazingly fast on all of the newer generation M4/3rds bodies. Unfortunately the continuous auto focus is still crap on most of the systems (The Nikon 1 system being the general exception). It's not a feature I use for adult portrait sessions but it can be pretty important for kids photography. When I need it I need it and so far I have been unwilling to do without it. That being said I really do not see this issue persisting more than another generation or two.
The last reason, is probably half a reason. Wireless TTL. More specifically radio based wireless TTL. I like having the option to shoot TTL when I am lighting moving subjects. For relatively stationary subjects it doesn't matter but again, with moving subjects it can be a huge help. That being said I am comfortable with manual flash and could do with just standard radio triggers. I can use the built in optical triggers on the Olympus system but line of sight can be a pain.
For now I will keep both systems. I don't think I will be adding anymore new gear to my DSLR kit. Most of my efforts will go towards rounding out my Micro 4/3rds kit. That and controlling my gear addiction. I do own a lot of gear but hopefully the quality and frequency of my pictures demonstrate that I do not just sit around polishing my cameras. I am one really good continuous autofocus body away from putting all my eggs in the Micro Four Thirds basket. Full frame is full frame and the iQ is beautiful, but its not enough better to have two full systems once I can get a Micro Four Thirds body that can match every feature of my DSLR. How good does the iQ have to be? The attached portrait was taken with a Panasonic GX-1 and 20mm f/1.7 lens. I had it on the table at Starbucks while having coffee with a friend. I picked it up, composed a picture I liked and fired off two or three frames. Done deal all with a set up that can be had for about $500 today as I write this. If I currently didn't do paying work for others I would have already moved on from my DSLR. In fact more often then not these days I shoot with a single body and lens. It has been a great creative exercise. Do i see a Fuji X100s in my future?
I have been building a Micro 4/3rds system since the release of the Panasonic GF-1. That camera just spoke to me. Currently I am very invested in the system with a number of zooms and a very full set of primes along with two bodies, the Panasonic GX-1 and the Olympus OMD EM-5. Even though the Olympus clearly has better image quality I really like the form factor of the GX-1. I use both interchangeably unless low light or the fastest focus is a consideration and then I use the OMD.
Recently I have been restricting myself to a single focal length for a few weeks at a time in order to get to know my lenses better and in order to force myself to adapt to compositional restrictions. I will write another article about what I have learned through that exercise. I have been using the Panasonic 20mm for a number of weeks. I really like the lens and have owned it since it was released. That being said I have recently put it up for auction on eBay and have just received the new Olympus 17mm F1.8.
These are just my opinions and general thoughts on why I made the change. There are no scientific tests or resolution charts going on here. Maybe just a little post purchase justification and rationalization, but hey, if you are a photographer you know the drill. First impressions are good when opening the box. The Olympus 17mm f1.8 has an all metal construction just like the Olympus 12mm and the 75mm. It is a beautiful lens, although some will be irritated that it only comes in silver and when Olympus releases a black one they will charge an additional $200 for paint. Sadly, as most Olympus owners know, the lens does not ship with either a lens bag or a lens hood. The lens hood in the picture is the $65 LH-48B that is sold separately. I know, it's ridiculous to spend $65 on a lens hood but it is all metal and comes with a clamp system that firmly attaches it to the lens without scratching it. Some of the cheaper ones use set screws that scratch the hell out of the lens. It's a premium hood but I think the best solution would be to include a cheap plastic one and offer the premium hoods for those that want them.
In terms of size, it is slightly larger then the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 pancake lens. I did like the small size of the Panasonic but it was not a deciding factor for me. I have never really tried to carry my camera in my pocket. Usually I just throw on the wrist strap and carry it around with me. If I am in my car it is in the center console and either lens fits in there fine. The weight is comparable so I don't see a big advantage one way or the other. That being said there are some differences and some reasons why I have decided to move on from the Panasonic 20mm to the Olympus 17mm as my slightly wide lens for my M 4/3rds system.
- Comparable Image Quality - I am not seeing a lot of difference between the two lenses. The word on the web is that the Panasonic is slightly sharper wide open but honestly I can't tell the difference, especially after a run through Lightroom.
- Depth Of Field scale and Manual Focus Clutch - I really enjoy having the DOF scale in manual focus for times when I want to pre-focus and shoot without having to worry about acquiring focus. I don't consider myself a street photographer but do wander around snapping pictures at times and this is a nice feature.
- Construction - The Olympus 17mm has a much nicer build quality than the Panasonic 20mm. In addition I own the Olympus 12mm F2 and the Olympus 45mm F1.8 and I like the fact that it has a similar look and build.
- More logical progression in my prime kit - Currently I have the Olympus 12mm, the Olympus 17mm, the Panasonic 25mm and the Olympus 45mm giving me a full frame equivalent of 24, 34, 50, 90. The 20mm (40mm Full Frame equivalent) was just an odd length. It's not quite wide and not quite standard. I like the 34mm equivalent a little better and it makes more sense in my line up.
- Focus Speed - As good as the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 is, it is from an era when micro 4/3rds cameras had dog slow focus. Some of the newer bodies have helped this a little but once you see what the new Olympus lenses do on the OMD it becomes painful to use the older lenses. It may not matter for people that do a lot of landscapes and static objects but I am a people photographer, shooting primarily kids. Since continuous AF is still pretty lame on M 4/3rds it is critical that single point focus is lightning fast. The Olympus 17mm is like night and day better than the Panasonic 20mm. The Olympus is not just faster on the OMD, it is also faster on my Panasonic GX-1. This was the critical factor for me. I need to be able to put that single point on a kids eye, acquire focus and shoot before they move. The Olympus 17mm does that much better than the Panasonic 20mm.
My final thoughts: From an image quality perspective you cant go wrong with either one. They are both solid performers. I like the more traditional perspective of the Olympus 17mm over the Panasonic 20mm but that's really a subjective decision. If you can live with the slower focus speed and need to save a little money (and room in your bag) the Panasonic is your lens at a current price of about $349 (April 2013) . If build quality and the fastest focus performance are your main criteria, then the Olympus 17mm will probably be your choice but it is at a premium. They currently run around $500 and figure an additional $65 for a premium hood if you want one. Feel free to leave comments or ask any other questions you have. I will do my best to respond. Below are a few pictures from both lenses over the last week. I don't intend to show anything other than from an IQ perspective it probably doesn't matter which you choose. I used the GX-1 for all of these shots.