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Building your own set of lenses in Pentax World

Posted 03/12/2007 - 21:31 Link
I thought I'd share my kit, as some people might be building their own (now that Pentax is back in the limelight) and since Christmas is just around the corner. Also, it might give us a chance to discuss how well some lenses work together. It took me quite a while (and money) to get here, and lots of bad choices as well. Maybe I can help someone through this pleasant path, and maybe you'll help me refine my collection along the way.

In the end, I tried to adere to the Riley Rule and took some aditional advice from the other veterans in this forum. I ended up selling everything I had to purchase what I really wanted. I now have a lot less lenses, but they work together, they all get used and I love the results and flexibility they give me.

My present kit is comprised of:

SMC Pentax-DA 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 AL
SMC Pentax-FA 24-90mm F/3.5-4.5 AL
SMC Pentax-FA 80-320mm F/4.5-5.6
Vivitar 70-210mm F/3.5 (manual focus)

SMC Pentax-FA 31mm F/1.8 Limited
SMC Pentax-A 50mm F/1.4 (manual focus)
SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F/1.8 Limited

M42 curiosities: (all manual focus, obviously)
Pentacon MC 29mm F/2.8
Meyer Optik Gorlitz Lydith 30mm F/3.5
Helios 58mm F/2
Schneider Kreuznach 50mm F/2.8

Some lenses I've tried (but no longer own):
Pentax SMC K 17mm F/4
Pentax SMC K 55mm F/1.8 (and all the 50s in manual focus)
Pentax SMC K 300mm F/4
Pentax SMC M 24-35mm F/3.5
Pentax SMC M 100mm F/2.8
Pentax SMC A 50mm f/1.7
Pentax SMC F 24-50mm F/4
Pentax SMC F 35-80mm f/4-5.6
Pentax SMC F 28-80mm f/3.5-4.5 (non-SMC)
Vivitar MC 35-70mm f/2.8-3.8
Vivitar MC 28mm F/2.8
Tamron BBAR 24mm F/2.5
Revuenon MC 35mm F/2.8
Revuenon MC 135mm F/2.8
Tokina AT-X Pro AF280 28-80mm F/2.8
Tokina AF205 28-105mm F/3.5-4.5

Pentax Crossover bag
Pentax AF400T flash
Pentax AF400FTZ flash
Vivitar 2x Helicoidal Macro adapter

The zooms:

The 18-55 is very controversial; while no-one has any doubts that it is the best of all kit lenses out there (in all respects), some love it (i.e., gives quite nice results) and some hate it (soft corners and vignetting at 18mm). I love it. While it is not the best lens out there, it's good enough to play the role of the wide-portrait flexible zoom in my kit. The rendition is very nice, with good, soft bokeh, great contrast and well controlled aberrations. Sharpness is not all I search for in a lens. Alternatives: the 16-45 is the obvious one, right? While it is impossible to use with the embedded flash (the zoom is "inverted", it's bigger and heavier, the results seem to be much more consistent and 16mm really is wider and worth it. Then there is the Sigma 17-70, wich is praised everywhere. Pentax is also (hopefully) coming up with it's own 17-70. Humm...

I'm in love with my 24-90 (thanks George!). It's a zoom with a soul. It has a great reputation and for good reason. For my kind of picture-taking it's the perfect focal length range. I prefer longer than wider. It's sharp, and the bokeh is beautiful. Portraits look sublime, the extra reach and speed are really helpful here. On the other hand it is a bit big (mainly at 90mm where it extends a lot) and heavy. The build feel and materials could be much better (feels wobbly, it's got a plastic body). 24mm is not very wide, though, so if you always like to shoot wide this might not be your lens. When I foresee I need wider I mount the 18-55. But I just can't get enough of the 24-90! Alternatives: Probably none. The offer is so good on the 18-somethings (Pentax has the 18-250 and will have a 17-70 too) that if you need a longer zoom you don't have to sacrifice the wide angle. The 24-90 is a very special lens, so it's on a class of it's own on digital.

The 80-320 is a good telephoto zoom on digital. It has great rendering, smooth bokeh (the 8 blades help), vivid colors and generally good sharpness. On the other hand it's a bit too soft from 200mm on, it's very slow to focus (on my DS at least), it's huge, and has a problem that happens on many samples (mine lost the A setting). All in all, a decent choice but I believe there is better out there. Alternatives: The 50-200 seems nice, bokeh and rendition seems quite good, plus it's a lot smaller and lighter. The Sigma 70-300 APO also seems to be popular. What do you recommend in this area?

The Vivitar 70-210 is a legendary lens. It's very sharp, and very fast (F/3.5 constant). I have wonderful shots with it. It is clearly not as good as a Pentax when it comes to contrast, veiling and flare, but bokeh and rendition is quite pleasant. A pleasure to use this old portraits goodie when there is time to focus and compose.

Missing pieces:
I need a wide angle zoom. Although I'm not a wide person, I sometimes find myself wanting wider than 18mm. I'm thinking about the 10-17mm fisheye; it's veeeery wide at 10mm, I like to use the fisheye effect creatively (I had an 17mm FE wich I loved), it doesn't distort that much at 17mm and I think I can defish when I really need corrected perspective. On the other hand, aberrations and purple fringing seem to be huge... The alternatives are perhaps the Sigma 10-20 or the Pentax 12-24, amply discussed here, but they are a bit too expensive for the use they would get.
Then there's a couple of old manual focus zoom lenses I'd like to try: the Vivitar 35-80mm F/2.8 and the Angénieux 70-210mm F/3.5. Anyone has any info on these two?

The primes:

The 31mm is a legend, the best lens I've ever seen, in all respects, no exceptions. It is considered by some as the best autofocus prime lens in the World, and I'm inclined to agree. The shots have a little "something" to them... Alternatives: Obviously, the Pentax 35mm F/2. For about one third the money, it seems to be a great normal lens on digital and much better value for money than the 31mm. Also, it's smaller and lighter. The Sigma 30mm 1.4 seems huge and heavy, but ultra-fast; does anyone have one?

The 50mm F/1.4 is your can't-go-wrong lens. It's wonderfull in all respects, and rendering is second to none. The bokeh is amazing, it's very fast, it's softness wide open is great for portraits on digital, sharpens up really quickly when stopping down, it's small and light. It may have a touch of CA, but you won't notice it in most shots. I most definitely recommend the autofocus version; manual focusing a 1.4 shot is a game of chance. Alternatives: Most 50mm lenses are pretty good. The Pentax 1.7 is great, sharper than the 1.4 when wide open, but I think the bokeh is not as nice.

The 77mm is the matching legend to the 31mm, and probably the only lens that will make you rethink the 31mm's position. Although purple fringing is a bit on the high side to my tastes in some situations, there is just "something" on the 77mm shots that can't be quantified, and that makes the shots unique (just like the 31mm).

Missing pieces:
1. The 50mm 1.4 in autofocus (F or FA). Do you think it's worth waiting for the DA* 55mm F/1.4? I'm afraid it might be too close to the 77mm. In fact, I'm considering getting the 43mm Limited instead of the 50FA 1.4; I think it might be a better compromise between the 31 and the 77. What do you think?
2. A longer (100-ish), macro lens. My desire is a Voigtlander 125mm F/2.5. The Pentax macros all seem to be wonderfull too, and in manual focus probably much cheaper than the Voigtlander.

Bottom line:
The 31mm and the 77mm together form what is, perhaps, the best two primes in the World, such is their symbiose on digital (a normal and a portrait), at least to my shooting habits. Results are consistently stunning (and I'm not only talking about sharpness). The 24-90mm completes the trio of dreams, wich I love to carry around. My Crossover bag normally takes the 24-90 on the body, the 31 and the 77. If needs be, I can squeeze in the 50, or the 18-55, and a flash. Or even the 80-320 (instead of the 77).

I'm a happy Pentax shooter!!

Your comments are welcome and apreciated! I'll post some pictures taken with my kit. If you want info on some of the other lenses (and maybe some pics), just ask.
George Lazarette
Posted 03/12/2007 - 22:51 Link
Very interesting, Flink, and useful I'm sure to those who might be contemplating/lusting after some of the lenses you mention.

I'm very glad the 24-90 has met with your approval, and it's nice that it's gone to a good home. It's a superb lens, but I wasn't giving it the use it deserved. If there were a remote prospect of a Pentax full-frame digital I wouldn't have sold it. On APS-C, it's not wide enough (for me) as a GPZ (general purpose zoom).

As for the choice of an AF lens to fit between the 31 and the 77, I would choose the FA 50 1.4 if strapped for cash, and the new DA* if not. The latter just might turn out to be Pentax's best ever lens. The 43 (though great) is too close to the 31.

Why do I expect the 55 to be possibly Pentax's best ever lens. Well, functionally it's the successor to the 85 1.4. A tough act to follow, but I would hope Pentax has learned a thing or two since that paragon first appeared, and it's apparently easier to make a good 50mm (or 55mm) lens than any other focal length.

Keywords: Charming, polite, and generally agreeable.
Posted 04/12/2007 - 01:18 Link
Very good post Flink and interesting.
I am drooling over your 3 primes none of which i have

I would certainly go for the DA16-45 over the DA18-55 i have both of these and the results speak for themselves.

I have been contemplating the Pentax 80-320 and the Sigma DG 70-300 apo macro and have decided to go with the Sigma mainly on the reviews i have read about this lens and for the price.

Why did you sell the pentax 300mm f4 K lens : Was it because it was just a K and if it had been an A you would have kept it. Or because of picture quality :
Thanks again for your thoughts
Pentax Lenses:|DA12-24/f4 ED AL|DA35Ltd Macro|FA31Ltd|FA77Ltd|FA50/1.4|F70-210|FA20-35 f4/AL|A*200/f4 Macro ED|A50/1.7|A50 Macro f2.8|1.7xAF adapter|
Voigtlander|125/f2.5SL Macro APO Lanthar|
Sigma Lenses:|EX DG 100-300 f4|2X & 1.4X TC|
Flashes:|AF540FGZx2|RingFlash AF160FC|
Posted 04/12/2007 - 02:28 Link
I'm always interested to hear what other folks use as their personal kit as no two people seem to be the same.

I own six lenses with my K10D, three of which are languishing lonely and unloved in a drawer; a Pentax DA18-55, a Tamron 70-300 and a Pentax M50/1.4. I'll probably keep all three as they have very little monetary value and I keep telling myself that I'll find a use for them one day (maybe as a second-body system?).

My other three lenses are constant companions and I'm delighted with all of them. Between them they cover pretty much all eventualities (except long telephoto and short macro which I'll address eventually) and I can't imagine parting with any of them.

For ultra-wide-to-wide-angle shots I use the Pentax DA12-24. This is a fantastic lens in terms of image quality and handling and with a span of 18-36mm in 35mm terms it covers all the "classic" 35mm lengths (20/24/28/35) nicely and with a bit of overlap at both ends. At a constant f4 it's no speed demon, but then how often would you shoot faster than f4 at these angles even if you had the opportunity? The fact that it gives very acceptable photos when wide open is the icing on the cake really. I do have a minor niggle; it's a chunky beast and with its lens hood (reverse) attached it takes over quite a bit of camera bag real estate (it takes 77mm filters and my other two lenses take 49mm). Now I can't really blame Pentax entirely as they do have to work within the constraints of the laws of physics, however, if they brought out a replacement that was half the size, took 49mm filters and matched the performance/specifications I'd trade in a heartbeat.

For my general-purpose-always-on-the-camera lens I have the Pentax FA43 Limited (thanks again Kim - can't tell you how much I love it!) which is now used for about 60-70% of all my photography. With an angle of view roughly equal to 65mm in 35mm terms it is a little long to be described as "normal" and a little short to be described as "telephoto" but then I've never cared much for labels... The quality of the pictures it takes is (to my mind) quite outstanding. The handling is a tactile delight and the f1.9 aperture (combined with SR and a high ISO) allows me to take hand held shots in even the dimmest of conditions. The build quality is sublime, it's tiny and unobtrusive, it takes 49mm filters (don't underestimate the benefits of having a system built around a single filter size - especially if the filter size in question is one of the more affordable ones!) and even the silver finish gives it just that extra touch of charm. I'll probably end up being buried with this lens.

Finally, for telephoto and macro work I have the Pentax D-FA100 Macro. With a field of view that equates to 150mm in 35mm terms this lens gets a lot of use in all manner of situations, only a few of which involve the macro photography it's designed for. Now, I'm a relatively recent convert to Pentax, so I haven't used all the previous incarnations of this lens and there is some contention over which is the best. As far as I'm concerned, they should all produce the same quality image-wise but the D-FA has the quick-shift focus, is incredibly compact and light and yes it uses 49mm filters! While the macro loses just over a stop of light to the 43 it's still quite fast as telephotos go and I would put the image quality on a par with the little Limited lens - high praise indeed.

To round out my kit bag I'd like a wider macro lens for copy-stand work (looking forward to seeing the new DA35 Macro Limited when it gets released) and eventually I'll probably stump up some money for a longer fast telephoto, although that's a long long way down my list of priorities as things stand. In a perfect world I'd also like to see an 18mm (or thereabouts) tilt/shift lens but I won't be holding my breath on that one...

I'll finish with some examples; I went greyhound racing on Saturday with a large group of friends and, as usual, I was the designated photographer (the downside of owning nice toys ). All three lenses got a workout, and while these photos don't really do them justice they do give an idea of the versatility that this trio has:


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All shots taken in RAW; white balance adjusted, +1 sharpness and cropped/resized for web in Pentax Photo Lab. No other changes.
Joining the Q
Posted 04/12/2007 - 09:27 Link
Thanks G!

Funny you said that about the 50s... I just bought an FA. I don't think I'll have the cash for the DA*. The 77mm really drained my budget, I even sold a K1.2 for that. But I'll keep an eye on the DA*, also because my *ist DS is missing too much shots because of intermittent AF problems (I dropped it a couple of months ago) and I may have to get a K100D Super with SDM (using the leftover of sales). Or is the K10D a better bet in the long run?!...

Clarky, I sold the 300/4 because it was a 1Kg beast, a joy to use indeed but there was no way I was going to lug it along with me all the time. It gave impressive results, even wide open, and focused like a dream. I just couldn't justify having it (no matter how cool it looked in my kit), even if it was the A version.

As for the 16-45, I'm waiting to see if I can afford it. I guess Pentax is at blame here; if they made a cr**py kit zoom, we'd all have a 16-45.

Hefty : it really is amazing how we all build our kit in so many different ways! It seems to be a strength of Pentax world; the choice is so big we can have several valid kits for all sorts of purposes. Is it like this on the other side of the fence?

Thanks all for your comments!
George Lazarette
Posted 04/12/2007 - 12:26 Link
Times have certainly changed. I remember when a 50, a 28/35 and a 135 were considered a pretty complete kit.

That would equate to 18mm, 33/43mm, and 90mm on a DSLR.

Now people complain they can't get long lenses, when zooms going up to 300mm (450mm on film) are common, and any gaps in the Pentax range are filled by Sigma, among others.

We're spoiled, I think.

Keywords: Charming, polite, and generally agreeable.
Posted 04/12/2007 - 12:34 Link
We're spoiled, I think.

I agree
As much as I like all the lenses I currently have, I reckon 99% of all my needs could be covered by the 16-50 & 50-135 combination.
It's surprising how many shots with the 12-24 I take in the 16-24 region, and how many of the 80-320 shots are 80-135.

It's often good just to take a single lens and be done with it
(For gallery, tips and links)
Posted 04/12/2007 - 14:07 Link
I also have a collection of Pentax lenses for my Pentax SLRs (all 5 of them):

SMC-FA 28 2.8: Bargain from Cambrian, nice lens and compact... i've not used it much.
SMC-FA 50 1.4: A must have
SMC-FA* 85 1.4: I know some of you will start hating me, it is a beautiful lens
SMC DA 18-55: kit lens with my DL... I don't think I have a good example as it's soft on one edge....caused by fault I don't know as it's been dropped.
SMC DA* 16-50: First impressions good.
SMC FA 24-90: This is a seriously underrated glass... just why Pentax decide to charge silly prices for this I don't know, it was my *ist Ds lens but it's now migrated onto the MZ-S..
Takumar K(Bayonet) 135 2.5: I really do like this lens, nice portraits but too long for the studio....spends more time in the cupboard thanks to the FA* 85...
SMC D-FA 100 Macro: this is a nice lens. In terms of construction as robust as the 24-90, optically very nice...

I fancy more FA*s and an FA limited or three. I have been wondering about the SMC DA* 60-250, but my Sigma EXs are so good.

Posted 04/12/2007 - 14:50 Link
George wrote:
We're spoiled, I think.

I'm sure we are. 10 years ago, my Zenit EM and a Helios 58mm F/2 were my only partners. I still have beautiful pictures of my wife taken with them. And I still use the Helios...

MattMatic wrote:

It's often good just to take a single lens and be done with it

Yes, that's what I usually do with the 24-90 (or 18-55). But I never quite resist taking one extra lens for that special shot (the 31 or the 50). And now, the 77 as monopolized that place in my bag...

Just a note of warning: don't buy any of the Limiteds unless you know you'll be able to keep them. I've thought of trading one of my Limiteds for a cheaper alternative to finance a K10D, but I simply can't part with them now. No way. Hu-hu,
Posted 04/12/2007 - 19:29 Link
George Lazarette wrote:
Times have certainly changed. I remember when a 50, a 28/35 and a 135 were considered a pretty complete kit.

They still are in my house, give or take a few millimetres.
Joining the Q
Posted 04/12/2007 - 19:38 Link
Flink wrote:
Hefty : it really is amazing how we all build our kit in so many different ways! It seems to be a strength of Pentax world; the choice is so big we can have several valid kits for all sorts of purposes. Is it like this on the other side of the fence?

My two previous (film) SLR outfits - not including my Pentax Auto110 system - were Praktica (B mount, not M42 unfortunately) and Minolta. I can't recall more than about 4 or 5 lenses ever being available for the Praktica B, but the Minolta mount certainly had/has its fair share of glass available. Compared to the levels of choice available to Canikon users the Pentax system seems almost restrained! I'm not complaining though, I don't need a squillion lenses of similar focal lengths to choose from when just one good one will do the trick.
Joining the Q
Posted 05/12/2007 - 00:22 Link
Here's some for Christmas in my local London Camera Exchange:

SMC 50mm 1.7A £49.00
SMC 100mm M f4 Macro £129.00
SMC 100mm FA Macro £239.00
SMC 135mm M f3.5 x 2 £29.00 each

And I haven't bought these because I have just found:

SMC 50mm 1.7M £39.00
135mm Vivitar Close Focus f2.8 £95.00
28-90 Vivitar S1 £49.00
SMC 135M 3.5 £29.00
Posted 05/12/2007 - 13:40 Link
I have the KA50 f1.4, bought it as a student and never regretted it. I was also happy to find it performed excellently on the K10D and also allowed me to controll a slave flash by setting the camera on manual and selecting the apature from the ring to controll flash light. A bit hit and miss on the focusing, however, the K10D when in auto focus mode with this lens will show the focus 'locked on' viewfinder indicator so I have a way round this when I need it.

My other main lens is the Sigma 18 to 200 which produces excelent results and is compact enought to carry easily. It has the added advantage of helping keep sensor dust to a minimum!

I have looked at the Sigma 10 to 20 and was very impressed and very good lens, worth a look. The other lense I have looked at is the Sigma 134 to 400 lens.
Bodies: K5IIs, K7, MZ5n, LX, MV
Lenses: DA*16-50, DA18-55WR, DA18-135, DAL35, M50 F2, A50 f1.4, FA50 f1.4, DA*50-135, DA55-300, Tamron 70-300, DFA 100 WR Macro, M135 f3.5, Sigma 120-400 APO DG HSM, Tokina 500 f8.0
Flash: Metz 58, Metz 48
Accessories: BG4, Pentax right angle finder, Pentax mirror adaptor lens, O-ME53 Viewfinder Loupe
Auto 110 System: Auto 110, Winder, 18mm, 24mm, 50mm, 70mm, 20-40mm, AF100P, 1.7x telecon
Posted 05/12/2007 - 14:06 Link
Sue and myself share lenses to some extent. We try to keep the selection fairly compact, but it is something like this:

SMC Pentax-DA 10-17mm
SMC Pentax-DA 12-24mm
SMC Pentax-DA 16-45mm (me)
SMC Pentax-DA 18-55mm (Sue)
SMC Pentax-FA 24-90mm (for film)
SMC Pentax-FAJ 28-80mm (for film)
SMC Pentax-FA 50mm f1.4
SMC Pentax-DA 50-200mm
SMC Pentax-FAJ 75-300mm
SMC Pentax-FA 100mm Macro

For various older film cameras we have also retained a few manual focus lenses, but the list varies all the time as various projects come and go.

We actually routinely carry only a couple of lenses, adding others as needed.
Best regards, John
Posted 05/12/2007 - 14:15 Link
Many years ago I thought I was pretty well sorted with a Pentax Speedbag filled with a Spotmatic F body and 28, 55, 135 lenses. I'm tempted to return to this discipline. When I first bought zooms, the Pentax F 28-80 and 70 - 210s, I noticed that I instinctively seemed to compose to the focal lengths of my primes.
“We must avoid however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter our memory and diminish the clarity of the whole.” - Henri Cartier-Bresson -

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