Pentax Lens System choices: 21 limited 43 limited 100 macro


Link Posted 26/11/2011 - 01:29
I've recently moved over from a Leica M based system to the K5. Hopefully I'll talk about the K5 in another post, but I thought I'd give my experiences of the lens system too.

I was used to using primes, and specifically a wide angle/standard/telephoto combination with the Leica so I thought I'd get something like that for Pentax as well. In fact, one of the reasons I chose Pentax was because of the high quality prime lenses they had.

Unfortunately, I found the choice wasn't quite as great as I hoped. The 15mm was too wide to be a regular lens for me; my widest lens on film was 28mm. The obvious choice to replace this was the 21 limited, so I got that first of all.

For a standard lens, there was lots of choice, but I did want a fast lens, and that meant either the 31 limited, the 43 limited. I really wanted the 31 limited, as that would be just wider than 50mm in film terms, but it seemed a bit close to the 21mm, so I went for the 43 limited instead. As for the telephoto, I decided I wanted to have at least one macro lens, since I had come to enjoy doing the odd macro shot with my digital compact. That made the 100 macro an obvious choice, and I got one second hand with an aperture ring but without weatherproofing.

So how did it work in practice?

On the good side, I liked all three lenses. The 43 is the stand-out performer, as I expected, since I first heard about that lens before I had any intention of getting a Pentax. From 2.8 down it is brutally sharp, as sharp as my 50 Summicron. At f2/1.9 it is low contrast and soft at the edges, but in a pleasant way. The 21 limited feels the most Leica-like in the hands, with a beautiful compact body and smooth focus. It is very sharp in the centre, but not quite so sharp at the edges, and it also has some barrel distortion. The 100 macro is wonderfully sharp, but quite large for someone coming from rangefinders, and is not made of metal like the others.

Unfortunately, I found the system didn't really work for me. I'm not seriously into macro work, so most of the time I used the 21 and 43 as a two lens combo. That covered most options nicely, but wasn't really comfortable in action. The 21 was too wide for me to enjoy using it on the camera all the time - 35 was always the widest I had permanently mounted on a camera in my film days. To make matters worse, I didn't really get on with the focal length of the 43. For my style of photography, it was just too long to be a walkabout lens, and I kept reaching for my 21. Then I'd find that a bit wide and would reach for the 43 again...At the same time, 21 wasn't quite wide enough to be my widest lens, especially indoors.

It may sound odd for someone who has only used primes, but I'm a bit lazy about changing lenses - perhaps because I always had one Leica with a 35 shooting colour and one for black and white with a 50. My initial combination therefore didn't work for me at all, and was definitely less than the sum of its component parts.

I therefore decided to bite the bullet and have another go. I've ordered the 35 macro, which I'm sure will double up as a walkabout 50 Summicron replacement and as a macro lens on the limited number of occasions I need that. I've also ordered the Tamron 17-50 f2.8 to see how I get on with a zoom lens. For the long end I've ordered the 70 limited, which is much more compact than the 100 macro, and I've also picked up a really cheap and compact 55-300 with a plastic mount in case I need something longer. I'm sure I'll get a combination that works out of that lot, and will then sell on what I don't need anymore.

Clearly, my bad choice of lenses isn't Pentax' fault. However, my only gripe is that, although Pentax seem like they cover a good range in the abstract, in practice you find gaps and omissions. There are no fast lenses of less than 43mm apart from the 31 limited, and that is very expensive. The only wide-angle limited lenses are the 15 and the 21, and they are very slow. Even worse, there's no fast moderate wide angle, like a 24 f2 limited. What they have is clearly top kit, but for photographers that like primes, it's all about the best team, not the best players.


Link Posted 26/11/2011 - 02:01
Interesting, I guess you'll settle on a suitable set eventually, but let's hope the path isn't too expensive. Maybe you should have bit the bullet and gone straight for the 31mm. Compared to Leica prices, it's not too badly placed. It is also more or less a "standard" lens. The 35mm Macro is also close though, and the macro facility will no doubt be useful.

The 70mm is a superb lens and very compact, so that might suit very well. The telephoto end would then be catered for.

As a 24/28mm replacement the 15mm is about right IMHO - slightly wider perhaps at 22.5mm-equivalent, but still very compact.

The 55-300mm is a good lens and carries you way beyond what you will have had with the Leica M system.

I'm less convinced about the Tamron. Leica prime to Tamron zoom doesn't seem either compact or likely to satisfy in other ways, but you'll only know by trying.

Don't forget that on the K-5 you can increse the ISO value quite some way with little adverse effect, so faster lenses may not always be necessary. However, time will tell, so do please let us know how it's working out.
Best regards, John


Link Posted 26/11/2011 - 04:08
UWA : 15 Ltd is an amazing lens. Full stop.

WA/Normal : Sounds like you need the Sigma 30/1.4. Not the build quality of a Pentax Ltd but still solid and an absolutely outstanding lens for virtually half the price of the 31 Ltd. Not for landscapes though due to softness at the borders, I used a Contax Zeiss 28/2.8 for that.

Normal/short tele : 43 Ltd. Just a wonderful wonderful lens. And you've got it.

Tele : doesn't sound like you need 100mm but there are a plethora of lenses from the 70 Ltd (which you now have and I'm sure you'll love) through the 77 Ltd to 85s such as the astounding new Sigma 85/1.4. You could also use a Leica 60 R too !

Of course not all are going to be as small as RF lenses though Pentax. Pentax DA*300/4, Cosina 55/1.2, Lens Baby Composer Pro & Edge 80, AFA x1.7, Metz 50 af1.
Nikon. D800. D600. Sigma 500/4.5, Nikon 300/2.8 VRII, Sigma 120-300/2.8, Zeiss Distagon ZF2 21/2.8, Zeiss Distagon ZF2 35/2.0, Sigma 50/1.4, Nikkor 85/1.8, Nikon TC20EIII, Nikon TC14EII, Kenko x1.4, Sigma 2.0
Last Edited by Frogfish on 26/11/2011 - 04:09


Link Posted 26/11/2011 - 04:26
One other lens worth considering is the DA 40/2.8 - tiny and very Leica-like. Sharp, superb colour and "3D" rendition. also probably the fastest AF lens but only screw drive. They seem to be out of favour at the moment, possibly due to the odd 60mm focal legth on digital, and therefore relatively good value.


Link Posted 26/11/2011 - 04:53
I just bought the DA21 and finding it very sharp. Like you, I find it a tad wide at times but all those K-5 MegaPixies can stand a bit of cropping
K-1 K-01 Q-7
some len

Close to the Edge
Down by the River


Link Posted 26/11/2011 - 17:35
Thanks for sharing your experiences. Practical points make an interesting read.

If size is your primary concern, DA Ltd's are the (only) way to go. Anything else will be big.

30 / 31 mm sounds like the right standard lens for you; but neither the Sigma nor the Pentax are really small. For me it's the one that's not too wide and not too long; the size is no argument for me. If I have to make a choice between 28 and 35, it will be 28. Hope the 35 works for you.

I'm able to create a very fine team with current Pentax lenses for my needs and with the exclusion of architecture and wildlife, 31mm and a light tele (70-100mm) is all I really need. But my team might not be your team.
Pentax K10D + Vivitar 55/2.8 macro + Super Takumar 55/1.8 + SuperMultiCoated Takumar 85/1.8 + SuperMultiCoated Takumar 135/3.5 + SuperMultiCoated Takumar 200/4 + Super Takumar 300/4
Pentax K100D + DA18-55ALII + DA55-300
Pentax K5 + FA31Ltd + M50/1.7 + DFA100WR + M120/2.8 (+ DA18-55WR at occasion)


Link Posted 27/11/2011 - 23:58
Thanks for the input and suggestions everyone. At present I'm trying everything I've got in various combinations, and I'm sure I'll settle on a basic kit soon.

The 31/15 combination was definitely something I considered seriously, and if it had been a similar price/size to the 43/21 I'd have snapped it up in a second. However, the 31 was huge compared to the 43, and the 31/15 combo also cost twice as much as the 21/43, although all four have good reputations.

When I realised the 43/21 combo wasn't for me, I did consider the 31 again. However, I wanted the most compact macro, and having decided to buy the 35 macro, getting the 31 as well seemed a bit of a luxury.

The Tamron is a bit of a left field choice, but I was offered it second hand for under 200, and although I've used primes historically, I don't have anything against zooms in principle. I didn't think I had much to lose by trying it.

The 70 is an amazing piece of optical engineering, since it's even smaller than any telephotos for the Leica M mount. It's not a greatly used focal length for me, but I doubt I'll take the 55-300 everywhere, so I plan to have the 70 with me when I'm travelling light. I'll have to see how it works in practice.

I've had some fun with the 55-300 already. It's got an amazing reach, even longer (and the same size/weight) as the 45-200 I used on MFT. I'll have to sort through the images and post some.

Dr. Mhuni

Link Posted 28/11/2011 - 04:58
Interesting to hear your experience. I have the 15 and 21 which I bought about the same time with a view to moving one on when I'd decided which suited my needs best. It will probably be the 21, because like you I find it a little wide for normal use. Though it's a nice lens, which performs well particularly when stopped down, and it's size is just amazing. The 15 is even wider, of course, but that's the whole point - and f4 isn't so much of an issue at that focal length.

I think you're right about the gaps in the range. I think ideally I'd like something around 24-28 for normal use, which Pentax don't currently make. Something really fast in that range would be great. Are you listening Pentax... or rather Ricoh.

Getting in to the 30s - another lens you might consider is a s/h FA35 f2. I think I'm right in saying this is regarded as the poor man's 31 Ltd. It performs well from wide open, is very sharp, and produces good colours and contrast. The DA35 f2.4 is based on it, and is likewise a good performer I understand (not had one as I have the FA) - though you lose 1/2 a stop (which I'm keen on) and it's a plastic mount. It's a snip at 134. The FA will turn up s/h somewhere if you're patient.

I did the same as you with the DFA100 - sold it and bought a DA70 and haven't regretted it at all. The DFA is a superb lens with amazing colours and sharpness, but it's not the most practical lens for non-macro stuff (my area) and is larger (though not large by macro standards). The DA70 is superb and so compact - I use it indoors and at night and it's a brilliant performer.

I also recently was tempted by the excellent price of the Tamron 17-50 and it has at least met my high expectations based on photos of others I'd admired over the years. If it was smaller I'd consider getting rid of my primes between 15-35 (not my fast 50). It really is an excellent performer, and even remarkably compact for a fast standard zoom.

Last Edited by Dr. Mhuni on 28/11/2011 - 05:00


Link Posted 28/11/2011 - 08:04
Don't hesitate for one moment. Buy the 35/f2 which is excellent quality and smaller than the 35 macro.

You can see some of my shots at my Flickr account.


Link Posted 28/11/2011 - 09:17
hi Iuvenis

Interesting post, mainly because it replicates almost my exact journey from the Leica M system to the Pentax K5 earlier this year.

At the moment l run the Sigma DC 10-20mm f4 / 5.6 Pentax 43mm limited, 77mm limited and the 60-250. I've recently been on holiday and decided to take the 60-250 with me to ascertain whether the weight was going to be a real problem for me during a days shooting - and it was. It's a shame for it's a cracking lens.

Having had the kit for some months now, l've analysed the shots taken with the Sigma and find that over eighty percent are at the 20mm end of the range. As a consequence l think l'm likely to trade up to the 21mm limited.

It's been, and contain use to be, an interesting journey.


Link Posted 01/12/2011 - 21:32
Hi parigby

I was interested in your views on the 60-250. It was the bulk and weight that put me off that one. However, the 55-300 is like a feather in comparison, and very reasonable in quality, particularly up to 200 or so.

If you're keen on wide angles (and your having a 10-20 suggests you are!) then the 21 makes a very compact package with the K5 for everyday use.
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