HD 55-300 WR First Impressions & Samples

A brief look at the new weather-resistant telezoom

By Heie in Hands-On Tests on Dec 23, 2013
HD 55-300 WR First Impressions & Samples

We've had our copy of the new HD Pentax-DA 55-300mm F4-5.8 ED WR for a bit now with our in-depth review in the works. Unfortunately, the publication of the review had to be postponed until after the New Year. Already bursting at the seams at 15 total pages and over 100 embedded photos of in-depth analysis and comparisons, we promise the wait will be worth it. In the meantime, we wanted to share with you a very brief run-down of our first impressions as well as the sample photos already taken with the new HD 55-300 coupled with a K-3.  Let us also take a moment to compare the new "HD" lens to its predecessor, the SMC Pentax-DA 55-300mm F4-5.8 ED.

What Didn't Change

  • Size
  • Autofocus
  • General Image Quality
  • Bokeh

The size is exactly the same as that of the old lens, which is a good thing! The 55-300mm is quite the compact zoom for what it can do, and we happy that it's part of the Pentax lens line-up. What we aren't so happy with, is the screw-driven autofocus. We'll touch on it more in-depth in the review and how it compares to the premium DA* 60-250's much quieter SDM, but suffice it to say, there is no difference in AF between the SMC and HD variants. Some may have been worried the addition of weather sealing would have slowed it down. Nope - not at all. And lastly, the bokeh has stayed the same, and in the review we will compare not only the SMC vs HD bokeh (just prove this), but also the HD vs DA* 60-250's bokeh to see what the difference is between the two.

Continue on after the break to see what changed, a quick comparison of the DA* 60-250 F4, and also a gallery of sample photos already taken with the HD 55-300 WR on a Pentax K-3.

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 What Did Change

  • Packaging
  • Zoom and Manual Focus Rings
  • The Ring - Green vs Red
  • "Pentax 55-300" label
  • HD Coating
  • Weather Sealing

The first four changes listed above are nothing more than cosmetic changes that have absolutely zero affect on the overall quality of the lens' build or imaging abilities.

The HD coating is promised to reduce glare and ghosting while increasing the transmission of light, and at this point, we have found it to be slightly more effective (as expected). We are still conducting rigorous testing as to how this affects real-world shooting in a myriad of situations, but at the end of the day, this alone will not be justification for you to make the upgrade.

The only thing worthy of that justification is the addition of weather sealing, which is something Pentax users have been waiting for for years. It's the reason we are giving this lens such a super close comparative look against the DA* 60-250, because now it raises the possibility of not having to spring for such a premium grade (and larger) lens. We applaud Pentax for continuing their legacy of providing weather sealed alternatives to consumers that cannot justify the $1000+ lenses. At the end of the day, weather sealing is the only thing that seems to make this lens worth the consideration compared to its SMC predecessor, and this marks the 12th weather sealed lens in the Pentax lineup (not including the 645D medium format system).

Versus the DA* 60-250 F4

  • Magnification
  • Sharpness
  • Autofocus
  • Bokeh

The two lenses obviously differ in focal length, 250mm vs 300mm, however due to the DA* 60-250's internal focus design, it loses even more magnification against the HD (and SMC) 55-300, especially at closer focus distances in a phenomenon known as 'focus breathing.' We'll explore just how much that difference is across different focal lengths and focus distances.

The DA* 60-250 is undoubtedly sharper across all aperture values, even when stopped down to F8 on both lenses, a mutual sweet spot to maximize sharpness. The $1200 question is whether this magnification difference between the two is not enough to remove the DA* 60-250 from still having superior sharpness across the frame. We can't come to any conclusions about this yet, but results look promising for the DA*.

Autofocus is untested between the two, and is the major call for the delay in this review (again, our apologies!), although there is no denying the audible difference between them. You can look through the viewfinder and not hear the focusing of the DA* 60-250, whereas you might just get kicked out of a wedding if you used the 55-300 to shoot it!

Lastly, there is no question that the bokeh on the DA* 60-250 is superior. Because of the fewer number of blades, the HD (and smc) 55-300 starts getting elliptical and then hexagonal bokeh balls from point sources, whereas the DA* 60-250 remains circular even past F9. We have a full comparison for you to compare for yourself going through every aperture in the range between both lenses, even up to F32.

Sample Photos

The following samples images were taken with a Pentax HD DA 55-300mm F4-5.8 ED WR and the Pentax K-3 (firmware version 1.0) body in and around Bamberg, Germany. Note that minor post-processing has been applied only in cropping, minor straightening, and eV compensation. No adjustments were made to sharpening, tone, contrast, clarity, distortion correction (in camera or post), etc. All were shot RAW (DNG) and then converted to JPEG in Adobe Lightroom 4.4.

Larger versions can be viewed by clicking on the respective thumbnails below:

300mm, 1/1000s, F6.3, ISO 400, Handheld

150mm, 1/640s, F7.1, ISO 400, Handheld

55mm, 1/160s, F5.6, ISO 100, Handheld

300mm, 1/800s, F6.3, ISO 200, Handheld

170mm, 1/800s, F4.5, ISO 100, Handheld

62.50mm, 1/60s, F7.1, ISO 100, Tripod, 2s Timer

55mm, 1/160s, F5.6, ISO 400, Handheld

190mm, 1/200s, F4.5, ISO 800, Handheld

77.5mm, 1/200s, F5.6, ISO 100, Handheld

107.5mm, 1/200s, F5.6, ISO 400, Handheld

150mm, 1/1000s, F5.6, ISO 400, Handheld

135mm, 1/320s, F5.6, ISO 400, Handheld

230mm, 1/640s, F5.6, ISO 400, Handheld 300mm, 1/1000s, F6.3, ISO 1600, Handheld

260mm, 1/800s, F5.6, ISO 400, Handheld

190mm, 1/400s, F8, ISO 400, Handheld

We will have more sample photos for you taken with this combo during the actual review! Stay tuned for our in-depth review which promises to be our most comprehensive lens review to date!

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