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HD Pentax 55-300mm Review

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Pentax DA* 300mm: Diamonds

01-23-2013 · By PF Staff in Influential Photo Gear

A normal girl would feel like this if she got diamonds!

That was my immediate thought, after unwrapping the present my husband had given me and finding my DA* 300mm F4 inside. My first DA* lens: Smooth, solid, compact and beautiful with its gleaming gold band.

 

My love of nature is at least as old as my photography. My Barbie-doll was a nature photographer: I set up complicated dioramas with her and my wild toy animals, built her a little camera from a match box, and photographed the whole thing with my Instamatic. When I advanced to the Olympus-stage, I got hold of a 300mm lens at one point, and tried to sneak in on real birds and wildlife.

(I think you may have to be Danish to fully appreciate this, but our local birds and wildlife are NOT photo friendly. A dense population of Danes for millennia, basically eating anything within shooting range, has led to ridiculous flight distances in the survivors. Whenever I go abroad, I am surprised how CLOSE you can get to animals…)  

When I finally went for digital SLR, I chose Pentax because of the field-photography friendliness. In-house-stabilisation and weather proofing. But I was still on a terribly tight budget. The house alone (K10D) was really all I could afford, but since my favourite motifs were wild things, I needed some focal reach to have any fun with it. So I got a Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 DG Macro. I was visiting Seattle when I bought it, and initially I was happy: Most US west coast birds were exotic to me, and their flight distance was shorter, but undeniably, softness at 300mm and slow AF set limits to my enjoyment.

I struggled to upgrade within budget: Second hand SMC Pentax-FA 80-320mm F4.5-5.6, second hand SMC Pentax 300mm F4 and finally a Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM. Each upgrade brought some advantage: With the SMC prime I finally achieved decent sharpness at 300mm – sadly it was mostly sharp images of empty twigs where birds had once been sitting. Flight photos were simply out of the question. The huge Sigma lens did wonders for my biceps, but the size of it was an issue: I could not take it travelling (Too big for carry-on luggage), and it isn’t weather-proof. The weather in Denmark is… well, let’s just say that I consider the climate in Seattle to be lovely and sunny. I soon decided that I had valued reach itself too highly relative to wielding comfort, weatherproofing and transportability: After all, the lens that takes the best pictures is the lens you bring. The AF was also simply too imprecise and slow for birds in flight. Also, to get anything out of such a slow lens, I needed high ISO ability, and so I upgraded to the Pentax K-5. Now I had spent three times my camera budget for the year, and I still didn’t feel very well equipped!

Then this. Out of the blue. No anniversary, birthday, Valentine’s day or anything to justify it. I asked him why – he said he thought it would make me happy. He is not a photographer, and to him, spending that amount on glass must feel as impractical and silly as diamonds. But, wow, does he know me well.

We went on a little test shoot the weekend after, and were lucky enough to find a little auk fishing near the harbour town of Hirtshals. He was bobbing up and down on the waves, I was sprawled happily on the boulders of the pier, life was perfect.

I have played with this lens for almost year now. Apart from having more fun than ever with my camera, I have developed my technique enormously: I can bring this lens with me everywhere, it is hand-holdable, and the AF is fast enough to allow things like panning on birds in flight. My wildlife photos have improved to a stage where I begin to sell them on a regular basis to hunting magazines and other periodicals. The reach is on the short side for wild life photography, but I find this a challenge, and I am improving my ability to approach birds and animals without scaring them away: That in itself has influenced my technique also, and I find I get more photos with interesting behaviour, rather than just pictures of wary looks.

The DA* 300mm f4 is definitely the item that made the single greatest impact on my photography. The weight and size fits my hands like perfection. The autofocus is quick, precise and soundless. The bokeh is beautiful! It is weatherproof and solid as a brick. In January, I will bring it with me to Argentina, and I plan to return with images of Andean condors in flight! 

Click images to enlarge and browse

- MetteHHH

Rating:
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About the author: Various writers regularly contribute articles to the Pentax Forums homepage blog. More recent articles are published under each author's forum username. We hope you enjoy our guides and news coverage!

Tags: lens, birds, 300mm, flight, finally, photography, slow, photos

More Posts in Influential Photo Gear | More Posts by PF Staff

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chemtech [Delete] Feb 12th, 2013 12:34AM

Wonderful article and photos! I too want the DA*300mm and I'm glad that you find it hand holdable.
Hope, you post some of your Argentina pics and that the weather sealing helped with the dusty conditions.

MetteHHH [Delete] Feb 9th, 2013 2:58PM

Thank you very much all of you for all your kind comments! I am just back from Argentina - haven't seen any of my photos yet except on the lcd screen, but I definitely had a wonderful trip and lots of work for my 300mm! It was unbelievably dusty though, and I hope to find - when everything has been wiped and cleaned thoroughly - that the lens managed to keep the dust to the outside...

offertonhatter [Delete] Feb 7th, 2013 3:14PM

Lovely article. I am looking forward to receiving mine in the next couple of weeks, courtesy of a nice long service award at work.

gatorpops [Delete] Jan 26th, 2013 2:53PM

My DA*300 f4 lens is one of my very favorites as well and use it for the same as you. Great article.

Now match the lens with Pentax AFA 1.7 and you have a f6.7 510mm lens. Marry with the K5 issue cameras ( K5IIs ) with great dynamic range, gives good low light wildlife shooting.
Have fun!

Unsinkable II [Delete] Jan 25th, 2013 11:02PM

Excellent writing. You put most native english speakers to shame!

I can see the 300/4 being near the top of my list. My 50-135 has really highlighted the inadequacies of my 55-300.

smf [Delete] Jan 25th, 2013 2:24PM

Thanks for the beautifully written story and the excellent photo of the three geese! Best wishes for a delightful trip and additional success.

tscip22 [Delete] Jan 24th, 2013 4:16PM

Great Story, you have helped to convince me to get the 300. I love the same subjects as you.

Thanks!

LaurenOE [Delete] Jan 24th, 2013 3:33PM

A woman after my own heart! Pentax glass is always better than Diamonds!

Canada_Rockies [Delete] Jan 24th, 2013 9:56AM

Great story! Great lens (envious!)

yygomez [Delete] Jan 24th, 2013 8:40AM

Great story and beautiful pictures!

southlander [Delete] Jan 24th, 2013 7:12AM

And the best thing is ( after the love of your husband) is an appreciation of nature delivered by the ability to observe it in detail through photography.

Adam [Delete] Jan 24th, 2013 12:06AM

This lens is around $1199 in stores, a little less than the Canon if you don't get clocked by the online MAP policy.

feishui [Delete] Jan 23rd, 2013 10:59PM

Canon 300mm F4 is way cheaper but is for full-frame. Is there any way we can justify the differences between them?

Salagubang [Delete] Jan 23rd, 2013 10:07PM

Diamond indeed :)

jonk [Delete] Jan 23rd, 2013 10:05PM

Great lens. Always sits within reach in my truck.

abieleck [Delete] Jan 23rd, 2013 6:17PM

This just makes me want one even more ;) Great story....I hope you come back from Argentina with some amazing photos!

cfugle [Delete] Jan 23rd, 2013 5:31PM

Congrats on the new acquisition! Have you named it yet? The shot above of the three geese takes my breathe away. Marvellous shot and just imagine what your next trip will bring! Happy shooting.

SashasMom [Delete] Jan 23rd, 2013 2:45PM

Loved reading your article. That is lens is definately my next purchase. Love birding, wildlife, anything nature. Saving up my monies.

jbinpg [Delete] Jan 23rd, 2013 11:23AM

This is one of the most well written essays I have read on this forum. Thank you for posting. I also love my DA*300/4 for the same reasons as you. It is also excellent for butterfly work if you ever gravitate toward them due to its relatively close focus.

eenymac [Delete] Jan 23rd, 2013 9:49AM

Nice! Very much my own path into photography, only I had to buy it all myself. I agree too that my purchase of the DA*300mm was probably one of the best buys I have ever made and it's a superb tool. I especially find it good for large insects - butterflies and dragonflies as it gives a good working distance.

bebna [Delete] Jan 23rd, 2013 9:24AM

I feel this forum needs a "Pentaxian searches Pentaxian" section...

blackcloudbrew [Delete] Jan 23rd, 2013 9:18AM

Great story and I want to marry your husband! ;-)