Legacy Pentax Glass Lives On with Mirrorless

Classic Pentax K mount and Auto 110 lenses on other digital cameras

By cjfeola in Columns on Aug 7, 2023
Legacy Pentax Glass Lives On with Mirrorless

The Pentax Auto 110 Super is my favorite camera of all time. Oh, I’ve had better cameras – had them at the same time, even. Surely the two Pentax LXs and the MX I carried daily as a photojournalist were better. But the camera I carried by choice was the Auto 110 Super loaded with Kodachrome 64, in its custom leather bag filled with jewel-like lenses.

Kodachrome is no more, alas, never mind Kodachrome 110. And no other film available in 110 ever seemed adequate. Which has always bothered me, given how good those lenses were-especially the 110 70mm F/2.8, which has long been rumored to be the inspiration for the Limited series of Pentax glass.

So when I happened to read that Micro Four Thirds sensors are almost exactly the same size as 110 film, I ordered a used MFT camera and an adapter immediately and started polishing up those 110 lenses.

I’d already been using the 110 lenses on my Q and Q7 with an adapter. I ended up mostly using the 70mm, where it acts as a crazy long 389mm telephoto. If you have a Q series camera, grab yourself an adapter and some of the 110 lenses – especially the 70mm.

On Micro Four Thirds the 70mm works the way it was designed; reason enough for me to have invested in the system. It’s good to have back one of my all-time favorite lenses.

Pentax 110 70mm, Olympus Pen-F, Kodachrome emulationPentax 110 70mm, Olympus Pen-F, Kodachrome emulation. I've always loved the way this lens renders color.

Pentax 110 70mm, Olympus Pen-F, Tri-X emulation

Pentax 110 70mm, Olympus Pen-F, Tri-X emulation

I bought a K Mount adapter for the Qs, but they really didn’t balance well. These days I generally use the 08 Wide Zoom when I shoot my Q7.

I use the Auto 110 lenses on Micro Four Thirds, though I probably use the 70mm 99 percent of the time when I reach into the 110 lens bag.

A quick note on the photos: I go photowalking through a local park most days with whatever glass I'm playing with that day. I always take a color photo of that fire hydrant at the beginning of the path, and a black and white of one of the wooden gates along the way. These consistent subjects allow me to get some ideas about how each lens renders before I start to wring them out on shoots. I've included a few here in the  hope you'll find them informative in the same way. 

While it may seem I’m obsessed with the 70mm, the truth is that I’ve always been obsessed with glass in general. That’s the heart of my half-century of shooting Pentax – all that rich, wonderful K mount glass. Pro film photographers used to joke that a camera was just a box to hold the film – the important thing was the lens. And this was true: a shot on Kodak Tri-X black and white film in my Pentax LX with the Pentax SMC A* 135 F/1.8 would be the exact same quality as a shot on the same film with the same lens on my ME Super. Or a K-1000, for that matter. Which meant pros often grabbed those inexpensive models for spare bodies.

I was fortunate enough to be stationed in Japan for three years in the 80s as a US Army photojournalist for Pacific Stars & Stripes. And like soldiers since the days of the Roman Legions, I blew every dollar of every paycheck as soon as I got it. On Pentax lenses. (Ok, maybe I was the only soldier buying lenses.) The US dollar was very strong against the Yen in those days, and living just a few kilometers from the Pentax complex meant I could load up even on my sergeant’s salary. And I haunted camera stores for earlier generations of Pentax lenses.

Frankly, I have more glass than is reasonable.  How much? Last year I found a brand-new SMC Pentax 35mm F/2.8 that I don’t even remember buying, never mind using. No idea where that came from. Pentax remains the core of my collection; I added mirrorless so I could buy Even More Lenses without adding more systems. So I sold my Voightlander Bessa R, but kept the lenses. And added some Leica stuff, some Zeiss, 60s-era Olympus half-frame glass, a 50s-era Nikor that was apparently hewn out of a solid block of cast iron. And I keep adding more Pentax lenses...

So here are the Pentax lenses I use on mirrorless, how I use them, plus some samples:

  • The SMC Pentax-A* 135mm f/1.8: I use this on my Sony a7rII, where the focusing aids make this lens much more usable. This lens is razer sharp wide open, with about an eyelash of depth of field. Stopped down…who knows? Why carry this massive thing and then stop it down? I should try it on my Olympus Pen-F, where it would effectively be a 270mm, but…it’s bigger and heavier than the camera. I’ll get around to it. One of my all-time favorite lenses from any system. 

Sony a7rii; Pentax-A* 135 F1.8Sony a7rii; Pentax-A* 135 F1.8


Sony a7rii; Pentax-A* 135 F1.8

  • SMC Pentax-M 200mm F4: This is a GREAT lens on the Pen-F; it balances well while providing an effective 400mm of reach. 
  • SMC Pentax-A* 300mm F4: This one definitely falls under “more glass than makes sense.” I’m sure it’s a great lens, but it really needs a tripod. I have 92 tripods, of course. I just don’t use any of them. I have a pristine Gitzo that’s old enough to run for president! I’m a hand-held shooter; the only time I’ve ever used a tripod is with a 4x5 field camera; could not figure out any way to hand-hold that one. Anyway, this lens is workable on the full-frame Sony; not so much on the Micro Four Thirds Pen-F, where it is effectively 600mm and crazy unbalanced. I have a 2x teleconverter for it; no I haven’t tried it. I am trying to learn bird photography with it; the lens is a lot better than me. 
  • SMC Pentax-M 100mm F4 Macro: has been my workhorse macro lens for decades, though admitidly I'm not much of a macro guy. These days I use it to digitize my old negs. Like most Pentax lenses from that period, an excellent performer.  
  • SMC Pentax-M 135mm F3.5: An overlooked gem. This was one of the first lenses I bought when I was starting out. It's small and sharp and light. Give it a try! You'll be surprised how much you like it.
  • SMC Pentax 50mm F1.2: Found this in a little Tokyo camera store and bought it immediately, despite my lifelong aversion to "normal" lenses. It was the fastest Pentax lens I'd ever seen; how could I not buy one? Now it's my fastest lens on the a7rii, too!

A word about adapters: I have a collection of inexpensive ones by Fotodiox, Pixgo and the like, and they work fine for me. Of course they are dumb adapters, but that’s fine; these lenses don’t have contacts to pass information anyway.

I do have newer Pentax glass like my lovely Pentax 15mm Limited and perhaps my all-time favorite Pentax lens, the 77mm Limited, which competes for my affections with the SMC A* 135mm F/1.8. These have contacts and autofocus; the Monster adapter we reviewed would be a good fit for using them on mirrorless cameras like my Sony a7rII.

So am I going to spend $500 on a Monster adapter? Nah-I’m going to buy a K-3 III Monochrome. Cannot wait to wring out those Limiteds on the Monochrome.

And rest assured that Monochrome will also be fed a steady diet of SMC, M, A, A* and other old Pentax glass. I got into Pentax because the cameras were tough enough to survive being run over by a tank. I stayed because I fell in love with Pentax glass, and I remain in love with it a half-century later. I'll buy and sell lenses from other brands as the whim takes me, but I have every Pentax lens I ever bought -- except that 35mm. Which, to be fair, I don't remember buying or ever using. I even still have the SMC Pentax-M 40-80mm F2.8-4 zoom that came with my ME Super. Which I don't think I've used in 49 years.

That's why I'm buying a Monochrome; indeed, it's why I've bought pretty much all my digital cameras:

I wanted a new home for all my Pentax glass.




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