Building a Quality Lens Kit on a Budget
Maximizing value and performance without breaking the bank
By carpents in Gear Guides on Jan 12, 2015
The holidays are over, and you have a lovely new Pentax DSLR likely matched with the respectable 18-55mm or 18-135mm WR kit lens. If you're like so many other Pentaxians, you'll soon start thinking about your lens upgrade path.
With literally millions of lenses made for the Pentax K mount since the 1970s, there is a perfect Pentax kit waiting for almost everyone. But those millions of lenses can be daunting when deciding what to buy, and this series is intended to help lay out a strategy for building a coherent kit to compliment your style.
This Perfect Kit is for the budget-minded shooter who wants high-quality all-around coverage. If you can't fathom spending more on a lens than you did on your camera; if you're a starving artist or college student; or, if you're simply a bang-for-buck person, then these lenses are for you.
One quick note: we'll only be focusing on lenses that provide long-term value and good image quality rather simply trying to find the absolute cheapest products available. If you're on the hunt for bargain-basement legacy glass, we'll be covering it separetely.
Now, without further ado, read on for the guide!
Our Lens Recommendation Criteria
The Perfect Budget Pentax Lens Kit must meet the following criteria:
- All lenses must provide long-term value, i.e. not just temporary or 'step-up' lenses.
- The kit must cover an array of shooting styles.
- Lenses must be relatively easy to find. This precludes many manual focus lenses despite them being great bargains!
- Each lens must offer something more than the 18-55mm or 18-135mm 'kit' lenses.
Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC J, $399.
What it offers:
Ultra-wide, sharp landscape or architectural shooting.
After a recent price drop, the Sigma 10-20mm offers a great landscape/architectural value. Offering excellent center sharpness across its range, the Sigma competes with higher-priced lenses by f/8, and with the exception of the extreme edges at 10mm is relatively aberration-free. It isn't lightweight at just over a pound, but compared to other ultra-wides it is fairly compact and allows threaded filters.
Pentax HD Pentax DA 15mm f/4 ED AL Limited, $547.
For those who prefer working with prime lenses, the DA 15mm Limited is nearly a third the weight or volume of the Sigma and has a cult-like following. If portability is more important than zooming flexibility, the Limited is a better option.
The DA 15mm Limited also uses less expensive 49mm filters, matching many other Pentax lenses, so the higher price for the Pentax could be offset somewhat.
Pentax SMC DA 35mm f/2.4 AL, $146.
What it offers:
Excellent sharpness from center to edge, nicely rendered out-of-focus elements, lightweight and small.
The inexpensive and lightweight DA 35/2.4 may have skimped on metal but not on glass. The result is a sharp lens at all apertures, with low distortion and minimal aberrations, comparing favorably to the much more expensive FA 35/2 and even the venerable FA 31/1.8 Limited.
Pentax SMC DA 40mm f/2.8 XS, $222.
As small and light as a lens cap, the DA 40 XS offers excellent optics in a unique form factor.
Pentax SMC DA 50mm f/1.8, $147
What it offers:
Low light shooting options, portrait subject separation, lightweight and small.
Some will refer to the DA 50/1.8 as a 'beginner' lens, but in actuality it is just as good or better than other Pentax normal lenses. In the PentaxForums comparison to two venerable lenses, the FA 50/1.4 and 50/2.8 Macro, the DA 50/1.8 comes out on top. It currently costs and weighs half as much or less than the older FA lenses, and the modern design and coating offers sharp photos and pleasant out-of-focus rendering.
One disappointing design aspect of the DA 50/1.8 is the 52mm filter threads rather than the typical Pentax 49mm ones, which limits cross usage with other primes.
SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/1.4, $114 (used).
Sharing optics relatively unchanged from the 1960s Super-Takumar to the modern FA series, the Pentax 50/1.4 lenses have always been a good value. Offering dreamy rendering wide open but sharpening nicely by stopping down a few stops, the manual focus variants offer lower prices but the A version still has aperture control on modern cameras.
See the PF user reviews of the A 50mm f/1.4.
Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro HSM (Contemporary), $499.
What it offers:
Ultra-wide to telephoto zoom range, good sharpness, decent close focusing, relatively fast aperture range.
The Sigma 17-70mm offers a step-up from the 'kit' lenses in performance and offers up to a full stop faster aperture at the long end. Summarized in the PentaxForums comparison, it offers fast, silent auto focus and lower chromatic aberrations than the Pentax variant. The only reason not to step up from the standard Pentax kit lens is the Pentax DA 18-55 WR's weather sealing.
Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro, $459.
Another consideration would be to keep the 18-55 WR for its weather sealing and add a short telephoto macro lens like the Sigma 70/2.8. Offering full 1:1 reproduction, the Sigma offers a sharp and low distortion solution for excellent macro shooting.
Pentax HD DA 70mm f/2.4 Limited, $499.
For US-based prime shooters, the Pentax 70mm Limited offers an excellent short-telephoto option. It is just as good as the revered FA 77mm Limited but less expensive, smaller, and lighter. Unfortunately, the current bargain price is for US-only shooters.
Bargain Telephoto Options
Unfortunately there aren't great bargain options for telephoto shooters. The Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 stands as a good choice for its excellent optics and constant f/2.8 aperture, but at over $700 this is only a bargain to a sports shooter. The much more expensive DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 or the excellent DA* 60-250mm f/4 appeal likewise to a dedicated telephoto shooter only.
There are many Pentax shooters who are looking for a high-quality bargain telelphoto, perhaps competing with the 70-200mm f/4 offerings from other manufacturers.
Pentax HD DA 55-300 f/4-5.8 ED WR, $347.
For the shooter who absolutely requires reach to 300mm, the HD DA 55-300mm is currently the best bargain. It won't be your lens of choice for the sideline of a pro sports event, but those shooters will likely consider a different price point anyway.
Pentax has a long history of offering excellent bargains with its optics. Along with excellent third-party options, Pentax is continuing that legacy.
Budget Kit #1 - Super-wide angle and choice primes
Just a few additions to the decent Pentax 18-55mm or 18-135mm lenses will make a lasting kit, for just $692:
Budget Kit #2 - Zooms from 10mm - 300mm
Those who prefer zoom lenses can put together a perfect kit for $1,245:
Budget Kit #3 - Primes from 15mm - 70mm plus macro
Those who prefer prime lenses, including a 1:1 macro, have options for $1,299:
- Pentax HD DA 15mm f/4 Limited, $547
- Pentax DA 35mm f/2.4, $146
- Pentax DA 50mm f/1.8, $147
- Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro, $459
The above lenses will accommodate the most discerning photographer. You would be hard pressed to find better kits for less, and importantly for the bargain hunter, these kits would compete with others costing twice as much.
If you have your own kit ideas or would like to build on our recommendations, feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below.
Disclaimer: the prices in this article reflect US retail pricing for new products from US authorized dealers as of January, 2015. Some lenses listed are currently on sale. Prices are always subject to change and may increase or fluctuate in the future.