Comparing the 3 Pentax FA Limited Primes

What are the strengths and weaknesses of each lens?

By bdery in Hands-On Tests on May 22, 2018

The three FA Limited lenses, often called the Three Princesses or Three Amigos, present many similarities but also a few significant differences. Now that we have completed our in-depth review of each on full frame, we can more easily compare them and discuss their strengths and weaknesses. In this short article, I will give my very personal evaluation of each lens.

In case you missed the recent reviews, here are some quick links:

The similarities between the three lenses relate mostly to those elements which contribute to their reputation. Build quality is superb in a small package. Colors, contrast and general rendering really set the lenses apart from many others. The so-called 3D rendering is consistent among the three models. Colors are rich and, more importantly perhaps, gradations are subtle and gradual, without any harsh transitions. In all cases, center sharpness is excellent at most apertures.

Chromatic aberration and vignetting are the weak points of the three FA Limiteds. Moreover, the 43mm and 77mm show softer corners at wider apertures. Because of this, these two lenses are maybe better suited for portraits or anything requiring subject isolation. On the other hand, the 31mm shows the most consistent sharpness figures.

Celestron AVX Product Review

Accurate Tracking with your 500mm

By K David in Hands-On Tests on May 4, 2018

B&H Photo Video loaned us a Celestron AVX tracking mount specifically to test with a 500mm f/4.5 Takumar telephoto lens. We wanted to get some close-up, tracked galaxy images for the Astrophotography Series, and this mount seemed like the best option for delivering those images. The mount test afforded us an opportunity to provide in-depth information about an uncommon, niche piece of photography equipment largely unknown outside of telescope photography circles. We elected to use a fast 500mm telephoto lens in lieu of a telescope because the process would be more recognizable to photographers not familiar with the specialized language used for describing telescopes. This article discusses the AVX mount with a telephoto lens and some of the incredible advantages it provides, some limitations, and some drawbacks.

Celestron AVX, Takumar 500mm f/4.5, and Pentax MZ-S

Pentax K-1 II vs K-1 Noise Performance

A hands-on comparison in RAW and JPEG mode

By PF Staff in Hands-On Tests on Apr 28, 2018

In this article, we continue our hands-on comparison of the image quality of the Pentax K-1 with the new Pentax K-1 II, with a closer look at noise performance (earlier this week, we tested the new hand-held Dynamic Pixel Shift Resolution mode).

While both cameras share the same 36-megapixel sensor and PRIME IV engine, the K-1 II also incorporates Pentax's Image Accelerator Unit, which improves signal-to-noise ratio at the time of capture, and thus promises less noisy files in both JPEG and RAW mode.  Let's take a look at some photos!

First test scene

Our first test scene was shot at ISO 6400, 2s, and F4.5 with the D FA* 70-200mm F2.8 lens.  Both cameras were set to RAW+, with auto white balance, "bright" custom image with default settings, no in-camera noise reduction, and no lens corrections.

We then developed both cameras' RAW files with the same lighting settings, no luminance noise reduction, and only baseline (25%) color noise reduction in Adobe Camera Raw.  100% crops follow.

K-1 Raw (ISO 6400)
K-1 II Raw

Here we observe that the K-1 II indeed produces files with less noise straight out of camera.  The Image Accelerator clearly has an effect on RAW files.  At the same time, though, fine edge details are slightly clearer in the K-1's more noisy file, and perhaps the shadows have a hint more detail.

Image A
Image B

In JPEG mode the K-1 II is a clearer winner, with hardly any pixel-level noise despite the rather high ISO that we used (and no in-camera noise reduction).  However, as we saw in the previous comparison, the K-1 does render fine details more clearly.

To verify these findings, we returned to the studio and shot the same test setup that we used for our earlier DPSR comparison.  Note that we repeated all of the tests shown a second time in order to ensure that the experimental setup itself was sound.

Studio Test Scene

As in the outdoor test, both cameras were configured with the same settings: no noise reduction, no lens corrections, and RAW+.  We used the D FA 50mm F2.8 macro at an aperture setting of F11, focused manually using live view with magnification.

Let's start with the raw files as before.  The comparisons below span the ISO range common to the two cameras (i.e. 100 to 204800).

K-1 (ISO 100)
K-1 II
K-1 (ISO 200)
K-1 II
K-1 (ISO 400)
K-1 II
K-1 (ISO 800)
K-1 II
K-1 (ISO 1600)
K-1 II
K-1 (ISO 3200)
K-1 II
K-1 (ISO 6400)
K-1 II
K-1 (ISO 12800)
K-1 II
K-1 (ISO 25600)
K-1 II
K-1 (ISO 51200)
K-1 II
K-1 (ISO 102400)
K-1 II
K-1 (ISO 204800)
K-1 II

As a supplement to these unedited comparisons, we also ran the ISO 3200 raw files through the latest version of Photoshop CC in an effort to get the best possible result from each camera (within a reasonably short amount of time, of course).

K-1 Edited RAW (ISO 3200)
K-1 II

The two cameras are very close even here, but subjectively we would say that the K-1 II has the advantage after all is said and done.  The K-1 II also appears to produce more natural colors, and shows better clarity, but this may be due to a slight variation in white balance at the time of capture (and subsequently during development).

K-1 II Dynamic Pixel Shift: First Impressions

An early look at hand-held super resolution in the K-1 II

By PF Staff in Hands-On Tests on Apr 21, 2018

Welcome to the first article in a series of early hands-on first impressions of the Pentax K-1 Mark II! In this installment, we will be taking a closer look at the K-1 II's hand-held super resolution feature, which promises to bring out more detail in photos without requiring a tripod.

The original Pentax K-1 (as well as the K-3 II, K-70, and KP) supports Pixel Shift Resolution (PSR), a type of super resolution technology which when enabled, automatically combines pixel data from multiple exposures (each shifted by a single pixel) to noticeably increase detail, improve color accuracy, and reduce noise in photos.  This takes overall image quality to the next level, but only works on perfectly stationary subjects, and requires a tripod.

The K-1 II takes things one step further by eliminating the tripod requirement.  Referred to by Pentax as Dynamic Pixel Shift Resolution (DPSR), this new technology extends PSR by incorporating stabilization (i.e. Shake Reduction) and enhanced processing, thus allowing for hand-held super resolution captures. The K-1 II is the only DSLR currently on the market that can perform this type of super resolution imaging automatically! 

Naturally, we want to find out whether this is all just marketing speak, or if the K-1 II can in fact deliver better hand-held photos with the flip of one setting. To do so, we photographed a miniature at ISO 1600 (to bring out some baseline noise) and shot one conventional photo on a tripod, one PSR photo on a tripod, and one DPSR photo hand-held. As with PSR, DPSR of course require a stationary subject.

The thumbnails below are cropped out-of-camera JPEGs; click to compare. 

Standard JPEG
Pixel Shift
Dynamic Pixel Shift

A Hands-on Look at the Pentax K-1 Silver

Latest special edition Pentax DSLR

By PF Staff in Hands-On Tests on Oct 31, 2017

The Limited Silver edition of the Pentax K-1 hit the shelves late last month, and is now nearly sold out in the US.  It has become more or less a tradition for Pentax to offer silver versions of its flagship camera models.  You can read about other special models here.  In other cases, such as that of the Pentax KP, a silver variant is made available at launch.

A lot of users initially wondered if the silver finish of this K-1 matches that of Pentax's silver lenses.  The answer is "yes"- as you can see in the photos, the camera blends in perfectly with the FA* 300mm F2.8 lens.  Here is a list of all silver full-frame lenses from Pentax.  While some may be hard to find, these lenses are the perfect pairing for a Pentax collector, and also double nicely as tools for professional photography.  The silver versions of all HD DA-series Limited lenses likewise match the silver K-1's finish, but with the exception of the 40mm, these lenses should be used in crop mode.

Click here to order your K-1 Limited Silver before it's gone ($2196)!

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