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.

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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.

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The 31mm’s larger size (compared to the other two) and its focal length make it my least favorite of the three FA Limited. Despite its numerous qualities, I never did warm up to it. I believe I would have enjoyed a wider focal length a lot more. Despite it being, perhaps, the best on paper, it is not a lens that I would find myself reaching for except in rare cases.

The FA Limited that I use the most is certainly the 43mm. In fact, since I acquired it, it has been my most-used lens. The combination of minuscule size, fast aperture and normal focal length make it extremely versatile. If I had to leave the house with only one lens, I would choose the 43mm almost each time.

However, the FA Limited that I prefer is the 77mm. Even though it cannot serve as many purposes as the other two, the results it produces set it apart even when compared to the 31mm and 43mm. It is possible that this is due to its main usage as a portrait lens: its few flaws are less likely to show with a more or less centered subject. In any case, the 77mm is the Limited I like the most.

A few lenses, both from Pentax and from third-party manufacturers, can be compared to the FA Limiteds. Considering only current lenses, the 31mm can be compared to Pentax’s own FA 35mm F2 and DA 35mm F2.4. Both are much less expensive, well regarded (especially the FA) but none offer the same unique rendering. Sigma also offers the 35mm F1.4, which is roughly the same price, offers silent AF, stellar sharpness figures and, by all account, superb rendering characteristics. It is also much larger. This lens is certainly the closest equivalent to the FA 31mm. Note that Samyang/Rokinon also offer a 35mm lens, albeit with manual focus.

Being close to the ubiquitous 50mm focal length, the 43mm has many contemporaries. Again considering only current lenses, Pentax offers the DA 40mm which can be used on full frame and produces superb results which are, for lack of a better word, more clinical. The FA 50mm F1.4 is another well-regarded lens which does begin to show its age and which is certainly not as sharp wide open. It is known for its pleasing bokeh. The upcoming D FA* 50mm F1.4 is sure to be compared with the 43mm. However, the new lens will look like a giant when compared to the diminutive 43mm. Again, Samyang proposes a manual option, as does Lensbaby.

The 77mm is probably the most difficult to compare. Pentax does offer the D FA 100mm Macro WR, which isn’t much larger and offers comparable optical performances. On full frame, the focal length difference is actually not that significant. The focus speed is probably one of the most important differences between the two. Tamron also offers a macro, the 90mm, which is also a good lens with slow AF. Samyang and Lensbaby are still present with manual 85mm lenses. Lastly, Pentax has a D FA* 85mm planned for release in 2019.

In summary, testing the three FA Limiteds has been a pleasure— so much so that two of them remain in my bag today. Even with their few imperfections, their superb optical qualities, coupled with their beautiful bodies and, perhaps more importantly, their small size, make them ideal companions.

  • FA 31mm: the best on paper, but not ideal for my shooting style
  • FA 43mm: my most used lens, versatile and very compact
  • FA 77mm: my favorite limited, exceptional at portraits

Feel free to comment and give your opinion below, and participate in our poll!

Want to add one of these lenses to your collection?  Below are the current prices for each.

FA 31mm FA 43mm FA 77mm

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