SMC Pentax-FA 31mm Limited

By PF Staff in Influential Photo Gear on Dec 12, 2012

Hi guys, As you can see from the title, the item which I chose is the well reputed smc Pentax-FA 31mm Limited prime offered by Pentax.  Here is a picture of my copy

With photography so many things need to come together to make a good picture, however if I had to somehow identify one significant factor (in my experience) it would be the use of this lens. At first it was a struggle accepting/justifying such an expensive purchase entirely for a hobby. I had used the Pentax SMC FA 35 F2 before and I thought, how much better could this lens really be? $600 better? Come on, really? Even when I first got it, I was a bit disappointed with it's sharpness wide open. People had been calling it "razor sharp" so I guess I had my expectations set a bit too high. But, oh boy, I couldn't have been more wrong. Ever since I got it, and started using it in the field, my picture taking experience has been completely transformed. I use it for 3 main purposes, so I will discuss each one briefly below.

Some people say that it's native focal length of 47 on a crop frame camera is too wide for quality portraits.  Yet, this is probably my favorite portrait lens (and I have the 50-135 too).  The slight softness/glow at 1.8 results in the flawless rending of skin.  And the bokeh. Wow.  I find big focal length lens to separate the subject "too much" and there is no information in the background.  They make portraits feel "staged" and makes connecting with the subject difficult.  If you stop down those lens however, the backgrounds becomes too busy.  This lens is nothing like that.  With this baby at F1.8 I get smooth, creamy backgrounds that actually HAVE discernible details.  You really feel that you see the subject with your own eyes, RIGHT THERE! In front of you...  You are part of the moment!  It feels as the subject has so much character... I believe this is what gives the lens the often cited "3D feel" or "pixie-dust".  Anyways, here are some portrait samples which I have taken with the lens (click on an image in each series for a slideshow with larger versions):   

After I started using the lens I suddenly I felt like I was back in my photography class days in college when I was learning on a Pentax K1000 with M50 F2.  It is a bit counter intuitive, but lack of zoom is rather liberating.  Normal view allows you to capture things exactly as you see them and unleashes a creative potential.  Somehow wide angle felt like it contained too much information and zoom just not enough.  47mm was just right!  It is hard to describe in words, however all of this translates into amazing landscape/urban photography experience.  I quickly found myself using the lens probably 80-90% of the time and both my sigma 10-20 and DA 50-135 were left at home...  It certainly makes walking around easier and more enjoyable! What definitely helps with landscape/street photography is that the lens is RAZOR sharp past F2.8.  Some samples:

I was also pleasantly surprised when I discovered how well the lens performs with night photography.  When stopped down beyond F10, it produces wonderful starburst effects.  Here are some samples:

People say that certain lens have a "character".  I don't have many lens, but among the ones I do have, the 31 definitely has CHARACTER.  Aside from the wonderful softness and glow at 1.8, biting sharpness past F2.8 and creamy bokeh the lens produces amazing colors/contrast.  I recently returned from a European vacation (where I brought my 31, 10-20 and 50-135) I had begun editing my pictures.  To my surprise sometimes I found it amazingly easy to adjust color and contrast in some pictures and but they just weren't there in others  This meant more compensation and color adjustment for some but not others.  It puzzled me until I realized that it was the pictures of the 50-135 and 10-20 that needed that extra editing.  The ones coming from the 31mm already had almost all the necessary pop.  Side by side shots (from times when I had switched lens to capture something differently) under same lighting did not produce the same results with the sigma and the 50-135.  I don't know if you can call it "magic" or "pixie dust", but this lens renders photos like no other I have ever used...

Here are some more samples taken with the lens: oxidized's Album: 31mm - I hope this was enjoyable and thanks for reading!!

- oxidized

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