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06-26-2010, 02:32 PM   #1
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Lens recommendations

Hello all,

Sorry, but wading through this forum to try to get the information I need is pretty daunting. I'm sure this is one of those questions that gets asked over and over, but short of reading every post in this forum, I'm not sure how to get the answers I need. So I'm going to ask (I can hear the collective sighs from the old-timers here).

Here's my need: I have a K-x with the stock lens that came with it and I don't really know a whole lot about lenses. I like to do macro work, I also like to do nature photography and I like to take artsy shots which are usually close-ups, but not necessarily macro.

My photos with the stock lens are never sharp and crisp the way I want them. Given the things I'm most interested in doing, please point me toward threads/reviews here or name a few lenses I can read up on which might improve my results.

Thanks in advance!

edited to add: Mods, please feel free to move this if it's not in the right place!


Last edited by laura; 06-26-2010 at 02:37 PM. Reason: Add last sentence
06-26-2010, 03:45 PM   #2
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I'd start by posting your pictures with the kit lens here or in the critique forum. The kit lens capable of very sharp results; most likely, the problem is not the lens but technique. Like youaren't stopping down to get enough DOF, aren't choosing your focus point carefully enough, aren't using tripod, aren't turning off SR if you are using a tripod, etc.

*If* it turns out you are already getting the most out of your 18-55, then sure, *slightly*better results canbe had with more expensive lenses (or even cheap manual focus primes in whatever turn out to be your favorite focal lengths). At that point, you can consider other options, but until you've determined for certain that it's the lens that is limiting you, I'd hold off. The standard alternatives to investigate include the Sigma and Pentax 17-70, the Pentax 16-45, the Pentax 16-50, the Tamron 17-50, or a prime in whatever focal length your experience with your zoom tells you would be most useful to you.

There are indeed dozens if not hundreds of existing threads on macro. They basically boil down to two categories:

1)
Q: Which is the best of the varius ~$500 macro lenses?
A: They're all equally enough good that it doesn't matter. Get something close to 100mm if dealing with bugs and wanting a longer focal length, or the DA35 if you're looking for a more general purpose lens.

2)
Q: What's the best way to get into macro without spending $500
A: Do a search on "extension tubes" "reversing rings", and "closeup lenses" (especially "Raynox" closeup lenses) to see the many existing threads tlaking about these options.
06-26-2010, 04:14 PM   #3
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Thanks, Marc. That makes it easy; I posted several pictures in this thread: https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/mini-challenges-games-photo-stories/10525...ne-27-a-2.html

And I think that link will take you to page two, where you should find them.

Guilty of all of the above on this trip; well, I don't know about the DOF, but most of these were on auto or macro mode, all handheld. I don't generally take a tripod with me when I do a hike like this, so most of these were with me holding the camera as still as I could manage. I'm thinking from this that I should experiment with a tripod vs. no tripod in the same setting, to see what I get from each.

It's been something like 25 years since I was seriously into photography the first time, so I'm still at the stage of remembering and testing a lot. I think your suggestion about 100mm/bugs might be good. And, just so you know, I'm not above spending $500 or more if the results would be worth it, but I do understand that it's good to rule out operator error first
06-26-2010, 04:35 PM   #4
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With nature I split between three lenses:
  • Pentax DA 12-24 for landscape and some animal shots
  • Pentax DA 60-250mm for decent length shots. It splits between landscape and animal shots very well
  • Vivitar Series 1 100-500mm for reaching out there.

My 'hiking around lens' currently is the 60-250 - not the easiest haul around due to it's size, but it takes fine pictures. I believe I will swap this out in the next year or so to the Pentax DA 50-135 as I find myself using that range more often and that lens is a superb lens. I'll keep both, but keep the 50-135 on the camera when hiking and depending on the day swap the 60-250 out for the 100-500 in my bag.

I picked up the Vivitar for less than $150 and it is decent for what I bought it for. It's slow, but it gives me reach I need at times. Quality is decent.

As a side note, I've spent a lot of time playing with manual lenses. The reason for this was to gain practical experience before I spent a ton of money on expensive glass. My K10D does pretty well on auto - but there are many times where what I want and what the camera can deliver aren't the same. A big chunk of this goes back to you knowing your camera, your glass, and reading the conditions right. The rest (at least with what I do) is a lot of preparation and luck.

06-26-2010, 05:29 PM   #5
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Laura,
You already received two excellent advice from Marc and opiet70.

Let me share my own experience that is different from others. I bought initially a camera body (K-7) with the DA18-250mm for flexibility as an all-around lens, and the Nokton 58mm f1.4 for low-light shooting. I like both lenses for their respective strengthes. The Nokton is MF and has an excellent IQ. I learned a lot from that lens, although I still use the 18-250mm as my basic single-lens setup.

This combo gives me an all-around lens (18-250mm) that I use for a wide range of shots from sunrise to sunset. The DA18-250mm (and its sibbling Tamron 18-250mm) is one of the best ultra-zoom, all-around lenses on the market across all manufacturers. Like any zoom, it is made of compromises, but you can great shots with the lens. It is also well-liked by some professionals, and that does say a lot.

The Nokton 58mm is a fast prime that is very rugged, and excellent in low-light conditions, as well as indoor. I tend to use much more than I originally thought. I love the IQ.

I just added the Tamron 90mm Macro to the lens collection.

I add that I often shoot outdoor in rugged, dusty, muddy, wet conditions. As a result, I avoid to swap lenses and I tend to use one setup (camera-lens) for all the day. When I go camping for a few days, the 18-250mm is on the camera during daytime, and I use the Nokton from sunset to sunrise.

Hope that the comment may assist, or, at least, show another perspective....
06-27-2010, 02:16 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by hcc Quote
The DA18-250mm (and its sibbling Tamron 18-250mm) is one of the best ultra-zoom, all-around lenses on the market across all manufacturers. Like any zoom, it is made of compromises, but you can great shots with the lens. It is also well-liked by some professionals, and that does say a lot.
I had the 18-250 for the first two years I owned my K10D and loved it. I recently sold it for one simple reason - it does not have a manual focus ring. I lost a beautiful picture of a tiger stalking me in India because in the 3-4 seconds of the 'perfect shot' I couldn't get it to focus where I wanted (tiger was peering through some leaves and the camera/lens combo focused on the leaves of the tree - not the tiger's eyes like I was trying to get). Should I have dumped that lens for that one situation? It's a personal choice I made but I'd highly recommend that lens also. It is a great value.
06-27-2010, 03:43 PM   #7
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Thank you all for the recommendations; I will take them all into consideration.

For macro work, I have found some images which represent what I'd like someday to achieve in terms of quality and clarity. Take a look at the tightest and clearest images here:

Pixdaus, page 1 of tagged as insect photos

And let me know what I need (be it lens or otherwise) to do to aspire to this.

Thanks again!
06-27-2010, 06:09 PM   #8
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Laura, I recall your shots from the thread you linked to, though they are on page 1 and not page 2. Based on those views of landscape, a framed tree and flowers I was about to recommend the DA35, since it can do all of these things, and very well too. The fact it is not a zoom will get you focusing on more important things, like framing, DOF, exposure and so on.

However, the extreme macros you linked to are a whole other kettle of fish. I suggest you search for and read the threads here on macro photography, or get a good book on the subject. It is not easy to achieve those shots and there is quite a lot of specific knowledge needed.

06-27-2010, 09:09 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by laura Quote
Thanks, Marc. That makes it easy; I posted several pictures in this thread: https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/mini-challenges-games-photo-stories/10525...ne-27-a-2.html
It's hard to say much based on those for a couple of reasons - first, they are too small to judge anything, and second, those are presumably the *good* shots. more useful would be to see the ones you are *not*happy with. Also, looking at the EXIF, I see they were shot at ISO 1600 - that's not doing you any favors in terms of resolution. Mostly, though, I am uessing from those the problem is simply not having chosen exactly where to focus, and then expecting the whole picture to come out equally sharp. That's just not how it works. You have to decide where you want the focus to be, and that area will be sharp, but not the rest of the picture. At f/11 or so where there pictures were taken, all lenses perform almost identically, so a different lens wouldn't change a thing.

The one thing ISO 1600 bought was was crazy fast shutter speeds, so a tripod would not have helped anything. But at the posted size, I also don't see any problems.
06-27-2010, 10:06 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by rparmar Quote
Laura, I recall your shots from the thread you linked to, though they are on page 1 and not page 2. Based on those views of landscape, a framed tree and flowers I was about to recommend the DA35, since it can do all of these things, and very well too. The fact it is not a zoom will get you focusing on more important things, like framing, DOF, exposure and so on.

However, the extreme macros you linked to are a whole other kettle of fish. I suggest you search for and read the threads here on macro photography, or get a good book on the subject. It is not easy to achieve those shots and there is quite a lot of specific knowledge needed.
Thanks, I think that's still a good recommendation, as I often go out to just look for good composition, and a nice lens that works for that would be helpful. The macro stuff is undoubtedly more involved, so I'll follow your advice and take a look around for more info.
06-27-2010, 10:20 PM   #11
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I myself have looked up the macro stuff.

What can I say... for 1:1 macro I would recommend the very cost effective and versatile Tamron 90mm f2.8 Macro - around USD 350 (for 200 USD more you can get the excellent DFA WR 100mm from Pentax)

For more than 1:1 (2:1, 3:1 etc) a cheap 50mm with a reverse ring.

I settled for the Tamron because getting more than 1:1 is nice but takes a lot of time and preparation and also the Tammy is AF and an excellent mid tele portrait lens.

Other than that, for better IQ than the kit the Pentax 16-45 f4 is the workhorse with the more costly alternative of 16-50 f2.8 SDM. Sadly speaking, Pentax has not yet convinced me they have solved or managed the SDM failure issues so any SDM zoom is out of the question for me. Some say that the latter SDM copies don't have SDM troubles anymore, but I have yet to be convinced.

For a tele I have a Sigma 70-300 APO DG Macro (1:2) I have chosen over the Pentax 55-300mm for the better macro capabilities. Either one fine choices anyway for a non pro tele zoom.

I will not go into the LBA for the FA Limiteds and DA limiteds and Taks and Super Taks and so on... You will get there eventually

Last edited by kytra; 06-27-2010 at 10:30 PM.
06-27-2010, 10:23 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Marc Sabatella Quote
Also, looking at the EXIF, I see they were shot at ISO 1600 - that's not doing you any favors in terms of resolution. Mostly, though, I am uessing from those the problem is simply not having chosen exactly where to focus, and then expecting the whole picture to come out equally sharp. That's just not how it works. You have to decide where you want the focus to be, and that area will be sharp, but not the rest of the picture. At f/11 or so where there pictures were taken, all lenses perform almost identically, so a different lens wouldn't change a thing.

The one thing ISO 1600 bought was was crazy fast shutter speeds, so a tripod would not have helped anything. But at the posted size, I also don't see any problems.
Ah, okay. Maybe this isn't a lens thing, then. I set the ISO high so that I wouldn't be too hindered by the lack of a tripod, and what I hear you saying is that this is probably the best quality I can expect from that configuration, even in digital format. I'm still figuring out the differences and similarities between my old Nikon with film and the digital here. So, maybe next outing I should pack along at least a monopod for stability, and use a lower ISO setting.

It's been a really long time since I had my last SLR and I appreciate all of you taking the time to provide some guidance!

As for the images themselves, that seems to be the best I can do with my current hosting service as far as size goes, so perhaps I should put a thread in the critiques forum with some full-size attachments straight out of iPhoto, since that seems to be the better place for this discussion.
06-28-2010, 08:02 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by laura Quote
So, maybe next outing I should pack along at least a monopod for stability, and use a lower ISO setting..
I regularly shoot at 400 ISO in low light with no monopod... that's what SR is good for. A faster lens might help, but most improvement will be down to technique. Certainly, though, a tripod will help for when you need to stop down and capture depth of a scene.
06-28-2010, 10:13 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by laura Quote
I set the ISO high so that I wouldn't be too hindered by the lack of a tripod
Good idea, but I think you overshot the mark. If you were getting shutter speeds of 1/1600 at ISO 1600, you could have had shutter speeds of 1/200 at ISO 200 and done just as well in terms of shake even without a monopod, unless you were shooting at long telephoto focal lengths, which you weren't.

QuoteQuote:
what I hear you saying is that this is probably the best quality I can expect from that configuration, even in digital format.
That's not quite what I'm saying. It's still the case that paying attention to where you focus and what aperture you shoot at to get the appropriate amount of DOF is a huge factor. But once you've got that more under control, then you would find lowering ISO would help too.

QuoteQuote:
As for the images themselves, that seems to be the best I can do with my current hosting service as far as size goes
That's also as big as anyone would really want to see posted. The trick is to crop out a section of the original unresized picture and post that along with the resized full picture.
06-28-2010, 01:36 PM   #15
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So much helpful advice here; thank you all!

Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to take a bit of time in my back yard to get some shots-- hand held at lower ISO-- and then see what I have. I'll post something in a more appropriate forum after I do that, to see if I can get feedback on what, if anything, improves (or not). I think part of the problem so far is that I do not trust the SR, since it's new to me. But that's just part of the problem.

The focus thing is bothering me a bit as I did do the exercise last night of looking close-up at one of my "slightly missing the mark" photos, and I could see that the point of clearest focus is not where I thought it was when I took the picture. I wear glasses and have adjusted the diopter to correct, but if the adjustment isn't right, would that be possibly causing a problem? If so, how do I know if it's right? Is it just trial and error?
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