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09-12-2010, 08:14 PM   #1
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DA L 35mm 2.4 - Are my disappointments unnecessary?

So many of us, I'm sure, have read with great interest about the DA L 35mm 2.4 lens eventually coming out. I'm sure many have also voiced, or at least thought about, the pros and cons of this lens configuration. From what I've been hoping for to add to my kit setup this lens is like a getting an anchovy-flavored ice cream cone when I wanted just plain chocolate. (Please forgive the awkward phrasing, I didn't know how else to say it)

Allow me to explain: For some time now I've wanted to try more spontaneous street photography, something in the vein of Cartier Bresson or perhaps Joel Meyerowitz. I've kept an eye open for a "normalish" lens for my K7 like a 28mm or 35mm but everything I come across always lacks a key feature in one respect or another.

There are plenty of M 35mm lenses on eBay, and although there are a fair number of A 35mm offerings, so many cite the better image/build quality of the M series. Although it wouldn't be critical, having the A-setting on the aperture ring would be appreciated. Sigma 28mm mini-wides (#2 version) get good reviews, but they show up so infrequently. Then there are the F- and FA-series: the 28s and the 35s also show up infrequently, and when they do their asking prices force me to consider the advantages of buying a used lens versus the more expensive DA 35mm Macro that would at least come with a warranty.

Why am I disappointed with the DA L 35mm? It's not the plastic construction or lens mount; as far as I'm concerned a lens that small and light would not need a metal mount. It's not so much the lack of a lens shade; there are metal screw-on 49mm lens shades for $5-$10 that will probably do the job and if they don't it's not like I paid too much. Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that there is no focus/aperture scale on the lens. I just don't see how that feature could have impacted the price/image quality which I believe is critical to the success of this lens.

I was hoping for something that would allow for spontaneous shooting, but has basic features of a modern lens (essentially auto-focus and SMC coating). I didn't need macro focusing or SDM silent auto-focus. Even in the event that there were no aperture scale on the lens, still having a distance scale would at least allow me to calculate the hyper-focus distance, memorize that focus point, and set my aperture/focus distance accordingly. (Bare in mind, having auto-focus isn't even a must. But hey, it's a modern lens, it might as well have auto-focus. Leave the manual focus to Zeiss and Voightlander in the $1000-prime lens club)

My conundrum at present is: I search for lenses and the cheap options are minor investments, but not modern. Take the money I would spend on those old M-/A-series or third party lenses and putting it towards an F- or FA-lens and it gets me no where because they usually go for at least $300. Plus there's no guarantee that I would win an auction for such a lens! After that, as I said, it's stepping up to the DA 35mm Macro or perhaps one of the Limited models which means even more money.

I don't know, I guess what I'm getting at is I'd like to be able to spend about $200 and get a decent quality 35mm lens. But the lack of the focus scale on a prime lens (heck, ANY lens) just doesn't make any sense to me.

I love my Pentax(es), and I've preached the brand with a lot of success. I'm certainly not switching. This isn't about what other brands do to their lenses, it's about what Pentax has done with this lens. Someone please convince me I'm missing a critical point here! I want to be wrong!

09-12-2010, 08:20 PM   #2
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Cheap lenses, especially those still in production, will obviously have trade-offs. Pentax DA L lenses are pretty much stripped down to the bare minimum in order to be as cheap as possible, which obviously caters to beginners.

Pentax's currently lineup is lacking, but not hopeless. There's the DA 35mm macro, which is quite marvelous to say the least, but obviously not <$300.

Also, the FA 35mm, which is arguably just as good, is currently averaging $300. Sounds like something you'd want, but again, the availability is an issue. M and A lenses aren't really in short supply, though, so it sounds like those might be your best bet. Lenses of their quality are a thing of the past for sure...

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09-12-2010, 10:06 PM   #3
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A looong time ago when I was using hyperfocal settings frequently I found it convenient to make a "custom" focus scale and tape it over the scale on the M-type lenses I was using (even though those lenses had a printed scale).

Since I was using a limited selection of F-stops and fixed distances I actually found my "simplified", color-coded scales much easier to use and griped when I had to use a "normal" lens because the DOF scales were hard to read and "confusing"! .

If I found that sort of crutch useful today I wouldn't hesitate to make my own scales again. I might try it just for the fun of it.

As a thought provoker, imagine using fine point, colored draftsman markers to highlight your applicable range arcs on a tape which would overlay where the focus scale would normally be. Place your own index marker. Sort of like the colored range scales on the auto flash units:

| .. ---:--- ............. |
| ......-----:----- ..... |
| --------:--------- ...|
......... ||

Of course, since you designed the layout, you'd know the aperture color code and after a few days use you'd instinctively know which point was which and what range was represented by the ends of the lines anyway.

Limiting the ASA, aperture, and speed options and the typical lighting conditions wasn't restrictive because I was using what worked anyway and a SWAG-corrected bracket covered the unusual stuff. Using SV mode today would make it even easier. Pre-selected, situational exposures actually simplified life. I wasn't after ART, just good prints or slides.

Perhaps since I developed this as a solution to my own problem it made more sense to me. The arcs were first built from DOF tables then refined through practical experience so I knew what the distances were as I'd chosen them myself for specific situations. Something as simple as finger-tip distance to the subject, normal conversation distance or curb to wall stuff would work for me in the street situation I imagine.

With instant review it wouldn't take long to build a custom tape for typical DOF and distance. Keep it really simple and all you need is a few colored dots, an index on the barrel and consistent habits. It's just another Sunny Sixteen calculation with a DOF kicker, isn't it?

H2
09-12-2010, 10:07 PM   #4
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Pre-focus and shoot in aperture priority.

Set the f-stop to something with a decent DOF, say f8 or f11. Focus through the viewfinder on something about the distance you think you will be shooting at, and then just leave it there and snap away. Although it's weird that they didn't include a focus scale, it wouldn't really change your workflow too much - I did this for airshow pictures where the planes were moving too fast to AF and got some nice results.

You could also leave it in AF and just shoot from the hip - I don't think the Pentax AF is so bad that it wouldn't give you at least a fair percent of keepers.

09-12-2010, 11:38 PM   #5
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what about DA 40mm limited? its price is actually very close to the new lens'. I was going to buy it lately and the new announce did not change my decision... Sure, new lens is "faster" but I don't care about very wide apertures so DA 40 still wins. especially since it's not as cheaply constructed.
09-13-2010, 01:11 AM   #6
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It seems the only solution here is to go with MF lenses.
Cheap, yet excellent build quality and IQ...
09-13-2010, 05:10 AM   #7
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A cheap (inexpensive) lens needs to be different, in the looks and features, from a Limited lens. Hence some stuff is left away.

I believe making your own marks is an excellent idea. I will also venture to say that distance scales on a lens are all very cute, but are useless in real life. They're nowhere nearly accurate enough to be of any use.

I don't see why you couldn't use the AF of your lens, but if it has something to do with shooting without seeming to, then my suggestion is simply to pre-focus and then shoot when something interesting happens. It will be at least as accurate as using any distance scale.
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