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03-18-2011, 12:05 AM   #1
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Questions About Buying Used Primes

Since finding this site a couple months ago, I have read and learned so much from all of you. Now, I have a few questions about purchased used lenses, paricularly the primes.

Here is what I have purchased so far -- K-5 w/ the 18-55 kit lens. Also purchased the 50-200 because, after using a Best Buy gift certificate, it was just $17 out of my pocket. Some day I would like to get the 18-135 and 55-300, but w/ 2 zooms they are not priorities.

What I would like is a couple of primes. Seems that they get consistently great reviews and would be a nice compliment to the zooms.

Problem the camera budget is not unlimited. So, been looking at the resale market -- ebay, Craigslist, etc.. for older used primes. There seem to be some good options out there, but not sure what to look for.

Have read through all the reviews and buying guide, but it doesn't explain to me why one series might be better than another. An example is, ebay has quite a few m and a series primes listed, are they OK or should I wait for a DA L or DA?

Also, which lengths should I look to get? Finally, are limiteds that much better than others? Is there any tips I should be aware of when buying primes, or any other lens for that matter, from the used market?

Thanks ahead for the input -- you all are the best!



03-18-2011, 01:15 AM - 1 Like   #2
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Hi Kathie.

The choice of lens rather depends on what you like to shoot. If you're finding your way with subject matter, can I suggest you start your prime collection with a wide-angle?

There are many good wide-angle primes in the Pentax line-up (not to mention some of the good independent makers), and they have the advantage of usually being small and light and, in many cases, quite cheap. In the older manual-focus K-mounts, the 28s and 24s are versatile, fairly sharp optically and well-constructed, but even some of the AF lenses aren't too expensive, provided you choose carefully.

If you can stretch the budget a bit, the A-versions are probably the manual-focus ones to go for, as they always provide aperture feedback to the camera, but, once you get used to full manual control, it's not that big a deal - manual focussing tends to be a bigger issue than aperture and shutter speed control, but that fades with use, too and, anyway, you can still get focussing feedback with many manual lenses on Pentax DSLRs.

Once you've decided whether or not you'd like to continue on with manual primes, you can then branch into whatever takes your fancy.

However, if you decide that you need auto-focus, then you could do worse than starting with a FA 35/2.0, which is only a tad slower than the FA 50/1.4 and has a more natural field of view on a Pentax DSLR. It also has some good reviews by forum members (SMC Pentax-FA 35mm F2 AL Lens Reviews - Pentax Lens Reviews & Pentax Lens Database). The FA 28/2.8 is a bit slower again, but is also less expensive than the 35, and reviews well, too.

As for the Limited series lenses, they really are that good, but you may want to think about one of the DA primes first, because the Limiteds are fairly pricey, as I'm sure you know. If you know what subject matter you want to concentrate on, then decide on a focal length to suit and always buy the best you can afford.
03-18-2011, 01:35 AM   #3
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Limited are very good optically, light and compact, always built in metal ... but more expensive than other prime.

To start with primes, a 28mm or 35mm is a good choice. they give "field of view" (i don't know if it's the right expression.) close to human vision. f2.8 or f2.4 are most of time enought to take photo in all conditions.
They are cheap, and very good optically. If you can, choose primes with "SMC" (Super Multi Coated), you will have less CA (chromatic aberration) or purple frange.

with the 28mm focusing well isn't hard at all. The DOF (depth of field) is a bit wide, so you cannot fail
03-18-2011, 01:35 AM   #4
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Older primes are manual focus. That's the major drawback for somebody. Focusing these primes are not difficult but do require some training.

On the other hand, the 'correct' primes do have specific uses that do not exist for auto focus counter part, like 50mm f1.2, 28mm shift, and more. They are also designed for full frame camera, if pentax ever produce one.

Old primes are smaller in size. Regarding auto focus, the camera does need some light to perform auto focus. In low light condition, auto focus is practically useless. In this case, old primes often offer superior image quality.

I won't say they are cheap, but they may be cheaper, and have their uses. They still cost a lot, and some of them very difficult to find. The one who has them keep them.

Which focal length to get? Depends on your use. You ll find your need.

03-18-2011, 01:49 AM   #5
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Thanks for the insight. Auto focus is not a big deal to me as I learned how to shoot in high school and college on an old SLR that didn't have it. Actually like the control of manual focus.
03-18-2011, 02:29 AM - 1 Like   #6
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Ask yourself: What do I want to do that I can't do with what I have?

One way to look at it is, coverage. Consider that the 'normal' focal length for your camera is 30mm. You have focal lengths from 18-200mm covered -- that's fairly wide to pretty long. You can shoot whatever you like in that range. Then you can run a program that looks at the EXIF data from your images, and plots which focal lengths you actually used. If you see clusters around certain numbers, THOSE are where you should think of buying prime lenses.

Another viewpoint: lens speed. Your zooms are not especially 'fast' -- their maximum apertures aren't real large. There are good reasons to have one or more lenses that open to f/2 or f/1.7 or f/1.4. You can shoot faster-moving subjects, and/or in less light, and/or with artistic effects. I like prime lenses that are considerably faster than my zooms at critical focal lengths.

Note on aperture: An f-stop is a fraction, the ratio of the maximum opening to the focal length. So f/2 is a larger aperture than f/4, just as 1/2 is a bigger number than 1/4.

Another consideration: shoot what? If you want to shoot close-up or macro subjects, or more-or-less distant moving subjects, or subjects in cramped spaces, or perfectly undistorted highly-detailed 'scapes, specialized lenses are available. I bought my first dSLR specifically because of the lenses available, that could work in my areas of interest: ultrawide, quite long, low light, and macro.

I buy and sell used lenses online. I'm retired with no discretionary income, so to buy stuff, I must first sell stuff. So I buy odd lots of photo gear, pick out goodies, sell the rest bit-by-bit, and make enough profit to buy more lenses. I'm up to around 200 in under 3 years, heh heh. (That number will drop by a dozen or two as I sell off the next batch.) What I keep are mostly old manual primes. My average cost: under US$20 each. As my time is worthless, I can spend much of it searching for deals, and I've been able to buy many fine lenses for a fraction of their going prices. All that's needed are patience, research, experience, and low risk tolerance.

This has put many lenses into my hands to try out, to see if I like them. And I've put together a basic kit, some which I'm most likely to have in my carry bag on any day: 3 AF zooms and a few MF (manual focus) primes. I'll select from some (not all at once!!) of these:

Zooms: 10-17 fisheye, 10-24 ultrawide, 18-250 superzoom -- all were new, not cheap
Primes: 16/2.8, 24/2, 28/2, 35/2, 50/1.4, 58/2. 85/2, 135/2.5 -- mostly used and cheap
Specials: a macro setup; a 500mm tele; some with 'character' -- again, used and cheap

This kit matches my personal style, with glass I've found useful for specific needs. Your kit may become similar, or quite different, depending on what and how you shoot. Much of my kit is opportunist -- I found a good deal in a common (or weird) niche and grabbed it, rather than planning for some specific use. Some people map-out a purchase path -- GOTTA HAVE THE 15+31+55+77+100, ON SCHEDULE! I just try everything and see what works. I tell myself I'll sell the rest. Eventually. Right.

Anyway, those are some ideas about lens selection. Hay, it's only money. Good luck!

Last edited by RioRico; 03-20-2011 at 12:31 AM.
03-18-2011, 03:31 AM - 1 Like   #7
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If you're looking for value for money, and don't mind manual focus, then you won't do better than to seek out a couple of primes from the '70s and 80's (I'd avoid the zooms, they mostly inferior in image quality, are big and heavy and generally won't benefit from as much SR).

Lenses of that era were of course designed for the "35mm" film SLRs, and the focal lengths available reflected both this and what was cost-effective to manufacture at that time. Wide-angle lenses were difficult to make, with 24/28mm being the bottom limit for affordable lenses. Telephotos were much easier, and you'll find no end of good-quality 135mm lenses for little money; 200mm lenses, whilst fairly easy to design, came out rather big and bulky, so were made in smaller numbers. And of course, the 50/55mm was the ubiquitous standard kit lens - you'll find most of these offer very sharp images (though do avoid the Pentax M or A 50mm f2).

So, for the purpose of finding out what vintage lenses have to offer, you'll find lots of very decent 28mm, 50mm and 135mm examples available cheaply.

On a modern DSLR, of course, these focal lengths result in a much more closely-cropped image, so the 28mm provides a "normal" field of view, the 50mm a mild telephoto (but very useful for portraits, if you can put up with the manual focusing), and the 135mm a decent telephoto.

More specifically, I'd look out for Vivitar 28's, and Pentax/Takumar 50/55's and 135's. The Takumars are M42 screw-fit, of course, and will need an adapter - no great problem if you choose the genuine Pentax version, but they're not as cheap as some.

Be aware that there is such a lens as the Takumar (Bayonet) 135/2.5 - this is often sold for far too much money, when in reality it should be the cheapest of all Takumar/Pentax 135's. Also, as I said above, avoid the Pentax 50/2 - it's markedly worse than any other Pentax 50/55.
03-18-2011, 04:26 AM - 1 Like   #8
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Hi Kathie

I'll echo several other posters and ask "what do you want to shoot?" Fortunately there is a tool that can help you answer that question. "Exposure Plot" is a freeware program that looks at your photographs and sorts them as to focal length, f/stop and several other parameters. Say for instance you're not sure if you like to shoot mostly wide angle or "normal" focal lengths. Exposure Plot will look at your photos and give you a bar graph of how many photos were shot in each focal lenght. Very handy tool, and it's free! You can find info here I'm sure it will help you narrow your choices.
You might want to add KEH, and Adorama to your list of used sources. KEH is a very well known used photo equipment site, their prices are slightly high, but their rating system is very good, what they will call "bargain" many on eek bay would call "excellent condition!!!" Even better they have a 14 day "no questions asked" return policy. Adorama also has a big used equipment department. They frequently have relatively rare lenses, I got my FA 20mm f2.8 there for a pretty good price.
Finally a few lens choices: I own (owned) all the lenses below so I can recommend them from personal experience. I own other primes but these are some of the more inexpensive ones.

Pentax "K" 300mm F4.0. Good lens, pretty sharp, moderately fast for 300mm, light enough to hand hold (but not for all day) It's biggest fault is the lack of a tripod mount for it.
Pentax "K" 135mm F2.5 One of my most favoritest lenses. Sharp, sharp, sharp, good bokeh, excellent ergonomics (light enough to shoot with all day) takes only a 58mm filter which is small considering the focal length and aperture.
Pentax "A" 50mm F1.2 Very fast, excellent sharpness, and excellent bokeh, pricey
Pentax "A" 50mm F1.7 Fast, pretty sharp corner to corner (after comparing it to my FA 50mm F1.4 I sold the F1.4) good bokeh. Not as fancy as the A F1.2 but a LOT cheaper.

Plus there are literlly thousands of m42 screwmount lenses available, check out the "Takumar" club in the lens club forum.

NaCl(primes are much much fun)H2O

03-18-2011, 04:31 AM   #9
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And if you decide to go the Craigslist route to buy your first prime, this forum article is a must read.

03-19-2011, 09:45 PM   #10
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I went the same route as you and bought both of the kit zooms. My next two lenses were primes, one a manual focus and the other the newest 35mm prime which is budget priced. They are both excellent and I highly recommend them. I got my M 50mm f/1.7 for $25 on ebay and the 35mm f/2.4 is just over $200 almost anywhere and is my new favorite. I plan on getting the 15mm limited next, but I would recommend the 35mm to you for now, it's a great focal length for me to learn with and more practical for everyday photos than 50mm in my opinion.


Check out this review of the 35mm I was referring to:
03-19-2011, 10:37 PM   #11
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When I bought my K-5, I had my 18-135mm WR ordered but it did not arrive until 3 weeks after the body & grip! So I bought a used FA 43mm Ltd from the shop owners father (and former shop owner). Having already done lots of research on which lenses I was hoping for, the 43 was not my first choice, I would have preferred the FA 31mm Ltd, But the price and mint condition of the 43mm I couldn't say no! Now for most of my shooting I am gauging for my next lens, Do I usually end up moving in close to recompose, or do I back off.. that will give you an idea of what you need. But since you have zooms ranging 18-200, you could check your EXIF data's and see find your favorite shots and start compiling a list of the focal lengths.. the ones you use most should be top on your list. FA LTD's are really nice, DA LTD's are nice too and a bit lower priced with more variety. Of course there are many other primes other than the Limited lenses, but for great IQ they sure are hard to beat.
03-19-2011, 11:42 PM   #12
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My take IMHO

I have quite a few MF lens (T/K/M/A/F/FA). If flash is a possibility, you have to go at least with A. K/M are similar and M tends to be relatively smaller. T/K/M do not support automatic aperture. You have to use the green button to use M to shoot. Good for me, but may not work for everyone.

That being said, it is nice to start with things that are affordable.

I would start with 50f1.7 which are abundantly available in M/A/F. $40-$200 each. 50f2 is even more affordable.

I would then try Samyang 14 f2.8 and 85 f1.4 (or variants). Both similar to A and do not support AF. Very affordable and very good quality. $200-$250 each.

Then I would try K 135 f2.5 which is not cheap by any means but high quality and quite portable. <$200 for a good copy and much more for almost new ones.

Finally, I would try 28 f2.8, cheapest short. It is available in M/A/F/FA. $60-$250 each.

Alternatively, DAL35f2.4 or K 24f2.8 is also more widely available. They tend to be a bit more pricey.

With respect to Macro, you have to go prime. 50f4 and 100f4 might be the most affordable. But they are pretty specialized. 50f2.8 provides highest resolutions. I would go with Sigma 100EX which is very good and AFs. Kiron 105 is an older macro. Very well built but getting pricey.

Limited tend to be more expensive than mentioned above. I love primes that have f2 or larger. Otherwise, the advantage of primes is less apparent than that of zooms.

Last edited by yyyzzz; 03-19-2011 at 11:48 PM.

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