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05-23-2011, 02:21 AM   #1
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Old lens vs the new DAs

All, Just wanted to know your opinion on this. Are the old prime lenses (starting M42, M, A to F and FA etc.,) superior in quality to the new prime lenses (DA family).
I am asking this seeing the undying demand for those oldies, I would have thought otherwise because generally as technology advances the quality also might have improved thus the new DAs to be more superior.

Or is the demand prevailing contributed by the fact that the old lenses are more affordable?

05-23-2011, 02:32 AM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by sany Quote
Or is the demand prevailing contributed by the fact that the old lenses are more affordable?
That's pretty much it.

Some slightly older lenses have either identical or very similar optical formulae to the newer ones (i.e., FA* 200 f/2.8 and DA* 200 f/2.8). In those cases, the price isn't much different. Sometimes, the difference is in the coatings, focusing mechanism and weather sealing. The newer lenses tend to have aspherical elements (to achieve a flat field and improve corner sharpness in wide angle lenses) and low dispersion glass elements (to decrease chromatic aberration in telephoto lenses).
05-23-2011, 03:04 AM   #3
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I roughly break down my ~210 lenses into AF's (10) and MF's (the rest). On average, newer AF's cost me US$330 each; older MF's cost me US$20 each. A US$310 difference per lens is rather noticeable, eh? (I've sold another 110 lenses, to help pay for the keepers.) So yes, cost is a factor.

Newer lens designs may also be very corrected. Older less-corrected lenses may have very different flavours, characters, idiosyncracies. My mantra here is: "Use AF zooms to take pictures. Use MF primes to make pictures." Not the camera's tiny 'bot brain, but YOU, get to decide what is or isn't in good focus and exposure, what is or isn't highlighted, dimensional, sharp/blurry, etc. And MANUAL isn't just about controlling focus, but also aperture and exposure and all those fun settings you have available. The camera can figure out how to take a decent exposure; YOU get to contemplate on how to make a GREAT picture.

All lenses made before 40 years ago were manual-focus. So were most lenses before 20 years ago. Somehow, in the pre-AF days, great pictures were shot. How?
05-23-2011, 04:05 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by RioRico Quote

All lenses made before 40 years ago were manual-focus. So were most lenses before 20 years ago. Somehow, in the pre-AF days, great pictures were shot. How?
Edward Steichen & Ansel Adams were known to frequently complain about their inability to take a decent shot without some sort of automation being invented to assist them. Just imagine the pictures they could have created if they only had access to an 18-250 auto-zoom setup w/auto white balance..... it boggles the mind.

05-23-2011, 04:43 AM   #5
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I find most old primes (the ones known to be good) optically better than most zooms (including zooms known to be very good). However, the limiteds are definitely better than the vast majority of old primes--there is a kind of unique quality about the ltds.which makes pics look gorgeous (and I don't know whether other brands produce anything like them). This being said, the generally lower cost of most old primes makes it worth exploring those old lenses, which, as RioRico said, are full of character. And I think they fare very well compared to non-ltd modern lenses. For instance, the K 35mm 3.5 is superlatively sharp--I would not exchange one for a DA L 35mm 2.4. I find even my Tak 35mm 3.5 to be a wonderful lens. There's a cohort of excellent old fifties, a legion of very good old 135mm, a fairly large number of very good old 28mm, etc. (By "old" I mean "old, manual.")

Last edited by causey; 05-23-2011 at 07:12 AM.
05-23-2011, 04:46 AM   #6
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I think that the classic old lenses have very nice builds. Of course, IMO, so do the DA limiteds. I think you could find areas where modern coatings have improved on those from the past, but certainly in the majority of situations, you wouldn't see much difference.

There are two areas where older lenses beat modern lenses hands down. First of all, is the presence of an aperture ring. This isn't a big deal most of the time, but certainly if you want to use macro extension tubes, it can be a big deal. The other thing is that most of them are much better at manual focusing. They just have nice focus throws and nicely designed focus rings. Auto focus lenses, even if they have nice focus rings just aren't the same.
05-23-2011, 05:27 AM   #7
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Pretty much all above is true but (unfortunately) there is one more factor. Older lenses are often used to plug holes in current line up.
F.e. If you want spectacular long macro, you have to look at A* or FA*. If you want affordable 50, until recently if you wanted affordable normal you had to seek out old 28mm lenses, if you want affordable tele prime, if you want 85mm of any sort (or 135 FOV equivalent), if you want 200mm prime FOV equivalent, if you want ultra fast lenses (50/1.2, 85/1.4, 135/1.8, 300/2.8) and so on...

Current line is good but has still too many holes IMO. Also, at the moment Pentax seems to try to appeal to very broad range of requirements and thus they have many holes in different line ups.
---
Edit:
+ new is not always the best. For one, I'm still not convinced that current DA*55 is better than 50/1.2. Sometimes the new stuff simply isn't as good as the old stuff produced by humans with rulers and paper as opposed to computers. Many current DA lenses seems to favor sharpness and fewer CAs at the expense of purple fring, harsher OOF, and loss of certain character IMO.
05-23-2011, 08:40 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by sany Quote
Are the old prime lenses (starting M42, M, A to F and FA etc.,) superior in quality to the new prime lenses (DA family).
No way to answer this question in general - you'd have to ask about *specific* lenses. And do check the lens review database on this site first.

Some of the older lenses are still in demand just because they are cheap - that's the only reason most people would buy an M50/1.7 instead of an FA50/1.4 or DA*55/1.4, for example. Others are still in demand because they fill a gap - Pentax currently offers no 28mm, 85mm, or 135mm lenses, and their only 100mm is a macro. Others are still in demand because are they are still amazing lenses (just about anything with "*" or "Limited" in the name that haven't been replaced by anything better.

05-23-2011, 09:55 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by raymeedc Quote
Edward Steichen & Ansel Adams were known to frequently complain about their inability to take a decent shot without some sort of automation being invented to assist them.
Autofocus LF view.cams... what a concept! But not impossible. Laser rangefinder, DOF and movement (tilt-swing-shift) automation -- Dial-A-View and there you have it!

Actually, I've proposed a smaller version of that for a couple years now. With a 6x9cm digital sensor (250mpx+ with current technology) in a folder platform (Teflon bellows) with a solenoid-controlled lensboard (movements) and AF, the lensboard supporting both primes and zooms. No LCD screen; the image is bluetoothed to the shooter's VR goggles. Use onboard controls and/or a TV-type remote. No problem.

But you might say, "Rico! Nobody can build sensors that big! Not yet!" So, don't. Use a matrix of economically-feasible smaller sensors, with onboard warez to stitch the images together. That way, they don't even need to be latest-generation silicon, just arrays of whatever cheap small obsolete sensors are available. Such an approach would easily be scaleable up to 8x14cm, 4x5in, whatever. Digital Ansel, here we come!

Last edited by RioRico; 05-23-2011 at 10:04 AM.
05-23-2011, 11:15 AM   #10
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Here comes the opinion of a real noob. I feel that every line up has a few gems. So your going to need to pic and choose.

As an example from my own experience I have a 50mm 1.7 for the A series. I have had the chance to shoot with the FA 50mm 1.4 and I think the A 1.7 is a nice lens. Better build quality, looks better mounted on my camera and the 1.7 just took nicer pictures for me. (this could obviously be due to using the the 1.7 for as long as I have and only using the FA for a couple of days. So take that bias into account) I have a 43mm on the way and I am expecting it to be a bit better than my 50mm but it is also quite a different lens.

I say have fun and pic and choose, don't discount any lenses due to age. It is part of the fun with shooting on a pentax. There is nothing better than finding some old lens that you connect with and take great pictures with.
05-23-2011, 01:23 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by sany Quote
Are the old prime lenses (starting M42, M, A to F and FA etc.,) superior in quality to the new prime lenses (DA family).
Depends on the lens. You'll be hard pressed to find a DA prime lens that is superior to the K 50/1.2, the A* 135/1.8 or the FA limiteds.

The most noticeable improvements in prime lenses occurred from the M to the A series. Border to border sharpness improved and ED glass was added to the longer telephoto lenses. Since Pentax DSLRs use APS-C sensors, the border to border sharpness improvement is not very significant. ED glass is more important, but only in longer telephotos.

While many people buy the older lenses because of the lower price, many of us continue using them because we have come to prefer them to the DAs. That's not saying that the older glass is better; but rather that it sometimes produces results which some of us prefer. For landscape work, I prefer the color rendition of the older K series glass. The DA prime lenses produce more "realistic" color; but I prefer the look I get from the K glass.
05-23-2011, 02:08 PM   #12
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But note, many if not most of the A lenses are optically identical to the M lenses. Only a few were improved.
05-23-2011, 02:54 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by axl Quote
Pretty much all above is true but (unfortunately) there is one more factor. Older lenses are often used to plug holes in current line up.
F.e. If you want spectacular long macro, you have to look at A* or FA*. If you want affordable 50, until recently if you wanted affordable normal you had to seek out old 28mm lenses, if you want affordable tele prime, if you want 85mm of any sort (or 135 FOV equivalent), if you want 200mm prime FOV equivalent, if you want ultra fast lenses (50/1.2, 85/1.4, 135/1.8, 300/2.8) and so on...

Current line is good but has still too many holes IMO. Also, at the moment Pentax seems to try to appeal to very broad range of requirements and thus they have many holes in different line ups.
---
Edit:
+ new is not always the best. For one, I'm still not convinced that current DA*55 is better than 50/1.2. Sometimes the new stuff simply isn't as good as the old stuff produced by humans with rulers and paper as opposed to computers. Many current DA lenses seems to favor sharpness and fewer CAs at the expense of purple fring, harsher OOF, and loss of certain character IMO.
The k and A 50mm f1.2 lenses are very good lenses the lack a modern "peer" in the Pentax lineup. While I have been tempted to sell my FA 50/1.4 and DA 40mm ltd to get one, it is only sdm and I wouldn't be able to use it on my af film body. I really really am reluctant to add "another" 50 something f1.4 lens to my lineup. It does give me a twitch every one in a while though. I just don't want to let go of that A/1.2.
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