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03-26-2012, 07:50 AM   #1
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Who really designed the 18-135mm?

So I've recently seen some of the "leaked" photos of a new Sony Alpha-mount 18-135mm lens, and it looks very, very familiar. If the specs and images are correct, it has the "rear focus ring," non-screwdrive "SAM" (DC?) motor, and same filter size, number of elements, etc. as the Pentax DA 18-135mm. Obviously, looking at the photos below, the Sony has a zoom lock and an MF/AF switch (whereas the Pentax has the "quick-shift" clutch), but this makes me wonder... WHO really designs & makes all these lenses?






And just to stir the pot a bit more, Nikon has also been selling a very similar lens (different # of elements from the DA 18-135, though) for a while:



My guess is that these all come from Tokina, maybe based on their older 16.5-135mm design. We all know that lens designs are commodities, and that Pentax both licenses other companies' designs and rebadges their own lenses liberally (see the Samsung GX range, and things like the Tokina 12-24mm f/4). Really, the DA 18-135mm design and mechanics are so... different... from other Pentax DA lenses (rear focus ring, the new "DC" motor), that I started wondering about this when it first came out.

The reality is that there are only so many ways to make a good lens (both optically competent and cost-effective to produce) and this is expensive R&D to do, so they are quickly patented, but we as consumers are constantly crying out for "more choices" and improved models of lenses. Not to mention the odd but commonly-held belief that the number of lenses offered by your camera brand (the "system") determines how "good" your choice of camera is. (If you ever want to read some serious complaining, look in the "lens roadmap" threads!) DSLR lenses are also a good long-term revenue generator for the camera manufacturers.

So what's my point?
Pentax has long been known as one of the better lens designers and manufacturers, but by necessity it seems some of their lenses aren't "Pentax" at all, and perhaps worse, some of their really unique designs are sub-licensed and end up cheaper for other mounts (the 10-17 fisheye, the DA 35 macro, and the 50-135 stand out here). Would you, personally, prefer to wait longer for new lenses in order to get more of the ones that Pentax is well-known for designing (the FA and DA Limiteds and "iconoclasts" like the upcoming 560mm f/5.6) or prefer the broader choice of having the same lenses everyone else has (like the 18-250 and maybe the 18-135 now) but paying higher prices for them with the Pentax SMC and labels?


Last edited by panoguy; 03-26-2012 at 08:00 AM.
03-26-2012, 07:55 AM   #2
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As controversial as the DA 18-135 has become,
it would be nice to be able to blame someone other than Pentax for it!
03-26-2012, 07:59 AM   #3
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the 12-24, 16-50 and 100mm macro also share the same lens formula with tokina.
It's not a matter of waiting longer but more off a price issue.
I really don't mind they buy designs for their "budget" lenses to keep the price down but for the DA* series they should use their own design.

ps. the DA35 limited is also tokina design.
03-26-2012, 08:04 AM   #4
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Are the Nikon and Sony versions weatherproof too? I see some orange at the back of that Sony...

Is that why we don't get that lovely DC motor on any of our other lenses ?

03-26-2012, 08:21 AM   #5
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and sony gets a zoom creep lock?
03-26-2012, 09:15 AM   #6
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Hmmmm... maybe when Pentax fired their design team, they actually didn't hire any one to take their place. You'd think Hoya being a lens company would want to design their own glass, but who knows? Maybe their vision was to turn Pentax into the K-tel of cameras, and just rebrand other's product. Thank god for Ricoh.
03-26-2012, 09:20 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by JinDesu Quote
Is that why we don't get that lovely DC motor on any of our other lenses ?
Pentax has said to be using the DC for the DA range of lenses DA* will be keeping the SDM.
SDM should be more powerful then the DC in theory.
03-26-2012, 09:22 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Anvh Quote
ps. the DA35 limited is also tokina design.
This is one of those "grey areas" (proof who designed it) since many of these same lenses were sold by Pentax before they appeared as Tokinas in Canikon mounts. A valid assumption would be that if Pentax licensed their own design to Tokina, Pentax would get theirs into production first, and if Tokina designed a really good lens they would quickly sell it in the most profitable mounts (Canikon) to get their R&D investment back. I can't imagine any licensing deals that involve "sitting" on an already designed and prototyped lens to allow a single customer to get theirs out first... unless you lacked the funds (ahem, Pentax pre-Hoya) to produce it.

Which introduces another question: these lenses are like cars to some degree - parts are pretty standard, but the end product is frequently defined by how they're put together. We know the lens elements mainly come from very few suppliers (like Hoya), and the optical formulas themselves don't guarantee a stellar lens (look at how many Tessar-type lenses there are). My guess is that most of the R&D costs come from the testing of the optical design and prototyping of the physical lens, and finally the "engineering for mass-production" of the mechanics that determine how the whole lens will function (zoom, focus, electronics, features like "quick-shift," and weather sealing) and be manufactured while keeping that optical quality. These would all be things to license if you need to fill a gap in your lens lineup. Hmm...

My head's spinning a bit, and I may be off-base in my assumptions, since my professional experience in these kinds of factors is only in the automotive design world. In any case, I think Pentax is still defined more by its "unique" and high-performing lenses than anything else. Of course, every maker has some really good lenses, but I think Sony (camera division) is defined by its technology, Nikon by its history (and AF), and Canon by its overwhelming (and frankly confusing) "imaging ecosystem."


Last edited by panoguy; 03-26-2012 at 09:54 AM.
03-26-2012, 07:41 PM   #9
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Surely an 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 lens will look much the same on the outside even if designed by different sources? Just like all 50mm f1.8s look alike, all kit lenses look roughly alike etc.

Last edited by MrCynical; 03-26-2012 at 07:47 PM.
03-26-2012, 08:00 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by MrCynical Quote
Surely an 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 lens will look much the same on the outside even if designed by different sources? Just like all 50mm f1.8s look alike, all kit lenses look roughly alike etc.
Some elements might be the same but there certainly can be variation with the design.
Sigma & pentax 18-250 for example
kmp.bdimitrov.de/lenses/zooms/_optics/18-250f3.5-6.3.jpg
www.sigmaphoto.com/client/images/products/880-lens-construction.gif
03-26-2012, 08:00 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by MrCynical Quote
Surely an 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 lens will look much the same on the outside even if designed by different sources?
But then, why would they all suddenly put the focus ring closer to the camera than the zoom ring?
03-26-2012, 08:24 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Anvh Quote
the 12-24, 16-50 and 100mm macro also share the same lens formula with tokina.
It's not a matter of waiting longer but more off a price issue.
I really don't mind they buy designs for their "budget" lenses to keep the price down but for the DA* series they should use their own design.
My understanding is that of these lenses (and the 10-17 and 35 macro as well), only the 12-24 is originally designed by Tokina: all the others are Pentax designs licensed to Tokina. Pentax licensed the 12-24 around the time they were switching to APS-C digital and needed to come out with a whole new set of lenses really fast. They especially needed to cover the wide end, because of the reduced size of the APS-C sensor compared to 35mm film. So they licensed the 12-24 and made their own version of the Tamron 18-250. But the DA 18-250 is no longer in production (partially replaced by the 18-135 and by the upcoming ~18-200). There is also a DA ~12-30 on the lens roadmap which might be replacing the 12-24. So we may be able to look forward to an all Pentax designed lineup.

I think it's unlikely that the 18-135 is designed by Tokina or is based on that companies 16.5-135mm.

QuoteOriginally posted by panoguy Quote
Would you, personally, prefer to wait longer for new lenses in order to get more of the ones that Pentax is well-known for designing (the FA and DA Limiteds and "iconoclasts" like the upcoming 560mm f/5.6) or prefer the broader choice of having the same lenses everyone else has (like the 18-250 and maybe the 18-135 now) but paying higher prices for them with the Pentax SMC and labels?
I personally have absolutely no interest in the superzooms, as they involve too many optical compromises for my tastes (and Pentax has demonstrated no special talent for making such glass). But many people like these types of lenses and they are necessary to have in a competitive system.
03-27-2012, 09:43 AM   #13
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Thanks for the info, i didn't know that so for once i wrote it down correctly =]
The tamron 18-250 isn't in production either i believe, it's replaced with the 18-270 so maybe that's the reason?
03-27-2012, 07:11 PM   #14
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A bit off topic, but speaking of the Tamron 18-250 and the Tamron 18-270, why isn't there a version of the 18-270 in Pentax mount?
03-28-2012, 06:03 AM   #15
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its.. the lens Illuminati! :O
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