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04-25-2012, 07:33 AM   #1
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Worth "replacing" 55-300 w/ M 200 or M 300 lens

I mostly shoot landscapes, and I have been playing quite a bit with a few old M lenses I have (a 50 1.7 and a 135 2.8). I've been enjoying them quite a bit.

With a vacation coming up soon where landscapes will the primary function (i.e. lack of automatic focus won't be an issue), I'm considering purchasing an old M-200 or 300 lens (I think both are f4) due to their relative affordability and high availability and leave the 55-300 zoom at home; I have a 50 and 135 plus wider prime to cover the lower end of the zoom where needed.

Never-the-less, I am mostly asking whether those with experience think there is enough improvement with one of those two manual primes to justify taking one of those as opposed to the zoom? I know they are relatively cheap, but this is a case of LBA, and I am not sure if those of you that may have one of those primes and the zoom would go about this.

I find the 55-300 reasonably sharp, but if the 200 or 300 is significantly sharper, I might go with one. I'm leaning towards the 300 just because that is where the 55-300 is weakest. I also figure with the quality of the K5 and the high MP, I could crop a nice image with the 135 towards a 200 field of view relatively easily.

The biggest negative I can see is probably the extra weight in having essentially 3 lenses where I would have had 1, but I am considering using two other primes to replace two other zooms and the 50 mm would cover the overlap between two of the zooms... i.e. I'd only be travelling with four lenses instead of 3.

I know this is a decision that I'll ultimately have to make, but any feedback would be welcome. I probably wouldn't consider this at all but given that these lenses are around $100, it's tempting, yet I don't want to buy a lens just to buy a lens (i.e. I want to justify my LBA).

04-25-2012, 07:54 AM   #2
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I had a SMC Pentax M 200mm f4 "Back in the day" and it was good, but just GOOD. It always had a little less contrast and a little less sharpness than my shorter focal length Pentax lenses, and I think the telephotos of those days by almost all makers were never expected to be stellar performers. I have not had one to try on a digital sensor, but DID try an older Super Takumar 200mm f5.6 which was a fair performer but not enough to stop me selling it on. It has rave reviews in the review section on here but I didn't find the excellence others did.

THESE FULL FRAME METAL LENSES ARE HEAVY BY TODAYS STANDARDS!

I have not tried a Takumar or Pentax 300mm f4, so check out the weight, and add the same amount to your camera bag and carry it around a couple of hours!!

I HAVE used a USSR TAIR 300mm lens... heavy as lead, reasonable images but again not a keeper.

At the longer focal lengths, heat haze shimmer, atmospheric haze, camera shake, and all sorts of issues start having a bearing. I think if you're going to those focal lengths you will eventually find that only the best modern expensive glass really is the answer.

I have owned and used a 55-300 which was very good value and performer from say 55-250, but disappointing above 250mm so I agree with you there.
04-25-2012, 08:27 AM   #3
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Well, I currently have the M* 300mm f4. I had the 55-300mm for a short bit. The M* is sharper than the 55-300...but quite honestly, for landscape work (ie going to be stepped down) I don't know how much difference you would see. If you were going to be using both wide open, then there is no contest.
The 55-300 is a lot smaller, which is always nice for travel purposes.

Also, the M*300mm isnt a cheap option, they go from $450-600. The M 200mm on the other hand is a lot cheaper, but don't know much about them.
04-25-2012, 08:36 AM   #4
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Thanks for the response. That is kind of what I wanted to know. If I could afford to jump on a modern day 300 mm (or even 200 mm) lens I would, but I can't. I do see from the lens reviews and postings here that there isn't necessarily much of an improvement although that 300mm is tempting. It does way about twice as much as the 55-300, but I'm not terribly concerned as they are both lighter than some of the alternatives.

I actually do like the 55-300, but I sometimes feel disappointed (not often) at that 300 mm end, and I do enjoy being able to manually focus. That 55-300 is not very practical for manual focus; the throw is just too short.

04-25-2012, 08:44 AM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by emalvick Quote
Thanks for the response. That is kind of what I wanted to know. If I could afford to jump on a modern day 300 mm (or even 200 mm) lens I would, but I can't. I do see from the lens reviews and postings here that there isn't necessarily much of an improvement although that 300mm is tempting. It does way about twice as much as the 55-300, but I'm not terribly concerned as they are both lighter than some of the alternatives.

I actually do like the 55-300, but I sometimes feel disappointed (not often) at that 300 mm end, and I do enjoy being able to manually focus. That 55-300 is not very practical for manual focus; the throw is just too short.
I hear ya...I am not trying to steer you one way or another, in fact I just created this thread praising the M*.

https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-slr-lens-discussion/183043-m-300mm...rite-lens.html

That thread also shows some sample shots I just took.

What camera are you using?
04-25-2012, 08:55 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by emalvick Quote
I actually do like the 55-300, but I sometimes feel disappointed (not often) at that 300 mm end, and I do enjoy being able to manually focus. That 55-300 is not very practical for manual focus; the throw is just too short.
I use a K300/4 and aside from the additional speed., which accounts for the weight, it is quite sharp, although suffers slightly from lateral CA in the OOF regions. Focus throw, at 270 degrees means it is very accurate, compared to your 55-300. The down side of this lens, or any other externally focused lens is the limited close focus distance (the 300/4 is about 13 feet from memory)

I use the SMC-F 1.7x AF converter with this lens to reach out to 500mm with excellent results.

A couple of side notes,
-first although this lens is heavy, in relitive terms compared to your lens, it weighs about the same as the DA300/4 and after all, that big 77mm front element drives the weight. Dont let people mislead you that ASP-C lenses are lighter because of the reduced coverage on the sensor, the lens mount defines the rear diameter and the lens speed defines the front. neither of these has changed.
- newer lenses like the DA 300 have better control of lateral CA in the out of focus regions,
- an A300/4 would be preferred because it supports all current auto exposure modes and P-TTL flash
04-25-2012, 09:02 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by cali92rs Quote
Well, I currently have the M* 300mm f4. I had the 55-300mm for a short bit. The M* is sharper than the 55-300...but quite honestly, for landscape work (ie going to be stepped down) I don't know how much difference you would see. If you were going to be using both wide open, then there is no contest.
The 55-300 is a lot smaller, which is always nice for travel purposes.

Also, the M*300mm isnt a cheap option, they go from $450-600. The M 200mm on the other hand is a lot cheaper, but don't know much about them.
Actually, I found the M300 can be had for less than $300, which makes it quite tempting. The size thing, maybe not so much.

The thing that is tempting with the 300 f4 is that wide open it is 1 stop faster than the 55-300, if I am remembering right. I also think you hit on something in that wide open that 300 f4 maybe better than the 55-300 wide open. The couple that with the assumption that the 300 at f5.6 should be a lot better than the 55-300 at f5.6 (still wide open).

What I really need to do is go back through my photo collection as of the last 5+ years and self-evaluate how sharp my best photos at 300 mm are.

Aside: I originally had a Tamron 70-300 (kind of the original "kit" zoom before the 55-300). I hated the thing. It was good for photos near its close focus, and it was great at its "macro" ranges (not really macro). But, it was horrible beyond 250 mm for landscape type shots or bird shots. After one disappointing birding experience I went with the 55-300. It has really been fantastic at the long end for most those shots when I can get it focused. The problem I have is that the auto-focus is difficult and the manual focus more difficult. At the same time, I find that my patience probably means more to my image quality than the lens and camera. Manual lenses have been teaching me to be patient again without much effort on my part. I'm actually enjoying photography more with my M and A lenses.

The only negative I can see with a 300 mm lens is the weight, but it may be worth it. The other negative is that I really don't take a ton of photos at 300 mm in the grand scheme of things. Most of my photos are around 17 mm, 35 mm, and 50 mm. Usually, when I go beyond 50 mm it is straight to 300 mm or slightly less.

The 200 mm was something I was looking into because 1) the lens is generally cheaper (at the expense of performance it seems), 2) it weighs less, and 3) with the K5, I could easily crop an image to an equivalent 300 mm image if needed... But, at 200 mm the 55-300 seems to be roughly equal in performance. Ultimately, I may just save myself some money and stick with what I have until I can afford a newer high quality 300 mm. I also keep my eyes on some older 400 or 500 mm glass for birding, but that becomes too much of a niche thing to justify at the moment and outside this thread.
04-25-2012, 03:13 PM   #8
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I've got a K200 F4, an M200 F4 and a 55-300. There is nothing to choose between the M and K versions: both excellent lenses. I think the resolution and IQ of the 55-300 beats both.

04-25-2012, 09:35 PM   #9
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The thing that stopped me from considering the M*300 is the min focus distance. I also do a lot of landscapes but I'm interested in a 300mm lens for butterflies and birds. I don't need macro but the 4m (IIRC) is too far with not enough magnification. Unfortunately the DA*200/300 are a little too expensive right now considering I'm buying so many other lenses. Arghhh...
04-25-2012, 10:47 PM   #10
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Some years ago, I also went a bit down this road of replacing the kit zooms with old K/M lenses. For the long end, I tried the K200/4 - I think the optical design is unchanged in the M200/4. I shot a resolution target on a tripod and the K200 was slightly sharper, but not by as much as I expected. And when I shot real scenes, the DA 50-200 shots were looking better because the DA lens had much nicer color contrast - in these real scene shots I couldn't see any advantages for the K200. The K was also large and would not fit my bag, because it was one piece - it didn't collapse like the DA. So I sold it as I sold the other K/M lenses I got, except one.

Funnily, I just wrote about this experience yesterday here. And you can find 100% crops from the resolution target shots here: center, off-center left, off-center left and right (different area crop). The K is slightly sharper off-center, but has more CA. You can also see why the only lens I kept is the M40 - it had the nicest performance of all the lenses I tested. Oh, here is another crop from my Tokina 500 mirror lens - center and off-center left - not bad at all. These crops are in my Misc album - I have a few more 100% crops from the Tokina there, if you are interested.
04-25-2012, 11:31 PM   #11
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if I was going to replace the 55-300, that would be with a stellar performer. for me, it's not worth the trouble of replacing the 55-300 with only with marginally better performing lens. investing in a stellar lens is usually investing some considerable cash.
04-26-2012, 07:22 AM   #12
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I have 55-300 and A*300/4. About month ago I was about to go two week trip and debated which one I should take and which one leave home. The 300/4 cannot replace the 55-300 but 55-300 can somewhat replace the 300/4 IMHO. The key words for vacation for me were versatility, light weight and small size without sacrificing too much image quality. 55-300 can do portraits, wildlife, macro and landscapes with good quality in smallish and light weight package. Autofocus and being a zoom makes things much easier than swapping lenses all the time. That said, it really depends on your shooting style; if you love to shoot with primes then why not try it, 100$ doesn't sound too much for a lens. But I would take 55-300 and leave 300/4 home (unless it's DA* 300/4 Even though the A*300/4 is sharper than 55-300 @300, the difference is not THAT big IMO.
04-26-2012, 07:36 AM   #13
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Well for what it's worth I rarely take photos over 50 mm, which is why I was considering what I was. I like having the 55-300 to cover those instances that I want to shoot out over 50 mm, and given the nice responses here, I'll probably just stick with it. I wasn't really going to replace the lens permanently. Rather, I was just going to leave it home for the trip, but I see now (and looking at some examples throughout the forums) that there isn't a lot to gain by going to a prime in that range.

I may be better off, if anything, just taking the 135 mm with me, but then I'm not even sure about that being long enough. At least the 55-300 will give me some flexibility.

I think what I've been liking about my shorter primes lately, especially my M50 1.7, is that I am thinking more about my photos and compositions. It has fostered a bit of creativity in me that is making photography more fun. It is also making me enjoy the scenery. That's not as big of a deal on vacations, but around home it helps quite a bit. It makes me appreciate where I live way more than I ever have and to see things like I never have. Photography (and hiking) are a great way to become one with your environment... sorry for the philosophical digression. Thanks for all the suggestions. I still might buy one of those lenses, but I won't rush to it. They may be more fun for home. I may even look more into getting something more like a 400 instead or save up for the DA200 or 300. That might take some work with the wife to get that within reach.
04-26-2012, 07:57 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by emalvick Quote
I think what I've been liking about my shorter primes lately, especially my M50 1.7, is that I am thinking more about my photos and compositions. It has fostered a bit of creativity in me that is making photography more fun. It is also making me enjoy the scenery. That's not as big of a deal on vacations, but around home it helps quite a bit. It makes me appreciate where I live way more than I ever have and to see things like I never have. Photography (and hiking) are a great way to become one with your environment...
This I completely agree with, especially the last sentence. Photography really helps to see things differently, to pay attention to even the smallest things, which would be otherwise easily ignored. In today's hectic world it gives a moment of peace and chance to really see where we live in.
04-26-2012, 09:29 AM   #15
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You can just pick a sharp prime lens and use it for all shots. When you need reach, sharpness can allow you to crop. When you need wider perspectives, you can stitch multiple shots. One lens to rule them all
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