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05-30-2012, 08:12 PM   #1
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Which 85mm soft... K2.2, F2.8 or FA2.8?

It turns out that I have all 3 available locally at between $400-500. All are "mint" condition.

All get a 9.0 on the reviews. Any suggestions? Does the smaller size and 2.2 make the K more attractive even though its manual focus?

Any advice appreciated!

05-31-2012, 01:48 AM - 1 Like   #2
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The K85/2.2 Soft is a doublet lens (2 elements in 1 group), with the same optical formula as the famous Kodak Vest pocket doublet, which is very much in favor in Japan for the delicate soft images it delivers.

I have never used this lens, but the images I have seen on various websites look quite dreamy, in a pleasant way, with a fair amount of chromatic aberrations and blur when shot wide open. While the center of the frame gets sharper as the lens is stopped down, the corners remain somewhat soft. The aperture on this lens is fully manual (what you see in the viewfinder is what you get on the picture), just like an M42 lens, and there is of course no autofocus.

The F and FA 85/2.8 are optically identical (5 elements in 4 groups) and deliver more "polished" images than the K85/2.2, with less chromatic aberrations and better corner sharpness. Both are autofocus lenses, which is a big plus, as focusing a soft focus lens can be tricky. The only differences between the F and FA lenses are mechanical: the F looks and feels like an F lens, with a grey and black finish, while the FA is all black. There are also small differences in the way the aperture works, as described on Bojidar Dimitrov's website:

F 85/2.8 Soft

FA 85/2.8 Soft

On the F lens, the aperture is manual from F/2.8 to F/5.6 (i.e. the image darkens in the viewfinder when you stop down the aperture right to F/5.6) and automatic from F/5.6 to F/22 (meaning the image in the viewfinder stays at F/5.6, even if you set the aperture at F/11, because the diaphragm stays at F/5.6 and closes down to F/11 only for a short while when the picture is actually taken). On the FA lens, the aperture is manual from F2.8 to F4.5 and automatic from F/4.5 to F/22.

You have to be aware that neither lens has an "A" setting on the aperture ring, therefore requiring the use of the green button in manual mode with modern DSLRs when used in the automatic zone (from F/5.6 on the F lens and from F/4.5 on the FA lens). In other words, both lenses behave as M42 lenses when used as soft focus lenses (wider apertures), and as regular K or M lenses, when used as "sharp" lenses (closed down).

I have the FA lens and love the results it provides. As with other soft focus lenses, it requires a bit of learning before getting satisfactory results. In fact it's quite difficult to get the right soft "envelope" without overdoing the effect, considering the soft focus effect varies with the lens aperture (images are very soft at F/2.8 and super sharp at F/11), but also with the contrast of the subject and the lighting. The way the aperture works makes using the lens a bit tricky, and I guess the K85/2.2, being a manual lens, would be much easier to use from this point of view.

Cheers!

Abbazz

Last edited by Abbazz; 05-31-2012 at 02:53 AM.
05-31-2012, 04:05 AM   #3
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The K85 soft works with AV mode as its more or less like a Takumar for the control of the aperture blades. You don't use green button metering as the aperture does not need to be stopped down for metering.
05-31-2012, 04:15 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by selar Quote
The K85 soft works with AV mode as its more or less like a Takumar for the control of the aperture blades. You don't use green button metering as the aperture does not need to be stopped down for metering.
I don't have this lens, but I'm pretty sure that this lens will only work wide open in AV mode like all other K lenses. The aperture won't close and metering is only for the largest aperture.

05-31-2012, 04:28 AM - 1 Like   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by Davidw0815 Quote
I don't have this lens
I own a copy and assure you that it indeed works fine in Av mode. It is not like other K lenses, in that the aperture stays stopped down to whatever you set it to, similar to a Takumar.
05-31-2012, 05:19 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by Abbazz Quote
The K85/2.2 Soft is a doublet lens (2 elements in 1 group), with the same optical formula as the famous Kodak Vest pocket doublet, which is very much in favor in Japan for the delicate soft images it delivers.

I have never used this lens, but the images I have seen on various websites look quite dreamy, in a pleasant way, with a fair amount of chromatic aberrations and blur when shot wide open. While the center of the frame gets sharper as the lens is stopped down, the corners remain somewhat soft. The aperture on this lens is fully manual (what you see in the viewfinder is what you get on the picture), just like an M42 lens, and there is of course no autofocus.

The F and FA 85/2.8 are optically identical (5 elements in 4 groups) and deliver more "polished" images than the K85/2.2, with less chromatic aberrations and better corner sharpness. Both are autofocus lenses, which is a big plus, as focusing a soft focus lens can be tricky. The only differences between the F and FA lenses are mechanical: the F looks and feels like an F lens, with a grey and black finish, while the FA is all black. There are also small differences in the way the aperture works, as described on Bojidar Dimitrov's website:

F 85/2.8 Soft

FA 85/2.8 Soft

On the F lens, the aperture is manual from F/2.8 to F/5.6 (i.e. the image darkens in the viewfinder when you stop down the aperture right to F/5.6) and automatic from F/5.6 to F/22 (meaning the image in the viewfinder stays at F/5.6, even if you set the aperture at F/11, because the diaphragm stays at F/5.6 and closes down to F/11 only for a short while when the picture is actually taken). On the FA lens, the aperture is manual from F2.8 to F4.5 and automatic from F/4.5 to F/22.

You have to be aware that neither lens has an "A" setting on the aperture ring, therefore requiring the use of the green button in manual mode with modern DSLRs when used in the automatic zone (from F/5.6 on the F lens and from F/4.5 on the FA lens). In other words, both lenses behave as M42 lenses when used as soft focus lenses (wider apertures), and as regular K or M lenses, when used as "sharp" lenses (closed down).

I have the FA lens and love the results it provides. As with other soft focus lenses, it requires a bit of learning before getting satisfactory results. In fact it's quite difficult to get the right soft "envelope" without overdoing the effect, considering the soft focus effect varies with the lens aperture (images are very soft at F/2.8 and super sharp at F/11), but also with the contrast of the subject and the lighting. The way the aperture works makes using the lens a bit tricky, and I guess the K85/2.2, being a manual lens, would be much easier to use from this point of view.

Cheers!

Abbazz
Great response. Thank you so much! Really good information.

I get your point regarding the difficulty of manually focusing a soft lens... I'm wondering if focus peaking (I'll be getting a K-30 or K-3) will help with that?

If you were to do-over and had a focus-peaking body, which way would you lean?
05-31-2012, 05:28 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by selar Quote
The K85 soft works with AV mode as its more or less like a Takumar for the control of the aperture blades. You don't use green button metering as the aperture does not need to be stopped down for metering.
Yes, that's what I meant when I said the aperture was "fully manual" on this lens. As with any M42 or Takumar lens, you use the lens stopped down, which means AV mode works as it should.

The problem is with the F/FA 85/2.8, because they have no "A" setting and they rely on the K bayonet to transmit mechanically the working aperture to the camera. This is an issue with the modern DSLRs, since these cameras are equipped with the infamous "crippled" K bayonet, which is unable to read the aperture from the lens. Therefore, both lenses cannot be used in AV mode -- except at the wider apertures, where they are fully manual, hence functionally equivalent to a Takumar lens.

So, aside from their rather different optical characteristics, these lenses also differ from a usability point of view. The K85/2.2 is very straightforward to use in AV mode, while the F/FA 85/2.8 are somewhat tricky in the way they handle the aperture and not very easy to use with DSLRs. It's also important to note that only the K85/2.2, will allow you to see in the viewfinder the actual amount of softness you will get in your picture at every aperture.

On the other hand, the F/FA 85/2.8 are autofocus lenses, which is a good point: getting the point of sharpest focus by looking at a soft image in the viewfinder is not the easiest thing in the world!

Cheers!

Abbazz
05-31-2012, 05:43 AM   #8
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I would personally buy a normal 85mm & rely on post-processing for soft effect

05-31-2012, 06:18 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Unsinkable II Quote
I get your point regarding the difficulty of manually focusing a soft lens
Manual focusing is more reliable with soft lenses. The K85 soft manual specifically says not to trust the AF beep. The absence of contrast makes it difficult for an AF system to find focus. Liveview and focus peaking would have the same issues. Better to use MF.
05-31-2012, 06:29 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by yusuf Quote
I would personally buy a normal 85mm & rely on post-processing for soft effect
That's something I read often on photography forums. The results you can get from a real soft focus lens differ from the results from post-processing a picture taken with a "normal" lens. Why do you think there are photographers willing to pays huge amount of money to buy old portrait lenses?

It is possible to fake a soft focus image in Photoshop with little effort, but it would be extremely difficult to mimic the specific quality of the out of focus areas, the distinctive shape of the highlights, the presence of a halo around some subjects, as they are rendered by soft focus lenses. From one lens to another, this rendering varies greatly and this is the reason why some of these lenses reach insane prices, being bought by actual photographers, not collectors!

For those who want to see really great pictures taken with soft focus lenses, I recommend Jim Galli's website, and especially the stunning portraits on this page.

On a more modest level than the beautiful pictures of Jim Galli, here are a few pictures I took with the Pentax FA 85/2.8 that I happen to have online (guaranteed without any photoshopping !):







Cheers!

Abbazz
05-31-2012, 06:33 AM   #11
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The K85 soft produces a glow or halo as Abbazz calls it in harsh lighting that I have found difficult to reproduce as pleasingly in Photoshop:



Last edited by selar; 05-31-2012 at 06:40 AM.
05-31-2012, 07:17 AM   #12
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As Abbazz and Selar have mentioned, it is this magic-like aura around the subject that attracts me so much with these lenses.

I've done a fair bit of research, and the kind respondents on this thread have concisely surpassed it, and anyone with experience of these lenses says that PP doesn't cut it.

There's a difference, and as has been said, these lenses wouldn't cost what they do unless there was one. I've asked! I had hoped an old lens with crappy wide-open performance would have done similar. It seems that the spherical abberation these lenses achieve is well thought through.
05-31-2012, 06:08 PM   #13
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I have the Pentax K 85mm soft focus lens. The pictures it produces are definitely dreamy. The only gripe I have is the smallest the apeture gets is 5.6. Often with portrait work you want to be around f/8, right? I haven't tried to use it with my strobes, but I bet it would also be a little difficult to use because of the relatively large max apeture.
05-31-2012, 07:06 PM - 1 Like   #14
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While I don't have an 85mm soft lens, I do have the FA28 Soft. I believe you've already viewed my comments on this lens, Unsinkable II.

Like others have said, my point is also that a soft lens will do what even the fastest lenses can't. This photo I took on World Pentax Day this year is one of the shots I'm most pleased with. It's not close to my best, and it's far from award-winning, but I'm pleased with it because I envisioned what I wanted the background to do, and the FA28 Soft was the only lens that could do it:



You might guess that's a movie theater in the background, but you wouldn't know for sure. Even wide open the FA31/1.8 or K50/1.2 can't obscure that background like this (I preferred the blown-out lights for this particular shot - still not my idea composition, but I liked the slightly soft bench and fountain with the softer background).

I'm sorry these next two were from a slightly different position, but I checked and the results were still the same when I was at the same position (I just didn't have enough memory card space left to keep those examples).

The FA31 @ f/1.8:


The K50 @ f/1.2:


Whether or not you like the first shot, it's clearly different from what you can achieve without it. I don't see PP as a substitute for a Soft lens. I focused on the base of the pool. Of course, to blur the background I could focus on a really close object with the fast lenses, but I wanted both the bench and the fountain in (soft) focus.

Last edited by DSims; 05-31-2012 at 07:28 PM.
06-01-2012, 12:07 AM   #15
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Thanks.

Do you use your 28 soft in AF mode or manually?
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