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01-21-2013, 05:32 AM   #1
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Are Pentax lenses that good? Really?

Sorry if the thread title seems a little forward, but I'm struggling with something a bit here and would like to ask this very serious question.

How do Pentax lenses really stack up, optically speaking, to Canon, Nikon, and even Tamron and like third party makers?

The reason for the question: I'm looking for a system to get into, and really was thrilled about the Pentax system primarily because K-5 quality and price. My first check on lenses, however, stumped me a bit. I was doing my on-line duty "pixel-peeping" and whatnot, and thought the lenses were not so good, mostly because the center and edge sharpness can be drastically different. For example, there is a sample photo where the image looks great, but the corners are sickeningly soft. Imagine my surprise when I learned it was one of the "star" (literally) lenses, the 16-50. And it was shot at f/8 24mm (on a K-30 iso 100 1/500).

I was reassured by reading, here mostly, that users think the lenses are fantastic. I put the question aside and figured the lenses must be good. But, again, doing my on-line duty of researching before spending, I started to notice again that the lenses didn't seem as good as I'd have expected. For example, pulling up charts on DxOmark I was surprised that the 55 1.4 was sitting at 306th overall on the flagship K-5. This is a little misleading as an overall score, perhaps, since identical lenses that outperform the Pentax are listed multiple times with different mounts and on different bodies. Nonetheless, it seems like the lenses are a little sub par. Center sharpness seems great almost as a rule with Pentax. But, are soft edges something that users have learned to live with? Or am I incorrect that this is the case?

Perhaps I'm looking at things incorrectly, though. What do you Pentaxians think???

01-21-2013, 05:42 AM   #2
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A lens at f/8 should be sharp throughout if the subject is at infinity focus. It may be that your 16-50 has a decentering issue, but it's worth having it checked out.

Last edited by Ash; 01-21-2013 at 12:26 PM.
01-21-2013, 05:53 AM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by brntoki Quote
How do Pentax lenses really stack up, optically speaking, to Canon, Nikon, and even Tamron and like third party makers?
With the exception of the Tokina equivalent of the DA 35 Ltd,
my recent Pentax lenses, namely DA 15, DA 35 Ltd Macro, and DA 70,
are unequalled by anything offered by other manufacturers.

Sure, a Nikkor AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED might outperform the DA 15 by certain measures,
but that is not the kind of lens that is as useful for my photography as is the DA 15.

QuoteOriginally posted by brntoki Quote
I was reassured by reading, here mostly, that users think the lenses are fantastic. I put the question aside and figured the lenses must be good. But, again, doing my on-line duty of researching before spending, I started to notice again that the lenses didn't seem as good as I'd have expected.
Many users here do favor a pictorial style of photography,
where edge perfomance is not such a major criterion.

QuoteOriginally posted by brntoki Quote
For example, pulling up charts on DxOmark I was surprised that the 55 1.4 was sitting at 306th overall on the flagship K-5.
Those rankings, based on arbitrary assignments of weightings, don't really mean much in practice.
What's important is whether a given lens can do the job you expect it to do.
01-21-2013, 06:08 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by Ash Quote
A lens at f/8 should be sharp throughout if the subject is at infinity focus. It may be that your 16-50 has a dr entering issue, but it's worth having it checked out.
Note that the op does not own any Pentax gear, but was referring to a picture he saw online.

01-21-2013, 06:11 AM   #5
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I haven't written any reviews (I know, I need to), however I have about 350 images for you to sift through should you have the boredom/motivation

Afghanistan Deployment Updates

Update Number *One* - 23 Feb (5 photos)

Update Number *Two* - 10 Mar (12 photos)

Update Number *Three* - 23 Mar (10 photos)

Update Number *Four* - 28 Mar (11 photos)

Update Number *Five* - 23 Apr (13 photos)

Update Number *Six* - 2 May (11 photos)

Update Number *Seven* - 26 May (15 photos)

Update Number *Eight* - 2 Jun (21 photos)

Update Number *Nine* - 23 Jun (18 photos)

Update Number *Ten* - 8 Jul (17 photos)

Update Number *Eleven* - 24 Aug (20 photos)

Update Number *Twelve* - 14 Sep (14 photos)

Update Number *Thirteen* - 27 Sep (18 photos)

Update Number *Fourteen* - 01 Nov (26 photos)

Update Number *Fifteen* - 22 Nov (25 photos)

Update Number *Sixteen* - 29 Dec (28 photos)


New Zealand

NEW ZEALAND: A Deployment Getaway (82 images!!)


National Geographic Editors' Favorite Selectee

National Geographic 2012 Photo Contest Editors' Favorite


Hohenzollern Castle

Hohenzollern Castle


Every single image that I post I identify both the camera and the lens used, as well as any specific modifiers that may have been implemented as well (i.e. Circular Polarizers). The intent behind this reply and the dumping of so many links is simply to give you a plethora of examples from an amateur that should help you make your own decision based on your own observations.

Lastly, this thread may be of interest to you:

Handling Differences between Pentax and other brands. Of note is Adam's reply (Post #16 on the first page) that does a good job of summing things up.

Apologize for being so terse, I am on my way to bed after an incredibly long day.

-Heie
01-21-2013, 06:15 AM - 1 Like   #6
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I think there is a big difference between pixel-peeping and real world shooting. I'm pretty sure most of the "short comings" in these lens test won't matter under real life conditions. These benchmarks just tell you which lens is best for shooting brick walls.
I think the more informative way is to look at the lens clubs on this forum or browse PENTAX : Welcome to the PENTAX Photo Gallery by lens.
I don't know if Pentax makes the best lenses but you can take stunning images with them for sure.
01-21-2013, 06:15 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by Ash Quote
A lens at f/8 should be sharp throughout if the subject is at infinity focus. It may be that your 16-50 has a dr entering issue, but it's worth having it checked out.
He stated repeatetly that he hasn't bought it yet. The OP is investigating before he is buying. Which is a very smart thing for him to do.


QuoteOriginally posted by brntoki Quote
I was reassured by reading, here mostly, that users think the lenses are fantastic.
To be honest, you answerred your riddle in the above line. It's what the Pentaxians call "pixiedust". All the labtests in the world could say a specific lens is only mediocre, not stopping the average Pentaxian from grading it as "stellar".

Only a few of my Pentax lenses are my favorites because of their resolution:

The Pentax 50 f1.2, which beats the competitors 1.2 at every aperture. That is also the reason why it is loved by Canon shooters. Sadly, the lens has been taken out of production. (The logic eludes me there.)

The DA 15 and 35 limited are both absolute stellar performers. The 35 is available for the other brands too. (Tokina.)

Last edited by Clavius; 01-21-2013 at 06:21 AM.
01-21-2013, 06:19 AM   #8
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Pentax, like other brands, has a range of quality within its lineup, ranging from not all that great to excellent. But there is more to a lens than sharpness as measured by measurebaters, such as bokeh rendering, color rendering, etc.

Instead of making your decision based on photos other people have taken and measurements other people have made, Why not try the camera and lenses out yourself? You're in Okinawa, I'm sure there are camera stores there that carry Pentax.

01-21-2013, 06:45 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by brntoki Quote
How do Pentax lenses really stack up, optically speaking, to Canon, Nikon, and even Tamron and like third party makers?
i give my 2 cents here :
look at the end of my post to see what gear i got. i use quite often the Canon 40D and 70-200/2.8 I, 50/1.4 and the 17-85 kit lens of a very good friend. used from time to time Nikon D700.

about the kit lens : Yes, kit lens are not the best top notch lens. However, to be honest the 17-85 is probably the worst kit lens i've ever own, and that day i realize that the 18-55, even if not the best lens, is very good. stop it a bit and it's quite sharp, a real pleasure to shot with it.

The Canon 50/1.4 and the DA*55 are quite on part about sharpness and pixel peeping (for me). The Canon focus faster, but not always better.
The main "problem" for me is that the Canon have a very hexagonal aperture wich create a distracting bokeh.
For the construction, i prefer the DA*, even if the Canon is not bad at all.

i never used any Pentax competitor of the Canon 70-200, so i can't tell. The Canon is very good, and has a very "WOW" factor. But it's heavy like a tank

Overall the competitor lens are very good, but unless you DSLR or the lens is badly calibrated, on a 20" inch screen (20x30 cm approx), you don't really see any notable difference. However i prefer Pentax lens, which tend to be more metal than plastic/resin than competitor, and more compact. I do a lot of rockclimbing and i bring gear on cliff, so i need to be light even if i take a lot of gear.

For me, as said before, just ask yourself what do you need to do the job, and which brand offer it at the best price for you, for the best quality possible. So if you never gonna do birding, don't say "Canon or Nikon, because they have more extrem telephoto (that i will never use)".

01-21-2013, 07:22 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Heie Quote

Apologize for being so terse, I am on my way to bed after an incredibly long day.

-Heie
No offense, but you suck at "terse". It didn't come through at all. And even if it did, you're most definitely within your rights.

I much appreciate your thoughts and links, but most of all that you are out doing what you're doing. Former devil dog here saying to keep up the good work, all while keeping the head nice and low.
01-21-2013, 07:28 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by brntoki Quote
For example, pulling up charts on DxOmark I was surprised that the 55 1.4 was sitting at 306th overall on the flagship K-5. This is a little misleading as an overall score, perhaps, since identical lenses that outperform the Pentax are listed multiple times with different mounts and on different bodies.
Two things:

1) The charts are misleading, as you say. You must select the D7000 or the Canon 60D to see the equivalent scoring of a lens from Nikon/Canon vs Pentax, because the standard scoring for those brands are based on FF cameras - which naturally add something like +6-10 points on the DXO scale.
2) Even after doing that, the DA*55 will perform weaker than some of its competitors - such as the Sigma 50 F1.4, the Nikkor 50 F1.somethingbutisreallygood, etc. This is because, while the DA*55 is not as sharp, it performs fantastically at rendering colour, bokeh, and microcontrast. It's something that test charts in black and white don't show us.

That being said - each brand has its own top line of lenses, and they are all relatively equivalent. Pentax has always been about the center sharpness, with their best 70s and 80s lenses matching Leica and Zeiss sharpness in the centers, but lacking behind in the corners. Now, that philosophy doesn't carry over fully to the current generation, but you'll be hard pressed to find lenses that completely outclass the top Pentax lenses - perhaps the Zeiss Distagons or some of the new M4/3 lenses, but even then it's not by much.
01-21-2013, 07:34 AM   #12
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Quick reply to all to say thanks for your thoughts.

I should have said I am mostly interested in landscape work, therefore the need for better sharpness across the frame.

Also, I agree that lens tests don't necessarily translate into actual IQ in real photography. I didn't start with lens tests, but actual photos that looked weak in some areas (edges). As I said, I put it aside because of many users' enthusiasm. In fact, one of the reviews here showed this very thing. The 12-24 did not seem to do very well in some of the tests, but man! That thing is a gorgeous performer (although I now forget if I inspected the edges of the sample photos). Anyway, my initial concerns came from actual photos (full res. of course), and then some of the lens test scores seemed to bear out what my eyes were telling me.

I'll say also that I'm debating either a D600 or K-5IIs. I really, really want to get the K-5 for handling, durability, in-body SR, etc. The D600 is attractive mostly for some of the lenses that are on offer at reasonable prices, along with the fact that those lenses are forward compatible with other FF bodies, which seems the way the market will eventually go full on. I think APS-C is the monkey in the middle right now. Still, I would love to get a K-5 and use it more than the Nikon. In some ways it's hard to justify, though.
01-21-2013, 07:39 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by brntoki Quote
I started to notice again that the lenses didn't seem as good as I'd have expected. For example, pulling up charts on DxOmark I was surprised that the 55 1.4 was sitting at 306th overall on the flagship K-5.
Note that you need to look at which camera was used in the DXOMark test results. A lens will show a higher score when tested on a full-frame body vs the same lens tested on an APS-C body.

As others have pointed out, there are also subjective lens qualities that DXO does not consider, i.e. colour and contrast, flare resistance, bokeh. These are all evident in the images, but not in measurements.
01-21-2013, 07:46 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by brntoki Quote
Are Pentax lenses that good? Really?
Yes, they are. If you find a bad Pentax lens, chances are you also need to review your photo skills.
But the same is with Canikon, really, mostly.
In fact, Pentax lenses are so good, that Canon shooters secretly crave after them. They are not fully compatible however, and some decide to perform lens surgery, others body (mirror) surgery. My point being that their craving is not always productive.
Also, think about vegetarians and quinoa. For millennia, quinoa was #1 food source for people belonging to the South America area. Then came these vegans from everywhere that believed quinoa is great, and basically raised its price (same supply, more demand). Now South American people have to pay more for their food.
I think the same is true for Pentax lenses. When you look at camera reviews, people generally tend to piss on them and dismiss them as being cheapos and unprofessional and so forth, but they suddenly start to forget when it comes about lenses.
01-21-2013, 07:50 AM - 1 Like   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by brntoki Quote
Quick reply to all to say thanks for your thoughts.

I should have said I am mostly interested in landscape work, therefore the need for better sharpness across the frame.

Also, I agree that lens tests don't necessarily translate into actual IQ in real photography. I didn't start with lens tests, but actual photos that looked weak in some areas (edges). As I said, I put it aside because of many users' enthusiasm. In fact, one of the reviews here showed this very thing. The 12-24 did not seem to do very well in some of the tests, but man! That thing is a gorgeous performer (although I now forget if I inspected the edges of the sample photos). Anyway, my initial concerns came from actual photos (full res. of course), and then some of the lens test scores seemed to bear out what my eyes were telling me.

I'll say also that I'm debating either a D600 or K-5IIs. I really, really want to get the K-5 for handling, durability, in-body SR, etc. The D600 is attractive mostly for some of the lenses that are on offer at reasonable prices, along with the fact that those lenses are forward compatible with other FF bodies, which seems the way the market will eventually go full on. I think APS-C is the monkey in the middle right now. Still, I would love to get a K-5 and use it more than the Nikon. In some ways it's hard to justify, though.
To be fair, a D600 and a 14-24 will be practically better than anything else for landscapes. The only things that I think that can top it are.. D800... and D800E...

However, a k-5IIs and a DA 12-24 will perform just fantastically. It's sharp edge to edge, sharper than the DA 15, and just a little less contrast and flare resistance. And if you get a DA 15 (which is good for light traveling), you get very good sharpness, very good colour rendition and contrast, and very very very good flare resistance.

The DA*16-50 isn't a good representative for a landscape lens for Pentax. It's not as sharp as its competitors, and its SDM has a bad reputation. It does, however, have WR, great colour, slightly wider range, and silent motor.
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