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10-14-2015, 07:08 AM   #1
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All-around mountain lens dilemma

I'm currently in the market for a new standard zoom, because after five years of photography and one year with the K3 the DA L 18-55 WR really doesn't cut it for me any more image quality wise. I do have the very sharp DA 35 f/2.4 and SMC-A 50 f/1.7, but the main use will be mountaineering - hill walking, scrambling, climbing, obviously some landscape shots of the beautiful Scottish highlands. Changing lenses during mountaineering and climbing is a pain in the ... rear parts, so I'm looking for a zoom.

Here's the problem - while there is certainly a rather good selection of standard zooms out there, none of them ticks all the boxes. What I primarily want is better image quality (especially sharpness and micro-contrast) than the kit lens, a useful range (wide enough for landscapes, enough tele for climbing shots). Weather sealing (Scotland ) would be great, f/2.8 a plus, but not necessary, and ideally I want a faster and silent AF drive. And being on a student budget, the price should be reasonable (all prices stated are the cheapest prices I found in Germany).

Pentax HD DA 16-85 f/3.5-5.6 DC WR

+ very useful focal range
+ WR
+ very high image quality all around
+ fast, silent AF

- €600 really is a bit much
- no f/2.8

Pentax DA 16-50 f/2.8 SDM AW

+ good enough focal range
+ great built, AW

o SDM is silent, but not exactly fast?
o image quality apparently good, but with edge performance unworthy of a lens of this price?

- €850 totally out of my budget

Sigma 17-70 f/2.8-4 Contemporary

+ very good image quality in frame centre and middle range to long end
+ fast, silent AF
+ f/2.8-4
+ very good focal range

o very decent build quality
o €400 is feasible

- apparently very bad edges at wide end that don't improve upon stopping down (bad for landscapes)
- no weather sealing

Sigma 17-50 f/2.8 HSM

+ very high image quality
+ fast and silent AF
+ €350 is very competitive

o very decent build
o good enough focal range

- no weather sealing

Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 non-VC

+ at €290 the most affordable option
+ very high image quality

o good enough focal range
o very decent build quality

- no weather sealing
- slow and noisy AF

So, I am kind of torn. I know the perfect and affordable lens doesn't exist and I cannot expect all the goodies at a low price point, but every single option lacks not only one, but at least two of the features I would prefer. The Pentax lenses are both too expensive, and all third party alternatives lack weather sealing (which really is a big deal when you're out in the Scottish highlands regularly). In addition to that, the Sigma 17-70 shows a bad performance at the wide end, the Sigma 17-50's focal range is a bit small, and the same applies to the Tamron, plus the AF is noisy and slow.

So I guess my question is - did I miss something? All my knowledge about these lenses was gathered from reviews, if you own any of the lenses, have you made different experiences?

Also, did I miss any reasonably modern AF normal zooms available for Pentax (except for the 16-45, which I do not want)?


Another question would be whether there is a chance of any of these lenses being updated soon? The Sigma 17-70 was only introduced in late 2009, and was upgraded to the Contemporary line just four years later, so can a similar update be expected for the Sigma 17-50 soonish? Any rumours?

If you were in the same situation, which one would you prefer/did you prefer?

10-14-2015, 07:24 AM - 1 Like   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by FantasticMrFox Quote

Also, did I miss any reasonably modern AF normal zooms available for Pentax (except for the 16-45, which I do not want)?
Pentax SMC DA 18-135 f/3.5-5.6 WR

+ very useful focal range
+ WR
+ fast, silent AF
+ compact for what it is

o supposedly not quite the same IQ level as the 16-85, but (at least mine is) noticeably better than the 18-55.

- a bit expensive, even if it's less than the 16-85
- no f/2.8


All in all, I would probably go for the 16-85 as my all-round lens if I hadn't already had the 18-135.
10-14-2015, 07:28 AM - 1 Like   #3
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I have both Nikon D800 and Pentax K-3 systems. If I want to go with an "all around" setup, I tend to take my D800 + 24-120mm f/4. Nobody else makes a lens with this range and IQ. It's hard to beat as the D800 can also be cropped 1.2x delivering 24Mp thus "extending" the lens to a 144mm equivalent. For travel, I find that f/4 is not a problem for the majority of shots. I also have a lightweight tripod I can stick in my backpack for those cases where a tripod is required. For long reach, I always bring my Pentax K-3 + DA*60-250mm and skip the massive Nikkor tele lenses which are much bigger and generally weigh more (although the brand new Nikkor 300mm is a lightweight in comparison). In short, I sympathize with you. It is the reason I am firmly a two-branded system photographer: Pentax is better (for me) for telephoto and Nikon is better (for me) for wide to normal.

YMMV

Michael
10-14-2015, 07:33 AM - 2 Likes   #4
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Hi,

you forgot the 20-40, which came to mind first when seeing your topic. That would be a lens to consider by all means, mostly because of its compactness and WR.

What camera do you have?

Until this Spring, I used a combo of the DA18-55 WR and Sigma 17-70 for my "normal zoom" range (plus primes as needed). I used the 18-55 when WR was required, the Sigma otherwise. The Sigma got the most use, and it was a fantastic lens (version 1, better at macro, but old Af tech).

I decided to replace both with the 16-85 and have never looked back. The IQ is at least as good as the Sigma (only flaw when compared to a DA* or a Limited is a slightly lower saturation, apart from that it's as good). WR is a must for hiking and such. DC focus is VERY fast. It's a bit large, but not heavier than the Sigma. The range is wonderful, I find that 16mm vs 17mm makes a surprising difference, AND the 85mm range means that I use my 60-250 much less (because I'm lazy. It's still a better lens).

For your needs I would definitely remove anything not WR from the list. I would not be worried about the lack of f2.8, you'll be outdoors and will probably shoot closed down often. And modern cameras allow you to bump the ISO.

To me it should be a debate between the 20-40 and the 16-85. Those were my two choices and I was considering the same kinds of activities you mention. The range of the 16-85 won, but if size was a big issue the 20-40 would have been preferred probably.

10-14-2015, 07:35 AM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by savoche Quote
Pentax SMC DA 18-135 f/3.5-5.6 WR
I haven't even thought of that one But then, the edge performance seems to be really ... underwhelming? Photozone, ePhotozine, even Pentaxforum all seem to agree that the optical performance is pretty mediocre except for in the frame centre. PF states that "Corners are terribly soft and lacking in contrast, especially at wider angles due to high distortion" and "Vignetting is very strong at wider angles with little improvement after 2-3 stops".

I'm certainly not pixel peeping the extreme corners (otherwise I wouldn't have survived five years with the DA L 18-55), but I would like to use the new lens for landscapes.
10-14-2015, 07:38 AM - 1 Like   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by FantasticMrFox Quote
The Sigma 17-70 was only introduced in late 2009, and was upgraded to the Contemporary line just four years later, so can a similar update be expected for the Sigma 17-50 soonish? Any rumours?
I don't know of any rumors, but if it is updated, expect it to cost more.

I started out shooting, years ago, with the DA 18-55. In 2010, I upgraded to the DA 12-24. Wonderful lens, but a bit too wide, so I cross-graded to the 16-45. Nice lens but not quite as good as the 12-24, so I upgraded to the DA 17-70, which was a very nice lens, but afflicted with wonky AF. I eventually settled on the DA 16-85, which has turned out to be everything I could want in a zoom lens for landscape shooting. In short, if I were in your position, I'd save up for either the DA 16-85 or the DA* 16-50 (if you really think you need that f2.8), and thereby save having to upgrade later. If that's just not economically feasible, get the Sigma 17-70 or the Tamron 17-50: either lens will be a significant upgrade from the DA 18-55.
10-14-2015, 07:45 AM   #7
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Da 15mm but its not wr. But for scrambling and hiking, the tiny size of the lens and hood make a difference.
10-14-2015, 08:33 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by MJSfoto1956 Quote
If I want to go with an "all around" setup, I tend to take my D800 + 24-120mm f/4. Nobody else makes a lens with this range and IQ. It's hard to beat as the D800 can also be cropped 1.2x delivering 24Mp thus "extending" the lens to a 144mm equivalent. [...] In short, I sympathize with you. It is the reason I am firmly a two-branded system photographer: Pentax is better (for me) for telephoto and Nikon is better (for me) for wide to normal.
That was ... not very helpful A Nikon full frame is not really the solution to my problem :P

QuoteOriginally posted by y0chang Quote
Da 15mm but its not wr. But for scrambling and hiking, the tiny size of the lens and hood make a difference.
I'm looking for a versatile zoom, not a wide-angle prime

QuoteOriginally posted by bdery Quote
you forgot the 20-40, which came to mind first when seeing your topic. That would be a lens to consider by all means, mostly because of its compactness and WR.
That's longer on the short end and shorter on the long end than anything listed above, cheapest price in Germany is 680 and for such a premium price tag it doesn't even deliver a constant f/2.8 or high enough image quality. Only pro I can see is weather sealing, good AF and high build quality, but it's just not versatile enough.

QuoteQuote:
What camera do you have?
K3.

QuoteOriginally posted by northcoastgreg Quote
I started out shooting, years ago, with the DA 18-55. In 2010, I upgraded to the DA 12-24. Wonderful lens, but a bit too wide, so I cross-graded to the 16-45. Nice lens but not quite as good as the 12-24, so I upgraded to the DA 17-70, which was a very nice lens, but afflicted with wonky AF. I eventually settled on the DA 16-85, which has turned out to be everything I could want in a zoom lens for landscape shooting. In short, if I were in your position, I'd save up for either the DA 16-85 or the DA* 16-50 (if you really think you need that f2.8), and thereby save having to upgrade later. If that's just not economically feasible, get the Sigma 17-70 or the Tamron 17-50: either lens will be a significant upgrade from the DA 18-55.
QuoteQuote:
I decided to replace both with the 16-85 and have never looked back. The IQ is at least as good as the Sigma (only flaw when compared to a DA* or a Limited is a slightly lower saturation, apart from that it's as good). WR is a must for hiking and such. DC focus is VERY fast. It's a bit large, but not heavier than the Sigma. The range is wonderful, I find that 16mm vs 17mm makes a surprising difference, AND the 85mm range means that I use my 60-250 much less (because I'm lazy. It's still a better lens).

For your needs I would definitely remove anything not WR from the list. I would not be worried about the lack of f2.8, you'll be outdoors and will probably shoot closed down often. And modern cameras allow you to bump the ISO.
As size is not much of an issue and I don't technically need f/2.8, the DA 16-85 really does seem to be the best choice. Guess I just have to save up a bit longer and wait until Christmas ... Maybe a nice cashback will come around too.

10-14-2015, 08:54 AM   #9
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Whilst weather resistance is nice to have why has it suddenly become to be all and end all of lens selection?
10-14-2015, 09:04 AM - 1 Like   #10
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I use the 18-135 for mountaineering/skiing/hiking/mountain biking and it's been good. Not mind-blowing, but usually more than good enough. In fact I just sold this image to HGTV magazine for their December issue which I shot with the K-3 & 18-135.


It would probably work for you and it's pretty light and small especially when compared to the 16-50 which I also have. I take that out on the snow sometimes too but the size and weight are pretty noticeable in comparison.

The 16-85 looks almost perfect but it is closer in size to the 16-50 which could make it a little too big for me, at least as my regular adventure lens.
The 20-40 is intriguing too and I'm certainly tempted by the size, WR, and Limited designation. I just wonder if the range would be too limiting. 16-85 seems much more usable. I don't think I use 85-135 all that much either.

For a whole bunch of 18-135 snow images, have a look here at my ski gallery. There are some other lenses involved too but most are 18-135.
10-14-2015, 09:15 AM - 1 Like   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by mohb Quote
Whilst weather resistance is nice to have why has it suddenly become to be all and end all of lens selection?
Because I am looking specifically for a lens that in the near future will primarily be used in the Scottish highlands, parts of which are among the wettest regions in Europe? And because I travel quite widely, often to very wet or very dusty places (in past couple of years, among others, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Australia, Malaysia, Iceland, Namibia ...)?

I have non-WR lenses too, but if WR doesn't make sense for outdoor exploits in rainy regions, then when would it ever make sense?
10-14-2015, 09:42 AM - 1 Like   #12
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They say buy cheap and you end up buying twice.Wait until you can save up for the lens you really want otherwise you'll always be hankering for the one that got away.I've had an 18-135 and the 16-85 is a significant improvement in terms of IQ,not noticeably heavier/larger and the extra 2mm wide more than offsets the 85-135.
10-14-2015, 09:43 AM - 1 Like   #13
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I suggest you take a look at the Pentax DA 17-70. It's bigger than the Sigma 17-70 C and not as fast at the wide end but the contrast is superior and, IMHO, so is the color for landscapes. By the way, I have both.
10-14-2015, 09:51 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by mohb Quote
Whilst weather resistance is nice to have why has it suddenly become to be all and end all of lens selection?
When you're outdoors, hiking, skiing, climbing, camping, it's useful. One of the main perks of Pentax. Useless in a studio, but that's not what we're talking about here.
10-14-2015, 09:55 AM - 1 Like   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by IchabodCrane Quote
I suggest you take a look at the Pentax DA 17-70. It's bigger than the Sigma 17-70 C and not as fast at the wide end but the contrast is superior and, IMHO, so is the color for landscapes. By the way, I have both.
I love the DA 17-70, but it is not WR. I would suggest the DA 18-135 myself. The lens is reasonably light and it is quite sharp at modest focal lengths and if you need crazy resolution landscapes use stitching at 24-35mm. Even at 135 the images are much better than the technical data suggests. Look at the "show us" threads for samples from all of lenses you are considering. At every focal length the 18-135 beats the 18-55 bear that in mind.
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