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12-31-2015, 12:08 PM   #1
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DA 16-85 vs. DA* 16-50; which is a better travel lens?

For a standard travel zoom I use the DA* 16-50mm. Often I stop it down to increase sharpness and try to reduce CAs. Much of the time I take outdoor photos and tend to stay more around the 16mm side. If I'm indoors the f/2.8 isn't fast enough to keep ISO low enough and I use a fast prime. Given this scenario, is the 16-85mm a better lens for a single all-in-one travel lens? Other than being slightly faster, the 16-50 has 9 rounded aperture blades instead of 7 but I don't know how this affects the photos. The AF/MF switch and zoom window don't add much and I haven't seen a qualitative comparison of the WR of DA vs. DA* lens.

What brought about this question are the ratings given to each lens on the forum and the work ephotozine has done. In terms of IQ, ephotozine shows the DA 16-85mm at the same (or better than) the DA* 16-50mm. They tested the 16-85 on a K-3 and the 16-50 on a K-5IIs. Would the extra resolution help the 16-85 get better results?

DA 16-85mm:
https://www.ephotozine.com/article/hd-pentax-da-16-85mm-f3-5-5-6-ed-dc-wr-review-27561
DA* 16-50mm:
https://www.ephotozine.com/article/pentax-da--16-50mm-f-2-8ed-al--if--sdm-lens-reviews-24104

More telling is the work that Heie did here on the forum showing similar or better sharpness on the 16-85 and NO CAs:
HD Pentax-DA 16-85mm F3.5-5.6 ED DC WR Reviews - DA Zoom Lenses - Pentax Lens Reviews & Lens Database

Basically, if one doesn't use the wider aperture is the 16-85mm a better choice for a travel zoom? I'll be traveling soon and am torn over which lens to bring with.

12-31-2015, 12:36 PM   #3
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Short answer is yes. I have both and have mostly moved to the 16-85 for travel / outdoor. I think the 16-50 has an edge in iq but it is not huge and I find the extra length to 85mm to be worth the trade off. The lower weight is also a plus.
12-31-2015, 12:38 PM   #4
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The benefit of the 16-50 is the fast f/2.8 aperture, which isn't really a benefit in day to day travel. Its more of a wedding/low light lens. It also has slower autofocus and less zoom range. Its gets poor reviews for the CA and crappy SDM AF.

The 16-85 is going to be great in all but low light venues and would be my choice.

12-31-2015, 12:57 PM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by jatrax Quote
Short answer is yes. I have both and have mostly moved to the 16-85 for travel / outdoor. I think the 16-50 has an edge in iq but it is not huge and I find the extra length to 85mm to be worth the trade off. The lower weight is also a plus.
Thanks Jatrax, having both your opinion is valuable. Where/when do view the 16-50 pulling ahead of the 16-85 in terms of IQ?
12-31-2015, 01:54 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by Newtophotos Quote
Thanks Jatrax, having both your opinion is valuable. Where/when do view the 16-50 pulling ahead of the 16-85 in terms of IQ?
I'm probably not the best to answer that question. There are those here who can say this lens does this at that focal length but is better at this one and so on. That's not me. I shoot a lot, and process a lot of images and my "general impression" is that I think images from the 16-50 are slightly better than those from the16-85. Certainly better at 51mm and up.

If I am going to be shooting inside and for a paying gig I will use the 16-50. For outside and general travel I will use the16-85. The lighter weight and longer focal length offset any possible difference in IQ, for me.
12-31-2015, 04:00 PM   #7
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The 16-50 is one of my favorite and most used lenses. I find I shoot with mine primarily between 16-24mm. Mine seems to be pretty sharp at 2.8. I was lucky to come across an open box buy for less than they were selling for used at the time. It is pretty much the only lens I use indoors except for my 50-135. I do admit the 16-85 is a tempting lens. B&H had a one day sale for 449 dollars. I seriously thought about buying one but I am heavily covered in this focal range. With the current prices now I would probably choose the 16-85 over thev16-50 new. For a walk around lens I use my 18-135 which I am happy with. I think the 16-85 wins for versatility and autofocus. The DC motor is just awesome. The 16-50 is better in low light and in overall IQ, but not by that much. I believe both lenses will deliver exceptional images but meet different needs and shooting styles.

Last edited by Scorpio71GR; 12-31-2015 at 11:01 PM.
12-31-2015, 10:32 PM   #8
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I seem to be like Scorpio about using the 16-50 mostly at 16-24mm settings. I like the rendering of the 16-50, but I find that the 12-24 doesn't hamper my shooting all that much. There is some pixie dust to both those lenses, hiding behind some CA and PF at times. I took all the few pictures I took at my Christmas venue with the 16-50. A couple of times I would have preferred the 12-24 for the extra width in field of view, but was too lazy to change lenses.

01-01-2016, 12:24 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Newtophotos Quote
I haven't seen a qualitative comparison of the WR of DA vs. DA* lens.
I haven't seen an in-depth comparison either, but neither sealing system is designed to withstand water under pressure (from being submerged) so neither is suitable for underwater photography. Unless you plan on leaving your camera and lens outside in the rain for long periods of time (time lapse photography) it shouldn't matter if there is a difference in the seals used to provide WR or how well they fit. No matter what the situation, the weather resistance of your camera and lens is just as dependent on the camera body as the lens.

The weather resistance of consumer Pentax WR lenses works as advertised, this shouldn't be a factor in selecting the DA* 16-50 over the DA 16-85. On the other hand, your dilemma is whether or not to replace the 16-50 with the the 16-85, and you aren't going to be able to notice an IQ advantage (if it actually exists) for the 16-85 until you go over 50mm. Without knowing what other lenses you have, it is difficult to point out convenience advantages for the 16-85, or if those advantages are worth the cost of obtaining another zoom that overlaps the focal length range of the 16-50. The extra stop of light the 16-50 gives you might be an advantage inside churches and museums, depending on where you travel. Personally, faster AF and a broader focal length range are big advantages to me, but again without knowing what other lenses you have and what types of situations you want to take photos, there may be better alternatives than the 16-85 for your situation. I guess what I'm saying is that the 16-85 didn't transform the 16-50 into a paperweight, but if you consider the photos you have taken in the past and the types of photos you want to take in the future, your dilemma should be relatively easy to resolve.
01-01-2016, 12:42 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by RGlasel Quote
I haven't seen an in-depth comparison either, but neither sealing system is designed to withstand water under pressure (from being submerged) so neither is suitable for underwater photography. Unless you plan on leaving your camera and lens outside in the rain for long periods of time (time lapse photography) it shouldn't matter if there is a difference in the seals used to provide WR or how well they fit. No matter what the situation, the weather resistance of your camera and lens is just as dependent on the camera body as the lens.

The weather resistance of consumer Pentax WR lenses works as advertised, this shouldn't be a factor in selecting the DA* 16-50 over the DA 16-85. On the other hand, your dilemma is whether or not to replace the 16-50 with the the 16-85, and you aren't going to be able to notice an IQ advantage (if it actually exists) for the 16-85 until you go over 50mm. Without knowing what other lenses you have, it is difficult to point out convenience advantages for the 16-85, or if those advantages are worth the cost of obtaining another zoom that overlaps the focal length range of the 16-50. The extra stop of light the 16-50 gives you might be an advantage inside churches and museums, depending on where you travel. Personally, faster AF and a broader focal length range are big advantages to me, but again without knowing what other lenses you have and what types of situations you want to take photos, there may be better alternatives than the 16-85 for your situation. I guess what I'm saying is that the 16-85 didn't transform the 16-50 into a paperweight, but if you consider the photos you have taken in the past and the types of photos you want to take in the future, your dilemma should be relatively easy to resolve.
Thanks RGlasel. I'll be traveling to Japan and I planned on taking my Sigma 8-16mm, the DA* 16-50, and a tripod. Given what I've learned I've purchased the 16-85mm and will take that instead. To your point about overlapping zoom ranges, I will likely only keep one of the two zooms in the long term.

To make sure I understand, at the wide end of the lenses going from f/2.8 to f/3.5 is a 2/3 stop?

Ephotozine tested the 16-85 on a K-3 and the 16-50 on a K-5IIs. Would the extra resolution help the 16-85 get better results?
01-01-2016, 12:52 PM   #11
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This is an ƒ2.8 vs 50mm-85 decision. I've seen great images from both cameras. Most of the time for a walk around ƒ2.8 isn't important, often 85mm is. Plus the 16-85 has good pseudo macro capability as a bonus.
01-01-2016, 05:07 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Newtophotos Quote
To make sure I understand, at the wide end of the lenses going from f/2.8 to f/3.5 is a 2/3 stop?
Doesn't it change to 4.0 by 21mm or something like that? Realistically, you will need the extra light from 24 or 35mm to 50mm (and beyond if your lenses can give it to you), not for the wide field of view from 16-18mm. I don't have the 16-50, but f2.8 seems to be the ideal aperture for individual portraits on most lenses, but you may not be taking those kind of photos. If you aren't, then I can certainly understand why you would sell the 16-50. As far as resolution goes, colour rendition and micro-contrast make real differences you can see with the naked eye, differences in resolution mean squat unless you crop. When I travel, convenience trumps everything else and being able to take a variety of photos without packing extra lenses is #1 on my list of desirable conveniences. It's not very often I can go back at a different time of day because the light is better or take 20 minutes and experiment with different focal lengths and apertures to get the best image. It's more like snooze and you lose.
01-02-2016, 01:11 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by RGlasel Quote
Doesn't it change to 4.0 by 21mm or something like that? Realistically, you will need the extra light from 24 or 35mm to 50mm (and beyond if your lenses can give it to you), not for the wide field of view from 16-18mm. I don't have the 16-50, but f2.8 seems to be the ideal aperture for individual portraits on most lenses, but you may not be taking those kind of photos. If you aren't, then I can certainly understand why you would sell the 16-50. As far as resolution goes, colour rendition and micro-contrast make real differences you can see with the naked eye, differences in resolution mean squat unless you crop. When I travel, convenience trumps everything else and being able to take a variety of photos without packing extra lenses is #1 on my list of desirable conveniences. It's not very often I can go back at a different time of day because the light is better or take 20 minutes and experiment with different focal lengths and apertures to get the best image. It's more like snooze and you lose.
What you're saying about resolution makes sense. Is there any way to quantitatively compare color rendition and micro-contrast or is this more in the eye of the beholder?
01-02-2016, 02:53 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Newtophotos Quote
Is there any way to quantitatively compare color rendition and micro-contrast
Colour accuracy can be quantified, the problem is that our perception of colour varies significantly between individuals, is gender dependent and is affected by diet and other health issues. What I meant by micro-contrast is how clear the transition between different colours is, which as far as I know isn't quantifiable. Besides, our brain is the final arbitrator of how accurate a photograph is.

Optical resolution is quantified by the number of visible transitions between light and dark within a certain span, but says nothing about how well the lens passes light without changing its colour and our visual perception of contrast can be influenced by what our brains recognize from our memories. Certain clues in a photograph allow our brains to do mental post-processing to make us perceive the image to be sharper and more accurate and other clues point out how the photograph falls short of accurately recording the image.

In my opinion, the DA 15 Limited does a great job of capturing light, but that's strictly a qualitative judgement on my part that isn't backed up by test results. So yes, very much in the eye of the beholder.
01-02-2016, 03:24 PM   #15
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The big question is whether or not you need f2.8. If you don't, then a lot of lenses may fit the bill. If you need a lens that fast, then the 16-50 is one of two or three in that focal range that is available in the k mount.
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