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10-28-2008, 10:28 AM   #1
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The days of wine and lenses

There was a time, maybe 20 years or so ago that a friend of mine and I were big into wine collecting. Not for the sake of collecting but for 'bang for the buck' bottles to buy for drinking. Using the Wine Spectator (and others) score we laid out a spreadsheet to identify wines for purchase. Along the way we found that our rookie taste buds could not tell the difference of less than five points in a given variety, hence cost figured in and thus we got to 'bang for the buck'>

Which gets me to my LBA. Like that great journalist Hin (Hin's Tech Corner ) I too have a frugal budget and hence am still on the road for the 'bang for the buck' kinda deals, but now in lenses I shoot through, not stare through in overturned wine bottles.

So, my burning question is this: Has anyone done a side by side comparison of lenses of similar (not necessarily equal) focal lengths between the regular Pentax lenses vs the Stars vs the Limiteds? I have a FA 50 1.4. Would I be able to see a big gain in a DA 43 Limited? Has anyone shot these in particular and others in general, side by side, same conditions, same object, and come up with an objective ranking. Or is it way to subjective to do so?

10-28-2008, 10:57 AM   #2
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I am also a Phrugal Photographer (I should start a blog with that name ) and believe that with digital, many lenses that used to be so-so are now a lot better. Contrast and colour rendition were important attributes for lenses back in the film days (colour not so much if you only shot B&W). But nowadays, especially if you shoot RAW, it doesn't matter if a lens has a bit less contrast or the colours are slightly cooler or warmer, because you can change that in postproduction. The only thing you need from a lens right now is that it be sharp.

So, Pentax lenses are famous for their SMC coatings, which produce great contrast and colours, but you can find cheaper 3rd party lenses that will perform just as well on digital. If you take a look at my Flickr pages you will see most photos were taken with older manual lenses, many of which weren't Pentax.

If you want recommendations, I like the older Tokina zooms for their build and sharpness. I've also shot a lot with a Toyo Optics 28mm f/2.8 that I couldn't give away, even though it's a great lens on digital (28mm is the normal focal length for APS-C sensors). Don't be afraid to pick up some cheap lenses on eBay and try them out for yourself. You'll quickly realise the limiting factor in getting great photos is you ability as a photographer, not the camera or lenses you have.

I have not made any side by side comparisons, I've just gone by what I've seen on the computer screen and prints. This was shot with a Tokina 28-70mm f/2.8-4.3 on a K10D and I printed it to 18x22.5 with no issues:

The Sky Threatens
10-28-2008, 12:33 PM   #3
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Almost any Pentax M prime will be able to get you images good enough for
publication, IMO, and the Takumar lines are some of the easiest-to-MF lenses
you can get for Pentax.

That being said, there is a difference in un-processed IQ between the cheaper
lenses and the star/limited lenses - the A* 85 1.4, the 77 limited, the DA* 50-135
are a notch above. I think what you'll find is that if you buy an M and then practice
your photography skills, you'll consistently get better results than someone who
just occasionally shoots a limited or star lens. hinman, Mike Cash, others are
examples of folks who can shoot like a pro with any lens, because they've taught
themselves to see/capture.

10-28-2008, 02:20 PM   #4
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So, you want "bang for the buck"?

In regards to side-by-side comparisons, you will get a lot of interesting messages if you even suggest (for instance) that the FA 35/2 is better value than the DA*35/2.8 while delivering equivalent performance. Rather than start a war on the forum, you might want to check out the reviews at The list of Pentax reviews, while not exhaustive, is still pretty good. At least they are backed by quantitative data.

So, what do you get with a "*" or "Limited" lens?
  • State of the art optical design
  • Better build than Pentax's normal line
  • Presumably better QC than Pentax's normal line
  • Pride of ownership
  • A lighter wallet

As mentioned above, almost all the manual Pentax primes are winners though there is a price to be paid in terms of convenience and condition. There are also the various cult classics and value leaders outside the Pentax line.

Steve mantra is 85% of the bang for 60% of the buck. See my signature to confirm!

Last edited by stevebrot; 10-28-2008 at 03:46 PM.
10-28-2008, 03:21 PM   #5
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I'll start by saying that I don't have a series of lenses in any focal length that goes all the way to the last AF model. But I have enough duplicates that I've found some patterns.

28mm - I have or have had in the past year something like 7 primes at this length, plus the 16-45 zoom. My conclusion? There isn't much difference between the SMC-A, the SMC Tak, and the Super Tak. Being extremely picky, in good conditions, the A resolves a bit better, then the Super, then the SMC. If I had different samples, the order is likely to be different. I would expect this pattern to continue if I had an AF Pentax 28.

Third party lenses make it more interesting - they do things the Pentaxes won't or don't. Such as: focus closer, or do cool bokeh, or maintain saturation better... usually at the expense of some bit of resolution.

But resolution isn't everything. Just about all the primes out resolve the 16-45. But that doesn't mean the zoom makes bad photos.

I have similar experience at other focal lengths as well - 43/50/55, 35, DA70/Tamron90 etc. And I'd say the results for me are similar - I view things not as one lens beats another, but that one lens has advantages or characteristics that come in handy in some situations. And knowing that, I can better pick what lens to use.

I do have the 43. It is better than my other 50's in some ways, and not as good in some others (I have a passel of Taks, and a M 50/1.7) I am glad I bought it, for much of the reasons Steve mentions. Could I live my life with any of the 50's instead? Of course!

(The 43 handles all sorts of flare/glare/CA producing lights better than the 50's, and has a flavor of its own in rendition of line and space.)

Using the wine analogy, many of the variations in Pentax lenses are in the +-5 point range. And some 3rd party lenses get into that range, others may be of a lower score but have something charming about them.

My old Adaptall Tamron 35-80 is actually sharper than the 16-45, not to mention faster. But the 16-45 has better tone and flare resistance, and LOOKS sharper due to its contrast characteristics.
10-29-2008, 01:35 PM   #6
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The best comparisons I have seen was by Carpents on this forum.
He has an excellent 50mm shoot-out thread on here ... with excellent write-up and images to boot as well.

Search for Carpents ... and there should be a link to his Pbase page (I think it is).
Excellent wealth of knowledge ... also he has many comments scattered through the Lens review Database as well for many lenses.

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