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06-05-2009, 10:50 PM   #1
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Location: Melbourne, Australia
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Review(-ish): Pentax DA* 300mm first impressions

Long time lurker, but not many posts to date...

Anyway, I am heading up to Queensland in a week with my K20D and family of lenses, but decided I'd love a really good telephoto lens. I toyed with the idea of getting the Sigma 100-300, but thought it overlapped a bit too much with my Sigma 70-200.

So to cut a long story short I managed to get my hands on a brand spanking new Pentax DA* 300mm lens! It's the first DA* (or any *) lens I've owned.

I haven't been able to find much in the way of reviews or anything on this lens, so thought I'd share my first impressions of it so far in case anyone else out there is curious.

The build

Magnificent. It is by far the best-built lens I own, definitely better than the Sigma EX lenses I have. Nothing wobbles or shifts. The focus mechanism is super silky smooth. The black coating on the lens and hood do tend to pick up fingerprints a bit, but they also wipe off pretty easily. Of course the whole thing is supposedly waterproof, but I can't quite bring myself to test that bit just yet!

It IS heavy, but that's what you get for a metal lens with that sort of quality. I hate to think what it would have been like if it was 2.8, as much as the extra speed would have been nice.

Focusing

This is my first SDM lens and I must say it's quite a revelation having a completely silent focusing lens. If you listen very carefully it makes a faint clicking noise as it focuses back and forth, but it's barely there. It certainly isn't going to make people or wildlife turn around and go "what was THAT?" like they do with some of my other screw-drive lenses.

Speed is not super-fast, in fact probably no different to screw drive on the K20D. I actually tried the lens on my old *ist D and focusing was slower, but all my lenses focus much slower on that camera.

Focusing is generally very accurate if you're holding it still and there aren't complicated things to confuse it (like leaves or twigs in front of what you're trying to focus on).

One thing I do love is the ability to manually override the focus without switching the camera or lens to MF. I still need to get the hang of it though. Sometimes I forget that it's still AF though, so I'll manually focus, half-press the shutter release, and promptly have the camera focus on something else for me.

Bokeh

Probably one of my nicest lenses for smooth, creamy bokeh. I haven't done extensive testing, but there are none of the halos or "busy" effects some of the other lenses I use tend to get.

Sharpness

When it's properly focused and there is no camera shake (a challenge handheld, actually!) it is bitingly sharp. I'm pretty certain it's outresolving the K20D's sensor in the centre. I need to do some more careful tests to test edge-to-edge, but so far I'm pretty impressed.

Surprises

I discovered something pretty cool this morning - my Sigma 2x teleconverter works with the DA* 300! I'm pretty sure it wasn't designed for this purpose, but it fits and the elements inside give it plenty of room so nothing bumps into anything it shouldn't.

The two big downsides of this combo are:
  • Manual focus only (because it becomes f/8 minimum)
  • 600mm @ f/8 is very hard to get clear pictures with, even with shake reduction!

Sample images

The weather has been pretty ordinary here in Melbourne recently (especially on weekends ) so I haven't had a chance to really put it through it's paces. I'll see if I get a chance to get a few shots up soon if people are interested. It'll either be within the next week or not until July, in which case I'll hopefully have some nice shots of the Daintree to share!

Summary

Pros:
  • Awesome build
  • Great focus override
  • Very sharp (from my preliminary shooting)
  • Beautiful bokeh
  • Love the SDM (screw drive seems so crap, now!)
  • Works with my existing 2x Sigma teleconverter
Cons:
  • Pretty heavy (but not too bad)
  • Expensive (AU$2500 RRP in Oz is a joke, but I managed to get a good deal! )
  • F/4 can be slow in some situations, makes 2x tele manual focus only
  • Feeds the LBA even further...

Cheers,
Chris

P.S. I'm not a professional anything (photographer, reviewer, blogger, whatever) so this is all very unscientific. Also if I left anything out that you want to find out about, let me know and I'll try to answer.

06-05-2009, 11:44 PM   #2
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Location: MA, USA
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Nice, and thanks! I've been toying with the idea of the DA* 300. I have the DA 55-300 which I hardly use because it's too slow on the tele side, and for everything between 55 and 200, I have much faster MF primes that I tend to go for. A 300/4 would be great to have, coupled with a Kenko 1.5x would be pretty bad-ass telephoto for a noob amateur like me :-D


If you're finding you like the MF override a lot, you should unassaign AF from the shutter button and train yourself to AF using the AF button. You can get into the habit of

AF with button -> MF override -> shoot
06-06-2009, 03:22 AM   #3
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Nice review, I've had the DA300 for a year and it was probably my most used lens for the time. I use the 1.7x auto focus adapter with it when the light is good (f6.7) and it works quite well though the TC does the focusing. Too bad Pentax hasn't released the TC they are working on yet, maybe they are waiting to make sure it will work with the super telephoto they also are supposed to be working on. I didn't have much luck with the kenko 1.5x focusing on mine though the image quality was good. I hope they make a good 500mm like the DA300 but it may be too late for me as I started saving for a canon 500mm f4. If the pentax long lens comes out soon I may change my plans though.

On the AF button, I do the opposite AF cancel with the button and touch up with manual focus when necessary (like a bird in the reeds or tree limbs. Either way the sdm is pretty handy for that.
06-06-2009, 03:59 AM   #4
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Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia
Posts: 2,925
Thanks for the review... Interestingly this actually gets me interested on the 60-250 instead since they seem to be of a similar caliber

I do like the 200mm range though, maybe I should get the DA* 200mm instead.

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