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09-24-2009, 04:35 AM   #1
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Pentax SMC-DA 40mm f/2.8 Limited or Sigma AF 50mm f/1.4 EX HSM DG ?

Hi All,

I'm going to New York next summer and I'm thinking ahead regarding what kit I'm going to take. I want to travel as light as possible, which means leaving luxuries like the Sigma 100-300mm at home along with my Lee filters and big camera bag. It will be mainly street work and holiday portraits, so my camera bag will look like something like this:

Pentax K20D (obviously!).
Sigma 10-20mm (thinking wide angle Times Square long exposure at night, or Grand Central Station long exposure).
Pentax 17-70mm SDM f/4 (standard walkaround lens).
Hoya screw in polarizer.
Flash (if required).

In addition, I've been looking at a fast prime for portraits and low light for a while now. I currently have a 50mm f/1.7 that is looking a bit tired on the aperture blades, and it's not an autofocus lens. I've missed focus on a few shots, so it's maybe time to look at buying a fast portrait prime.

Given my desire to travel light in NYC, there is one obvious choice: the Pentax "pancake" SMC-DA 40mm f/2.8 limited. The MTF results on Photozone show that the resolution of this lens at f/2.8 is very, very good from centre to extreme. CA are also very minimal on this lens, so this pancake's image quality is simply sublime right from f/2.8 with virtually no distortion. It also ticks the box of being very compact and basically tiny; it won't add any overhead in my compact camera bag and will be very descrete for street shots. Build quality is also very highly praised being a metal chassis. However - is f/2.8 going to be fast enough for lower light conditions?

The only niggling feeling in the back of my head is the Sigma 50mm HSM f/1.4. Again, it receives excellent praise across all DSLR brands with very good MTF figures right from f/1.4. Additionally, it's an f/1.4 lens, so bokeh will be buttery and would also give me more headroom in low light conditions. The only real problem is that it is an absolutely huge lens and doesn't fit at all with travelling light. Build quality is probably not as good as the pancake either, and it doesn't exactly scream discreet. I also hear anecdotally that it is a heavy lens.

I'm not sure at all, both lenses are brilliant - the pancake is perfect in every way, but 'only' f/2.8. The Sigma is f/1.4, is superb from f/1.4, has awesome bokeh - but it's a real beast of a lens.

What do you think? Anyone tried both in the field? Any other suggestions? I'd like to get a discussion about this that will hopefully push me in one direction or the other.

Threads for reference:

http://www.photozone.de/canon-eos/392-sigma_50_14_canon?start=1

http://www.photozone.de/pentax/124-pentax-smc-da-40mm-f28-limited-review--test-report

09-24-2009, 06:29 AM   #2
Voe
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If you want the best of both worlds get the FA 43mm Limited.

Only half a stop slower than the Sigma, and almost as light and small as the DA 40mm Limited.
I used to have both DA 40mm and 43mm Limiteds. The DA 40 is an excellent lens but the 43mm Limited is the much better lens.
09-24-2009, 07:21 AM   #3
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I'd practicaly agree with Voe on this one but...
I have DA40 and F50/1.7. Two very different things.
DA40 is perfect all arounder. Let's you shoot just about anything and delivers great results. It's fantasticaly portable (very good as wide(er) option to long lenses) and excelently built.
Now to the 50. Well, you have the focal length already. So you know what you're getting there. DOF difference between 40/2.8 and 50/1.7 (in your case 50/1.4) is quite drastic. As far as portraits go, I like both lenses, but in different ways. 40 is good for tight all body shots, or upper body shots. While 50 is nearly perfect (I'd like to try 55/58) for upper body/head shots.
As far as Sigma 50/1.4 is concerned. Never read anything negative about it. Seems to be great lens on all accounts. So qeustions to answer are:
Do you need/want SMC?
Are you happy with 50 or do you need wider?
Are you happy to accept f2.8 as fastest?
Are you happy to lug a brick around?
After you sum up yes/no answers you'll know.
Ideal solution:
If you're not thrilled about f1.4 get 40/2.8 and used F or FA50/1.7. If you are after only one lens, I think Voe's suggestion is the one to go with

BR
Peter
09-24-2009, 08:54 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by Big G Quote
Hi All,

I'm going to New York next summer and I'm thinking ahead regarding what kit I'm going to take. I want to travel as light as possible

In addition, I've been looking at a fast prime for portraits and low light for a while now.

I'm not sure at all, both lenses are brilliant - the pancake is perfect in every way, but 'only' f/2.8. The Sigma is f/1.4, is superb from f/1.4, has awesome bokeh - but it's a real beast of a lens.

Any other suggestions?

Other suggestions...

It's an apples and oranges comparison, so leaves other suggestions wide open as there is a lot of good comprimises in between.

In my opinion, f/2.8 is not a low-light (pubs, bars, night-time patios) lens. f/2.0 is the starting point.

On the other hand, at f/1.4~f/2.8, depth-of-field is so shallow that autofocus may not be critical enough, don't know if it will give a huge benefit over manual focus. A split-screen would be a better investment than AF.

IMHO, a 'normal' lens is a more versatile travel lens than a portrait lens. And shorter focal lengths are better for low-light (shutter-speed = 1/focal length * crop-factor).

Finally, you are not really traveling light (big body, 2 not small zooms and a flash)...it's like 2000g total weight. So, any lens in the 90~250g range won't have a huge difference (2250g/2090g = +7%).

Some other options:
  • FA35/2 - fairly compact, AF, apparently good wide-open, hexagonal bokeh
  • FA50/1.4 - fairly compact, AF, economic, more portrait-y FL
  • F50/1.7 - really light (170g), AF, more economic
  • Sigma 30/1.4 - smaller digital-specific version of the Sigma 50/1.4, good bokeh, still not compact (430g), soft corners


09-24-2009, 10:05 AM   #5
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I really like the DA 40mm, but I wouldn't describe it as a low light lens. It's strengths are good colors, great contrast, fast auto focus and small size. If you want low light, consider finding a copy of the FA 35mm, any of the FA limiteds, or any of the 50s out there. I personally don't like the 50mm focal length. I just feel like it is an in between focal length -- not quite a portrait lens, but not wide enough for easy in door use. I guess I gravitate toward 40mm or 70mm when I am shooting.
09-24-2009, 11:44 AM   #6
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I find f/2.8 just fine in low light, but I'm perfectly willing to use ISO 1600, take advantage of SR to get usable shots at low shutter speeds, and underexpose and push process if necessary. If you need to be getting shutter speeds of 1/60" and can't bear to raise ISO above 400 or underexpose/push, then you will indeed need a faster lens. But given that DOF become much smaller at apertures f/2 and below, you might not find it as useful as you thought you would. Plus subjects that don't have at least *some* light on them seldom make for great compositions. And 40mm is a more generally useful focal length to my eyes than 50mm. So as a basic walkaround lens that is quite useful indoors, I love the DA40.

But I still am not sure I'd recommend it for a portrait lens - far too short for that. You'd be stuck only being able to take half body shots, or else having to shoot from an uncomfortably and unflatteringly close distance, or else having to crop everything.
09-24-2009, 12:13 PM   #7
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This is all very good advice, thanks for all your opinions.

Ineresting with the FA 43 LTD f/1.9 suggestions, the only problem is that lens is quite expensive in the UK for what it is. The 40mm f/2.8 pancake can be bought for 216, where as the FA 43 LTD is over 400.
09-24-2009, 01:20 PM   #8
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I don't think I'd ever travel without a lens with a 1.4 max aperture. Then again, I have a few of them already and wouldn't have to buy one. Plus, I don't really mind carrying around 5-10 lbs of gear, even on longer walks/hikes.

Like someone else mentioned, getting a katzeye or similar screen to help with MF on your 1.7 lens might be an option. And if possible, then you could get a used MF 50mm 1.4 and the DA 40mm if it was within your budget constraints.

I also like the suggestion to get the 30mm 1.4. That seems to be quite a good lens if corner sharpness isn't crucial. I think that is the option I'd go for for city shooting in your situation.

09-24-2009, 03:03 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Big G Quote
This is all very good advice, thanks for all your opinions.

Ineresting with the FA 43 LTD f/1.9 suggestions, the only problem is that lens is quite expensive in the UK for what it is. The 40mm f/2.8 pancake can be bought for 216, where as the FA 43 LTD is over 400.
where do you have that prices from?
The cheapest (repsected) vendor I've seen is SRS and they are doing DA40 at 350 and FA43 at around 700 (I'm not bothered to check exactly).
So please if you would be kind enough to share the vendor web page with me as I'm currently out for telephoto and price difference as you describe would make it really tempting.

BR
Peter
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