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10-29-2009, 01:37 PM   #1
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Fast, Normal Primes on a Semi-Budget

I brought up the subject of fast, normal primes for my K200D (and beyond) a number of months back and received a lot of feedback. And while I'd still love that wonderful 31mm DA Limited most of all, the going rate ($900-plus) is a bit too dear for the time being.

But this Christmas I might be able to swing something for a few hundred dollars less. So... given current street prices... which of these lenses would you go for with your own money - and why? Please note I have no other primes right now (plenty of zooms - some very good) and I'd like a minimum aperture of at least f/2.0.

1) Pentax SMCP-FA 43mm f/1.9 Limited - $569 at B&H

2) Pentax SMCP FA 35mm f/2.0 AL - can still be found in the $450-$500 range if you look hard enough

3) Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC - $439 at B&H

And where might the Pentax SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4 ($359 at B&H) fall in the scheme of things? This is not a bad lens (and cheaper than all of the others) but I'm thinking the focal length is getting a bit long here on a APS-C camera (assuming I won't have other primes for a while). I don't shoot that many portraits (a few) but I shoot a lot of everything else. I'm thinking that 43mm Limited might be at the very edge of where I would want to be in APS-C terms.

Any input in terms of comparative image quality, real-world use and flexibility, and cost-benefit analysis would be helpful and appreciated.

10-29-2009, 01:44 PM   #2
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I don't have experience with any of those but the FA 50/1.4 which is not sharp wide open. The 50/1.7 (F or FA) is much sharper at 1.7 and 2.0, and can be found for ~$150 which I'd say is definitely the best value.

50 is a little long on APS-C but I still love to use it.
10-29-2009, 01:53 PM   #3
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I can only speak to the FA 35. It's a sublime walk around length. Just a hair longer than normal to 35mm, it's something that you'd be content to leave on your camera. It's downsides are primarily that it's not a limited, and some people don't like the bokeh it produces, and as you noted, it's climbed in price. If you really want the DA 31, maybe your better option is to save for it, and right now get something completely different. The 21 ltd falls outside your cap on aperture, but is a lovely compliment to the 31 ltd when you eventually can afford it.

Or maybe consider playing with some older manual glass to scratch the LBA itch at a lower cost? SMC-M 28 f/2 perhaps?
10-29-2009, 02:20 PM   #4
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+1 for the Sigma 30. Fabulous lens.

Had the FA35 and although it's a great lens it doesn't have any...spirit in my experience. I've used the FA43 only for a very short period of time so won't comment on it.

FA50 can be had in the marketplace here regularly for around $200 as well...


10-29-2009, 02:25 PM   #5
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I only have experience with 50mm myself (FA 1.4, A and M 1.7). Heard nothing but praise for the 30 f/1.4. Given the price increase on the FA 50, I'd now probably grab the Sigma and an A or M 50 f/1.7 ($70 or less).
10-29-2009, 02:42 PM   #6
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Been going through something similar, trying to replace my DA35/2.8 Ltd. with something faster.

35mm was okay 'normal' focal length, but all else equal would prefer a bit wider.

My list included yours and these others:

4) Sigma 28mm F1.8 EX DG ASPHERICAL MACRO ~USD379 new
pros - 'most' normal focal-length (28mm = diagonal of APS-C sensor), good IQ, nice bokeh (9 blades), very close focus (1:3), not expensive
cons - very bulky and heavy, Stigma
samples: Zenfolio | Sinan Tarlan | Sigma EX 28mm f/1.8 Full Size Samples

5) Voigtländer Ultron 40mm f/2 SLII - ~USD379 new
pro - typical Voigtländer IQ and construction, tiny-but-not-too-tiny, cool close-up (1:4) lens attachment, 9-blade diaphragm, price
cons - a bit long for normal lens, no AF
samples: Voigtländer Ultron 40/2.0 vs Pentax FA 35/2.0

6) SMC PENTAX-FA* 1:2 24mm IF & AL ~USD500 used
pro - genuine SMC, AF, high acutance
cons - not available new, a bit pricey, mixed reviews about bokeh and corner sharpness, not really small

I narrowed my list down to (4) and (5) but in the end I found a relatively inexpensive used Sigma 28mm f1.8 II Aspherical (MF), a much smaller predecessor of (4).

But out of all those lenses, you can't really go wrong with any of them. You/we are spoiled for choices, it's a good problem to have.
10-29-2009, 08:45 PM   #7
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Thanks for the feedback so far.

Dave, I was actually looking at the Sigma 28mm f/1.8 EX DG myself. It seems like a nice piece - the size and weight gave me pause, however. But I wouldn't rule it out.

Jodokast... given that an A or M 50mm f/1.7 can be had that cheaply, maybe a combination with a Sigma would be the best value proposition.

Still looking for any input on the 43mm Limited.
10-29-2009, 08:54 PM   #8
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Have a look at the 43 ltd's reviews on the forum's lens review database.
Most of the comments centre around its unique bokeh (some don't like it while others like it a lot) and IQ (although it's not the sharpest lens wide open).

I'd agree that if you're looking for a top quality lens that would go the distance, the 31 ltd is the way to go. I have it as well as the FA 50, and love them both, but the 50 has seen fewer mounts after getting the 77 ltd... portraiture is transformed by the ltds.

10-29-2009, 09:27 PM   #9
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Having both the FA 50/1.4 and M 50/1.7 I think the FA 50's softness claims are highly exaggerated. It simply is not as bad as people say it is and by f4 it is equal to the M 50 in all respects. My problem with the 50 is that on crop cameras it is too long for indoor shooting and a bit short for outdoor shooting.

I just acquired the FA 35/2 and was able to use it this past weekend as my only walk around lens. It was a wonderful experience. It is a bit sharper wide open than the 50mm and I do not have any issues with the bokeh or color rendition. Besides 35mm on a crop is 52mm right in the middle of what even Pentax thinks is a "normal" 35mm full frame lens. (To be precise I believe a lens must be the same focal length as the registration distance to be truly "normal", that would mean 46mm for Pentax not 50mm as most think. But I might be mistaken.)

I have never used the Sigma 30, although reading online most people love that lens. I also own the Pentax A 28/2.8 but that is slower than you were asking about.

Last edited by WheresWaldo; 10-29-2009 at 09:34 PM.
10-30-2009, 08:36 AM   #10
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After reading your feedback so far and thinking some more, it seems that, unless I buy used, either the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 or the Pentax 35mm f/2 might be the way to go. The 43mm Limited seems like a lovely lens for the right application. But if I'm going to go above $500, then I might as well save up for the 31mm Limited, right?

But the truth is, I don't want to wait that long to buy a decent prime. Since I already have a couple of quality f/2.8 zooms, I'd like to start with a lens that is faster than the zooms and has auto focus. So I think I'll probably think some more and decide between the Sigma 30mm or the Pentax 35mm.

I can always add good, used, manual-focus primes later if I want to give manual focus a shot again. I have no philosophical problem with MF - that's all I had for years in the film SLR days - but I'm not sure I fully trust my 52-year-old eyes anymore.
10-30-2009, 09:45 AM   #11
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Just throwing in my 2 cents here. I'm considering a prime in the same focal length range. I spent this morning looking through some of my favorite shots of all time. I noticed that a large percentage of them came from the 43/1.9. I previously owned the FA35, FA31, FA50/1.4, DA70, DA40, FA77 at one time or another. Out of all those lenses, I preferred the FA43. Some think it's a weird focal length, but it was perfect for me - great for portraits, street, group shots, landscape, whatever. It also as a unique drawing property that has been described in the reviews section. In fact, I'm thinking of using it as my only lens with the K-x I'll probably order soon.
10-30-2009, 10:01 AM   #12
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My FA43 is on my camera 90% of the time. It is a very sharp lens and does well wide open. I like the bokeh from it and love the way it renders colors.
10-30-2009, 10:35 AM   #13
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My FA 35/2 is on the camera as my standard walk-around lens. It is a rotten pity that Pentax chose to discontinue this fine product. Compact, sharp, and fast with a usable focus ring...what more could one want? I was fortunate to get mine at list price while they were still available from retail stock and have been shocked by the current prices used.


(Works well on my film cameras too...)
10-30-2009, 11:29 AM   #14
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I read a thread on Dpreview 6 months back by someone who had bought a new camera and the big-three zooms: 50-135, 60-250, and a 16-50, all F2.8, and then wanted to know which he should leave behind as it was too much weight for a hike or walk-about of some kind.

This is all by way of saying that i generally like Pentax's smaller lenses as they are easier to carry around in size and weight.

I like the DA 35, f2.8 a lot but found it not wide enough the other day, so i went out and bought a Pentax F 28mm f2.8. Just got it yesterday and it seems sharp right off the bat and focuses quickly. I also have a FA 50 f1.4 which i like a lot, but rarely use it beyond an aperture of f2.8. I sort of question the need to go much faster than an f2.8, especially if it means a much larger volume or weight of lens. I'm sure there are some that need the shallower DOF, but not a criteria for me - comes back to what we want to do with the lens, i guess.

BTW, while i was shopping on ebay for the Pentax F 2.8, there were only 3 of them available on auction while i was watching, they went for $300, $250, $248. (i wish Pentax wasn't becoming so popular :-))

Best of luck in your search,
10-30-2009, 11:45 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
My FA 35/2 is on the camera as my standard walk-around lens. It is a rotten pity that Pentax chose to discontinue this fine product. Compact, sharp, and fast with a usable focus ring...what more could one want? I was fortunate to get mine at list price while they were still available from retail stock and have been shocked by the current prices used.


(Works well on my film cameras too...) says other wise. Don't know the truth myself, just pointing this out.

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