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12-22-2009, 12:58 PM   #1
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Looking for head-to-head comparison: DA 17-70 and DA* 16-50

About 4 months ago, I bought a DA 17-70mm f/4 as a high-quality replacement for the kit lens. I really wanted something with a little more speed at the long end, and slightly more range wasn't a bad thing either. But not too long ago, I was also able to pick up a DA* 50-135mm. And maybe that was the beginning of my own downfall, because I must say that gold ring is quite addictive. Now I'm seriously considering "upgrading" the 17-70 to another DA* lens, naturally the DA* 16-50mm. But I wonder...is it really enough of an upgrade? And that's why I turn to the rest of PentaxForums for help.

I'm drawn to the 16-50 for a couple main reasons: build quality and aperture. But especially aperture. But I'm inclined to stick with the 17-70 for a few reasons. It would probably be easier for me to list areas where I'm making comparisons between these lenses (one I own, one I've never touched) and see how the pros and cons stack up.

Build Quality/Weather Sealing
The 16-50 is a DA* lens, and that should mean no more has to be said. I'm familiar with the very similar 50-135, and I like the idea of another equally well-built lens. But the 17-70 is no dog, either. It's solid, the zoom action is perfect, and it even has several of the same qualities as a star lens: a sealed lens mount on the back, the Super Protect coating on the front, and an SDM motor. It's like a DA "half-star" lens. In fact, if Pentax hadn't gotten lazy and given it a severely underdamped focusing ring, I'd say it was built every bit as good as a DA* lens without the full weather sealing. But...*sigh*...I want that weather sealing.

Size
The 16-50 seems big and awkward for a standard zoom. But, then again, the 17-70 is almost the same size, and can be a bit awkward. It just doesn't have the big flare at the end for the extra large front element. The barrels of the two lenses are roughly the same. The 17-70 weighs a bit less. But for the most part, this category is a wash. They're both equally massive compared to the kit lens.

Price
The price difference, between new lenses is about $250. Now, of course, I've already bought the 17-70, so I'll have to eat some depreciation on top of that. But I have a rebate card that came with my K-7 that promises me $100 back if I buy the 16-50mm sometime in the next year. That card is staring at me on my desk...taunting me.

Specifications
The 17-70 covers covers a longer range but the 16-50 is just a tiny bit wider. Which makes more of a difference...1mm on the wide end, or 20mm on the long end? I suppose you can always crop the 50 (and on a 14-MP sensor, there's room to do that), but you can't "uncrop" the wide end to get extra view. I think I'm fine either way. The aperture, on the other hand, calls to me. Try as I might to diminish that one-stop difference, I know it's not small. Shooting with a constant f/2.8 zoom (the 50-135) has spoiled me, and I shoot so much indoors that I notice the limitation of being able to go to "only" f/4. That's often the difference between making do with ISO 1600 and being able to go with a much more appealing ISO 800. If it were just about aperture, the decision would be a no-brainer.


Image Quality
When I look at the list so far, it seems while the 16-50 has some advantages and no major disadvantages, the upgrade doesn't automatically justify the extra cost and hassle of selling one lens to buy the more expensive one. So what remains to break the stalemate, the thing I'm left to agonize over, is image quality. But I can't really tell whether the 16-50 would be a step up, an even trade, or even a downgrade in terms of IQ. It seems pretty clear that the 16-50 isn't the near-perfect optical performer that its other DA* siblings are. In fact, the consensus seems to be that it isn't as sharp as the DA 16-45mm, and has more distortion to boot. But what's it like compared to the 17-70? That's a comparison I've never seen anyone make directly, and that's the whole point of this long-winded post.

The only real objective comparison I could find between the two lenses are the lens reviews on photozone.de. In their analysis, the DA 17-70 seems to edge out the DA* 16-50 overall. In terms of distortion, vignetting, and resolution, there is no great difference between them. If anything the 17-70 is a more consistent performer across all focal lengths and apertures, while the 16-50 has more issues wide-open with vignetting and corner softness, and slightly better potential for center resolution. Now I realize that you can't compare a wide-open f/2.8 to a wide-open f/4 (after all, you can't say anything good about the 17-70's performance at f/2.8, can you?) But since, in my opinion, the whole point of buying a fast lens is to make use of it's wide-aperture capabilities, the lens should be readily usable wide-open. I'm not saying that the 16-50 isn't usable at f/2.8. I mean, whether some corner softness is acceptable is a very subjective thing. But I think there's a consensus in the community that the 16-50 wide-open is not a jaw-dropping performer.

Also, based on the Photozone results, the 17-70 is the clear winner in terms of Chromatic Aberrations. Of course that's not a deal breaker since it's correctable in PP, but that counts for something.



So, fellow Pentaxians...does anyone have first-hand experience with both lenses? Is there more to the story than I've been able to discover without having tried them both? Is there something special about the 16-50's optical performance that brick wall tests and resolution charts don't capture....something not present in the 17-70? I know in some cases (the FA31 vs FA35 comes to mind), one lens has "soul" or "pixie dust" the other lacks. If someone can speak to those intangible qualities a little, it might make the decision more clear. I know the color rendition and "pop" of the 50-135 has made me a very happy owner. If Pentax gave the 16-50 those same magical qualities, but they didn't find their way into the 17-70, then I'll have no choice but to upgrade. But if not...I'll likely see no reason to change.

Thanks...especially for your patience in sticking with me through that whole post!


Last edited by aerodave; 12-22-2009 at 01:36 PM.
12-22-2009, 01:07 PM   #2
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An interesting challenge. I have the 16-50, and it is a great lens. Obviously I got one of the early good copies. If you want to throw some more money at your lens addiction, The distortion in the 16-50 can be automatically removed on import, together with the small vignetting by running the images through DxO. I do that with my k10, and the difference is almost unbelievable. Here's a sample from my Flickr site:
DxO Distortion Tests - a set on Flickr
12-22-2009, 01:30 PM   #3
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Thanks for the input, CR. I've been interested in DxO for a while, but the extra workflow steps and their seeming lack of interest in keeping up with Pentax products as has caused me to hold off for now.

This thread was originally going to be a "Where's the love for the DA 17-70?" discussion, because few people seem to have it. It's only got 7 reviews in the PF Lens Reviews section, versus 33 reviews for the 16-50. But of those reviews, it comes out just a bit higher, probably because of the early QC issues on the DA* lens.

But my motivation for posting this changed once I got the other DA* lens, because my LBA kicked in. And now I'm really curious to see if anyone else has made a real first-hand comparison between the two pieces of glass. That way I can either be talked into or out of a new lens purchase.
12-22-2009, 01:42 PM   #4
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I own both and love them both. To me they are different purpose lenses. My DA*16-50 is my main lens that I use for a lot of purposes, indoors and outdoors. The f2.8 is a lot of help many times as is the length of the lens. My DA 17-70 I consider to be more for general purpose outdoors usage (although I shot all of my 4th of July fireworks shots with this lens quite effectively). I find it to produce somewhat darker images than my 16-50 but that extra range 51-70 is a great help. I have no other SDM lenses so these to are fun to use. Both lenses experience some vingetting at their wide end, both give me solid results. The 16-50 gets more use though. If I had to pick between them, I'd go with the 16-50 but having them both and several Pentax bodies, I'm glad to have them both.

We make a lot of fuss about weather resistent lenses but practically this had rarely been an issue for me or a need. I like to have it but with one exception this year, I really wasn't in any situation where 1) I needed it, 2) could not have protected the equipment some other way. I've come to see it as nice to have but not essential.

The DA*16-50 is IF which is a good thing as you know the Da 17-70 is not.

I have a number of other lenses too but these two are my 1, 2 favorites.

Last silly but perhaps a factor, the DA*16-50 is a bigger lens at 77mm with hood and a battery grip on my K20, it just looks more like a professional camera. Hey, size matters right?

Edit: one other thing is that the focus ring on the DA*16-50 has a very short through. It really doesn't bother me but it bothers some. On the other hand I find my DA 17-70 focus ring very easy to disturb by mistake.

Good luck with this decision.

12-22-2009, 01:52 PM   #5
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Thanks, blackcloudbrew. That's the sort of split-decision info that makes it hard to pick a winner, but also adds reassurance that I can't really go wrong either way.

One thing, though...the DA 17-70 is indeed IF. I just checked to be sure.
12-22-2009, 03:54 PM   #6
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You are correct on the IF, my mistake. Memory is a fragile thing.

I don't think you can go wrong either way. They are both great lenses.
12-25-2009, 01:11 AM   #7
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Well, the lure of the DA* was too strong to resist. A 16-50mm is on the way, and my 17-70mm is up for sale in the marketplace. I guess if I feel I've made a mistake, it's cheaper to trade "down", right? But something tells me I won't want to part with the new one.
12-25-2009, 11:10 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by aerodave Quote
Well, the lure of the DA* was too strong to resist. A 16-50mm is on the way, and my 17-70mm is up for sale in the marketplace. I guess if I feel I've made a mistake, it's cheaper to trade "down", right? But something tells me I won't want to part with the new one.
Dave, I am sure you will be ecstatic with the 16-50. There is a magic about its images that makes it a true Pentax lens. It is not the only Pentax magic lens, but it is one of them.

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