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12-31-2009, 11:08 PM   #1
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old Pentax glass superior to new???

I have read comments that state old pentax lenses are of superior quality to the new made for digital lenses. I am looking to add some lenses to my very tiny collection and therefore I am interested in how accurate this statement is. Would it be wiser to buy older lenses or new lenses?

Any comments would be much appreciated.









K10D, Sigma 17-70, FA50 1.4, DA70 Ltd

12-31-2009, 11:20 PM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by kiwao Quote
I have read comments that state old pentax lenses are of superior quality to the new made for digital lenses. I am looking to add some lenses to my very tiny collection and therefore I am interested in how accurate this statement is. Would it be wiser to buy older lenses or new lenses?

Any comments would be much appreciated.
It depends by what you mean by "old".

Also, some new lenses are basically the same as the older ones (i.e., DA* 200 f/2.8 is a carbon copy of FA* 200 f/2.8, optically).

Some excellent older lenses don't really have modern equivalents in terms of their aperture and focal length (i.e., A 50 f/1.2, A* 85 f/1.4).
01-01-2010, 12:49 AM   #3
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Certain series of Pentax lenses have the reputation of consistently excellent optical and build quality. The following series come to my mind:
  • Almost all M42 Takumars, Super-Takumars, S-M-C Takumars, and SMC Takumars of the 50s, 60s, and early 70s.
  • Pentax-K bayonet (essentially repackaged SMC Takumars)
  • All * series
  • Pentax-FA Limited
It is possible to generalize that compromises were made to optical quality starting with certain of the Pentax-M lenses. Compromise to build quality began with certain Pentax-A models in the mid-1980s. Then there is the matter of the "Takumar Bayonet", budget brand lenses with build and optical qualities more typical of the modestly priced glass that they were.

While it might be tempting to say that optical and build quality trended down from the mid-1980s on, I don't believe that to be a valid assertion. The main FA and DA series lenses may be mostly plastic, but it is very high quality plastic and assembly is better than average for the industry. The optics themselves are computer designed and have coatings that have been incrementally improved since the original SMC from the early 1970s. The current level of optical quality is most evident with the modern zooms. Even the very moderately priced DA 18-55 and DA 55-200 kit lenses offer optical performance that is superior to all but the best zooms from the 80s and earlier.

The one generalization you can make is that there is high value in much of the older glass. It is pretty hard to beat the "bang for the buck" of the Pentax-K 55/1.8 for instance. Ditto for most of the M42 Takumars, Pentax-K, Pentax-M, and Pentax-A lenses as well.

Steve

(Sounding like some sort of fanboy this evening...)

Last edited by stevebrot; 01-01-2010 at 12:55 AM.
01-01-2010, 12:54 AM   #4
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The FA limiteds for example are still being made today.. some say the FA31 is one of the best lenses ever made by any brand.

Mind you there are claims that being made in Vietnam (which it appears some are) has lessened the quality.

My 3 FA limiteds are all branded made in Japan and all are brilliant and to me without flaw

In many threads DA's and DA limiteds have compared very favourably or on par IQ wise with the FA's. The DA 40 and the DA 70 are great lenses along with the DA35 which cover close to the same focal range as the 3 Amigos

Cheers

Neil

01-01-2010, 03:39 AM   #5
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Modern zooms have often better sharpeness and contrast than older ones I think but.......
My m28/3.5 is producing better than my DA16-45(okay a zoom) and the FA28 I had in every aspect. The K35/3.5 is said to bee even better.
My DA50-200 is quit sharp and has vivid colors and good contrast but...........
in terms of "clean" colors and "micro contrast" my M80-200 is much better.
Since affortable tele primes are not in the program, I value my K135/2.5 and m85/2.0
very highly and state that no modern zoom under $500 wil outperform them.
My m100/4.0 macro may bee a bit less sharp and contrasty than modern variations
but...........the manual focussing is so much better and its rock solid.
Other than "objective" criteria such as scharpeness and cotrast there are hardly to discribe
criteria than makes one pic more pleasing than the other.
My m85/2.0 and K45-125 are lenses that have that special magical extra.
In modern lenses it can be found too but.......than you have to pay so much more!
I've seen that magical extra in the FA43 for instance. If I had $550 maybe......
My m85 has cost me euro 60, the K45-125 euro 50 by the way..........
Conclusion: Good quality is still there but the price is 5 to 10 times higher.
01-01-2010, 07:20 AM   #6
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Hi,

since my job title is "optical designer", I can give you some insight.

In general, your statement is false. Lens designers always start from a previous design or other when designing a lens, and then improve it. It's hard to go back and degrade things except if you make all the wrong decisions. Then add the fact that new coatings are also better, it's hard to imagine newer lenses being worse. Manufacturing processes also tend to improve.

two things mitigate this:

1-older lenses might not be "better" but might have a different, desirable quality to them.

2-the best older lenses might very well be better than recent cheaper lenses. It is, in fact, to be expected. For instance, the choices in glass materials, lens elements (aspherical elements take more time to manufacture, thus cost more, etc), the time devoted to fine-tune a design, all have impact.

In other words, you cannot compare a kit lens with a legendary Takumar prime. You can compare the Takumar prime to a DA Limited prime, or even a non-Limited version.

About lenses being made in Vietnam... Comments like these always annoy me. I work for a company assembling optical test & measurement devices, and even though our R&D is in North America, a significant part of our manufacturing is now made in China. Our knowledge tranfer processes and our quality control processes ensure that there is no difference between the two manufacturing plants that we have. And a single device usually costs about the same price as the entire Pentax lineup. And we're a much smaller company than what Pentax must be. So there is no reason to imagine that THEIR quality control is more lacking that anyone else's.
01-01-2010, 07:56 AM   #7
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Good point, bdery, about people comparing the older glass to consumer priced kit lenses. They should be comparing the older Taks to the Limiteds. I find my Takumars to be the sharpest lenses in my bag but I don't have any modern DA Limiteds to compare them directly to. From a price standpoint, one can purchase some extremely high quality glass by purchasing Takumars and M lenses, probably for much less than new "consumer grade" lenses, if they are willing to use a manual lens.
01-01-2010, 08:41 AM   #8
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Actual physical build quality the lenses from the 70s knock all modern lenses into a cocked hat. Optical quality no I don't think they do. I am looking at my Pentax M 50mm F2 that is over 30 years old and has been worked hard, it still looks almost new. We all like to look at the past with rose coloured glasses

01-01-2010, 09:25 AM   #9
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Thanks for the input, bdery! Since you're in the optical business, may I ask how did you end up getting the lenses you have in your signature (Sigma 17-70 | DA 18-55 WR | FA 100-300 | FA 50 macro | F 50 mm f1,7 | M 150 mm)? I mean did you get them based on reviews or non-formal testing or did you perform some more rigorous optical testing?
01-01-2010, 11:56 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by kiwao Quote
I have read comments that state old pentax lenses are of superior quality to the new made for digital lenses. I am looking to add some lenses to my very tiny collection and therefore I am interested in how accurate this statement is. Would it be wiser to buy older lenses or new lenses?

Any comments would be much appreciated.

K10D, Sigma 17-70, FA50 1.4, DA70 Ltd
The precision-machined alloy body of older lenses is considered superior build quality even though modern plastic composite body material may be stronger and as accurately dimensioned and have less thermal variation.

Super-Multi-Coating of late-manufactured Super-Takumar, all S-M-C Takumar, and all SMC Bayonet is considered superior to earlier and later lens coatings.

The old lenses are typically lower-priced than modern lenses.

Modern lenses feature Auto-Focus and Auto-Aperture; older lenses are manual focus and aperture, and typically stop-down metering must be used. Auto-focus/aperture is a benefit for taking "Action shots" where time to manual focus can lead to missing the shot.

If manual operation is no problem, then there is financial consideration. Often better older glass can be purchased for far less than newer equivalent glass.

Wise is relatively personal here, depending on shooting style and finances.
01-01-2010, 12:11 PM   #11
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In every series of lenses produced there are some exceptional , some OK and some crappy lenses. Part of the hype for the old glass is that we already know which are the strong players.
01-01-2010, 02:30 PM   #12
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I don't know whether odler are better. I suppose it depends on what lenses you get, as other said.
I have "normal" examples from 3 series (K55, F50, DA40), honestly can't say which is better than the others... well, they are different. K55 is warmest, F50 coldest and DA40 most towards magenta hue. 40 has better bokeh than the other two once stopped beyond wide open, but that's down to 9 blades vs 6 I supposse. As far as coatings go... all three seem excellent to my untrained eye. I will not fault if guy working in optical proffesion says new are supposed to be better. I will even say it's true, just look at corner sharpness of the lenses. Main different though, I think, is in long glass! At 200mm and above you can see differences in IQ between old and new.
To my layman opinion, lens if lens that is 35odd years old (so nearly decade older than me) it's great testament to guys with rullers and paper and pencils. As far as build quality goes, the two K series I have feel best of the bunch, 31ltd comes 2nd and 40ltd is 3th. Don't get me wrong, despite being made of metal, the 40 is so small that it doesn't feel as good as the Ks....
01-01-2010, 02:57 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by kiwao Quote
Would it be wiser to buy older lenses or new lenses?
When you are considering which lens to buy, try to start by defining your needs as clearly as possible. Some requirements make the answer very easy. For example, if you are looking for any type of zoom lens, I think everyone would agree, new is better. If you need weather-proofing, new is the only choice. If your budget is $50, older is better.
01-01-2010, 03:26 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Just1MoreDave Quote
When you are considering which lens to buy, try to start by defining your needs as clearly as possible. . .
OK - 70's English Language & Literature BA here (degraded by time and usage):

To answer the question which is better (a comparative), one must first define good (as suggests Just 1More Dave above). That is, one must establish a standard against which all candidates are judged. I assert there are numerous standards against which the quality of photographic lenses are judged, especially in Pentax lenses. So . . .

Standard -> Comparative -> Superlative = Good -> Better -> Best

Are we comparing lens resolution? Go you Yoshihiko Takinami's website to review the seminal Pentax lens tests, even if it is already 8 years old. Although Yoshi did not test the complete line of Pentax lenses there are tests of Super-Tak's through FA to FA Limiteds there. Sometimes legacy lenses have the best resolution, sometimes an FA or FA Limited.

Are we comparing construction quality? First define quality. I ENJOY the feel of precision-machined, hand-assembled metal lenses and I have large hands, so for me late Takumar and SMCP lenses offer a better experience. M lenses are probably the smoothest operating non-Limited lenses - they probably represent the pinnacle of analog industrial manufacturing quality - but they are generally smaller than I find comfortable (heresy, I know, but this is all subjective).

Does that make legacy lenses BETTER than modern FA carbonite housing lenses? As a user, if your shots require absolute critical focus in variable temperature environments, probably not - engineering plastic is less susceptible to housing expansion/contraction due to temperature variation.

You can continue this process yourself. What I believe is apparent across the entire Pentax line and history GENERALLY is an expectation that lens optical design is superior to most other brands most of the time at a price point, and the best Pentax lenses are at least the equal optically of the best lenses ever, usually at a better price than their best competitors.

Last edited by monochrome; 01-01-2010 at 03:58 PM.
01-01-2010, 03:38 PM   #15
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QuoteQuote:
You can continue this process yourself. What I believe is apparent across the entire Pentax line and history GENERALLY is an expectation that lens optical design is superior to most other brands most of the time at a price point, and the best Pentax lenses are at least the equal optically of the best lenses ever, usually at a better price than their best competitors.
I agree 100%

I used to be Nikon film ...when coming back to my hobby and new to DSLR it was the quality of Pentax glass that made me make the right decision. I am one of these Pentax people that find it strange that people use a Pentax camera and buy lenses other than Pentax.


Cheers

Neil
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