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04-22-2010, 12:25 PM   #1
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300mm lens test, 5 cheap options

I bought an SMC Pentax 300mm f4 recently, which should be a great 300mm lens and allow me to sell my other 300mm lenses. But before they go, why not test them to see how they stack up? Since it's an unusual collection, I borrowed one lens from Marc Sabatella to add more interest to a wider audience. Thanks, Marc, and I found good things to say about it. Here's the lineup:

SMC Pentax 300mm f4 - 77mm filter size, 4m minimum focus distance, 1050g. The biggest lens, with awesome build quality and an integral hood. A tripod mount would be nice. (Manual focus)

Vivitar T4 300mm f5.5 - 62mm filter size, 6m minimum focus distance, 870g. An older lens, this does have a tripod mount and integral hood. It has the T4 mount so you need an adapter; I used a modified T4-M42 adapter. They are not very expensive on eBay. (Manual focus)

Quantaray 70-300mm f4-5.6 Tele-Macro LD (IF) - 62mm filter size, 0.95m minimum focus distance, 520g. This lens is identical to this Tamron model. It has the most magnification ratio of the group, a bayonet hood, and it's not too big. (Auto focus)

Tamron XR 28-300mm f3.5-6.3 Macro LD (IF) - 62mm filter size, .049m minimum focus distance, 460g. This superzoom has a few different models. This one is the A06, supposedly better than the 72mm filter version, but not the OS model and no Di coatings. It has a bayonet-mount petal hood. For testing I used the Quantaray hood because it had more coverage. It's way smaller than the others, just barely bigger than the kit lens, with a zoom lock. (Auto focus)

SMC Pentax-F 100-300mm f4.5-5.6 - 58mm filter size, 1.5m minimum focus distance, 620g. This is the oldest Pentax 100-300mm model. I keep forgetting which one is considered the best. It's internal zoom and only gets about 8mm longer when focused to the minimum. I used a 58mm metal hood meant for the Takumar 200mm f4 for testing. (Auto focus)

All these lenses cover the 35mm frame too.

04-22-2010, 12:50 PM   #2
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For these photos, I used my neighbor's house, I estimate 100 meters away. I started with the SMC Pentax 300mm f4, using it to to get a good exposure at f8 (ISO200, 1/1000) and setting a custom white balance on the vinyl siding. From there, all the exposures were calculated - f4 at 1/4000, etc., for all lenses, to eliminate metering differences. I focused each lens manually with a split prism screen. I took a shot at each full stop from maximum to f16 on each lens, then repeated the test twice more. Then I chose the best-focused series for each lens to make a set of crops. In my previous tests, I had a lot more variation in exposure, color and focus. Either I'm getting better or these lenses perform more closely. I ised the *ist DS.

I created the composites in Photoshop Elements 6 by taking 100% crops from the best-focused images. I did two different corner crops because one had a great example of CA and the other had more detail and color. Unfortunately, the framing for the Vivitar image cut off the nice dryer vent reflection, but you can look at the lower edge of the vinyl siding for CA.

Centers composite

Corners composite

Corners composite 2

Last edited by Just1MoreDave; 04-22-2010 at 01:12 PM.
04-22-2010, 01:08 PM   #3
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I noticed that the Quanta-Tamron could do 1:2 magnification. I thought about comparing it to the Tamron 28-300, but that lens can't get as much magnification so the test had too many variables. Then I bought a Tamron Adaptall-2 SP 90mm f2.5 macro, also capable of 1:2 macro. Since a lot of people ask in the beginner forum about the differences between a "real" macro and a close-focus zoom, and the 90mm+adapter is a similar price to the 70-300, it was worth seeing the performance difference. I taped a $20 bill to the wall and followed similar procedures to the above test. In order to get the same image size, the 90mm lens was about 15.5 inches away, while the 70-300 was 37 inches away. I used crops from f5.6 (Quantaray wide open) and f16 (best Quantaray center) to compare.

Centers

Corners
04-22-2010, 01:49 PM   #4
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Some of my observations: the comparisons show that the SMC Pentax 300mm prime is better, in a group it really should have beaten. Look at the second group of corner crops, below the word Farmall. There's a lot of detail in the crops for the Pentax prime that isn't apparent in other lenses at large apertures, and only a couple catch up when stopped down.

The Quantaray surprised me. It sells for a bit more than my Tamron superzoom did, but really outperforms it. It's not bad as a substitute macro either. I did notice it was tricky to manually focus at long distance - a little ring movement changed the focus a lot. Probably no one except me will use MF on this lens anyway. At close distances, the lens was not as easy to focus as the 90mm but it's unfair to use a dedicated MF macro lens as the standard. This lens used to be one I'd overlook, but it's not a bad idea on a limited budget. What's kind of funny is that everyone knows its weakness with purple fringing. I took fifteen pictures of tree branches with this lens, looking for its massive fringing. It turned out that none of these lenses were particularily better at handling fringing.

The Vivitar did about what I expected for an old design, similar to the T4 28mm lens I tested. I can't have a test without a Vivitar. It is often cheap, and it might be good enough for someone. Construction is very solid, and it reaches slightly farther than the other lenses, 305mm if the Pentax is 300.

The Tamron 28-300 superzoom typically does not fare well in tests. It probably shouldn't; you'd only use it if you wanted convenience instead of anything else. Magazine tests of this version say it only reaches 270mm, seems right to me. It's better at around 135-200mm.

The Pentax-F 100-300mm is a pretty good lens, I think. Its main drawback is size, staying pretty large at all settings. Weight and balance is good. Manual focus is easy. It has the Pentax SMC colors. Its performance seems consistent at other focal lengths too.

Here's the test scene for the first group of photos:


04-22-2010, 02:15 PM   #5
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it's suprisong the quantaray did so well,

really shows the compromise of a super zoom when looking at the corners
04-22-2010, 03:33 PM   #6
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Thanks for doing this! Been wondering about it - not that I haven't enjoyed using your Sigma 24 in the mean time (and I virtually *never* use that 70-300, so I've been in no hurry). BTW, the 24 seems to be a better lens overall than my M28/2.8, but I think I've learned that 24mm just doesn't do it for me in a prime - I'm too often wishing it were either wider or longer. In theory, a 24 might seem to plug the gap between 15 and 40 better than a 28, but that's just not how I see things, I guess.

QuoteOriginally posted by Just1MoreDave Quote
Some of my observations: the comparisons show that the SMC Pentax 300mm prime is better, in a group it really should have beaten.
Yes, it should win, and did :-)

QuoteQuote:
The Quantaray surprised me. It sells for a bit more than my Tamron superzoom did
Really? The Quantaray generally sold for well below $200; I got mine in a "kit" with my DS and 18-55 for $100 over the price of the DS & 18-55 alone.

Anyhow, people really like the Tamron lens that this is a rebadge of, so it doesn't surprise me that it would do well compared to other consumer zooms. But I am now more tempted to try to repeat my own tests against my DA50-200 in a more controlled fashion. Based on the (not very well controlled) tests I've done in the past, it really does appear to me that the 50-200 @200mm cropped (on my 10MP K200D) does at least as well as the 70-300 @300mm. But I'm as suspicious of those results as I imagine most people reading this would be.

QuoteQuote:
It turned out that none of these lenses were particularily better at handling fringing.
True again!

QuoteQuote:
The Vivitar did about what I expected
This is the one that surprised me (and not in a positive way). Not that I had ever heard particularly great things about this lens in particular, but just general by virtue of being a prime - and it's not like the Quantaray/Tamron 70-300 is all that new a design either.
04-22-2010, 09:14 PM   #7
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I have one more composite, a flare test. I did this by setting up a flashlight in a dark room, camera on a tripod as far away as I could get, and got the flashlight in the corner of the frame. I took photos at a few apertures, but the wide open ones seemed to show the worst flare so I used those. Because a couple of the lenses were IF and none are exactly the same focal length, the flashlight ends up in a slightly different part of the frame. I decided that this did not affect the results enough to worry about it.

Flare.jpg
04-22-2010, 09:41 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Marc Sabatella Quote
Thanks for doing this! Been wondering about it - not that I haven't enjoyed using your Sigma 24 in the mean time (and I virtually *never* use that 70-300, so I've been in no hurry). BTW, the 24 seems to be a better lens overall than my M28/2.8, but I think I've learned that 24mm just doesn't do it for me in a prime - I'm too often wishing it were either wider or longer. In theory, a 24 might seem to plug the gap between 15 and 40 better than a 28, but that's just not how I see things, I guess.
Yeah, poor time management on my part, but now I can cross it off my list. I guess you'll have to hope that there's a DA 28 on the Pentax drawing board.

QuoteQuote:
Really? The Quantaray generally sold for well below $200; I got mine in a "kit" with my DS and 18-55 for $100 over the price of the DS & 18-55 alone.
I got the 28-300 for $135 from Cameta on eBay, 4 years ago this month. It seemed like a great deal at the time. I hate to think of the lenses I overlooked at that price.

QuoteQuote:
This is the one that surprised me (and not in a positive way). Not that I had ever heard particularly great things about this lens in particular, but just general by virtue of being a prime - and it's not like the Quantaray/Tamron 70-300 is all that new a design either.
I believe the Vivitar was made in 1971 by Tokina, serial number 3716405. It looks and feels like a serious lens. I paid $23 including shipping for it without adapter, so it's really competing with pricey high-end lenses.

04-23-2010, 08:07 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
it's suprisong the quantaray did so well,

really shows the compromise of a super zoom when looking at the corners
The Quantaray is a rebadged Tamron with a shorter warranty.

The Tamron 70-300 Di LD is well known as being a very good sharpness performer (for its price), however it is prone to purple fringing in high contrast situations.

If you avoid the situations that trigger PF, it is an incredible lens given how cheap it is. IMO it is the first lens someone who only has a kit lens should consider adding to their collection because of it's "bang for the buck".

Edit: I have a Quantaray-branded one and still use it frequently despite owning a Bigma. The Bigma is big and heavy, and the Tamron comes very close to it IQ-wise in the zoom ranges the Tamron covers.
04-23-2010, 08:30 AM   #10
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Thanks for the test. It was actually really helpful to me. I am very new to photography and it seems like I learn something new everyday. I know your test was to compare the verious 300mm lenses you had but I got something else out of it.

I read that stopping down a few steps could actually improve IQ and I also read that stopping down wouldn't do anything for IQ. I did try to do my own testing (on my Tamron 70-300) but it seemed like all of my pics, no matter the f-stop, had the same IQ but your test proves that pics are sharper when stepping down. Thanks again.
04-23-2010, 09:06 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Entropy Quote
The Quantaray is a rebadged Tamron with a shorter warranty.

The Tamron 70-300 Di LD is well known as being a very good sharpness performer (for its price), however it is prone to purple fringing in high contrast situations.

If you avoid the situations that trigger PF, it is an incredible lens given how cheap it is. IMO it is the first lens someone who only has a kit lens should consider adding to their collection because of it's "bang for the buck".

Edit: I have a Quantaray-branded one and still use it frequently despite owning a Bigma. The Bigma is big and heavy, and the Tamron comes very close to it IQ-wise in the zoom ranges the Tamron covers.
As I own the sigma 70-200F2.8 and a 2x TC which work well, and also own a 300F4 and 1.7x AF TC, I see no reason to go to a bigma. I get to 500mm within 1/3 stop of the bigma in a ligher package, with the 300F4 and TC.
04-23-2010, 02:09 PM   #12
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I have to say that the "old lady" kicked buts here...

QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
it's suprising the quantaray did so well,
I don't think it is. Until DA55-300 came out, Tamron 70-300/4-5.6 LD Di Macro (so the same as the Quantaray) was the lens to beat when on budget. These shots prove it's still very decent lens for the price you pay....

QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
really shows the compromise of a super zoom when looking at the corners
definitely right here...

PS:
Thanks for the test

PS2:
The Quantaray/Tamron 70-300 is definitely not an IF lens!
04-24-2010, 10:34 PM   #13
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Good job on the comparison test

I have the 300K f4 and 55-300mm. Based on a quick comparison (nothing as methodical as your approach) from a few pics previously. The 55-300mm looks to be very sharp as well.

On a side note:
Have made a modified tripod ring for the 300K using one of those cheap ones from Ebay. Padded it with rubber strips. Not as rigid as I was hoping it to be. But usable to a certain extent.
12-12-2010, 11:03 PM   #14
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Hi i just joined here tonight er ah this morning lol and just posted asking for info on the f4 300mm ashi super takumar with internal hood and attached tripod ring it is in 9 out of 10 condition.
long story short it was in a trunk in a closet for 40 years and is flawless can't believe the action is as smoth as silk after 40 years of non use amazing built quality. i'm just retired and was cleaning out stuff and came upon it.I bought it along with other pentax gear from buddy returning from Nam he bought his pentax gear in Japan. serial no.3602556 on 300mm.
I will part with it if i had a clue what it was worth.

if anyone is interested let me know i will take pictures and send them to you.

i don't know how heavey it is but to me it is not heavey at all.
12-13-2010, 07:23 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by shootreadyaim Quote
Hi i just joined here tonight er ah this morning lol and just posted asking for info on the f4 300mm ashi super takumar with internal hood and attached tripod ring it is in 9 out of 10 condition.
long story short it was in a trunk in a closet for 40 years and is flawless can't believe the action is as smoth as silk after 40 years of non use amazing built quality. i'm just retired and was cleaning out stuff and came upon it.I bought it along with other pentax gear from buddy returning from Nam he bought his pentax gear in Japan. serial no.3602556 on 300mm.
I will part with it if i had a clue what it was worth.

if anyone is interested let me know i will take pictures and send them to you.

i don't know how heavey it is but to me it is not heavey at all.
It will perform in a similar manner to the K300F4 dafe tested. If you look, the K300F3 tested better wide open than all other lenses stopped down a few stops and at F5.6 was sharper than anything else dave tested. If you want to go long, your lens is a good bet.

I would keep it if I found it cheap, I would buy one if I didn't already own a K300F4
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