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03-24-2013, 11:26 AM   #1
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28mm legacy question

Hello all,

I wanted to put this to the community. I had recently been prowling the web and ebay for a good 28mm to use on the K-o1. I picked up an SMC-M 28mm f/2.8 on Nat Camera Exchange. $80. Okay. Pretty much true to the reviews here, it performs as described. Great color, high contrast, poor resolution, tendency to blow out highlights, even on (maybe even, especially on) overcast days. Among the Legacy lenses, the 2.0 and the "K" 28s seem to command the most respect and therefore the premium prices on the used market (ebay seller kevin cameras be damned!! I think he has bought up all the "K" lenses in circulation and is asking way above retail for them). Well...I concluded, if I am going to pay $500 for a used "K" 28mm f/2.0, I may as well go whole hog and just get the 31mm FA Ltd. f/1.8. I like a 28mm on an APS-C better than 35mm -- when it comes to having a good normal, I guess I prefer a wide lens to a narrow (42mm v. 52.2mm equiv. on APS-C sensor).

In any case -- I am about sold on the 31mm. The lenses I am comparing it to are as follows:
The Zeiss 28mm f/2.8 Distagon -- from reviews I have read, it suffers from all the problems any of my other 28mm...sub-par resolution/blown highlights etc.
The Sigma 30 f/1.4 -- reviews have too many "cons" for the price, in my opinion. This is not an evaluation of the lens, as I have never used it.
The Pentax "K" 30mm -- sounds like a winner. Price is pretty heavy for buying a used lens sight unseen
There have been a few others I have considered as well .. the "K" 24, the "K" 28 2.0//3.5. A couple of 35s as well.

So here is my question -- I read in one review of the 31mm FA which stated two problems of legacy lenses on digital sensors (for some reason, I cant seem to find the link now in a google search). First, he said that lenses designed for film allow a lot of light to hit the focal plane (film surface) at oblique angles. Digital sensors perform poorly when light hits them from anything but a perpendicular angle (film apparently is not as picky). It seems that wide-angle lenses in general, and -- from my experience -- 28mm lenses in general -- seem to interact poorly (or at least sub-par. I mean lets face it, it aint the 50mm 1.7 or 1.4, which i what I expected) on a digital sensor. I am wondering if this could be the cause. The other problem of legacy lenses, he claimed, is that-- due to the lens covering the sensor, the focal plane is more reflective than film and therefore, causes a lot of light to bounce back, hit the rear element of the lens, and then scatter -- accounting for lower contrast, "haze" and blown highlights, adverse effects on overall resolution.

My question is, is it hopeless to expect a 28mm prime legacy lens to perform at the level of the 50mm f/1.4? I have 4 28mm lenses, and all of them -- to varying degrees-- exhibit some substantial problems (though, of the four, I can honestly say the Pentax M 2.8 has the most redeeming qualities). I am thinking that this assessment of the problem of lenses designed for film is somewhat correct, based on my experience and as well as some less-than-stellar reviews of the Zeiss 28mm distagon, which cited the way in which the elements were arranged as a contributing factor to its sub-par performance on digital cameras (the $1200 lens was described as having all the same issues that my k-mart focal 28mm lens which I suspect is misaligned exhibits ). Is this simply an attribute of 28mm lenses in general (so that no matter how many 28mm lenses I buy on eBay, they will all have these adverse attributes)? If not, can anyone recommend on that is a stellar performer? My requirements are only that it perform like my 50mm f/1.7 in terms of sharpness.

Of course, this has brought me to the conclusion that I may as well just worry about how I am going to fund the purchase of a 31mm f/1.8 if I want a lens that performs at that level.

In any case, I was hoping that the community could provide me with some insight as to these issues, make any recommendations as far as legacy prime lenses to look for (and what to pay for them), or advise if it is better to just grab up a 31mm?

03-24-2013, 12:21 PM   #2
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Two points:
1. a K 28mmf/2 at $500. is a steal. It is reputed to be one of the best, every rare, and sought after by collectors.
2. I use 28mmf 3.5 and works fine on digital.I wouldn't expect any problems with this not so wide focal length.
03-24-2013, 12:52 PM   #3
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A couple more points:
  • Lenses don't "blow highlights". Photographers blow highlights.
  • If your M 28/2.8 is significantly better than your other 28s, you may answered your own question. The M 28/2.8 is not bad at that focal length, but it is an average performer. It was a consumer-grade lens when new (sold for somewhat less than a similar Vivitar at about $35).
  • Yes, there are some issues with some vintage lenses when used with digital sensors, but the problems are lens specific and not a matter of old vs. new and hardly generic. My S-M-C Takumar 28/3.5 is one of my better lenses and does just fine on digital. In fact almost all of my lenses are vintage and with one or two exceptions, most work well on digital.
  • Most vintage 28mm lenses are pretty decent, though most are not quite as good as 50mm primes of the same vintage
  • To get the most from your vintage 28mm on APS-C, use a hood designed for "normal" (50mm) on 35mm film


Last edited by stevebrot; 03-24-2013 at 12:58 PM.
03-24-2013, 07:11 PM   #4
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I don't know if it helps, but I bought a Pentax A 28mm f/2.8 from Ebay for $155 recently, in 'excellent' condition (and it actually was). I know that some lenses are better than others, but its amazing how just about every Pentax lens does just fine when stopped down a bit. And this one works perfectly on the K-01.

The real question is whether you want the simplicity and light weight of a prime lens, or the flexibility of a zoom, usually less bright, and usually heavier. In real life -- outside the studio -- where you rarely pre-plan the pictures you take, I'm not sure that the primes offer any advantage beyond better low-light capability. And for that, you can get a Pentax A 50mm f/1.4 for about $150, again in great shape. Lose some field of view, but gain at least three stops vs. the zooms at twilight.

Photography! Decisions, decisions.

03-24-2013, 09:01 PM   #5
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When I say 'blown highlights' I mean it seems to perform less than superb (perhaps just 'adequate') under lighting circumstances that would have been handled better with the 50mm 1.7. The speed of the lens is not terribly important to me, as I am stopping in the middle most of the time -- f/4 to 4/11 and using the hyperfocals. That I am still getting 'issues' stopped down to f/8 at ISO 200 with good light tells me something is going on with at least my copy of the SMC M 28mm f/2.8, perhaps. I have taken to spot metering which seems to work a little better on the k-o1, but has its consequences. I am mainly shooting in the street under unpredictable light and 'at a moments notice.' Not really enough time to always spot meter (at least with the k-o1. It seems to need a second to adjust). It seems strange that it just seems to resolve less detail, clipping to white "too soon" Not really able to get a full value range out of this in the way that the 50mm can.

I may just be being picky, and otherwise it is an okay lens. I was just wondering if there is some kind of issue with 28mm lenses in particular, and wide angle lenses in general. I apparently have four sub-par 28mm lenses then and this may be giving me this impression that there is an issue with 28mm lenses. They all sort of exhibit similar tendencies under similar circumstances.

Yes, I am partial to the vintage pentax primes. I am not really a collector, and can rarely justify, on my budget, an expenditure of more than $100 for ANY used lens ($500 for the 2.0 "k" -- collector's grade or not, would be very hard to justify. Especially since I do not make a living in photography) as an eBay purchase. A lens of unknown provenance and, in reality, unknown condition, at that price is simply out of reach. Also, that was part of my reason for writing this, if there is a problem with the focal length (so in other words, if I did somehow justify a purchase like that, would the issues I am having persist due to the focal length?)...or more specifically, the interior arrangement of the elements (as in, due to the 28mm focal length, you need this many elements arranged in this way or that way, but never in some other way....or rather, to put it another way, the 50mm f/1.7 can owe its sharpness to its interior engineering. These same engineering parameters cannot work in a 28mm for some reason...that was at the heart of what I am getting at. The hypothesis, if you can call it that. More of a deduction based on some things I have read on the web about the 31mm f/1.8 and the Zeiss 28mm which are comparable in price.) The review I read of the Zeiss lens said that it was engineered in an 'old fashioned' way and therefore suffered from the same issues as other 'old fashioned 28mm lenses.' My experience with four different 28mm lenses (Pentax-M 2.8; Ricoh P 2.8, Focal 2.8 and a Vivtar 2.8 with an A setting and plastic construction. It has also occurred to me that these four 28mm lenses may be nearly identical internally, and/or the specific engineering of the elements at f/2.8 require some kind of compromise in maybe I just need to pony up some cash for a good 28mm -- that's another possibility) made me think that perhaps there was something going on at 28mms which will persist across the range of apertures and price-range.

So, basically -- what I am hearing back is that :
a). there is nothing inherently problematic with the 28mm focal length. It is probably, just an issue of having four mediocre 28mm lenses giving me this impression. That I happened across someone who seemed to imply in their review of a Zeiss lens that there is some 'issue' with the way the older lenses were designed as a contributing factor to apparent sub-par performance on digital is hogwash (found the links, here is the one on the Zeiss 28, where he says that he cannot recommend the lens, : The Online Photographer: Zeiss ZF / ZK Distagon T* 28mm f/2 Review .. and the article about the 31mm Ltd: The Online Photographer: The Pentax 31mm ?/1.8 Limited Lens)
b). you are saying that the 28mm K f/ about half the price of the 31mm LTD (new) is probably a little easier on the wallet and can perform up to par?
c). I may be able to get better performance out of the lens I have with a lens hood.

I mean -- okay. Here's the crux of the issue. If you had to choose between the K 28mm at $500 and the 31mmf/1.8 ltd. at about $1k....and it would take you twice as long to save the money for the 31mm....which is the better buy?

I reference to the 50mm, I can compose with it on the street, but I am really partial to the 28mm field of view for street photography. The 50 is just a tad too long. I can see it being a great portrait lens. And I have taken some really great shots with it. It resolves at infinity like a champ. I think it spoiled me. Set the bar a little high. I basically want that lenses resolution, contrast, color rendition in the 28mm focal length. I am quickly learning, that if that is what I want, I have to be willing to plunk down some real money for it. I have narrowed it down to vintage primes as my preferred types of lenses in both form and handling. I understand that almost all of the "K" lenses are not only top-notch performers, but also very rare and cost about as much as a new limited prime, depending on the lens. So....if I wanted something in the "wide-ish normal" end of the range, I am limited to 24mm (rough 35mm equiv) through about 30 or 31mm (42 - 46mm equiv). I suppose it is really a judgment call. I know that there is a lot of hype around the 31mm. I have even read people who bought into the Pentax system specifically because of that lens and that it handles very much like the older manual primes, but with AF and an "A" setting to boot. The clinical tests seem to demonstrate that the thing is pretty tight. The barrel distortion appears to be admirably controlled. If, on the other hand, a "K" 28 or 30 is equally sharp for half the price, then what the hell? I am just trying to sort out a big purchase. I am leaning towards delayed gratification and saving over the course of 10 months to a year for the 31mm, and wanted to rule out the idea that 'all vintage 28mm lenses are going to have issues' before making that decision.

I havent been steered wrong by the people on this forum. And I have found that, when there are more than 5 or 6 reviews in the database, and the aggregate score is 9 or higher, the lens can be trusted to perform. My wife recently won a 50mm f/1.4 (M) for about $94. She thought that she overpaid, until she used it. The 1.7 is by far my favorite lens. The 28mm f/2.8, at $80...I feel I overpaid for it. $50 is probably a more fair price for what it delivers. That said, I was just hoping that I could rule the idea of "it is hopeless to expect a 28 to ever perform like a 50" and get some advice concerning which lens is going to deliver something similar to the SMC-M 50mm f/1.7 or f/1.4. I seem to have narrowed it down to the "Ks" in this range and the 31mm ltd.

Thanks for your replies. Gives me some more to consider.
03-24-2013, 09:08 PM   #6
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Also, I have an old Zuiko 28 on my OM-1.f/3.5. Great on film. learned on this camera/lens combo. I read that this lens is not easily adapted to PK and that if I attempted it, I would loose the ability to focus to infinity. Anyone know about this?
03-24-2013, 11:10 PM   #7
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I'm not qualified to comment on the lens-design question... which is actually very interesting. If I were you, I'd put it on the Open Talk forum at Dpreview... there seem to be quite a few heavy-duty optics science people there. I am also an amateur... and paying $1000 for a lens is out of the question. Mainly because I keep thinking that -- unless I was in a tightly-controlled studio setting -- I'd never notice the difference. But others might, and probably do... and, for you, maybe saving up for the 31 might be the way to go. But tell me something -- isn't this the kind of thing that would only be noticeable on large prints? For the web, or for dry-toner color commercial printing, does any of this matter?

EDIT -- just looked up that 31mm f/1.8 on Ebay. My God! You could make some money counterfeiting this thing.

Last edited by jon404; 03-24-2013 at 11:18 PM.
03-26-2013, 01:17 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by cristigj Quote
Also, I have an old Zuiko 28 on my OM-1.f/3.5. Great on film. learned on this camera/lens combo. I read that this lens is not easily adapted to PK and that if I attempted it, I would loose the ability to focus to infinity. Anyone know about this?
You will need to change the lens mount on the lens. This is reversable. The new mount will activate the focus confirmation on some Pentax dSLRs.

Olympus OM lens for Pentax cameras

03-26-2013, 02:06 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by cristigj Quote
Also, I have an old Zuiko 28 on my OM-1.f/3.5. Great on film. learned on this camera/lens combo. I read that this lens is not easily adapted to PK and that if I attempted it, I would loose the ability to focus to infinity. Anyone know about this?
QuoteOriginally posted by GXRUser Quote
You will need to change the lens mount on the lens. This is reversable. The new mount will activate the focus confirmation on some Pentax dSLRs.

Olympus OM lens for Pentax cameras
You could use the Leitax mount, or for about the same price you should be able to get a M28/3.5 or even a K28/3.5...(if you can find a K28).

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