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01-13-2012, 02:06 AM   #1
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Choice of lenses; some general questions about Pentax gear

Hi,

I am coming back to photography after several years of pause. I am seriously considering going Pentax. I did some research on Pentax to understand what system I would be getting into. I will be very grateful for comments on my findings and answers to my questions.

To provide context:
I have never used AF or digital stuff so far (except p&s). I have experience with manual film SLRs. I had a look at K-5 and liked it from the first sight. The spec and reviews are impressive, too. If I go Pentax I will buy this body. I think we would be good friends

I do not plan to build a large collection of lenses. I need a midrange zoom (like Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM) I am going to use most of the time, a macro, a good, fast prime and a telephoto. I should be all set with this outfit (unless I grow and develop a need for more). I am going for at most medium price range (35 mm f/2.8 DA SMC Macro Limited is medium price range, 35 mm f/2.0 FA AL is above medium ). I do not mind paying less than more

Here are my findings (please let me know when I am wrong) & questions.

Lens choice
- My biggest headache is the midrange zoom: I will be very grateful for suggestions! I can get a kit with lens 18-55, or (substantially more expensive) a body and 18-135. Is 18-135 a good lens worth itís price? 17-70 mm f/4.0 looks attractive, but the opinions on the net are very mixed.
- Macro choice seems to be obvious: Pentax 100 mm f/2.8 D-FA WR Macro is the best, right?
- A good choice for fixed prime seems to be Pentax 35 mm f/2.8 DA SMC Macro Limited. (But why itís called Macro?) Another candidate is faster and cheaper Pentax 50 mm f/1.4 FA
- I am not sure about which telephoto, but I have the feeling I will find something, perhaps not Pentax brand. Suggestions welcome

Other questions.
- SMC seems a strong plus of Pentax lenses. Some say still best coating around. Does it make a real difference?
- Pentax kit zoom lenses provide a decent start: they are better quality than Canon kit lenses; I do not know anything about how they compare to Nikonís kit lenses. True?
- Pentax offer of primes is very good. Limited series primes are excellent (in general), like Canon L series. If I want best quality optics, I will find the stuff here at various focal lengths. True?
- Pentax does not offer budget lenses. I will have to go 3rd party (Sigma, Tamron, etc) if I want a cheap option. True?
- Pentax zoom offer is not as comprehensive as Canonís or Nikonís. Looks as if they do not pay as much attention to zooms as they do to primes. I do not know if they have Canon L series grade zooms?
- Early K-5 suffered from sensor issues (smears on sensor). Has this issue been fixed?
- K-5 has image stabilization (called shake reduction in Pentax world?) built in. So I get benefit of it with any K-mount lens. True?

Thanks

01-13-2012, 03:05 AM   #2
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Hi c3p0,

Also a relative beginner with the DSLRs, I picked up the K-x after a lot of research (mainly being told rather to spend more money on lenses over the body if you have a tight budget) and it performs amazingly. I'd love to shoot with the K-5 as a comparison, but here are some of my findings:

> I have the standard 18-55mm lens and bought a Sigma 70-300mm. This combination is great for general shooting - the Sigma is an amazingly versatile lens.
> I am looking for a 50mm prime to add to the collection, as I have also heard that they are very good, but also that they are pretty expensive. I've played with a friends Pentax 50mm f1.4 and the clarity and sharpness of the shots is unbelievable.
> The image stabilisation works in a subtle way, almost without you noticing (when on a zoom lens, it makes a bit of noise), only when you switch it off do you notice how much it actually does!
> Due to the built-in IS, yes, whatever lens you put on (all old K mounts) will be stabilised.

While Pentax may not be 'mainstream' at the moment, I am very impressed with them so far and am set to be a loyal Pentaxian.

That's my 2c, hope it helps in your decision making.

Cheers,
Stuart
01-13-2012, 03:17 AM   #3
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A good start would be the kit 18-55 and the 55-300, which is a fantastic performer and a cheap investment.
Macro, the DFA 100 WR would be tops along with Tamron 90mm Macro.. myself I don't care for AF, so lots of old manual lenses have decent macro modes.
As far as mid range zoom.. the 18-135 isn't horrible, just not worth it's price IMHO.. but I would make sure that at least one of your lenses (even the 18-55 or DFA 100) is a WR model for safe rainy day shooting.
01-13-2012, 03:26 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by c3p0 Quote
- A good choice for fixed prime seems to be Pentax 35 mm f/2.8 DA SMC Macro Limited. (But why it’s called Macro?) Another candidate is faster and cheaper Pentax 50 mm f/1.4 FA
35 and 50mm are pretty different focal lengths, equivalent respectively to 55 and 85mm on a 24x36 format. The latter is often considered to be more a portait lens than a normal.
I can add to the suggestions the very cheap DAL 35mm 2.4, praised by many.
The 35 Macro is called Macro because.. it is, as its close focusing ability allow for magnification up to 1:1.It's just an unusual focal length for a Macro, but I personnally like this lens very much!

QuoteOriginally posted by c3p0 Quote
- Pentax offer of primes is very good. Limited series primes are excellent (in general), like Canon L series. If I want best quality optics, I will find the stuff here at various focal lengths. True?
- Pentax does not offer budget lenses. I will have to go 3rd party (Sigma, Tamron, etc) if I want a cheap option. True?
- Pentax zoom offer is not as comprehensive as Canon’s or Nikon’s. Looks as if they do not pay as much attention to zooms as they do to primes. I do not know if they have Canon L series grade zooms?
- Early K-5 suffered from sensor issues (smears on sensor). Has this issue been fixed?
- K-5 has image stabilization (called shake reduction in Pentax world?) built in. So I get benefit of it with any K-mount lens. True?
-The philosophy of Limiteds is to offer great quality in a SMALL metal package, they are exclusively primes.
-As I said before check out the 35 2.4...
-The * series are probably best in class in IQ, since size is NOT a concern and they also offer WR. They are mainly zooms (so probably they are closer to being equivalent to L glass).
-Yes, fixed.
-Yes, any K-mount regardless of the brand or age...
Hope this helps!


Last edited by victordeamorin; 01-13-2012 at 03:29 AM. Reason: unclear
01-13-2012, 03:28 AM   #5
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Me and my K-5 are great friends, although there are times where I feel like its more like my psychotherapist more than anything (no one understands me better, although I can't say the same about my K-5)

For a midrange zoom, is there anything in particular you're looking for? Reach? Speed? What do you want to shoot? The IQ of most modern lenses nowadays simply vary from "Good enough" to "FA31 Limited" Personally, I use the DA*16-50mm after having gone through many different zooms, and while its performance is in the "Good enough" category, I just simply love the "look" it gives.

I had the 100 macro WR for a while, its an utterly brilliant lens. Note the word "had", despite how wonderful it was as a lens, I never quite shot it all that much. What kinds of macro shots do you want to do? The longer the focal length, the farther away you can be from your subject while maintaining the 1:1 level of magnification. the 35mm Limited macro is called a macro because it can give you that 1:1 magnification, although you'll have to get pretty damn close to the subject to get that.

For a fast prime, you've got a ton of options out there. if you want something normal, there's the DA-L 35mm f2.4, the 35 macro you mention, the sigma 30mm f/1.4, the samyang 35mm f/1.4, the FA 31mm limited, etc. The DA-L is a good all-rounder IMO, its cheap, fast enough, and does all sorts of shooting fairly well. The 35 macro is a bit of a "lifestyle" lens, its the sort of lens you can sort of just have on your camera and take pictures of the little interesting details of your life. the sigma 30 is a brilliant people lens, plain and simple. The samyang 35 is an engineering marvel of sorts, it has a very high level of image quality and, being manual focus only, makes you slow down a bit more for your shots. the FA31 is simply a wonderful lens, just do a quick search on the forum for it and you'll see the many praises stacked upon it.
Personally, I prefer something a tad more telephoto. In this range, there's the FA50 f1.4 you mentioned, the DA*55mm f1.4, older manual focus 50's, the sigma 50, the DA40mm limited, the FA43mm limited, etc. The FA50 is a solid fast 50mm lens, it gives the typical soft-wide-open, sharp center look generally associated with portrait lenses. The DA* is what i own, it's simply a beautiful portrait lens. The sigma 50 is much like the DA*, a brilliant portrait lens with utterly gorgeous bokeh. Older manual focus 50mm lenses are cheaper than the three i just mentioned, give you pretty much the same level of IQ and let you slow down a bit thanks to being manual focus. The DA40 is an incredibly fun lens thanks to its dimunitive size, although IQ-wise, i'd say that its brilliantly adequate (doesnt have its own special "look", but solid technical performance nonetheless). The FA43 is like the 40 with a heavy sprinkling of that magical pentax "look".

For telephotos, once again, it boils down to what you shoot. I cant really suggest something since I'm not quite sure what youd use it for, and if i were to start listing every telephoto i know, i wouldnt finish until sunrise But just to throw out some out there, there are various third party 70-200 f/2.8 lenses, the DA*50-135 f/2.8, the DA70mm limited, the FA77mm limited, the samyang 85mm f/1.4, the sigma 85mm f/1.4, the 100 macro WR, etc.

IMO, SMC is one of the various ingredients of magic sauce that pentax adds to their lenses. When I see a lens that uses SMC, it just has that special "look" to it that only a pentax lens can produce, and is definitely a plus.

The kit zoom is better quality than the older canon kits, although the latest canon kit lens is about on-par. As for nikon, they're roughly the same, although i think the pentax kit has marginal advantages in IQ here and there.

The primes for pentax are simply superb. Same goes for Canon's L series. However, both companies have different lenses for different purposes. So while you'll find plenty of excellent prime lenses to cover a variety of situations, it boils down to what you shoot (once again).

Pentax offers plenty of budget options. For starters, there are the various kit zooms and the DA-L 35mm f/2.4. then there's the abundance of used glass to be had in flea markets, ebay, the marketplace on the forums, craigslist, etc.

If you want big heavy zooms, then no, this is not one of pentax's strong points. However, they do have the DA* series lenses, which provides good enough coverage for 99% of what i shoot. This includes the DA*16-50mm and DA*50-135mm combo, which makes an equivalent of the canon/nikon 24-70 and 70-200 combo used by most professional photographers i know.

Sensor stains are a thing of the past, so unless you're buying something used and quite old, you're pretty safe from that. And even then, most old bodies with the sensor stain issues have been sent back to Pentax already.

SR is built in, works great with any and every lens i own. This includes my ancient Canon 300mm f/4L FD that has been surgically converted to kmount.
01-13-2012, 03:34 AM   #6
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Welcome to the forums! Let me have a shot here:

* The kit 18-55 is considered to be much better than CaNikon kit lenses. A kit consisting of a body, the DA18-55, and the DA55-300, is an excellent bargain. I personally don't use such a kit as I shoot a lot in the 35-70mm range and I hate swapping lenses there; I use the DA18-250. Others may recommend the DA18-135; I can't comment on it, except that if WR is important to you, the 18-135 may be your best bet.

* Others may argue for various budget macros, but the DFA100WR has been on my 'want' list for awhile.
* The FA50/1.4 is my gotta-get-the-shot lens. Some will claim the DA*55 is sharper -- at twice the price.
* The DA55-300 is considered an excellent tele zoom for the price. The FA100-300 (silver) may suit better.
* Many feel Sigma and Tamron zooms are more cost-effective than Pentax glass. Unfortunately true...

* Zeiss T* coatings may have an edge on SMC; but those are a different price range, and out of production.
* Yes, the Pentax kit lens is better. Yes, Pentax is renowned for its Limiteds. Yes, Pentax is weak on tele zooms.
* The only 'budget' Pentax prime is DA35/2.4 although the FA50/1.4 is still a deal, as is the slower DA40/2.8 Ltd.
* Aside: If you'll want a 'normal' FOV lens, consider the FA31/1.8 Ltd (NOT a budget lens!) or one of the 28s.
* K5 sensor issues have been fixed AFAIK. SR works with ANY mounted lens, whether native, adapted, whatever.

Enough for now. Have fun!
01-13-2012, 03:40 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by c3p0 Quote
- My biggest headache is the midrange zoom: I will be very grateful for suggestions! I can get a kit with lens 18-55, or (substantially more expensive) a body and 18-135. Is 18-135 a good lens worth it’s price? 17-70 mm f/4.0 looks attractive, but the opinions on the net are very mixed.
Opinions about the 18-135 are also very mixed Nearly impossible to find, but there is a lens test / comparison for standard zooms (17-50): DA* 16-50mm vs. Sigma and Tamron 17-50mm F2.8 Comparison - Introduction - PentaxForums.com
I would start with the kit-lens and take it from there when you run into its limitations.

QuoteOriginally posted by c3p0 Quote
- Macro choice seems to be obvious: Pentax 100 mm f/2.8 D-FA WR Macro is the best, right?
If you want WR, it's the only option. I prefer to keep distance to the subject with macro; I don't scare little insects away and I have less risk of unwanted shadows by the equipment. So a longer lens has advantages. I did indeed buy the DFA100WR; it doubles as a light tele for me. Alternatives are the DA35Ltd that can be used as a standard lens as well or the DFA50 which can be used for portraits. Sigma 70, Sigma 105 and Tamron 90 are also very good. It's often said that there are no bad macros. As macro lenses have long focus throws, they can take longer to focus in AF mode; this can make them less suited for other purposes where you need fast focusing; in my opinion this mostly counts for the DA35Ltd when using it as a standard lens and you want to take a quick snap of something.

QuoteOriginally posted by c3p0 Quote
- A good choice for fixed prime seems to be Pentax 35 mm f/2.8 DA SMC Macro Limited. (But why it’s called Macro?) Another candidate is faster and cheaper Pentax 50 mm f/1.4 FA
It's called macro because it's a macro lens. DA-L35/2.4 (often refered to as a plastic wonder) can be the affordable alternative. But I suggest that you determine your needs regarding focal length first. 50 might be too long for indoors and even 35 might not be what you want. My standard lens is the FA31Ltd (not too wide, not too long), but it's also the most expensive prime in the Pentax line up.

QuoteOriginally posted by c3p0 Quote
- I am not sure about which telephoto, but I have the feeling I will find something, perhaps not Pentax brand. Suggestions welcome
Depends on what you want to use it for. DA55-300 is a very good telezoom for it's price but possibly less suited for indoor sports. If you want faster, Sigma and Tamron 70-200/2.8 are the current choices. Want WR? DA50-200WR or the DA*60-250.
01-13-2012, 07:15 PM   #8
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Another Way?

Hello c3p0, Welcome to the Forum!
All good advice so far, lots of good new lens choices.
But there might be another way, or at least another option to think about.
No, Pentax doesn't offer too many quality zooms in the DA series.
But there's lots of autofocus choices in the two earlier series, the F and the FA.
And the best of those zooms will cost you a fraction of what new glass sells for.
For example, the FA 100mm-300mm (the silver one) is decently sharp and lightweight, costs about $100.00 used.
For about the same price you can get the F 35-105mm or 35-135mm, both pretty good lenses.
Even if you decide to upgrade later (like to DA or an f2.8), the older zooms hold their value. You can sell them for near what you paid.
And I'm not convinced that a $500.00 A/F Digital macro is necessary to get good macro shots. A $100.00 manual-everything M 100mm f4.0 macro works just fine, thank you. My experience with Macro is that you often have to switch to M/F anyway and you usually have time to set up the shot, you're not shooting from the hip.
I can't close without a plug for my favorite "under $50.00" A/F lens, the F 35-70mm f3.5-f4.5 AF zoom. Small, sharp, very fast AF, macro function at the 70mm end.
Maybe a mix of some new lenses and a few used lenses would work?
JMO
Ron

01-14-2012, 04:12 AM   #9
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All the information above is true but would like to add that for budget lenses pentax does have them as mentioned the da 35 2.4 is a budget lens which I must say is bang to buck awesome. In addition any lens that is daL is considered budget such as the da l 18-55 or da l 55-300 or da 50-200 also I would also consider some of the da line as budget. If you really look it as a price comparison

The * series is our canon L series glass in my opinion and the limited is the premium.

Lastly if you want to consider this all k mount lenses work so even if you are strapped for cash used market can help your budget.
01-14-2012, 05:50 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by epqwerty Quote

Lastly if you want to consider this all k mount lenses work so even if you are strapped for cash used market can help your budget.
which is something you can't do at all with canon, and only with a limited selection of Nikon bodies.

As rioRcio said you get shake reduction on any lens you can mount, and don't believe the negatives about in body sR from the canikon camp, it works.
01-14-2012, 09:59 AM   #11
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If I were buying my setup now from scratch, given what I have learned in the past 2 years, and I was buying the K5 as you said I'd go with the following:
- DA18-135WR - versatile, descent IQ, and Water Resistant
- DAL 50-300 Kit Zoom - very good IQ for its range, inexpensive, buy a hood for it and your set
- FA50/1.4 - as RioRico said its the "gotta-get-the-shot lens"
- Manual Macro lens - because AF just doesn't work that well for me for macro shots - and I have found the M100/f4 to be staggeringly sharp and long enough to be used outside, away from the studio setup, but it works fine in the studio too making it more versatile than the M50/f4 which is also razor sharp
- If you feel you need closer than 18mm then the Tamron 10-24 has been an excellent performer.

Good luck.
01-14-2012, 10:25 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Docrwm Quote
If I were buying my setup now from scratch, given what I have learned in the past 2 years, and I was buying the K5 as you said I'd go with the following:
- DA18-135WR - versatile, descent IQ, and Water Resistant
- DAL 50-300 Kit Zoom - very good IQ for its range, inexpensive, buy a hood for it and your set
- FA50/1.4 - as RioRico said its the "gotta-get-the-shot lens"
- Manual Macro lens - because AF just doesn't work that well for me for macro shots - and I have found the M100/f4 to be staggeringly sharp and long enough to be used outside, away from the studio setup, but it works fine in the studio too making it more versatile than the M50/f4 which is also razor sharp
- If you feel you need closer than 18mm then the Tamron 10-24 has been an excellent performer.
This! I wanna be like RioRico and Docrwm!
I've been at this 1.5 years, and I've come to the same conclusion. I've worked my way through a bunch of cheap lenses trying to figure out what focal lengths I use. I just got the 18-135, and that's going to be my basic lens. It's quite usable but a bit soft at the longer end, but for that I have the DAL 55-300 that came with my K-x kit, and I love it. I can't afford the FA50, but I have a nice M50 1.7. I will be doing macro work, and I found an older Sigma 90mm f2.8 that is extremely sharp. (And that also works for close-up portraits.)
So now I want to start clearing out some lenses and save for the Tamron 10-24 for the wide stuff.
01-14-2012, 11:55 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by mgvh Quote
I've been at this 1.5 years, and I've come to the same conclusion. I've worked my way through a bunch of cheap lenses trying to figure out what focal lengths I use. I just got the 18-135, and that's going to be my basic lens. It's quite usable but a bit soft at the longer end, but for that I have the DAL 55-300 that came with my K-x kit, and I love it. I can't afford the FA50, but I have a nice M50 1.7. I will be doing macro work, and I found an older Sigma 90mm f2.8 that is extremely sharp. (And that also works for close-up portraits.)
So now I want to start clearing out some lenses and save for the Tamron 10-24 for the wide stuff.
Excellent program. I still prefer the DA18-250 to twin-zoom setups covering that range. The Tamron 10-24 now rides with me everywhere, along with the 18-250 and a Fast Fifty. When you get a chance, look for cheaper faster primes at critical focal lengths. My 24/2 wasn't real cheap; my 28/2 and 35/2 were, as was a 85/2, but I got lucky.

A cheap portrait trick, if you want slightly softer ultra-thin-DOF images, is to put a 1.5x (or 1.4x or 1.7x) screw-in tele adapter onto a Fastish Fifty like your M50/1.7. Search for such optical adapters here. Avoid those with threads smaller than 46mm. I use a 46mm-thread 1.5x tele on a 62mm-thread lens without vignetting. Look for name brands: Sony, Olympus, Kowa, etc. Stay under US$10. Such an adapter doesn't eat light. Cheap fun!
01-14-2012, 12:45 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by mgvh Quote
This! I wanna be like RioRico and Docrwm!
I've been at this 1.5 years, and I've come to the same conclusion. I've worked my way through a bunch of cheap lenses trying to figure out what focal lengths I use. I just got the 18-135, and that's going to be my basic lens. It's quite usable but a bit soft at the longer end, but for that I have the DAL 55-300 that came with my K-x kit, and I love it. I can't afford the FA50, but I have a nice M50 1.7. I will be doing macro work, and I found an older Sigma 90mm f2.8 that is extremely sharp. (And that also works for close-up portraits.)
So now I want to start clearing out some lenses and save for the Tamron 10-24 for the wide stuff.
I don't claim to have tried the higher-end Pentax glass like the Limiteds but when you are starting out and learning I think this package covers your bases. The M50's I had were either Taks or the M50/2. When I ran across a pristine FA50/1.4 for $250 I jumped on it and have not been sorry. The AF is really useful for things like basketball. On the other hand, the M50 Macro is a bit short for anything but static macro work IMHO but its long-throw manual focus is a real plus. I got it and the M100/f4 Macro in a kit that someone had in an old Pentax Hard Shell case together. I've been thinking about selling the M50 Macro and some other lenses that have accumulated in order to try a limited lens.
01-15-2012, 02:30 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Docrwm Quote
I've been thinking about selling the M50 Macro and some other lenses that have accumulated in order to try a limited lens.
Well, my advice is DON'T, unless you're ready to buy the whole set... or if you know you are strong enough to resist the temptation of a 2nd one, then a 3rd...

I just want to say, I too have been shooting Pentax for about 2 years and buying lenses for about as long... The OP shouldn't follow blindly any recommendations from here or anywhere else for your lens choices. My personal setup and buying roadmap has already been completely turned-around at least twice. Thanks goodness reselling works well! So IMO, start with the kit lens + one longer (eg DA55-300) or one wider (eg Tamron 10-24, I had it, very cool but a bit on the heavy side for a lens I want to take everywhere everytime, so I switched for a DA15 Ltd...) and then figure out what you like and dislike, what abilities you miss... Everyone's different!
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