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01-04-2010, 08:29 PM   #1
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Good walkaround prime for first Pentax DSLR

Hi all,

I have had a long time interest in photography, and although I have always kept up with the technical mumble jumble of photographic optics and the latest developments in dslrs, my priorities and funds have been such that I've never been able to invest in anything more than hobbyist P&S cameras.

But now, starting in the Spring I will be thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, which for those of you who may not be familiar, is a trail system extending from Georgia to Maine, the completion of which takes about 5-6 months. This has created tremendous impetus to get on the ball and finally cobble together a dslr system I can be happy with. Although I hadn't really heard of them before, I was immediately directed to look at Pentax products by the peeps over at dpc, and am now pretty much 95% set on investing in this brand because of its (somewhat tragically) unique position as a producer of rugged, outdoors-worthy cameras of solid build and modest size. These things matter incredibly, as I will be schlepping through 6 months of whatever the Appalachian Mountains decide to throw at me, and certainly this article over at Digital Nature Photography cemented me leaning towards the K-7: Digital Nature Photography.

With that excessive preamble, what I am looking for here is a bit of advice on lenses. I will emphasize that the unique considerations of distance backpacking photography are size, weight and durability; considerations I have tried to somehow wedge into positions of unusual prominence amongst your standard image quality vs price arguments, the result of which has become some sort of mental calculus of pros/cons swollen to unwieldy and potentially neurotic proportions. My basic strategy, currently, is to go out there with a single prime lens, to save on weight, $$$, packing bulk, and - perhaps importantly - the threat of Nature constantly having its way with the interior of my camera's body if I'm changing lenses all the time, as my ability to clean my camera will be limited when I am myself covered in filth and in the woods for most of the time. I also feel -- with admittedly no experience to base it on -- that there's something romantically simple about shooting in prime, and to be honest, I rarely fiddle with zoom to compose shots on any of my old point and shoots, so something close to 'standard' in the 30-40mm range is what I've got my eye on. One additional factor that I will add on there, is that a lot of people who attempt an Appalachian Trail thruhike bring dslrs with them but ultimately send them back because they don't use them enough (due to unwieldiness and fear of damaging them in inclement conditions) to justify the weight and bulk -- having a single, small lens that I don't have to worry about interchanging (especially when saddled on a durable, weather/dust/cold resistant body) allows me to create fewer reasons not to use the camera in the first place. So, versatility in a simple package is the name of the game.

The old FA 35mm f/2 seemed like just the ticket, but obviously that is no longer in production, and with only a few months before I hit the trail (pun not intended, but I wish it had been) and no backup lenses to fall back on in case I find a dud, I don't think I could be convinced to buy used unless I make some serendipitous find in a camera shop and can play around with the lens firsthand to assess its condition and performance, something I'm not terribly qualified to do as a first-time dslr buyer staring at the results on an LCD screen in a camera shop. Barring that unlikely event, I am left with only a few lenses in Pentax's current lineup that I am aware of that meet my stringent but *theoretically* well-thought-out needs -- the FA 40/2.8 L, DA 31/1.8 L, and DA 35/2.8 L lenses. If you could only have one lens, would you slap any of those on your camera? Well, of course, I'm sure many would, but if anyone DOES use any of those are their main lens, I would particularly love to hear your thoughts.

From what scanty bits I can accumulate via the internet, I have heard mixed things about the optical quality on the 40/2.8, feel it's a bit too long for general purpose, and am worried that its pancake squished-ness might make it TOO small for comfort. I have heard NOTHING bad about the 31/1.8, obviously, but at its price and weight I could pretty much outfit myself with a DA 21 Limited and DA 70 Limited to fill out the focal lengths to either side of standard and be no poorer or heavier. I think at this point I am most curious about that DA 35/2.8 L, which, again, I have heard some mixed things about. I've heard it's great as a macro lens - if you can get close enough to your subject - but I'm really curious about its performance as a general purpose lens. I've heard it is particularly slow to focus at distance (though that observation was made with an older camera body, perhaps it is better with the K-7?), and has soft focus at infinity. I can compose all sorts of closeup shots of things growing on the trail, so that macro capability will certainly be appreciated, but I would like to hear from anyone who has used this puppy as a general purpose lens, as I understand there was quite a bit of excitement leading up to its release regarding its potential as a 'standard' optimized for digital bodies.

I apologize, I am habitually long-winded. Any thoughts are appreciated. Thank you!

01-04-2010, 08:41 PM   #2
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You could consider looking at a 28mm screwmount (with adapter) of course, that shouldn't hurt your pocket and it will be a rugged lens.

I don't know what your weight tolerances are but I wouldn't discount getting away from primes and looking at something like an 18-250 or even the 18-55 (which will be fairly light). Both have the advantage of fairly close focusing (especially an 18-250). At least your options are wide open.
01-04-2010, 08:59 PM   #3
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One thing about the weather resistant quality of the K7 - if the lens isn't weather resistant then the system won't be fully resistant either. Unfortunately, there are no weather resistant primes. If the ruggedness is your chief concern, then you could just be happy with the k7's kit lens, the smc PENTAX DA 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 AL WR. It is weather resistant and weighs in just a tad heavier than the 35mm f2.8. There is also the PENTAX DA Star 16-50mm F2.8 ED AL (IF) SDM, but it's over twice the weight of the kit lens.
01-04-2010, 09:31 PM   #4
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If it were me forced to choose just one prime for this, I too would be going for a 28. Get an old MF one - screwmount as Gary suggests, or regular K-mount - and you won't have to worry about it getting ruined in unfavorable conditions. Or more particular, if it does get ruined, you be out much money.

Of course, realistically, no prime but the 40 is *that* much smaller than the 18-55, which really deserves serious consideration despite the romantic attachment to the idea of a prime.

I wouldn't *completely* discount the 40, either. While there are always a few naysayers with *any* lens, I think further perusal will show you that people *overwhelmingly* love the image quality of the DA40, and unless you plan on focusing manually a lot, I can't see that the smallness has any drawback. It is of course a bit on the long side for any big sweeping vistas that open up, but in places where you are more closed in by trees and so forth, I prefer something a little longer than I might otherwise, to help isolate a particular aspect of the scene. But overall, I do think you're right to be thinking a bit longer, and really, the 35's would similarly be not quite wide enough for me most of the time either.

01-04-2010, 09:38 PM   #5
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Ah, and FWIW, although I want something that's pretty versatile, I expect, given the nature of the hike (which follows a trail overwhelmingly covered by canopy), most of my photography will end up leaning towards environmental portraiture, plant/fungus macro, and other things that can be done in the woods. There are the occasional vistas, but they are fleeting and it's unlikely that I will find myself near them during flattering morning/evening light, so wide angle and sharp performance at long distance focus isn't super important... mostly I will be shooting midday under a canopy in dappled light presumably, or around camp and in the occasional trail town (architecture, street photography, etc.).
01-05-2010, 12:09 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by wasser Quote
Unfortunately, there are no weather resistant primes.
Well, that isn't exactly true. There are at least the DA* 55 mm, DA* 200 mm and DA* 300 mm. Unfortunately they won't probably be the best option for this use.

Even though the OP specifically wants a prime, I can't help thinking that that a prime as the single lens would be limiting. My option would be the WR kit zoom DA 18-55 mm.
01-05-2010, 12:11 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by emr Quote
Well, that isn't exactly true. There are at least the DA* 55 mm, DA* 200 mm and DA* 300 mm. Unfortunately they won't probably be the best option for this use.

Even though the OP specifically wants a prime, I can't help thinking that that a prime as the single lens would be limiting. My option would be the WR kit zoom DA 18-55 mm.
You know, the funny thing about that. I actually almost linked the 55mm too. :x Good catch and thanks for correcting my error.
01-05-2010, 01:36 AM   #8
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A one and only prime for quality results?
FA 31 ltd for sure.
Depends on what you're into shooting most...
Landscapes - even an FA* 24 (if you can find one) or the DA 21 ltd.
Otherwise consider an FA 50/1.4 or DA 35 ltd

01-05-2010, 01:42 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by v5planet Quote
...most of my photography will end up leaning towards environmental portraiture, plant/fungus macro, and other things that can be done in the woods. There are the occasional vistas, but they are fleeting and it's unlikely that I will find myself near them during flattering morning/evening light, so wide angle and sharp performance at long distance focus isn't super important...
DA 35 mm ltd macro, then? Should be a marvelous lens, although I have no personal experience. Unfortunately no WR.
01-05-2010, 04:51 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by emr Quote
DA 35 mm ltd macro, then? Should be a marvelous lens, although I have no personal experience. Unfortunately no WR.
Yeah, that's the one I'd take. Well, actually, I'd agonize between it and the 18-55mm--and end up taking both
01-05-2010, 07:54 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by dadipentak Quote
Yeah, that's the one I'd take. Well, actually, I'd agonize between it and the 18-55mm--and end up taking both
Ditto, I totally agree. I love my DA 35 for nature shots, and you get a very nice macro as the added bonus too.
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