Pentax DA 35mm F2.4 vs 40mm XS vs 40mm Limited
Conclusion: DA 40mm f/2.8 Limited
And in this corner: the veteran, the legend, the DA 40mm f/2.8 Limited! Sure, our copy performed (in some cases) like it had gone a few too many rounds in the ring, but we know from past experience that that's not how an ideal DA 40 Limited behaves. So, what of this venerable member of Pentax's premier lens line?
The first thing anyone talks about with Limited lenses is their construction, and we're not going to be any different. This is simply a gorgeous lens, and it's a night and day difference from the DA 35. For such a tiny lens, it has a reassuringly dense feel in the hand, and the mechanical bits move as smoothly as a Rolex.
You want features? It's got 'em. Quick-shift focus override, a lovely engraved distance scale, and a compact metal hood that hardly adds on to the lens's svelte profile. Do you pay for those features? Yeah, you do. Though it was priced in the mid-$200's new just a few years ago, the DA 40mm f/2.8 Limited retails closer to $370 these days.
While the economy might have changed, the quality of the lens has not. This is a great performer (when you get a good copy), and even at its current price it's still a great bang-for-buck choice. As you've seen with our copy, sharpness for close-up shooting is superb, and the potential is obviously there for landscapes. The bokeh is quite nice for such a slow lens, there is little to no chromatic aberration, and distortion is trivial. Vignetting is a bit obvious at f/2.8 and doesn't entirely go away by f/8, but it's hardly a dealbreaker either.
The last thing to discuss is the focal length and its usefulness (or lack thereof). There are many who dismiss 40mm as a "useless" focal length on a crop-sensor camera, but we have to respectfully disagree. We found the 40mm lenses to be eminently useful for a number of applications. For short portraiture, for street shooting, for distant landscapes, and even for some quasi-macro work, thanks to the 0.4-meter minimum focusing distance. While the 35mm may be a bit closer to true "normal," the distinction isn't earthshattering; there were only a very few instances in which we wished we had the 35 mounted instead of the 40 Limited.
The existence of the DA 40mm f/2.8 XS makes proving the case for the Limited version quite a bit harder. The XS offers essentially the same optical performance for more than $100 less, and is smaller and lighter to boot. However, the Limited does have some features the XS just can't touch: its superb build, its stunning looks (subjective, admittedly), its quick-shift, and its distance scale. Are those extras worth the cost? Depends on what you're looking for.
- Brilliant design and build
- Very good optical performance (with a good copy)
- Includes hood, pouch, distance scale
- Features quick-shift focus override
- No aberrations to speak of
- Negligible distortion
- Excellent flare resistance
- More expensive than the optically similar XS version
- Worse vignetting than the DA 35
- Focal length (very) slightly less useful for walkaround purposes
- A bit fiddly to mount and unmount due to size
Note: In this chart we've rated our test sample, rather than the ideal DA 40. As we've discussed, this copy had some issues shooting at wider apertures near infinity, but we do not believe this behavior to be indicative of typical DA 40 Limited performance. With an ideal copy, the Sharpness rating above would likely jump to 8 or 9, bringing the overall rating to 8.6.