HD Pentax-D FA* 50mm F1.4 SDM AW
There is no doubt that the HD Pentax-D FA* 50mm F1.4 SDM AW lens sets a high bar for future star-series full-frame lenses. This lens is without a doubt one of the best-performing primes Pentax has ever released, and when combined with recent high-performance DSLRs such as the K-1 II, it can take photography to a whole new level. It seems that the long wait for modern premium full-frame primes has paid off.
D FA* 50mm F1.4 on the Pentax K-1 II
The D FA* 50mm F1.4 is a lens for people who love a 3D-pop and plasticity in their images first and foremost. While many positives can be said about how it shines in technical performance, this is not the key differentiator. It is the combined package of bokeh, rendering, micro-contrast, sharpness and flare resistance which makes this a very good lens for portraits and any type of shot in which you want to achieve subject isolation but still want to convey the characteristics of the background.
If you shoot any type of portraiture, this lens is for you.
The 50mm's "normal" field of view does allow for quite some versatility of subjects and shooting scenarios and combined with the nice minimum focus distance you can even shoot some pseudo-macro subjects like flowers as you wish.
Generally, pick this lens when you think you have a good idea of what you want to shoot, and when you don't want the image to be too crowded with content. We recommend this lens if you do like shooting wide open at F1.4 and can choose a subject within the 50mm field of view. Why spend serious money on a very fast lens when you don't want it's key feature?
Compared to peers like the Sigma 50mm Art, the D FA* 50mm is nothing but typical in size. If you are fine with carrying a Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM (Art) or HD Pentax-D FA 24-70mm F2.8 ED SDM WR this one will not be any issue.
Compared to Other Options
For typical portrait shooters, a slightly longer focal length is still the way to go, obtainable in a lens such as the beautiful SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited. Waiting for the upcoming D FA* 85mm F1.4 is another viable alternative. However, these tele lenses are also less versatile for other uses compared to a 50mm lens. Full body shots are much easier to do with a 50mm; such lenses also offer better background isolation than a 31 or 35mm lens.
If you are on a tight budget, the SMC Pentax-DA 50mm F1.8 still is the preferred approach with already good image quality. However, it's not F1.4, not weather resistant, vignettes on full-frame, made of plastic, and noisy when focusing.
If you wish to forgo the autofocus and quality control, Samyang has recently released its own 50mm F1.4.
If you shoot both APS-C and full frame and have higher image quality requirements combined with the need for F1.4, but want to save some money, then the SMC Pentax-DA* 55mm F1.4 SDM is great. It does lack the speedy ring-type SDM and edge and corner performance are not the same on full frame because the 55mm was designed as a crop lens.
For macro shooting, obviously the dedicated SMC Pentax-D FA 50mm F2.8 Macro lens is still the best option as it can do the true 1:1 reproduction. On the other hand it is two full stops slower and a screw drive lens without weather sealing.
If you want F1.4 subject isolation on a standard lens and don't pixel-peep a lot (or still mainly use a lower-resolution camera body such as the K-5), then the SMC Pentax-FA 50mm F1.4 is very good value and is super portable. It is not weather-resistant, though, and has screw drive and low edge and corner performance on top of being relatively weak wide open.
Overall, there are many options in this space— all currently available. They each fill a unique niche.
While these have been high-level comparisons, we do plan to face off the D FA* 50mm directly against some of its cousins in a future review.
While the D FA* 50mm's $1199 / 1199€ introductory price is not a low price per se, it is an extremely good value if you look at first-party lenses introduced earlier. For example, the Sony 50mm F1.4 cost 1799€ at launch in 2016— and it doesn't even offer weather sealing. Third-party options like the Sigma 50mm F1.4 Art, which are normally priced 30-50% lower to remain competitive, are not significantly cheaper than the Pentax. Nikon's newest 58mm F1.4 hit the market five years ago for 1720€ EUR and performs much closer to the FA 50mm than the D FA*. The latest Canon RF 50mm F1.2 costs a whopping 2500€ with similar specs (it actually lacks internal focusing with a moving front element and all related implications for weather sealing) for being a meager 0.44 stops faster (remember this is less than the 0.67 stops between a F1.4 and a F1.8 lens).
All in all, the value of the HD Pentax-D FA* 50mm F1.4 SDM AW is therefore excellent.
- Great handling and well balanced on a Pentax K-1 / K-1 II
- Very fast F1.4 lens that benefits from the Pentax system's 5 stops of image stabilization for low light shooting in addition
- Very sharp corner to corner even wide open
- Quick and snappy AF for this class of lens thanks to new ring-SDM
- Precise manual focusing
- Top-notch weather sealing
- Excellent image quality
- Excellent micro-contrasts even wide open
- Top notch creamy bokeh and transition smoothness
- "3D-pop" in photos
- Surprisingly nice starbursts
- Very well rounded bokeh disk in highlights
- CA well controlled for a lens of this type
- Extremely flare resistant due to newest coatings
- Good value alongside comparable high-performance lenses
- This class of high-performance glass is significantly larger and heavier than old film era lenses
- Longitudinal chromatic aberrations could be better controlled
- Pricey relative to older Pentax 50mm lenses
For its superb optical characteristics and build quality, the new Pentax 50mm secures its place as one of our highest-rated lenses. If you don't mind its price and size, it's hard to find any flaws with it.
The Bottom Line
With the HD Pentax-D FA* 50mm F1.4 SDM AW, Pentax has released a lens which truly shows that Pentax does not need to fear the competition when it comes to image quality, despite the fact that the company's budget is probably dwarfed by many of its competitors.
Pentax might not push out as many lenses as others, but when they do, they are excellent. In this case, the new 50mm lens is truly a gem. It really sets the bar high for future D FA* prime lens releases.
Where people have been craving "Sigma Art" type and quality lenses they can now get one from their original manufacturer with all the benefits and pro weather sealing included: best image quality, most modern AF drive, top build, top notch coatings, and Pentax rendering.
If you don't shoot Pentax, you're in luck— you can get the same lens for Canon and Nikon (branded as the Tokina Opera 50mm F1.4) for just $949.
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