HD Pentax-D FA* 85mm F1.4 ED SDM AW
General Image Quality
On the following pages we will look in detail at every measurable performance parameter, but for the moment we will consider those subjective elements that can make or break an image.
Field of View
85mm is within the range generally regarded as ideal for portraits. Longer focal lengths tend to flatten the perspective, which is more flattering for subjects, and the focal length easily allows close framing. With sufficient room for the photographer to step back, 85mm can serve for individual portraits or even groups.
85mm also serves as a short tele, in particular to isolate specific elements in a scene.
On APS-C, the field of view is of course narrower and will feel too tight in close spaces. The crop factor brings the lens close to the classic 135mm focal length.
Color and Contrast
STAR lenses, just like their Limited counterparts, generally deliver rich colors and a beautiful tonal response. The 85mm is no different.
Colors have a neutral cast, ideal for portraits. The rendering is true-to-life, but still well saturated and contrasty. There are no harsh contrast areas, but smooth transitions.
Below is a 100% crop of an image shot at F6.3. The level of detail and the fine tonal gradation are as high as can be expected. You can click on the image for a larger view.
Note that the lens, while delivering extremely sharp images, does not exaggerate skin tones or defects, striking a subtle balance between the two.
Metering and Exposure
We did not experience any particular exposure errors with the lens.
Like other lenses using the KAF4 mount, the 85mm uses an electronic aperture control instead of the mechanical coupling used since the 70's. This electronic aperture requires an up-to-date camera firmware, and will not operate with bodies older than the K50. Older cameras will operate the lens wide open at all times.
We did not expect particularly pleasing results regarding starbursts. That is one area where the 85mm surprised us.
While at F2.8 the starbursts are almost absent, at F8 they are clearly visible, well-shaped and with nicely tapering rays. Among recent lenses, it is rare to see such results, so the capability of the D FA* 85mm to create pleasing starbursts is an added bonus.
Lens Corrections and EXIF Data
The 85mm includes all the necessary data for modern camera bodies to apply in-camera lens correction when required. Vignetting, diffraction, aberration, and distortion can be adjusted in-camera.
EXIF data are complete and accurate, and Pentax camera bodies are able to record every relevant parameter into the file. Note that it is up to your software to properly decode these data when an image is viewed on a PC.
The 85mm is, by all accounts, an imposing lens. The price tag is among the highest in the K-mount lineup, the lens is wide, large and heavy, and the front element is gigantic. In short, this lens is the opposite of a discreet shooter.
The surprising fact is that, once mounted on camera and in the hand, the lens is much more comfortable in use than what is expected. The lens is not all that long, and the front-heavy shape isn't much of a hindrance. Pairing the lens with a K-1 creates a dense kit, certainly heavy but easier to manage than a longer lens of the same weight.
Using the 85mm feels like using a precision, almost surgical tool. At a reasonable subject distance for portraits, the depth of field at wide open aperture is a few centimeters at best. This allows quite specific selection of the in-focus elements, but there is definitely a learning curve when coming from a more consumer-grade zoom lens covering the 85mm focal length.
The learning curve is not that steep, and the 85mm quickly becomes rewarding. It is, of course, superb as a portrait lens, but it is not limited to portraits.
Apart from the aperture and focal length, the 85mm produces images with superb bokeh and colors. In use, the lens feels responsive and fast. It never feels like it is slowing down the photographer. In short, apart from the size and weight, it is hard to find a fault with the Pentax 85mm.
In the next sections we will look at the optical performances of the D FA* 85mm F1.4.