HD Pentax-D FA* 70-200mm F2.8 ED DC AW
Vs. Other 70-200mm Lenses
It is not our custom to compare reviewed lenses with equivalent offerings from other manufacturers in a standalone review. The lack of interchangeability makes such an exercise pointless since our reviews are targeted for current Pentax users.
However, the introduction of the K-1 Full Frame camera, along with a groups of professional lenses, has the potential to draw the attention of photographers not familiar with Pentax. Because of this, we have created a section of the current review dedicated to comparing the D FA 70-200mm F2.8 with other similar lenses.
This comparison will concentrate on features, specifications, lens design. Except for the Tamron lens, which is available new in Pentax mount and will be fully analyzed later in the review, no optical comparisons will be performed.
Current 70-200mm Lenses
Let us stress a point right at the beginning : there is currently no "bad" 70-200mm lens on the market. While there will be optical differences, these lenses are all high-quality, suitable for enthusiasts and professionals alike. They are all constant aperture, either F2.8 or F4. When a lens exists both with or without image stabilization, only the stabilized version was listed in order to make comparison more accurate with the Pentax system. Similarly, only the most recent version of a lens was included.
We hesitate to include the DA* 60-250mm from Pentax in this comparison, since it is an APS-C only lens (unless you modify it). This lens compares favorably with the F4 products from other manufacturers, offering a comparable body size and linger range, but is not officially FF. It was included because with Pentax's current customer base, the 70-200mm is likely to be used both on FF and APS-C.
|Model||HD D FA* 70-200mm |
ED DC AW
|DA* 60-250mm |
ED SDM AW
(street, Sept. 2016)
|Min. Focus distance (cm)||120||110|
|Elements / groups||19/16||15/13|
|Aperture blades||9, round||9|
|Image Circle||Full Frame||APS-C |
(Full Frame supported w/
an unofficial modification)
70-200mm F2.8 Options
|Model||EF L IS II USM||SP Di VC USD||Di LD (IF) Macro||AF-S G ED VR II||EX DG APO OS||FE GM OSS|
(street, Sept. 2016)
|Available for Pentax||No||No||Yes||No||No||No|
|Min. Focus distance (cm)||120||130||95||140||140||96|
|Elements / groups||23/19||23/17||18/13||21/16||22/17||23/18|
|Aperture blades||8, round||9, round||9||9, round||9, round||11, round|
70-200mm F4 Options
|Model||EF L IS USM||AF-S G ED VR II||FE G OSS|
(street, Sept. 2016)
|Available for Pentax||No||No||No|
|Min. Focus distance (cm)||120||100||100|
|Elements / groups||20/15||20/14||21/15|
|Aperture blades||8, round||9, round||9, round|
|Weather resistant||Yes||Not specified||Yes|
As is immediately obvious, the 70-200mm range is pretty crowded, with no less than 11 available lenses from 6 manufacturers (only counting the most recent versions). These lenses all use different optical formulas and thus differ in their external dimensions and weight. What is interesting is that the F4 options are not simply smaller-diameter copies of their F2.8 counterparts: they all use different designs altogether.
On paper at least, the older Tamron model (the least expensive one) appears like a no-brainer. As long as a user can live without weather resistance and silent AF, the lens offers specifications on par or better than the competition. Still, those two features are among the most desirable for a modern lens (apart from image quality, of course).
Pentax is the newcomer in this list. The company historically strived to make the smallest possible lenses in any category, if necessary by sacrifying aperture to preserve size (the DA Limited lenses being the perfect example of this). With the new 70-200mm, Pentax took the opposite approach. Their lens is the heaviest and among the largest on this list. The barrel is shaped like a cylinder, which is aligned with the mainstream, only a few lenses on the list offering a tapered body (mainly Sigma and the older Tamron). The price is the lowest except for third-party offerings, something that should draw some interest (especially considering the comparatively low price of the K-1 body).
While the various 70-200mm may appear similar at first glance, each manufacturer applies its personal touch. These differences will not impact the image quality but can affect the user experience. We will concentrate our discussion on the F2.8 lenses.
The position of the zoom ring is one aspect which varies a lot. Canon, Nikon, Sony and Tamron (on the older model) place the zoom close to the camera body, while Pentax, Sigma and the new Tamron position it near the front element. Veteran Pentax users will remember that, prior to the introduction of HD coatings, zoom rings were always close to the body, but newer zooms tend to have the ring near the front.
Having the zoom ring in the latter position does make sense, especially with a large lens, since the photographer's left hand is naturally drawn to the front for balance. This also ensures that the tripod foot does not get in the way when manipulating the ring. It can however be counter-intuitive for photographers used to having the zoom near the body. With shorter lenses, this positioning can also lead to accidental movements of the focus ring, but with a large lens such as a 70-200mm, this is not likely to occur.
The tripod collar is another feature which shows surprising variations. Canon, Tamron and Sigma force the user to remove the whole collar, which can be very cumbersome. In some cases, the lens cannot be mounted on a camera body since the collar needs to slide back on the lens barrel to be removed. In other cases, the collar opens up like a clamp, which means the knob must be completely unscrewed to remove the collar. Having a removable collar means that rotation friction is harder to control, and this approach makes it more difficult to have notches at regular angles. The removed collar also takes up room in the camera bag.
Pentax users will be familiar with the simple and effective system of simply removing the foot, leaving the collar in place at all times. Nikon also uses this system. Sony follows suit, and improves on it by using a simple button, along with a sliding mechanism, to remove the foot, making the operation faster and easier. The Pentax 70-200mm also uses this principle : the foot has a screw for secure locking, but once it is unscrewed, pushing it will let the foot slide towards the front.
Removing only the foot has another advantage : when using a tripod or monopod, the photographer can remove the foot instead of the tripod plate, making the lens easier to use handheld while still having the foot readily available when support is needed.
For comparison's sake, removing the Pentax foot takes 7x less turns of the screw than the Tamron collar.
Note that the Tamron lenses have two small flaws. First, the tripod foot is very close to the body in both cases, which can prevent easy operation of the focus or zoom ring (depending on the version). Second, the foot lacks an alignment pin which is very useful when used with an appropriate tripod plate (to prevent accidental rotation).
Most manufacturers offer a focus limiter, which is very useful when using the lens as a tele. It can improve AF speed and reduce hunting. Even there, design choices are apparent. Canon uses a 2.5m limit, Sony chose 3m, Nikon 5m. Tamron does not offer a focus limiter on either versions of their lens, nor does Sigma. Pentax selected 4m as the limit.
A higher limit (like on the Nikon and Pentax) is likely to help the AF system get a faster lock. It might be a design choice or a requirement to attain sufficient speeds.
Placing the limit at a longer distance also means that the range below the limit can be used (if implemented right). Pentax's switch has three positions : Full, 1.2m-4m, and 4m-Infinity. The others only allow the higher range to be limited. Hunting at close distances is thus less likely to occur with the Pentax lens.
Every lens on our list, except for the older Tamron, feature the company's equivalent of Pentax's quick-shift for full-time manual override. They also all feature a dedicated AF/MF switch (again, except the older Tamron).
Nikon goes further by offering a third option on their switch. Called A/M mode, it essentially disables quick-shift. User reports mention that the function is not fully disabled when in use, but that the effect of turning the focus ring is greatly diminished. Pentax also offers an additional AF mode. In addition to the regular mode (called QFS/M for Quick Focus Shift / Manual) which allows quick-shift to override AF at any time, there is a QFS/A mode which only allows quick-shift to operate after the lens has locked focus. The latter is the default mode, probably to pervent accidental activation of quick-shift when the lens is still far from the focus point.
The older Tamron does not offer quick-shift nor a MF/AF switch (in fact, it does not offer any switches). In order to engage MF, the user must use a focus clutch built in the focus ring. Similar to the company's 90mm macro, pushing or pulling the focus ring will switch between AF or MF. The company abandoned this system on their newer lens, and with good reason. The clutch is loud in operation and can lead to small focus displacements when the gears align and engage.
The Sony lens also offers focus hold buttons. These buttons do as their name implies : when pressed, they stop the AF and hold the focus at the current position. The 150-450mm is the only current Pentax lens offering this type of control.
Every lens except the older Tamron use some form of silent focus with the AF motor built in the lens. The older Tamron relies on the camera's AF motor and, as such, produces a significant level of noise.
The older Tamron and the Sigma lenses are not weather resistant. All other models offer at least some level of resistance.
Pentax 70-200mm F2.8 weather seals
Not all lenses are created equal regarding WR. Pentax has the most advanced weather resistance protection on our list (which Pentax calls "All Weather"). It is the only lens mentioning the resistance in its name. Other manufacturers generally mention "protection against dust and moisture" only. Any protection is better than nothing but the Pentax is the only one which can confidently face a downpour. In addition, WR also depends on the camera body. High-level cameras often offer weather protection, but Pentax is the only manufacturer with a line-up of fully WR cameras.
Every lens on the list except the older Tamron and the Pentax offer image stabilization, with varying modes for panning and normal use. Pentax bodies all feature internal SR (Shake Reduction) so in-lens IS is not needed.
Both Tamron lenses come with a 6 years warranty, higher than anything else on the market (warranty is generally one or two years).
The older Tamron is the lens best suited for close focusing, with the best magnification. The Sony lens isn't too far behind and the Canon takes third place. All others lenses offer almost exactly the same magnification.
The Sony and Pentax lenses are the only ones to offer a removable window to facilitate the use of filters.
The Nikon lens has been criticized for the small size of its switches, and the presence of a third rubber ring at the front of the lens (in addition to the focus and zoom rings). This ring serves no purpose and can fool the user using touch to operate the focus ring.
The Pentax FA* 80-200mm F2.8
Let's not forget Pentax's previous fast full-frame zoom. This film-era autofocus lens was produced from 1994 to 2004 (view specifications in our database) but still commands fairly high prices second-hand.
We compared this lens to the D FA* 70-200mm and immediately observed that superiority of the newer optical design. The D FA* outright crushes the FA* in the corners, where the latter never catches up, while in the center, the FA* lags a solid stop behind the newer lens. Sadly, it appears that this older alternative is simply not worth considering given the existence of the cheaper (and better) Tamron lens.
With screwdrive autofocus, a clutch-based manual focus system with no full-time manual override, a very small tripod mount, and a substandard hood designed for a 24mm field of view, this lens also handles more poorly than the D FA*, though it is slightly lighter.
Any FF manufacturer who wants to be considered seriously in 2016 needs to offer a 70-200mm F2.8 lens. A version of this lens is almost sure to be found in any professional's bag. It is a good thing for Pentax that the company decided to introduce this lens alongside the full frame K-1.
The differences between the various lenses on the market are, globally, quite small. No lens has it all, and except for the Tamron and Sigma lenses, each version of course only works with the original manufacturer's bodies.
The Pentax lens is among the largest and heaviest in the list. It packs a lot of features even when compared to the most popular brands (Canon and Nikon). It is good to see that Pentax did not cut corners when designing this lens. It can hold its own in any comparison, and offers a few differenciating features that help it stand out. Its price is the lowest of the first-party manufacturers, which makes it an interesting choice. But what about its image quality?