Pentax-DA 560mm F5.6 ED AW

Conclusion

While this lens is big, it delivers great reach on APS-C cameras.  Phase detect autofocus as well as contrast detect autofocus are very accurate, with phase detect being the faster and the most accurate of the two. The speed is average, and not quite as that of smaller lenses like the DA 18-135mm. The lens is very sharp across the frame with F8 through F11 being the optimal apertures. There is no vignetting to speak of, no field curvature, and no distortion.  There is, however, some chromatic aberration, especially in high-contrast scenarios.  Because it offers a maximum aperture of F5.6 and not F4, it is relatively light at 3kg/6.7 lb, and thus hand-holding it or using it with a monopod is feasible.

Pros

  • Excellent build quality
  • Amply sized tripod foot/carrying handle
  • Relatively light
  • Sharp wide open, very sharp from F8 to F16
  • No measurable distortion
  • Negligble vignetting on APS-C
  • Quick autofocus for a super telephoto lens
  • Quick-shift manual focus
  • Extremely accurate phase detect autofocus
  • Rear filter holder with provision for turning a CPL filter
  • Circular polarizer filter included
  • Built-in lens hood
  • Weather sealed
  • Handy and practical lens case
  • Does cover the 24x36mm full frame format (w/ some vignetting)

Cons

  • Physically long with center of gravity far out
  • Difficult to hand hold steadily or for long periods of time
  • Chromatic aberration in high contrast scenes
  • AF/MF and focus limiter switches are too small
  • Relies on in-camera stabilization, which isn't as robust as in-lens stabilization for long lenses
  • 112mm protective filter for front element not included
  • Expensive

Who is it For?

If you are a into birding or shooting other wildlife you probably have your long-lens technique down and are ready to put up with the somewhat difficult handling of a huge lens like the Pentax DA 560mm. If you furthermore own a heavy and sturdy tripod (preferably with a gimbal head) this lens could be the answer to your dreams.

The casual shooter who only occasionally needs the reach of the 560mm might be better off with a long zoom lens such as the Sigma 150-500mm. Such a combination wouldn't quite deliver the same level of image quality, but it is much easier to handle, you will save a lot of money! You can also use the Pentax Q for tele photography; read our review of the K-mount to Q adapter for more information about the Q.

The Bottom Line

We can recommend this lens for anyone who has a primary interest in wildlife photography. The DA 560mm has only few flaws but a lot of strong points as listed above, the key being sharpness/contrast and accurate autofocus which is important when photographing fleeting subjects. Image quality peaks at F8 through F11, and is also very good wide-open. 

This lens is built to last and balances well on a tripod.  Due to the length it is sensitive to wind and vibration, so it requires a very sturdy tripod - preferably one with a gimbal head.

We were able to capture some great detail when using this lens together with the Pentax K-5 IIs.  However, we're sure that the 560mm will be even more compelling once Pentax releases a 24-megapixel DSLR similar to the Nikon D7100.  Perhaps future Pentax cameras will also introduce improved autofocus lenses, which would make this lens a good choice for sports photography as well.

At the time of writing you can buy the Pentax 560 mm lens for $6,996 in the US.  In Japan, it is available for slightly less.

Rating

The most difficult item to rate is value, as discussed on the previous page. Which this lens will surely fall outside of the budget of most photographers, we find its price to be reasonable given the pricing of competing lenses.

Rather than assigning too much weight to our value rating you should make your own judgment based on how often you need this kind of reach and the type (size) and quality of images you want.

Sharpness 
 9
Aberrations 
 8
Bokeh 
 8
Distortion 
 10
Autofocus 
 9
Handling 
 8
Value 
 7
Overall 
 8.4 (Very Good)

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