New Pentax flash strobes complete weather-sealed system; updated DA Limited lenses get HD coating


posted Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 5:00 PM EST

For a while now, we've been asking Pentax when it would offer weather-sealed flash strobes. Dust and water-resistant sealing is available in varying degrees across much of Pentax's product line, including camera bodies, lenses, grips, and remote controls, but external strobes have been the one chink in the company's weather-sealed armor.

Ricoh, the company behind the Pentax brand, was clearly listening. It's just launched not one, but two new strobes bringing weather sealing (and a whole lot more) to both the flagship and mid-range models in its lineup. At the same time, the company has updated its DA Limited lens lineup with its new HD coating, among other changes. That should translate to even better image quality from these lovely little primes, something we're keen to see for ourselves.

Pentax's new strobes are a bit more expensive, but add weather seals, video lights and more.

But first, let's take a look at the new flash units. The new Pentax AF540FGZ II takes over from the existing AF540FGZ as the company's flagship strobe, while the new Pentax AF360FGZ II follows on from the earlier AF360FGZ. Both strobes are fully weather-resistant, with 28 seals apiece that aim to prevent ingress of dust, rain and splashes. Coupled with the company's other products, that means you can now carry a full weather-sealed system, confident that there's no weak link which needs to be protected from the elements, or simply left to stay dry in your camera bag.

Both new strobes also have a reworked user interface that should be easier to use. For one thing, the fiddly sliders are all gone, replaced with a larger power lever and more buttons. The control dial has been centered, and the interface harmonized between the two strobes. (Previously, although the two had a similar interface, the 540FGZ used a button for master / control / slave selection, while the 360FGZ had a slider.)

The Pentax AF540FGZ II (left) and AF360FGZ II (right) are even more closely-related than their predecessors. Both share exactly the same interface and a tilt/swivel design.

On the front, both new strobes sport built-in continuous video lights, something that portends well for how Ricoh sees video as a feature of the Pentax camera line. Admittedly we're just trying to read the tea leaves here, but we see that as good news. Although Pentax was an early pioneer of SLR video -- it was the first to allow manual aperture control for video capture, after all -- it now rather lags the field in this area. If Ricoh sees value in providing for video lighting, then it may well treat features like video autofocus and full manual exposure control with similar import.

Fear not, by the way. The switch to provide video lighting hasn't done away with the autofocus assist lamps. Both the AF540FGZ II and AF360FGZ II now provide autofocus assist with a white beam lamp, rated as good for a range of 3.3 to 23 feet (1-7m). The autofocus assist function is said to be compatible with the Pentax 645D, K-r, K-5, K-30, K-5 II, K-5 IIs, K-50 and K-500 camera bodies, as long as they're running the latest available firmware.

The new Pentax strobes are both fully weather-sealed, allowing use even in rainy or dusty conditions.

There are changes in other areas, too. Both strobes are said to recycle faster, and although we can't find manufacturer figures for the older variants, we're thinking the improvement for the 360FGZ II in particular is pretty significant. According to Ricoh, the AF540FGZ II will recharge in about five seconds, while the AF360FGZ II will charge in just 2.5 seconds.

The Pentax AF360FGZ II should also offer a little more output. It now has a higher guide number of 118 feet (36m) at ISO 100, where the earlier version had a 98 foot (30m) guide number. The AF540FGZ II is unchanged from its predecessor in this respect, with a guide number of 177 feet (54m). Both strobes now have wider and finer-grained flash exposure compensation, with a range of -4 to +2EV in 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps. (The earlier models had a range of -3 to +1EV in 1/2EV steps, by contrast.)

Another view of Pentax's weather sealing.

Continuing the improvements on the AF360FGZ II, which looks to be something of a steal to us, it now supplements the tilting bounce head of its predecessor with a swivel function like that in the AF540FGZ, as well. And of course, the AF540FGZ II retains the feature. That means both strobes will tilt upwards 90 degrees or downwards 10 degrees, and swivel left by 135 degrees or right by 180 degrees. And the duo also now have stronger metal bases to interface with your hot shoe.

And the new strobes are smaller than their predecessors, as well. The 540FGZ II is about 1.2 inches (30mm) less tall, while the 360FGZ II is just a smidge narrower and a half-inch (13mm) less thick. The AF540FGZ II accompanies its size reduction with a 0.7 ounce (20g) reduction in weight, while all the new features in the 360FGZ II add 0.6 ounces (17g) to its weight.

And one more view of the 28 weather seals in the new strobes.

Both strobes will carry somewhat higher pricetags than did the older models, when they ship next month. The Pentax AF540FGZ II will list for US$630, around US$150 more than the current flagship strobe. The Pentax AF360FGZ II, meanwhile, will cost US$430, an increase of US$100 over pricing for its predecessor.

If you're ready to buy Pentax's new strobes, don't delay. Get in the preorder queue now at IR affiliate B&H, and be out shooting -- rain or shine -- with your new flash as soon as possible!

Pentax's new HD DA Limited lens lineup replaces the existing smc DA Limited line, adding a newer coating and rounder apertures. Each lens is available in black or silver.

And so, onto the new lenses. Here, the changes are fewer, but it will be interesting to see how much of an impact they have. In a nutshell, Pentax is upgrading its entire five-model DA Limited lens lineup in one go, replacing the Super Multi Coating of the earlier models with its newer High Definition coating. Compared to conventional multi-layer coatings, Pentax claims its HD coating to have much higher light transmittance, and thereby to better control reflections, flare, and ghosting. At launch of the coating last year, it predicted a 50% reduction over the entire visible spectrum. The company also says that the HD multicoating allows better control of color balance, and is more durable thanks to higher packing density and a stronger bond between the coating materials.

At the same time as adding the HD coating, the company has also gifted the 40mm F2.8 Limited lens with its Super Protect coating, which helps to repel dust and stains, further protecting the front element. This was already applied to all of the other DA Limited lenses, so it brings the 40mm up to par for the line.

The new lenses have a number of slight cosmetic tweaks, including updated branding on the barrel, and a red trim ring which signifies the presence of the HD coating.

All five new HD DA Limited lenses -- that's the HD PENTAX DA 15mm F4 ED AL Limited, HD PENTAX DA 21mm F3.2 AL Limited, HD PENTAX DA 35mm F2.8 Macro Limited, HD PENTAX DA 40mm F2.8 Limited and HD PENTAX DA 70mm F2.4 Limited -- also bring tweaks to their aperture diaphragms. Although the number of aperture blades is unchanged, the company says that they are now rounder, and should yield more pleasing bokeh. (That means more attractive blur in out-of-focus areas of your images.)

In other respects, we believe the new lenses are optically and mechanically identical to their predecessors. The remaining changes are simply cosmetic. All five HD DA Limited lenses have red anodized trim rings, instead of the original green trim rings, indicating the new HD coating's presence. The colors on the focus scale are also gone, switched to white and grey for a cleaner look. (Or black and navy, on the silver versions of the lenses.) And the company has switched from badging the lens barrel with the Pentax brand and focal length, to simply the aperture / focal length. (The Pentax brand remains on the front of the lens, of course.)

The HD PENTAX DA 40mm F2.8 Limited lens has one tweak its DA Limited brethren didn't need. It now has a Super Protect coating to repel dust and stains; its siblings already had one.

Compared to their predecessors, all five HD DA Limited lenses now have a list price that's a slight US$50 higher than before. The new HD DA Limited lineup will be available from next month in both black and silver versions. All five are assembled in Vietnam, as were their predecessors.

Ready to buy? You can preorder all five of the new HD DA Limited lenses from IR affiliate B&H today, and be first in town to shoot with the updated versions. Even better, you'll be supporting your favorite camera site if you purchase using the links below!