sjwaldron's reviews

  • Pentax 14mm f/2.8 ED IF SMC P-DA

    8 out of 10 points and recommended
    Excellent at limiting chromatic aberration and generall a sharp lens.
    Manual focus ring grainy, not WR, APS-C only imaging circle.

    Picked up the lens locally used for a great price.

    What I like:
    - Seriously excellent at limiting chromatic aberration!
    - Seriously excellent sharpness, especially at MTF!
    - Quick-shift focusing ability without having the focus ring turn when AF is happening.
    - 14mm on APS-C is a nice focal length
    - Close focus ability
    - Use as a Rectilinear wide angle landscape lens is top notch.
    - A nice large f2.8 aperture that produces sharp images on my K-7 from f2.8 onward, however with visible vignetting comparing f2.8 to say f5.6 that I have noticed with limited testing so far.
    - Produces “star burst” style light sources.
    - Solid all metal barrel construction.
    - The bokeh in general is pleasing to my eyes around 80% of the time.

    What I don’t like:
    - APS-C only lens.
    - Extreme edges are un-sharp with visible distortion on my lens, but I’ll admit I like the effect in some images.
    - The manual focus ring is “grainy” in feel with a considerable amount of friction when turning.
    - It’s a lot larger than Pentax’s newer DA 15mm F4 Limited lens.
    - Lens flare without the hood isn’t difficult to produce.
    - The 6 flat aperture blades can produce quite visible hexagon shaped bokeh bright spots at times.
    - Not specifically designed to be WR (weather resistant), so it could use an engineering refresh from Pentax.

    Overall I’m happy with this purchase, but also keep in mind I paid less than half what the current going price online is at. Before having a chance to pick it up, the lens was never on my radar as I have a 10-17mm fisheye and felt I didn’t need another wide angle. In retrospect, having a rectilinear wide angle is very very nice as I can produce quite different scenes compared to the fisheye lens at say 17mm where distortion is at the lowest point. Overall I’m extremely happy I bought the lens as it’s a great fit for many of the subjects I like photographing such as landscape and architectural. I would still seriously consider the lens at full retail price, but I would be on the fence for a while as it has a few drawbacks.

    Photos and more analysis in my blog article.

    reviewed November 24th, 2010 (purchased for $300)
  • Pentax 300mm f/4 ED IF SDM SMC DA*

    10 out of 10 points and recommended
    Sharp low chromatic aberration lens with quality build and WR.
    F4 aperture and AF speed isn't that fast.

    What I like about the lens:
    - While I have not scientifically tested the lens, I feel that it is sharp enough from it’s widest aperture and have never found an image that was was not good enough due to optical quality.
    - It follows the tradition of Pentax rendering with vivid contrast. This lens is also very strong at controlling chromatic aberrations such as purple fringing.
    - Seems very good at controlling flare, but I almost always use the lens hood.
    - The bokeh can be beautiful (at times), especially in combination with a sharp subject producing a strong 3D effect.
    - The lens seems bright throughout the whole frame event at the widest aperture (it is a full frame lens by design and has been confirmed “good enough” on with film cameras).
    - The construction is top notch and one of the best lenses I’ve personally owned.
    - SDM is quiet in focusing compared to screw-drive lenses.
    - Quick-shift focus with a nice feature to have.
    - Topnotch weather sealing.
    - Small and light for it’s abilities relative to similar lenses.
    - The lens is very versatile considering how long the focal length is, which is partly due to the short minimum focusing distance.
    - I can easily hand-hold this lens and pan-focus on moving subjects.
    - The lens is still very sharp and usable with a 1.5x Kenko teleconverter.

    What I’m not too fond of:
    - Maximum aperture of f4 is challenging at times with my K-7 because I like to keep the ISO low, but I’m not sure how much having f2.8 would really help…
    - The lens isn’t cheap hovering around $1100, but good lenses hold value well.
    - Pentax SDM hasn’t had the best track record, but my lens has been problem free. I did have two instances when I first got the lens where I needed to slightly rotate the screwdrive screw on the camera body after seeing that the lens locked up of sorts when I tried to auto-focus. For whatever reason the screw-drive connection wasn’t complete and held up the SDM from functioning. I’m guessing the screw drive connection in the lens was just a bit stiff initially (especially since the screw-drive bit isn’t used but on the oldest of camera bodies).
    - Focus isn’t “lightning fast” with the K-7 and K10D, but it works fine. I think the K-5 might be better in this regard.
    - Not specific to this lens as I have not had SDM issues, but I feel Pentax should allow users to select either SDM or screw-drive focus mode in the camera body. I have a feeling the lens would be faster in screwdrive mode as well.
    - Bokeh can be wavy depending on the scene and conditions, which is most likely due to having sharper more contrast-y background blur or possibly just a property of the glass elements in how they handle the light and how you are facing a close background. I always use a lens filter, so I can’t say if it’s caused by that or just a property of the lens design.

    One of my best lens for sure. Although it’s also my most expensive lens to date, so quality should be high. If you are in need of a long telephoto and want to stay with Pentax and not buy a used lens, this is it. Your only other option is the 60-250mm, but I feel the DA* 300mm provides some positives to make up for not having the ability to zoom. Such as better weather resistance by not having an extending barrel, 50mm more millimeters in focal length, ideal long telephoto lens for people who prefer primes, and most likely a bit cheaper than the 60-250mm. Either lens would be a good buy though… Your other options for new lenses would probably be in the Sigma and Tamron line-ups, but those currently don’t have weather resistance, which I feel is important in these “slow-ish” long lenses that are designed for being used outside.

    Photos and analysis in my blog article.

    reviewed November 24th, 2010 (purchased for $1,100)
  • Pentax 100mm f/2.8 Macro SMC D FA WR

    10 out of 10 points and recommended
    Extremely sharp, weather resistant, excellent bokeh.
    Extending inner barrel, plastic inner barrel and hood mount.

    What I like about the lens:
    - Full frame lens (the FA specifier in DFA). Even with only APS-C available, it gives those cameras the “sweet spot” effect.
    - Extremely sharp lens.
    - Extremely good background blur (bokeh).
    - Very nice contrast-y color rendering.
    - Weather resistance.
    - Solid aluminum casing and focus ring.
    - Macro ability.
    - Image quality is still good with a decent teleconverter.
    - Quality related aspects of a DA* or Limited without a premium price (casing, lens details and serial number on the focus ring, solid feel).
    - Aperture of f2.8 is nice to have.
    - Relatively compact size.
    - Images are nice and bright through the whole frame even at f2.8.

    What I’m not too fond of:
    - The interior barrel and hood mount are plastic, but it’s a welcome trade-off for a lower price.
    - The interior barrel extends a lot. I’m just not personally fond of lenses that have any type of extending barrel because it won’t ever be as water resistant as ones that don’t. However it’s really unlikely a lens like this would be made that doesn’t have an extending barrel due to the large amount of travel the front lens element makes (fully extended, the lens is almost twice as long).
    - Chromatic aberrations, specifically purple/green fringing, is visible in extreme lighting conditions.

    I think Pentax really needs to release more D-FA WR lenses. This lens is an excellent combination of performance, build quality, and price. It also is a future relevant lens as it can support a full frame 35mm imaging sensor (assuming Pentax eventually joins the FF party someday). This lens is well worth the price of admission, which as of this review is around $610 from popular online retailers such as B&H and Adorama. It’s a very versatile lens and can be used for pretty much anything such as it’s intended macro purposes to portraiture and event photography. Just keep in mind focusing speed with macro lenses in general isn’t the fastest or is screw-drive focusing the quietest out there.

    My blog article with pictures and such.

    reviewed November 30th, 2010 (purchased for $700)
  • Pentax 40mm f/2.8 Limited SMC P-DA

    10 out of 10 points and recommended
    Small convenient lens with great build quality and image sharpness.
    The manual focus ring is almost too small.

    What I like about the lens:
    - A great all-rounder type lens that’s almost at the standard focal length for APS-C sized image sensors (35mm would be equivalent).
    - A lens that’s frankly special and unique due to how physically convenient it is yet still achieves no compromises image quality.
    - Small portable size, probably one of the smallest 35mm lenses available.
    - Easily carry the lens with you in a pocket or similar (comes with a soft leather bag). Even if you are a photographer that prefers zoom lenses, also having this lens with you at all times should be a given. Just make sure your bag is big enough to hold that zoom after you become smitten with the 40mm.
    - A sharp high contrast lens from its widest aperture. Edge to edge sharpness abound.
    - Bokeh quality is exceptional thanks to the large number of aperture blades.
    - “good enough” for 35mm full-frame sensor if a FF-DSLR is ever released by Pentax.
    - High all metal build quality and dependable auto-focus method (screw-drive) you can depend on as a life-long lens.
    - Lens specifications and serial number engraved on the lens.
    - Quick-shift manual focus is useful as always. It’s useful to me when I’m done using the lens and then I manually rotate the lens back to it’s smallest size before putting it back into the camera bag.
    - The lens doesn’t have any issues with flare or chromatic aberrations.

    What I’m not too fond of:
    - The manual focus ring is almost too small.
    - I somehow got a small scuff on my manual focus ring, showing a tiny bit of silver aluminum. Not sure how it happened, but don’t expect the lens to stay completely black unless you baby it (I don’t baby my equipment by any means).
    - Screw drive auto-focus, while reliable, is louder than in-lens SDM motors. Not really a negative given the positives of screw drive, unless you really need something low noise.
    - The lens hood and lens cap, while convenient in some ways, takes a few seconds to attach and remove as they are screw thread type devices.
    - 40mm focal length isn’t optimal on APS-C cameras. When photographing people at events, it’s primarily best for waist and up style images instead of full body ones. A Pentax 31mm Limited lens in this respect is a better buy if you can afford one.
    - Not specifically designed to be weather resistant (WR), but those are a newer addition to Pentax’s lens lineup.
    - I would like to see nice especially curved aperture blades like the D-FA 100mm WR Macro lens has, but the sheer number of blades the 40mm LTD has compensates for that.

    Part of the challenge of DSLR photography is finding the motivation to take equipment out as sometimes the stuff can be burdensome compared to say a digicam in your pocket. I take this lens out by itself attached to the K-7 all of the time as it’s just that convenient. Get a camera bag that can hold just that combination and you have a high quality, fully optical (viewfinder, etc) system that’s ready at a moments notice without much baggage holding you down. Pentaxians are doing a disservice to themselves if they don’t have a copy of this lens. No lenses are prefect, including this one, but it does many things right. It gives you a good deal of convenience and mobility, yet also gives you strong performance at a reasonably useful focal-length.

    More information and pictures on my blog.

    reviewed December 8th, 2010 (purchased for $340)
  • Pentax 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC P-DA

    7 out of 10 points and recommended
    Decent results around 28-35mm, nice build quality for a kit lens.
    Small aperture, some flare, vignetting

    What I like about the lens:
    - It’s cheap and easy to find.
    - Overall performance is pretty good for a kit lens. Especially at around 28-35mm in focal length.
    - Good build quality for a kit lens.
    - The zoom range is convenient.
    - A nice lens cap and hood.
    - It’s easy to come by and cheap, so you are more prone to take worthwhile risks you wouldn’t usually with more expensive lenses.
    - A super small aperture, up to f40 depending on the focal length, is available.
    - Focusing speed is fast and reliable as it uses the screw-drive mechanism for auto-focus.
    - Quick-shift and Super Protect lens coating.
    - The front barrel does not rotate when focusing, so filters like a circular polarizer work well.

    What I’m not fond of:
    - It covers focal lengths I prefer to use prime lenses at.
    - I’m use to fast prime lenses, so this lens can feel a bit debilitating at times. This is less of an issue with a camera that has strong high ISO abilities like the Pentax K-5.
    - This is said to be lesser in optical quality compared to the AL II version of this lens.
    - 52mm filters are a bit odd compared to most of my other lenses that have 49mm, 58mm, 67mm, and 77mm.
    - Hexagonal blur highlights for most of the aperture range due to the 6 straight blades.
    - No aperture ring, but this is a “feature” of newer lenses in general.
    - The focus ring rotates when the camera is auto-focusing.
    - Prone to flare at wide angle (I don’t have a lens hood, so I’m not sure if that would help).
    - Vignetting is an issue for a large part of the wide end of the lens.

    You can see more info on my blog about the lens (pictures, a video, etc).

    reviewed September 26th, 2011 (purchased for $49)
  • Pentax 31mm f/1.8 AL Limited SMC P-FA

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Sharp warm images with high contrast and great bokeh.
    Color fringing, missing features like WR, quick-shift, and internal focusing.

    What I like about the lens:
    - The aluminum construction is high quality and has a great feel in the hands to it. I wish that more lenses were offered in aluminum like this. All I can say is find one to try and you will understand.
    - Sharp high contrast results with a warm feel to them.
    - Nice smooth background blur with the possibility of a 3D look.
    - Overall size of the lens fits well with current DSLRs (around the same size as an 18-55mm kit lens). It has enough room for your left hand to grip the lens while shooting.
    - The focus ring is easy to use in manual mode.
    - It’s a lens that should serve you for many many years, especially considering it is a full-frame capable lens.
    - The normal focal length on APS-C is pretty good and I probably use this lens more than any others that I own.

    What I’m not fond of:
    - It’s expensive, especially considering on APS-C it has the properties of a “fast and cheap” 50mm lens. Just keep in mind 35mm lenses are usually more expensive, except for the DA 35mm f2.4 that was released this year.
    - My copy of the lens isn’t a stranger to purple/green fringing.
    - I don’t like how the front section of the lens connects to the back. It makes the lens seem lower quality than it is. Mine has a very slight wobble to it, but I think it’s within tolerances from what I’ve read online. This lens would be much more impressive if it had internal focus.
    - 9 aperture blades don’t seem like enough or the blades should be more rounded. My aperture blades don’t produce perfect circles unless the lens is close to maximum aperture.
    - Doesn’t have newer features like WR (Weather Resistance) and quick-shift that would improve usability of the lens.
    - The focus ring makes a geared sound when being rotated, which makes the lens sound a bit lesser than it could from a perceived quality standpoint.

    Revision wish list:
    This is a quality lens overall, but I do see some room for improvement. Here is what I’d like to see in a revised 31mm Limited lens.
    - Change the designation to something like D-FA 31mm f1.8 Limited WR.
    - Make the lens completely internal-focus and give it quick-shift ability.
    - Add weather resistant sealing.
    - The optical design is already strong, but improve it if possible. The same goes for lens coatings. Make sure lenses of this caliber have a narrow sample variation. From other 31mm reviews I’ve seen, it looks like the purple fringing issue could be due to sample variation and not an issue of the older design.
    - Remove the built-in lens hood.
    - Keep the aperture ring.
    - Keep the all metal build quality.
    - Keep the screw driven auto-focus.

    Photos and more info on my blog.

    reviewed September 29th, 2011 (purchased for $959)