Pentax FA 77mm f/1.8 Limited Review

Right off the bat this is a top 5 lens for me. Perhaps top 3.

I had Pentax DSLRs a couple of times before and this lens was on my radar both times. With my recent return to Pentax, I bought a used copy. Immediately became very attached to it, but then to my great disappointment, it broke. Returned it. Hurt to do so. Tried to let it go. Then it went on sale… new… and very silver… for about what I paid for the used one.

Why did I want this lens? So many reasons.

Aesthetics and build.

The lens looks gorgeous in pictures. I do not even try to pretend this does not matter. Write-ups also touted the build quality.

Pictures do not do it justice. The first copy I had was the black version, which was a looker. Second go around I purchased the inexplicably lower-priced and even better looking silver version. Usually, silver variants of anything are limited edition and cost more. As an added bonus the “silver” is more of a Contax T and G titanium champagne color. I am a bit of a 35mm Contax head so this is a good thing.

 

Build quality was praised by all and it does not disappoint. Expecting great and I would put this lens in the same class as the best of the best 35mm lenses I have handled and used. Lenses with legendary names that rhyme with Micah (My opinion, don’t come at me. Especially if you have not handled this lens.) fare no better build quality wise in my opinion. All metal. Etched and painted markings. Cutout focus detail. A beautiful lens. Having a built-in metal hood that is very effective is also a huge perk. Another surprise is size. Very small given the spec. Around the size one would expect of a 50mm. Oh. And it has a green dot.

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Focus speed and accuracy.

Mostly praised in the few reviews I could find.

This is a film era lens so I did not expect blazing speed. But in use, it is plenty zippy. Perhaps not as quick as the very swift or as silent as the very silent modern Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 it is fine on both counts in actual use. If you have used screw drive lenses before there are no surprises here. Manual focus is an on body focus lever switch away.

As far as focus accuracy goes I have absolutely no complaints. Spot on every time in my use. Also, it seems to have no trouble focusing in low light at all.

B&W

Image quality.

Another area where I heard nothing, but good news in reviews.

Image quality is the main party piece of this lens. Judged on this alone this lens would take top honors on my list of favorite lenses. It is one of those pixie dust lenses. Even the simplest, mundane of subjects are rendered so well.

B&W

Above is a simple shot taken at a beverage drive through.

Colors are amazing.

Random

Sharp wide open. That is something you do not always hear, but it is very true for this lens.

B&W

Wonderful bokeh.

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But these individual categories miss the point of this lens. Back to the Pixie dust thing. While the Sony FE 85mm is technically superior in every measure I prefer the photos I create with this lens. The difference? Soul.

I know. I know. I can hear you groan right alongside my own inner voice of reason. Hear me out. If I do not see the wind does it make it…. <wretch> ok, I’m back. But that special “it” is there no matter how impossible it may be for me to quantify.

Tried to fight “re” purchasing this lens since I had the 85mm Sony lens and the 100m Pentax for portraits. But as often happens flickr did me in. Combined with the sale price simple shots like this stayed in my mind and brought me back.

B&W

So much detail and subtlety drawn out of a simple shot taken while on a dinner pick up trip riding shotgun with my wife. Teamed with Pentax high contrast black and white it creates some wonderful JPEG images without even touching the RAW files. Yes, I have taken night shots with the Sony 85mm, and it does very well, but as technically wonderful as those images are they lack that something special.

Flexibility.

Pentax has some odd focal lengths and this is one. But it works. Landing between my two favorite focal lengths, 50mm (mainly for things) and 85mm (mainly for people) it makes for a wonderful compromise. Owing to the perennial Pentax lens mount this lens works perfectly well on the K-1 as well as my freebie Pentax SF-10 whenever I feel like shooting film. On a crop Pentax like the K-3 it makes for a wonderful 115mm-ish portrait focal length.

Sidebar: But why even consider a Pentax lens?

Value.

Even with all the fever pitch talk about mirrorless recently if you are looking for stills cameras there is great value to be had here. For video look elsewhere. Recently picked up a copy of one of my favorite cameras of all time, the K-3 for only $400 used. For that price you get 2 card slots, IBIS, 24MP, fantastic control layout. To save even more bank there is also the lower spec’d, but still awesome Pentax bang for buck champ K-70.sam_0044 For full frame stills you have the excellent K-1. Not as good a value as the K-3, but a-ma-zing image quality to go along with 2 card slots, IBIS, and 36MP. All have that wonderful high contrast B&W filter I love.

But one lens does not a system value make. Some of my all-time favorite lenses I have ever used are:

  1. Pentax Mount
  2. Excellent Values

Let me count them off some:

At those prices, a stills system can be built for less than some bodies and lenses by themselves. I keep and very much like a mirrorless as well (why choose?) for more flexibility, but Pentax is my go to stills system.

And back to the topic at hand. The 77mm Limited. If you have or are considering Pentax mount gear I highly recommend it.

Here is a link to an ongoing gallery with this lens.

Happy shooting.

-ELW

 

 

 

 

 

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