Eric L. Woods

This Old Lens: SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL

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Subtitle

I need to stay the heck off of eBay.

Preface

I really like Pentax lenses. From the most pedestrian, inexpensive but over performing 50mm f/1.7.

Pentax SMC F 50mm f/1.7 (AF)

To the lens deemed the best Pentax lens ever 77mm f/1.8 Limited.

Pentax 77mm Blog Post Shots

Somewhere in between you have the lower priced, over performing, could have been, maybe should have been Limited weather resistant 100mm f/2.8 macro.

Pentax-D FA 100mm f/2.8 WR

You also have the recently written about 35mm f/2 that led to me stumbling upon the subject of this post.

HD Pentax-FA 35mm f/2

The Pentax 28mm prime bug was recently planted when I thought I found a killer AF deal on KEH. The older AF variant was what the listing described, photos and all. But when it arrived before I removed the bubble wrap I already knew that what I had received was an older MF variant. Nothing wrong with that lens. Had one before.

Pentax K-1
Pentax K-1
Pentax K-1 w/ 28mm f/2.8
Pentax K-1

A fine lens. But this go around I was looking for AF so back it went. While costing more than the “thought it was an AF deal” MF version the AF 28mm lenses were still quite reasonable.

This is one of three Pentax AF versions at this focal length and aperture. There is a film era version that is the aesthetic twin of the 50mm f/1.7 above. There is also a seemingly rare “soft” version that purposely adds focus blur at wider apertures. But this post will look at the all black film era AF standard variant.

SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL

I noticed something odd about the Pentax full frame prime lens line up. The 35mm f/2 has an HD version still on sale. The 100mm f/2.8 WR Macro is still on sale in addition to three older non WR versions. The 77mm f/1.8 is still for sale. While the 50mm f/1.7 is no longer available there is a similar f/1.4 for sale as well as a larger, updated, and significantly more expensive f/1.4 available.

The 28mm f/2.8? Nope.

This and the soft focus 28mm version above were both discontinued in 2004. The only native new to buy AF path to 28mm at f/2.8 currently is the Pentax 24-70mm f/2.8. (I will temporarily ignore the excellent, Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 because it is also a zoom, not made by Pentax, and is also discontinued. But that is a solid lens regardless of DSLR mount if you can find one.) And there are no third party 28mm prime options at all in or out of production at any aperture. Oddly the same applies for Canon and Nikon DSLR lenses also with only one 28mm f/2.8 prime offered (backordered, possibly not available even) for Nikon. Oddly the same applies over in the mirrorless camp with only Nikon offering the new 28mm f/2.8 Z mount full frame native or third party AF lens as far as I can tell. Why no native 28mm f/2.8 love? Anyhoo. Back to the task at hand.

So since this is one lens away from being your only option the question is if it is any good? (It is or I would not be writing this.)

As with all film era and digital era full frame K mount lenses you can use this lens on near any Pentax camera, including AF film cameras. Since the 35mm has an aperture ring I imagine you could use it on earlier MF Pentax film cameras also.

On to the categories. As previously stated with these posts there will be no spoilers as I will like all of these lenses.

Asking Price

They are running from $160 to just under $200 on eBay as of the writing of this post. The less plentiful, older version discontinued in 1989 goes for a little more at around $200. Most are from Japan. Scored a US sourced copy for a low price which is why I jumped on it.

Value

A reasonable price for a great lens. One could make an argument that this is a great deal for an APS-C body as well at a 42mm full frame equivalent focal length. As mentioned earlier there are not really any other AF options at this focal length even even third pasrty and/or used. The two most similar available new focal lengths, the 21mm APS-C version has a slower aperture and costs more and the 31mm full frame lens while faster costs considerably more.

Why I Bought It

I blame eBay… No, not really.

  1. It exists.
  2. It is relatively inexpensive for nearly being a unicorn lens. They must have made a mess of them for them to still be priced so reasonably.

Image Quality <Cheated. Cut and pasted from the 35mm f/2 post with a minor flourish.>

  • Flare
    • Have not witnessed any flare with this lens. A lens hood came with, but I have not had to use it yet
  • Sharpness
    • Perfectly sharp wide open. Have read that the 31mm Limited and non HD lenses were sharper, but I have yet to see any cause for considering another lens.
  • Colors
    • I really like the colors this lens produces.
  • Bokeh
    • This lens produces surprisingly good bokeh given its focal length and relatively modest aperture.
    • <Minor flourish.> Even a little more surprising here given the even wider focal length and smaller aperture.
  • AF
    • As expected it focuses swiftly. Very accurate as well.

Samples

The evening I received the lens my son noticed a frog on the ground and shined his phone light on it. I asked him to stay put, squatted down, flipped up the back screen, turned on Live View and took this photo. I have been won over by one image. Might be a record. Is it tack sharp? No. But it was taken on the fly by a squatting AARP candidate so I am well pleased. I could have even brought the background exposure up a bit if I wanted but chose this edit. Not bad for a lens that discontinued in 2004 and cost less than some memory cards.

SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
Son and I messing about with a frog he stumbled upon and the light from his phone. Missed focus a bit, but I really like this shot. Taken using Live View Contrast AF. (Color Edit)
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
Son and I messing about with a frog he stumbled upon and the light from his phone. Missed focus a bit, but I really like this shot. Taken using Live View Contrast AF. (B&W Edit)
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL

As an added bonus in all black it looks the business on the Pentax K-1.

SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
Someone commented on this photo in Flickr that this photo reminded them of the Pentax 67. I can see that.
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL

Do camera aesthetics make for a better picture? Of course not. But I like it nonetheless. Small and light is advantageous at times. But this is a different beast. Holding this camera and lens you have a chunk of a picture taking thing in your hand which I can also really appreciate.

So back to my earlier question. Is it any good? Key since this is almost the only game in town at this form factor, focal length, and aperture.

Yes. Yes, it is. A no-brainer purchase if you are so inclined and you find a clean copy.

Conclusion

Another great Pentax lens. While the market has clearly moved towards mirrorless, DSLRs are still a viable option. Especially for stills. While the K-1 might seem a bit of a bus for candid or street photography with the small size of this lens and its swift AF I could see myself using it for that like I did when I had the MF version mentioned above. A great little lens.

-ELW

SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL

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