Eric L. Woods

This Old (but still for sale) Lens: Pentax SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4

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Subtitle

I need to stay the heck off of KEH.

Preface

I do not need this lens. I already had the pedestrian and inexpensive but over performing 50mm f/1.7.

Pentax SMC F 50mm f/1.7 (AF)

That should have done it.

So what happened?

The 50mm f/1.7 is so good it led me to grabbing up more of the very reasonably priced SLR era Pentax primes.

The recently written about still for sale 2019 re-release 35mm f/2 really impressed.

HD Pentax-FA 35mm f/2
Pentax HD Pentax-FA 35mm f/2
Pentax HD Pentax-FA 35mm f/2

Next up was the discontinued all black film era 28mm f/2.8 AF which also impressed.

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

Something I noticed right away about this discontinued in 2004 28mm was that it shared the exact same aesthetic design theme as the still for sale 50mm f/1.4.

SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 AL
28mm
Pentax Normal SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4
50mm

Unlike the 35mm f/2 above which was re-released the 50mm f/1.4 was left on sale in it’s original form alongside it’s significantly larger, heavier, and more expensive modern 50mm f/1.4 counterpart.

Now I knew about this long in production lens already, but had went with the 50mm f/1.7 instead. Why?

  • Found a 50mm f/1.7 for $50 or less.
  • Had read that the f/1.4 was not sharp wide open.
  • Was the correct aesthetic vintage to go along with my free to me Pentax SF10.
Pentax SMC F 50mm f/1.7 (AF)
  • Again. Already had an 50mm f/1.7 that I bought for $50 or less.

But that all changed after the 28mm f/2.8. The 28mm performed so well I started thinking. How bad can the 50mm be?

Especially considering that Pentax keeps it on sale without bothering to refresh it like the 35mm f/2. They keep it around alongside a newer 50mm f/1.4 lens. They refreshed the 35mm f/2. They discontinued the 28mm f/2.8. The current 100mm f/2.8 WR Macro has been on sale since 2009. The 77mm f/1.8 has been on sale since 1999. The 50mm f/1.4? It has been on sale unchanged as far as I can tell to this day since 1991. 30 years! So there must be something there… right? Well I intended to find out.

First a little research had me realizing that there were contrary opinions to the earlier review I had read on sharpness. Pentaxforums.com members who have actually used the lens liked it just fine. They even rate it just fine in their formal review. It does get dinged for chromatic aberrations, but that is common with small fast lenses. The brand new mirrorless Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM exhibits chromatic aberrations under certain conditions also and it did not sway me from counting it as one of my favorite prime lenses ever. As with the STM chromatic aberrations are verily easily corrected in Lightroom with a simple lens correction defringe slider. Sharpness wide open is mentioned here also, but not to the point of discouraging one from purchasing it. A DPReview also lands on a similar conclusion that it is not the sharpest wide open, but they still recommend it. But both of those reviews are to be taken with a grain of salt, however, as they are written with APS-C Pentax models in mind. Here I plan to use this lens in it’s originally intended full frame glory courtesy the K-1.

Now I have had experience with an even older MF M42 screw mount Takumar 50mm f/1.4 and I really liked that lens.

Pentax ME Super
Takumar 50mm f/1.4 Screw Mount
Zun Lee at WSSU Digg's Gallery
The talented Zun Lee at an exhibit of his work.
Zun Lee at WSSU Digg's Gallery
The talented Zun Lee at an exhibit of his work.
Takumar 50mm f/1.4 M42 mount

While I considered picking up another copy I decided against it since I was really trying to focus on AF lenses this time around. Could this FA 50mm f/1.4 be a spiritual successor?

Next I went to FA 50mm f/1.4 sample shots on Flickr using a Pentax K-1 and that really increased my interest in this lens. I really liked what people were doing with this lens. And one thing I began to notice was that this lens was able to produce an impressive amount of background blur even with the aperture closed down a bit. It also performed very well in low light while closed down. And wide open many shots have an almost medium format look to them with their ability to isolate subjects at distance within a frame. This lessened my concern about sharpness wide open even further.

It also got me thinking. Was I falling into the trap of chasing sharpness? Was sharpness what I was ultimately lookiing for here? There is another lens a small bit brighter that is not sharp wide open but I enjoy using that lens as well as the results. The 7Artsans 50mm f/1.1.

50-ishmm
(Knock-Off-Tilux) - 7Artisans 50mm f/1.1
(Knock-Off-Tilux) - 7Artisans 50mm f/1.1

Once again. What if I could get near those results with an AF lens?

Time to shop. Like I said this lens is still for sale and the price is not bad at all actually. At just under $350 it is comparable to offerings from Canon and Nikon so practically a no-brainer if you have a K-1 and do not have the bank available for the more expensive, newer variant (The two compared here.). And unlike either the Canon or Nikon options Pentax brings IBIS to the party courtesy of the K-1… or any Pentax SLR for that matter. Even still I was still on the fence a bit about the purchase so I took a quick look at KEH and found a mint copy with caps for a fraction of the new lens price. Sold!

Pentax Normal SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4

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 this 50mm 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

As mentioned above just shy of $350 new and around $150 or less used for a clean copy.

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 75mm equivalent focal length it would make for a great portrait lens. Like a 77mm f/1.8 for crop sensor Pentax bodies. You could spend more for the new option as mentioned, but I do not know if I would. Personal taste. I do not like large, heavy, and expensive fast 50mm lenses. And these are your only fast 50mm K mount lens options new. It will be the less expensive option for me.

Why I Bought It

I blame KEH like I did eBay last time… But no, not really. It is a relatively inexpensive lens with an impressive spec while being light and compact. Right up my alley. It also frees up the 50mm f/1.7 to find a permanent home with the film Pentax SF10. Also wanted a little bit more bokeh and a little better low light made available by the extra bit of aperture.

Image Quality <Cheated. Cut and pasted from prior Pentax prime posts with edits.>

  • Flare
    • Have not witnessed any flare with this lens. A lens hood came with, but I have not had to use it yet
  • Sharpness
    • While not as sharp as the other Pentax primes I have tested wide open it does just fine for my purposes.
  • Colors
    • I really like the colors this lens produces.
  • Bokeh
    • This lens produces pleasing bokeh to my eye. Have read that it is a bit busy wide open, but I have no issue with the early sample shots I have taken.
    • <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. And quieter than my less than pristine 50mm f/1.7.

Samples

Samples below are from day one with the lens. Based on past experience with Pentax lenses I am calling it. Will post more samples as they come in. Also noticed that vignetting was better controlled than I expected for such a small and fast lens. Not bad for a lens that has been on sale for 30 years.

Pentax Normal SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4
f/1.4
Pentax Normal SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4
Pentax Normal SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4
Pentax Normal SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4
Pentax Normal SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4
f/1.4
Pentax Normal SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4
f/1.4
Pentax Normal SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4
f/1.4
Pentax Normal SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4
f/1.4

As an added bonus, like the 28mm f/2.8, in all black it looks the business on the Pentax K-1.

Pentax Normal SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4
Pentax Normal SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4

Much more in keeping with the digital/vintage aesthetic and feel I go for with the K-1.

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 worthy of being on the market for 30 years?

Yes. Yes, it is.

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 an every day camera set up with the small size of this lens and its swift AF I could see myself using it so much more than the M42 screw mount Takumar 50mm f/1.4 version above. Another great little lens.

-ELW

Pentax Normal SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4

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