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. Continue reading “Pentax FA 77mm f/1.8 Limited Review”

Love DSLRs. But I chose mirrorless because I love film gear more.

A valid response to this blog title is “What?” Allow me to explain. Or try to anyway.

These are interesting times. A lot of virtual ink is spilled debating between mirrorless or DSLR. Most points made miss the point for me really. Sure, I chose mirrorless. But my choice has nothing to do with a dislike for DSLRs. I love DSLRs. But I love film cameras more.

But, but… Battery life… OVF over EVF… Native lens selection… AF speed… Dual card slots… So on and so forth. Meh. Gladly put up with all of this. (And most of these concerns are being eliminated by the most recent wave of mirrorless cameras. An A7iii will be in my future and it may go down as the industry tipping point.) But once again film tech is what changed my mind.

Why? Continue reading “Love DSLRs. But I chose mirrorless because I love film gear more.”

3rd time a charm. Revisiting the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8

A lens so nice I bought it… thrice? Anyhoo…

I love a bargain. My father is the tech/geek inspiration, but my mother’s battle cry is “Never pay retail!”

Round 1:

A while back I had a Nikon D3300 that I really liked. Would still have it if the upgrade path were not so prohibitively (for me) expensive lens and body wise. My favorite lens for it was the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8. More about that version here and below is a sample photo of a nightmare fuel mutant hummingbird lobster moth thing captured in my backyard with it.

Shots from the day.

Round 2: Continue reading “3rd time a charm. Revisiting the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8”

A Mighty Mitakon: Return to Speedmaster (85mm f/1.2)

Full disclosure. I like:

  • Odd lenses.
  • Manual focus lenses.
  • Metal lenses built like handheld medieval weaponry.
  • Good value.

This explains my collection of old-timey film lenses…

 

…and my appreciation of Mitakons. First up was the Mitakon Speedmaster “Dark Knight” which was great on the Sony A7 I once had…

  • Random Neural Firing Afterthought Sidebar: I really, I mean really liked the “Dark Knight”. It was great fun and while I wish they made more mount variations I surmised from the short flange to internal lens bits (technical, I know) distance that it was never intended to accommodate a DSLR’s mirror box so this 85mm Mitakon was likely going to be my only option. Interestingly Mitakon makes this 85mm in more mounts than they usually seem to do (Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Sony FE full frame). While not f/0.95, f/1.2 is nothing to sneeze at and while 50mm is my favorite practical focal length, 85mm is my favorite if I have room to back up. Actually bought this lens before I had originally intended since it seemed that the last to be released Pentax variants were drying up at retail sites with only Adorama having any available when I purchased this one. But as of this writing they are now backordered on all, but the Nikon mount. All mounts seem available at their own site, but at a higher cost. Amazon does not even list a Pentax version.  B&H charges the full price and also does not list a Pentax variant. Just now noticed that they call this lens ‘The Dream’? Preferred Dark Knight, as a Batman head, but OK. And we are back in 3, 2, 1…

…and then the twice bought Mitakon Creator 85mm f/2.0 which I still have. Continue reading “A Mighty Mitakon: Return to Speedmaster (85mm f/1.2)”

A tale of 3 Sigmas. Part 3: Best for last. EX 50mm f/1.4

Full disclosure: I LOVE 50mm (or near 50mm) prime lenses.

 

If I could only have one lens that is what it would be. What is not to love? Smaller than a zoom. Not wide enough to distort. Not tele enough to require backing up much if the subject is close. Usually even the most thrifty variants are sharp enough (even if a bit of stopping down is required) to capture a distant subject and crop later. Usually bright enough to offer very nice bokeh and low light capabilities… Ok. I’ll stop. Personal preference of course. Some would go with a different way, but if you are in the market for another lens this is a good choice. Plus even a bad 50mm is usually still a pretty good 50mm. Everyone makes them. The go to lens on all of my 35mm film cameras.

 

While brand agnostic I have always had Pentax leanings…

 

and since 50mm lenses are so affordable I have a hard time turning away a 50mm or near 50mm prime. With adding M42 screw mount lenses this number increased further. Up until recently my go to lenses were the Pentax film era AF 50mm f/1.7 for convenience…

 

and the Takumar M42 screw mount 50mm f/1.4..

 

when sharpness and low light took precedence over AF. (The newer, still produced AF Pentax 50mm f/1.4 is nice also, if a bit soft at f/1.4.) All was well until I recently went to a local low light gallery event to hear the talented Zun Lee speak at WSSU’s Digg’s Gallery. I went for the Takumar f/1.4 for low light and the fact that the screw drive f/1.7 can be a bit noisy in quiet environments. But usually easy manual focusing was a bit tricky in such low light. Worked, but I saw where a proper AF lens would have made things easier.

 

What to do? After some research I settled on the Sigma DG EX 50mm f/1.4. Discontinued and oddly difficult to find in a Pentax mount however. There was the one concern of getting a bad copy of this lens where accurate focus would be an issue, but since:

  • Pentax does not currently offer a silent focus full frame 5omm prime.
  • Sigma did not see fit to make a K mount 50mm Art lens to replace the EX. Exceptional reviews, but if I am honest even if they did make a K mount version that lens is:
    • …a bit large for my liking.
    • …about 3 times what I wanted to pay for such a lens.
  • the 50mm EX had love/hate reviews depending on whether the lens received focused properly or not which kept prices in check.
  • the one lens I was able to find was from B&H with a top notch rating so I had some expectation that they would not bother to sell a ‘bad’ copy of this lens at such a high rating.

I decided on this lens. Received the lens in like new condition with box, padded case, and all original documentation and after some quick testing I found that it was indeed a good copy.

 

Before I go on about how much I love this lens I must state one caveat.

Disclaimer: If you do order this lens, regardless of mount, brace yourself in advance for the possibility that you will not get a good one and you may need to return it. It is discontinued so any example purchased will be second hand so buy from those you trust. For that reason I personally avoided ebay (no intended slight on the company itself) for concern that some would try to unload a bad copy on me. I stayed to the big boys, KEH.com, Adorama.com , and BHPhotoVideo.com . From the looks of it non-Pentax mount versions are readily available on one or more of the three.

Now that I got that out of the way HOLY MACKEREL THIS LENS IS AWESOME!… <ahem>…

Where to start?

Look and feel:

  • I understand the front element is so large because Sigma really does not like vignetting, but the side result is the beginning of an impressive looking lens.
  • Walking around the lens reveals impressive fit, finish, and feel. Very business like.
  • Front element movement during focus range is confined within the lenses dimension unlike my f/1.7.
  • This is a big lens with dimensions one would expect for an 85mm rather than a 50mm. Not a plus or minus. Just is.

Operation:

  • Only one switch so this will not take long. Since Pentax puts an AF switch on the camera one would think one is not required on the lens. But Pentax offers a catch in focus feature for manual focus lenses that is active when lens AF is off, but camera AF is on. This proves very handy.

Focus speed:

  • Will set no records, but has proven more than accurate with minimal to no hunting in my experience so far.

Value:

Image quality:

  • Acceptably sharp at f/1.4. Very sharp f/2.0 on.
  • I love the way this lens renders colors. Far better than any of my other 50mms with the only possible match being the M42 Takumat 50mm f/1.4.
  • The bokeh is just beautiful and the transition between in and out of focus bits is great.
  • Owing to that monstrous front element (requiring a 77mm filter) vignetting is no issue at all.

End result? This lens stays on my camera most of the time.

Day 1 I took a chance and tested this lens at a St. Baldrick’s event I was asked to photograph at my job. A bit of a gamble, but given my testing the evening before I had some confidence that it would hold it’s own. Instead this lens performed far and above my expectations. Samples from that event and other photos below and a gallery with updated images here.

-ELW

 

 

Old 35mm lenses saved me medium format film developing.

Not long ago you would find a medium format camera on my person or nearby. Why? Glad you asked. While I always admired the look of the cameras themselves once I obtained one for myself I was hooked by the ‘look’ of the images they produced. Sometimes when people talk about a certain brand or format’s look admittedly I roll my eyes. But to my surprise when my very first roll of medium format film came back the difference was right there before my eyes.

 

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As much as I tried to emulate this look with digital I could not with the tools I was using. That is until recently. Truth be told I had given up and had accepted the fact that I could not afford digital medium format so I split my photography in to practical (digital) and optimal (medium format film) and would usually carry one of each. My fascination led me to purchase 2 more medium format film cameras. I love each for entirely different reasons.

 

A full frame camera with an insanely fast lens previously did not quite hit the mark owing more to personal taste than anything else. A fine camera and a stellar value, but I never did warm up to the Sony A7. One issue was the fact that I could not afford Sony’s fast zoom lenses. With the release of the K-1 40 years of legacy native and 3rd party lenses opened up, many offering autofocus, with many being readily available and quite affordable. While Pentax offers a fine, newer autofocus 50mm f/1.4 reviews indicated that this lens was not the sharpest at f/1.4, but at f/2 it really sharpened up. That information led me to try out the older film era 50mm f/1.7. I saved a few more bucks by buying one with a cosmetic defect (crack in the clear plastic over the DOF calculator) from KEH.com.

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So a cool camera I really like paired with a pretty humble old lens. No big deal right? But this simple set up netted amazing results. With AF down to -3 EV as an added bonus.

 

Is it dead on medium format look appropriation? No. Of course not. One cannot simply flaunt the laws of physics. Surface area rules in areas of light gathering and ultimate resolution. Is it close enough? The subject isolation, color rendering, transition from in focus to out of focus? To my eyes and for my purposes combined with the amazing IQ of the Pentax K-1 (called a full frame marvel for a reason) yes. Enough where I can stop hemorrhaging cash getting film developed weekly and reserve film time for fun and special purposes like a recent family portrait session that included my Grandmother below.

My experience with this lens completely shifted my fo… Nope. This totally changed my shopping list. Instead of looking at newer Pentax and 3rd party glass I started looking at legacy glass even scoring 4 M42 screw mount lenses. In order of purchase (galleries linked)  the surprise hit Vivitar 200mm f/3.5 ($30), Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 swirly bokeh machine ($47), the technically excellent and pin sharp Takumar 50mm f/1.4 ($100), and one I picked up recently just because it was so inexpensive, the Takumar 55mm f/1.8 ($43, no album yet).

I still love film and will continue to shoot with it regularly, but now that I am getting the look I want from digital I can either save a few bucks (hah!) or divert the savings towards even more inexpensive glass that performs well above expectations.

-ELW