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”

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”

Trading down to upgrade. A tale of 2 Sigma lenses.

After a positive Sigma 3 lens run, outlined by the 3 previous posts in this blog. I reached high for a 4th lens and then stepped back.

Reaching high.

The much ballyhooed Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8. Definite ‘yay’, followed by an ‘ah’ experience.

The ‘yay’:

  • A world first f/1.8 zoom.
  • Nothing short of remarkable sharpness, even wide open, across the frame.
  • No vignetting that I could find.
  • Colors, colors, the wonderful amazing colors.
  • Built like a tank and finished as good as some of the highest grade lenses made.
  • Focus good news. Up close through viewfinder bang on. Any distance using live view bang on.
  • When focus was on this lens was the equal of my favorite prime lenses. It was like turning your wrist to go from a wide to standard field of view high quality prime without reaching in to your camera bag, possibly missing a shot, or exposing the mirror to the elements.

 

The ‘ah’:

  • Personal preference, but 35mm did not meet my intended goal of a full frame equivalent 24-70mm field of view to compliment my full frame/70-200mm combo. Knew this going in. Isolated this is not a big deal, but factored in with the next bullet it did not help.
  • Focus bad news. Given the reviews I had braced myself for some inconsistent focusing, but through viewfinder past 3 or 4 feet it missed focus every single time. Every. Single. Time.

Compounding matters was the fact that it focused just close enough so the picture often looked fine on the back screen unzoomed. So you would think you got a good shot only to realize that the focus missed during post processing. I.e. way too late to do anything about it.

The real nail in the coffin came about when trying multiple times to take a sharp picture of my son at a distance greater than 3 or 4 feet in a well lit space.

A lens that cannot focus through the viewfinder on a DSLR? Having to remember, with just one lens, to shoot a DSLR at arms length using the back screen all the time for focusing only? No.

Still clinging to the sharpness in denial I tried every setting one could imagine. No change. No improvement. In camera focus adjustment past 3 or 4 feet would not improve things since that would ruin close viewfinder and live view focusing. Focus distance from object not focal length was the issue so Sigma’s focal length fine tuning puck add on would not have helped.

The Sigma 50mm EX f/1.4 I have also had issues reported, but that seemed to depend on whether you got a good copy or not and I lucked up with a good one. But after more research (Page 11 of Pentax Forums review specifically) it would seem that this was a fairly consistent problem with the Pentax variant.

Even with that information the in focus shots were so good that I literally had to summon a support group to shove me towards what I already knew. It had to go back.

Sigh.

KEH was great about it and set me up with a return right away.

What to do?

Stepping back.

Adorama and Sigma to the rescue. As I have mentioned before I stalk check the used section of my favorite retailers regularly for new arrivals. Right on time a previously designated back up lens came in at a price I could not refuse. Over $300 less than the 18-35mm f/1.8 used and $120 off the new price I jumped on a newly listed Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8. Great reviews and it was an easy choice. Findings so far:

  • Although not as sharp at f/2.8 as the f/1.8 wide open (no other zoom that sharp and none that wide) it is close enough for me, and it focuses swiftly, and more importantly accurately, whether I use live view or the viewfinder. What good is sharpness without focus?
  • HSM that focuses quickly and silently like the 18-35mm. I love my Tamron 28-75mm on full frame, but in quiet, close quarters the old tech screw drive can make quite the racket.
  • Surprisingly competent in low light.
  • Reaching 50mm it meets the full frame field of view I was seeking at an equivalent of 25.5-75mm for the 2 body shooting compliment with the full frame/70-200mm.

 

I plan on letting it live on my K-70 for a while so I expect this gallery will be growing. Until then here are some sample shots I took over the weekend.

 

A tale of 3 Sigmas. Part 2: Wiiiiide Sigma 8-16mm Lens

In part 1 of this series I dealt with the long end of my lens family, the 600mm mirror lens. With that done let’s look at the wide end.

Classic ‘did not know I wanted this lens until I found out it existed’. On my way out of Southeastern Camera after picking up (or dropping off) some film I asked if they had any interesting K Mount lenses. Dennis pointed me to the Pentax selection. Initially I thought it better that I leave without looking, lest I put myself on the hook for another lens, and then at the door my legs took a left and I was rummaging. Read the numbers 8-16mm on the side in disbelief honestly. Even with it being a crop APS-C DC lens that still worked out to an effective 12-24mm FF field of view, or way wider than my widest at the time. A legacy 35mm film Vivitar 17-28mm lens. If 17mm is good 12mm must be great. Further research revealing great reviews and sample photos sealed the deal. I could only identify one down side.

  • Slowish variable aperture range at f/4.5 to f/5.6.

That is about it for downsides. Now for upshots.

  • Firstly the relatively narrow aperture range turns out not to be that much of a hindrance.
    1. With a lens this wide half the fun is capturing as much as possible deep as wide.
    2. In body IS does a lot to offset a narrow aperture.
  • This lens is fun. It makes near anything look interesting.
  • Has nothing to do with image quality but it is built like a tank, has a quality feel and is quite an attractive lens.
  • Sharp. Sharp. Sharp. Alarmingly, wonderfully sharp.
  • Silent AF. While AF is not strictly needed for a lens so wide since infinity focus happens after a few feet it is great to have. And silent HSM focus is yet another bonus added in top.
  • It defies filters, but look at the business end of this thing. Purely an aesthetic of the lens itself rather than the images it can produce, but an admittedly superficial  plus in my book nonetheless.

 

  • Relatively affordable given how wide it goes. No lens VR may be an issue from some (non Pentax versions), but even still this is great value in my opinion.
  • Amazingly nowhere near as distorted as one would think given it’s almost fisheye focal length.

Note: Neither good or bad and true of all wide lenses be careful tilting this lens up or down as it will distort verticals. Great if this is the look you are looking for, but if you are not Lightroom does a decent job at straightening things up with one click.

If you have an APS-C camera and need a little wide angle action this lens is a great option. Enough talk. Here are some sample images and an ongoing gallery.

-ELW

 

 

Budgetographer trips over a new favorite: Vivitar M42 mount 200mm f/3.5

Start of week: I need to sell some of these lenses (In the double digits on varying Pentax mount lenses alone, not counting other brand mounts).

End of week: One YouTube video on 3 vintage video lenses for under $80 led to:

 

What led me to but this lens? Glad you asked:

  • Just look at the thing! It is a banged up, built in lens hood, tripod collar, screw mount, built from spare tank parts vintage thing to behold.
  • Works flawlessly on all my K mount cameras.
  • Cost $30.
  • Has a built in lens hood. I love built in lens hoods. Ok, I did not realize it until I tripped over it yesterday, but I add it to this list retroactively
  • Has this bizarrely awesome modular mount thing happening (That I found on accident obsessing over a mystery button. Fortunately for me I dumped the adapter on to a bed while holding the lens instead of the lens on the ground when fiddling with it while holding the camera earlier that same day.).

 

  • It did this during the test spin.

 

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Sold.

I liked the shots I got messing around with it a little, stuck to my trusty game night Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 most of the night, but Friday night (same event where the aftermarket adapter acted up)…

 

…but the real surprise was Saturday. As I mentioned I had swung by the camera shop to get the infinitely better Pentax M42/K mount adapter and was still playing around with the Vivitar 200mm up until the time we left to go to the band competition. As I headed the door I threw the Tamron 70-200mm in the bag intending to swap lenses once we arrived. But I neglected to bring the removal contraption that came with the garbage adapter (that worked fine) or a mechanical pencil like Chris and Dennis used in the shop. After Friday night’s episode I was in no mood for being experimental in the field so the Vivitar would have to do. On paper I should have been at a loss since the Vivitar lacked AF, it was night and not as bright at f/3.5, was at the mercy of one focal length, and it was likely made when Gerald Ford was President. Such was not the case however. Notes on the experience:

  • To my surprise focusing was a breeze and sharp to reasonable shots were no problem at all. Very easy to see what is in focus. Relatively stiff focus throw that would unscrew the aftermarket adapter was no problem at all with the factory adapter. I was even able to maintain focus on moving targets (marching band walking speed as opposed to running).
  • Colors were amazing and the pictures look clean even though ISO was pegged at 6400 the whole night.
  • Although some of my older lenses (and older lenses in general) can exhibit a bit of “character” in the form of flares and/or chromatic aberrations I could see no problematic levels of either. What little bit of chromatic distortion I did see was easily dealt with a checkbox selection in Lightroom.
  •  To my surprise It was no hindrance at all to shoot with. Even at night this lens was great. While one cannot ignore the benefits of AF, zoom range, and a brighter aperture I must say I am very pleased with the photos I came away with Saturday night. I will be using this lens for events like this again.

The only odd thing is while I would like to recommend this lens I am not able to find this exact lens sold online. When I enter the specs on eBay, Amazon, or even Pentax forums I cannot find a lens that resembles this one exactly. Most have no tripod collar, mention a built in hood, and none mention that funky modular screw mount. I will keep looking in hopes to find out more about this lens. I must imagine however that the lens formula and results would be similar on these other similarly spec’d lenses. I can’t imagine Vivitar would have a wildly different set up for the same spec. Plus at these prices what is the harm in trying one out?

Flickr gallery for this lens can be found here.

 

Pentax K-70: My new bang for buck champion.

More on this when it returns, but due to backordered parts my Pentax K-1 is off to warranty repair spa until early October. Fortunately I held on to little orphan NX300 with a couple of lenses and a boatload of film cameras of varying format to hold me at bay. But many film cameras and a compact mirrorless do not a DSLR make… or something like that. Solution? Accelerate plans to acquire that 2nd Pentax body. With an acceleration to that acceleration provided by the awesome customer service at SE Camera Carrboro. I cannot say enough good things about this store. What body? Well the title was a spoiler so here it goes.

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Yes. I like the green lens trim ring. And the Yongnuo YN360 I used to highlight that

Since this is not my first Pentax dance I have written posts about both the Pentax K-3ii and the Pentax K-1. So instead of starting from scratch I will compare the three by sharing what they have in common and what sets the K-70 apart.

Pentax perks. All three have:

  • In body image stabilization bringing the added benefits of IS for everyone, virtual AA filter (never had need for it) and pixel shift for higher resolution photos under certain conditions (have not gotten to it).
  • In body image stabilization also brings one more benefit, Astrotracer, but I list it separately because the K-1 and K-3ii have built in GPS , but the K-70 requires an optional GPS module. Again, I have not gotten around to trying this on any. Glad to have it for when I get to it though.
  • The venerable 1975 and on K-Mount and all of the lenses that includes.
  • Water resistant and built like tanks. Being plastic instead of magnesium the K-70 is technically less tank-ish, but in hand the difference is not as big as one would think.
  • Great, honest to goodness what you see is what you get prism viewfinder. I have nothing against EVFs, and I honestly like both the new and the old tech, but this old school viewfinder is awesome. Most other DSLRs have mirrors instead at this price point.
  • Excellent low light performance with 3 vertical center cross type focus points that focus down to -3EV (with lense f/2.8 or wider as I understand it). This just works and works well when combined with these cameras and their excellent low light capturing capabilities.

K-70 differences:

  • Body only it saves you around $200 compared to the K-3ii and over $1,100 compared to the K-1. I loved my K-3ii, but starting from scratch today I might opt instead for the K-70 bundled with the so far excellent 18-135mm WR for only $50 more than the K-3ii body alone. It would largely depend on if I planned on also getting a K-1 or not.
  • Video friendly doo-dads like a more traditional flip out screen and on sensor phase detection focusing adding constant focusing to Pentax DSLR video for the first time. Admittedly video is not Pentax’s strong suit, but nice to have nonetheless. IS is a bit wonky during video as well, but nothing that firmware could not fix if they are so inclined. I rarely shoot video however.
  • Like the K-1 it has proper built in WiFi as opposed to requiring a WiFi enabled SD Card like the K-3ii.
  • None are compact by today’s standards, but it is the smallest of the three and anything helps when you like schlepping a DSLR wherever you go like I do.
  • Against the K-1 it is down a sensor size and a goodly chunk of MP (Not a fair comparison since dxoMark dubbed it a “Full-Frame Marvel” that just placed 3rd on their all time full frame list only bested by 2 cameras costing way more.), but it is a virtual twin of the K-3ii sensor wise. All will produce great results IQ wise.
  • Frames per second fall between the 2 with the K-1 at about 4 fps, the K-70 at about 6 fps and the K-3ii at about 8 fps. True, faster is better and there are better tools for sports, if  that is what you are after, and I have had cameras with upwards of 15fps, but these number are all fine for my purposes.
  • Shutter speed tops out at 1/6000s instead of the 1/8000s top end of the other two. admit 1/8000s is handy to have, but less than essential. Other great cameras, even full frame ones like the D750 I admire top out at 1/4000s for example.
  • It has a built in flash. I usually despise built in flashes, but I must say the K-70’s is quite nice.
  • 11/9 focus points/cross type to 27/25 on the K-3ii and 33/25 on the K-1. Not good on paper, but real world results depend on the shooter. I have had and still have a camera with focus points that number in the hundreds. How many do I typically use 90% of the time? One. I need about five all together the rest of the time. One on center and one each of the four directions off center. Your mileage may vary.
  • No top side LCD like the other 2. Do I want this if I can get it? For sure. But other great, highly regarded cameras (like the A7 line) do not offer one at all. Plus it may be a function of using film cameras and point and shoots for so long or that I only got my mitts on cameras with top side LCDs in the last year or so, but… psst… I never remember to look at the top side LCD. Instead I gawk at the big honking screen on the back of the camera.
  • 1 card slot instead of 2. Nice to have, but seeing as I had two much more expensive cameras in the past that also only had one slot (E-P5, A7 and NX1) this is a non-issue for me.

A few additional thoughts before I wrap it up and post some initial pics with a link to an ongoing gallery.

I have grown to like the one system, two body set up since I did so once before. While the K-3ii is an excellent standalone camera I argue that the K-70 is a better compliment to the K-1. The K-3ii is like an APS-C K-1 in many ways. Adds a body with flash instead of having 2 GPS built ins. Adds phase detection on sensor. Offers two crop sizes with the same mount making each lens more flexible like adding a bit of lengthened perspective to the old Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8.

Bottom line great camera at an even better price. After churning through a number of systems versatility is one of the defining traits for Pentax cameras. In the gallery below there are shots from different situations to show this. The football shots are taken at night (HS marching band Dad) from halfway up the bleachers behind the marching band. Others shared traits are value, great IQ, weather sealing, great control layout and so forth. I have owned and still own many camera brands and I pride myself on being brand agnostic, but suddenly realizing that you now own 2 Pentax digital cameras and 4 film Pentax cameras including medium format (Fully half of my total count including 7 others, not counting point and shoot digital, with no other brand repeats.) I must acknowledge Pentax leanings even if not intended.

Below are some shots and here is a link to a gallery I plan to add more photos to.