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October 22, 2010


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Very nice writeup on a great, classic lens, Gordon.

You may be interested to know that Pentax also used the same optical formula in two autofocus lenses: the Pentax-F and Pentax-FA 50mm f/1.7.

They were discontinued several years ago, but turn up somewhat regularly on the 2nd hand market. The FA is rarer. Of course, both are generally more expensive than the Pentax-M.

That's a great example and probably applies to other brands as well. Minolta's AF 50mm f/1.7 routinely sells for around $90 and works great on Sony cameras. It's also got far better build quality than the latest plasticky f/1.8 that Sony sells for $200.

I just ordered a Pentax ME with a 28/2.8, a 50/1.7 and a 135/3.5 for $100. After reading this, I'm now waiting even more anxiously for the shipment so I can mount these on my K-7. How difficult is it to get used to manual focusing on an APS-C camera, without a tripod?

I have one myself; I bought a junk SE for a song, and it came attached. I wanted the lens, actually, and the seller thought he was just offloading a junk camera body.

It's my go-to low-light lens, and I sometimes use it for flash item photography too. It's easy to get a pleasingly blurry background. As you say, it's really small - barely larger than the tiny 21/3.2 - so it goes into the bag almost by default, whether I think I need it or not.

If you like that one, you really should make an effort to find the 28mm/3.5. It's a pain to focus - you better have a replacement split-prism focusing screen - but there's something intangible about the resulting images that just calls out to you. Some kind of smoothness, or calmness of color that's immensely pleasing.

>>How difficult is it to get used to manual focusing on an APS-C camera, without a tripod?<<

It's not difficult at all. The K-7's focusing screen is snappy enough that in daylight and at distances beyond a meter I simply focus by eye. Depth-of-field, especially at medium to small apertures, will cover any minor inaccuracies. For critical focusing I rely on the green indicator light in the viewfinder. If you're really fussy you could use live view and micro-focus adjustment to confirm accurate calibration of the AF indicator light. Once that's done though you're good to go from then on. Just make sure that any changes you make are applied to that particular lens and not all.

You got an excellent deal on that Pentax ME kit, BTW. But I imagine you already know that. :-)

I get pretty good results from my 50mm f2 lenses, which you can find practically for free on Ebay. My 40mm ltd has replaced them in the rotation however, so I rarely use them anymore. I'd love the speed of the 1.4...

Very nice. I've been using a lowly SMC 50mm f/2 adapted to EF mount with some bare extension tubes for macro work. And when I was using a APS-C Canon, I liked that lens better than Canon's 50/1.8 for low light for the smooth, long-throw focus ring, and the SMC 28mm f/2.8 was my walkaround lens, in large part because I could set it at f/8 and use the distance scale for nice long depth of field without worrying about focusing much -- just shooting.

The Pentax SMC 50mm f/1.4 is an amazing, amazing lens and still goes for only around $100 used. But for those without a Pentax body, grabbing an M42 adapter is even better, the bargains to be had are unbeliveable.

I regularly use my KA 50/1.7 and KM 135/3.5 lens on a K10D. The results are equal to those I get with the FA 77 Limited (but maybe not as good as the FA 31 Limited). This backward compatibility to all those wonderful "bargains" is what keeps me with Pentax,as well as the nostalgia. Next on the agenda: the KM 200 /f4! Thanks for insight into Pentax. Seems to be a lonely position these days.

As mentioned,the same seems to apply to other brands in the 50mm prime class. I have a Nikon 1.8 which cost less than $200 new here in Tokyo (and probably much less in many other countries) and am still impressed with the image quality from it. If the focal length on DX worked a bit better for my purposes, I'd be tempted to use it even more.

I guess the good point for companies selling these low price/high performance 50mm primes is that it lets people see what a really good lens can do.

I have a few older MF Nikkors that I really enjoy playing with, my favorite being a 55 Micro Nikkor. The irony is that they are easier to use on a Canon XT body with a cheap eBay adapter. But Pentax must surely have everybody beat as far as old lens selection!

I still use my A 28 mm F2,8; my M 35 mm F2; my A 50 mm F 1,4 and my M 200 mm F4 on my trusty DSLR Pentax K10D.
You can see a bunch of pictures taken with these lenses, as well as others, in my signature. Please, see the quality of pictures taken with F 50 F2,8 macro (an old AF lens discontinued 20 years ago).

In fact the 50/1.7 was the kit lens upgrade during the SMC-M and SMC-A era. The kit lens was the 50/2 with the 50/1.4 and 50/1.7 offered as upgrades along with the much more rare 50/1.2. The 50/1.7 is about as common as the 50/1.4 and much less common than the 50/2.

The 50/1.7 quite quickly earned a reputation as the sharpest of the three 50's. It would become the basic 50mm option in the AF era in SMC-F and SMC-FA forms but Pentax discontinued it in the late 90's after a 20 year run.

I finally bought some used Pentax lenses. An 80-200 F3.4-5 and 100-300, 4.5-5.6. I was really after some of the lenses already mentioned, the 50 and the macro. But I am disappointed in them. My images appear to lack contrast and resolution, especially the 80-200. Pentax wrote (or I saw it on LL) about the differences in the digital designs versus the film based lenses. I don't fully understand it, but it has something to do with the thickness of the film and how the film lenses were designed with more generous tolerances than digital designs. I think I saw this on Luminous Landscape when they introduced the D645.


>>My images appear to lack contrast and resolution, especially the 80-200.<<

I have no personal experience with the lenses you mention, but it would be a mistake to assume from this particular blog entry that all older Pentax lenses are wonderful performers. That said, if you haven't already done so, try mounting the camera and lenses in question onto a sturdy tripod, then focus using the live view feature (assuming your camera has it). If the resulting images still lack contrast and resolution then it's most likely the fault of the lens and nothing else. I would also take all the hypothesis about film vs. digital lenses with a grain of salt. The proof is in the pudding, not the recipe.

There is not a 80-200 f 3,4-5 in Pentax line, as much I can remember. But there are three versions of a 80-200 4.7-5.6: this is a budget lens, designed for film. Like other old zooms, can lack contrast, but you can improve it easily in PP, simply with "levels" or "curves".

Both the 80-200 and 100-300 are low-end zooms and perform like it. While Pentax made a few gems in the cheap zoom category (the SMC-A 70-210 comes to mind) generally 'cheap but good' means prime lenses.

"There is not a 80-200 f 3,4-5 in Pentax line, as much I can remember. But there are three versions of a 80-200 4.7-5.6:" Magma you are quite right it is the latter. I got it cheap and will probably use it produce experimental shots with vaseline!

The 100-300 is much better and to my surprise, autofocuses very quickly.

Roger, is there an adapter where I can use Nikon manual lenses on the Pentax. That would be great?

Thanks for the advice, Gordon. My K10 does not have live view, but I will try a few experiments.

I've got one of these on my K-5 and its quite the performer!
here's some shots with it

Great blog! You are quite right about the quality of M 50/1.7 but there even better one in this proverbial "junk drawer". It's older, too. I am talking about the Pentax K 55/f1.8.
It's better built than the M-line of lenses and produces exceptional quality images on my K20D.

I still slap my forehead when I recall the 40mm f/2.8 that sat in a drawer for 8 years. After dabbling in non-SLRs I went with Alphas so I sold it; now have a K-7 and seek a small lens. Oopz! The 50/1.7 would be a fine fit in my kit.

As B said above, they work really nicely on Canons (and I'm sure other brands) too. I've taken some great pics of our baby daughter with the 50/1.4, though it is very hard to focus with this particular camera's viewfinder.

This is my all-time all-round favourite lens. I got mine with my K1000 (along with a 28mm F3.5 wide angle). I also have an autofocus version of this exact same lens (SMC Pentax-F) that communicates everything very happily with my modern Pentax K-X. The optics are identical between the Pentax-F and my trusty SMC Pentax-M.

I remember when the primes were cheaper than the zooms. Now it seems flipped the other way around.

Still have my two Pentax ME II Supers with black bodies. Not only does no one want them, no one wants the fine glass that belongs to them/me.

At first, I was hoping Pentax would come out with a digital body. And they did, about three years too late.

A colleague showed me the EOS 10D and it worked for our lab. Been with Canon ever since. Not an early adapter, I still use the EOS 1Ds MK II


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