Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pentax DA* 200mm f/2.8 lens - one photographer's evaluation.

Hi Pentax friends,

I recently acquired the Pentax DA* 200mm f/2.8 lens. Instead of a full lab test, that would not necessarily do justice to this great lens, I decided to evaluate the lens on my point-of-view as a photographer. I am not a big fan of equipment tests done the DPReview or other highly technical Websites' ways. Yes, these technical reviews are certainly useful, but in real life, photos of studio sets, 100% cropped images, analysis of matrix patterns, etc, are not that important in the end. Most, if not all, technical deficiencies can be corrected with post-processing.

Looking at many of the famous photographers' images published through the years, the printed photographs do not always have the resolution and sharpness qualities suggested by technical reviewers. You've heard it a million times, "it's not the equipment that takes great's great photographers". I do not want to belittle anyone's technical reviews. They can help in making decisions as to what lens is better for your photographic style and needs, but I don't think that you will ever display a photograph at 100% crop.

The DA* 200mm is a fixed focal length lens and that by itself is a deterrent to many photographers. Why? Well, in this fast paced world we live in, the perception is that we never have enough time. Zoom lenses rules, and it's not because they are better. They cover a wider range of focal lengths and that translates to less lens changing. There is a price to pay for that, both money and quality wise. Whenever I can, I shoot with prime or fixed focal length lenses. How can a zoom lens with so many moving parts be as accurate?

The Pentax line of lenses have always been great contenders in the photographic world. Their SMC (Super Multi Coating) procedures have been at the forefront of lens technologies for years. For example, the SMC P-FA 31mm F/1.8 Limited is regarded as one of the world's best lens, if not the best ever produced.

Okay, enough bragging about Pentax lenses in general. Here are the special qualities that makes the DA* 200mm a pro-caliber lens:

  1. SDM AF - Fast Supersonic focusing and almost silent

  2. The lens can be adjusted manually while still in AF mode

  3. High speed f/ 2.8 lens

  4. Water and dust protected with gaskets and O-rings

  5. Angle of view equivalent to 300mm, f/2.8 on 35mm format. You save "beaucoup" $$$

  6. The lens weights only 1.85 lb

  7. The lens is 5" long but can still be used with the built-in flash without producing shadows

  8. Comes with a lens hood that is also interchangeable with the DA* 300mm lens

  9. The lens hood has a removable section to facilitate the use of rotating filters (Polarizer)

  10. Quality made with metal and polycarbonate with a black crinkle finish

  11. Large rubberized focus ring

  12. The lens is usable on full-frame 35mm cameras or future FF DSLRs from Pentax

  13. Pentax Super Protect coating on the front element repels water, dust and fingerprint

  14. Distortion is almost non-existent

  15. Excellent "bokeh" - nine blade diagphram

  16. Vignetting and chromatic aberration not relevant

  17. Easy to read depth-of-field scale

  18. It's a genuine Pentax lens

There are a few things I would have liked in addition to the above:

  1. A smaller price tag

  2. A focus limiter would have helped

  3. A little less purple fringing at full aperture - However, it can be fixed with software.

  4. This particular lens of mine had a little bit of front focusing problem (Picture - 5) but was easily fixed with the K20D.

All the pictures included at the top were, of course, taken with the DA* 200mm.

  • If you are looking for a lens for wildlife photography, this is the lens. (Photo - 7, 9, 14)

  • If you like excellent bokeh, this is the lens. (Photo - 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 13)

  • If you like the compressing effect of long lenses, this is the lens. (Photo - 1, 2, 11)

  • If you like to isolate your subject(s), this is the lens. (Photo - 7, 9, 12)

  • If you like crisp images, this is the lens (Photo - 3, 8, really...all of them.)

  • If you like a telephoto with the equivalent of a 300mm, still @ f/2.8, on 35mm format at about half the price, this is the lens.

  • If you're a Pentaxian, this is the lens.

Most of the photos were taken without a tripod and using the in-camera shake reduction. I don't worry about all the technical pros & cons, I just take pictures!

Thank you so much for reading. Now that I have the lens, I can stop eating macaroni & cheese and Top-Ramen soup and crackers...for a while anyway.

Yvon Bourque

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