28 March 2014

when one cannot afford a 70-200 f/2.8

The elite speed lenses of the current era tend to be a 70-200mm f/2.8 more or less.  These are fast at 200mm unlike many more typical f/5.6 designs, but a large penalty comes along - literally, the fast telezooms are large, heavy and include their own tripod socket since they outweigh nearly every camera that will be attached to them!  They are also multiple hundreds of dollars, and right now I have nothing like that to throw around.  What to do?

Well try this: for $24 I picked up an 80-200mm f/3.5, so only fractionally slower than the modern beasts.  This one still weighs in at over a kilogram (about two pounds) and outweighs my camera bodies, so thankfully it also has a tripod socket.  What's not to like about that?

OK for one it's manual focus.  I'm not planning to shoot sports (though I can if I want to!) so I'm OK with that.  Also it's an ancient screw-mount lens - so I forgot to add $10 for the PK-M42 adapter to make it $35.  Screw mount means manual aperture setting.  Most curious of all perhaps is the brand: JC Penney!  No they never made lenses in department stores, but many department stores added their labels; many Sears lenses were Ricoh-made and plenty of lens companies allowed another brand to be stamped on their lens.

On the good side, the tripod collar will lead to steadier shots with tripod or monopod, a slide-out lens hood improves contrast, and nine aperture blades result in very nice blur to either side of focus.  It also is an internal-zoom lens so its length only varies by the range of the focusing ring, which covers infinity down to about five feet (1.8 meters).  Clearly the price is right, so how's the performance?

Let's get one thing straight: this is a very nice, little-used copy of whatever brand it really is.  Everything works very well on it, though the zoom ring rattles a bit.  Images from a tripod look quite nice, no complaints from me while using the K-01.  The shot at left is 100mm f/6ish on a wet day.
It's very hard to hand hold and keep the camera's live screen more than 10" away from my face, but on the K-5 it should perform better in that respect.  I'll be trying it on the Q soon, that should be very fun!

Anyway, I'm impressed.  Just in case I have another $20 lens that may be coming soon*, so we'll have a contest and keep just one.  Oh what fun!  In the meantime, the all-manual kit now looks like this:
  • SMC 17mm f/4 fish-eye
  • SMC-A 24mm f/2.8
  • SMC-M 50mm f/2
  • Quantaray 28-70mm f/2.8-4
  • this JCP 80-200mm f/3.5 M42 mount/PK
  • Hanimex 400mm f/6.3 T-mount/PK

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* p.s. it's true - a Sigma δ 75-250mm f/4.0-5.0 is on its way.  No it's not a whole fraternity, it seems that early Sigmas used extra greek letters to mark their lenses!  So this is a variable-aperture zoom but still, 250mm at f/5 is slightly faster than most - so we shall see if the extra reach is worthwhile.  It says 'for Pentax' but nowhere does it show a bayonet mount, although the rear cap is thicker than for most M42 lenses.  Again, we shall see... in any case this 80-200 does pretty good work!