30 May 2015

do I always root for underdogs?

It's a curious thing.  I finally pick up a really nice lens, then begin speculating about the next one.  I'll consider many factors, some which strike the average shooter as mildly to wildly irrelevant - and then overlook the most popular option while straining to find that ideal-for-me lens.

My Next Lens should be a very good wide-normal zoom lens that doesn't weigh a ton but fits nicely with the DA* 50-135mm.   I'm in no rush as I own the DA 18-55.. but many 'better' options exist.  Four 17-70 models, several third-party 18-50s and fast 17-50 f/2.8s, the old reliable DA16-45 and the new wide-ranging DA16-85 make the list alongside the DA* 16-50 and LimiZoom 20-40.  The Sigmas are odd in that half of them zoom in clockwise while the other half switch directions - so it would be nice to find one that turns the same way as the DA* (that knocks the list down a bit).  And hey why not use 67mm filters like the DA* as well?  That narrows the field to just a few.

image from dxomark.com
Oddly enough, one of the remaining items is a lens that has received constant praise for at least five years: Tamron's 17-50 f/2.8.  I've tried everything I can afford in that range except this lens (and the newer Sigma 17-50 that zooms 'backwards').  I've read about the excellent image quality, the field curvature that affects wide shots at fast apertures, the fact that over half the owners use the term 'workhorse' - yet I always grabbed another DA16-45 or 18-55 when the need arose.

The Tamrons are now below $250 fairly often on the used market, just above the DA16-45.  It has every feature I'd like except weather seals: range, speed, price, even matching zoom twist!  It does not have silent focus like the Sigma HSM and the DA*16-50 HSM, or the DC-motorized 20-40Ltd or 18-50RE.. bummer.  Is it worth paying quite a bit more for the first two, or essentially matching the 18-55wr for more money?

EDIT/ P.S. -  and the very next day reconditioned Pentax 17-70 lenses dropped to $230ish.  That too is a curious thing -- and one that blows all previous analyses to pieces.  I sorta liked the DA17-70 with its range, fixed f/4  and 67mm filters.  I didn't like three things: SDM only (which is bad if he ever-maligned SDM were to fail), no weather seals, and close to $500 so outgunned by Sigma 17-70s and the Tamron 17-50.  Until it's not!

image & review via
So the 20-40WR is about 3x this price, the Sigmas 2x and only the Tamron (used)  can stay with it - less range but f/2.8 speed.  Thanks to the well-noted SDM fears the DA17-70 might even be the ultimate underdog of this lens type!  It's the lowest-rated DA zoom at PKForums other than the almost-free original version of the kit 18-55, mostly for SDM and other focus breakdowns.  

Two questions remain: did their reconditioning solve anything SDM-wise, we wonders?  And is $230 too much for a manual-focus lens not labeled "Samyang"?

Decisions suck.

29 May 2015

shooting star

DA* 50-135mm f/2.8
DA-star, that is.  My first star has arrived - likely my only one for some time, though times change.

The * lenses are Pentax' headline, pro-caliber lenses; DA* for aps-c sensors while FA* is for 36×24 types.  The 50-135mm f/2.8 arrived yesterday, but it came to the house while were were away - so I've just picked it up today.  I parked across the street from the Post Office at the central Longview city park for a few tests against the 55-300mm set at 55 and 100mm and f/4.  I have not compared the images yet, but images from the DA* have an oh-my factor that cannot be ignored.  Images do indeed look 'primal' even if just on the K-r rear screen at moderate zoom.  The DAL 55-300 is no slouch optically so side-by-side checks will be fun.

As to mass, the 50-135 is a fairly bulky lens, similar in length to the 55-300 but considerably thicker and more dense.  Larger and more pieces of glass will do that.  It's not so bad that it will stay behind on hikes, but it does have that 55-300 to compete with!  The lack of WR on my copy of the latter does suggest that the DA* is a fine choice for outdoor travels despite the extra 350 grams.

The real DA* benefit comes from this lens taking over the duties of all primes in the 50-135mm range, which is why the M85/2, M100/2.8, A100/4 macro and M150/3.5 have left the building (or will soon).  The A50/2 and M135/3.5 have no resale value (they go for $20-30 on most sites) so they will keep the K24/2.8 company in the classic-prime box.  One from each generation, how nice!

I'm contemplating a future where a 1.5x teleconverter makes this a longer f/4 lens; probably not the worst idea I've had.  Not yet though!!

23 May 2015

stop dreaming by the computer!!

At the end of my previous post I spoke of my dream Pentax lens set: 14 or 15mm prime, 20-40wr Limited, DA* 50-135, and 55-300. I recently bought the 55-300 and hoped to stop for a while and buy the rest later starting no sooner than Christmas 2015.

Well, today I bought one of the big ones.  Ooops!
Dreams run on their own schedule.

 My sanity would be less in question from my reader were I to simply erase the entire "simplify" blog entry! In truth though, the price I just paid a working DA* 50-135 may never go lower (it might of course, but not by much).  I can sell or return a few recent acquisitions for nearly an even swap, so it's not a financial pain.

It's quite embarrassing that I allowed this deal to catch my attention though, right after saying "Time Out! Simplify!" to the world - but I'll forgive myself this once.  It makes me wonder, though - how long before I sheepishly announce that I've acquired an HD 20-40 or DA 14/15 prime••, and forgive myself again?

This lens has pestered me (and many Pentaxians) for years.  At f2.8 through its range, it is the 70-200mm equivalent for DA users.  Bulky yes, at 765 grams it's not my ideal - but it replaces many other lenses in a useful range and is weather sealed.  And when compared to a true 70-200mm f2.8 lens it's quite small!

I owned its cousin (Sigma's 50-150) for a brief time and quickly learned to tolerate the extra bulk in return for hi-IQ results, so I expect I to like this lens a lot!  It may even be the One Lens to Rule the kit, which would diminish any efforts to tweak what's in the bag.  That would be quite excellent since my efforts truly need to diminish!

The one concern for DA* lenses is the SDM motor, which has been deemed unreliable by many - especially if the lens isn't exercised regularly.  The seller pointed out that this copy had been sluggish recently, an ominous sign; given the discounted price I shall cross my fingers and I expect that we'll get along fine.  Pentax claims its repair rate is comparable to other brands, so it could be the owners of malfunctioning DA*s are just really good at spreading the word.

This definitely changes plans for my collection of classic teleprimes and also the 18-200 for kit simplification.  It was a great idea but trumped by poor timing.

My Updated updated set will be:
  • K24, A50 and M135 primes
  • 18-55wr, 50-135 and 55-300 zooms
  • 400mm prime and manual 80-200/3.5 (in the closet)
The new macro plan is to rummage around for my old 49mm diopter set and attach it to the 50 or 135.. for now, that'll do.  The mini kit is now the NX300, 16+30 pancakes and the K adapter.

•• It's possible that I have acquired three of the dream foursome already; I will hear from Adorama soon about whether they have set aside their used, slightly-damaged DA14 that I sought to acquire in trade!  I never heard back from them but it vanished from their website.  Again an amazing deal - yet again, why am I looking in places where these deals can snare me?!?

19 May 2015

the voice said"simplify."

And so I shall try.

A nice copy of the 18-200 Sigma caught my attention, a PGE lens I have known since 2009 in Quantaray disguise and Alpha mount.  It was essentially my only lens on the Sierra hike and allowed me to zoom in on coyotes across the valley.  At $120 it can replace every prime, though with far slower light collection; is that a really big deal right now though?  Later, yes - but not now.  For longer shots and to replace the outbound 100-300mm, I won a bid for yet another famous  PGE lens, the Pentax DA-L 55-300.  I also picked up  an old Sigma 50/2.8, a true 1:1 macro, with 'A' contacts; I bid lower than the asking price and despite crossing my fingers.. the seller said OK.  However this clinches it: no more bids or offers!  I lost two other bids over the past week - and I feel just fine about that!

*as noted before PGE = Plenty Good Enough*

The next step was contacting Adorama to offer a blockbuster trade of fairly fast primes and a few seldom-used zooms in K and NX mounts and my lone MD/NX hybrid, the Rexatar 200/3.3.  I shall miss several of these, but not enough to rend my garments.

So the Lucky 7 are
  • 24, 50, 100 macro, and 135mm primes plus Hanimar 400mm for rare use
  • 18-200 + 55-300 zooms 

Which 50mm lens is TBD, either the A50 f/2 or Sig50/2.8 macro.  That decision could also determine the fate of the 100mm 1:2 macro!  Two 18-55wr lenses are in storage with a second K-r body, for when my wife is ready to team up with a matched camera/lens pair.  The NX300 now has 16 and 30mm native primes - and an adapter for the K lenses.

In my dreams the simple kit would become 20-40Ltd, DA* 50-135 and that 55-300, with a 14-15mm prime for when 20mm won't do.  These would mount to a K-3 or perhaps a K-s2.  The alternate dream is a Samsung NX1, the 16+30mm tiny primes and their 50-150/2.8 S. If either dream comes true it must wait 6-9 months, perhaps even a year..we'll see.

08 May 2015

a gathering of smc-M teles

Once again I forgot the age-old rule of lens buying: seek and your shall find.  Many have used that quote over the years for purposes beyond camera gear, so it's true in many areas of life!

 I really was OK with A50/2, M100/2.8 and M150/3.5.  Honest! Until I did a quick check on the M85mm f/2, a lens that I really liked, and found it for about $125 cheaper than my previous deal. Whoa, must have!  And off goes the pattern..good thing the 135mm was still in my bag.  My best rationale for the 85 is that it spares me the cost of a DA70 at some point..right?  So three cheers for the trio of 50, 85, and 135: hip hip hoo

Until I browsed for deals on macro lenses, and an F-graded smc.M 100/4 1:2 appeared for well under $50.  Oops, wasn't supposed to see that!  It was characterized as showing "light haze or fungus" and for the price why not?  It arrived today and is far better than expected (more on that below) so ..hooray for 50-85-100-?? The 100/2.8 is clearly expendable now, but of the 135 and 150 which to sell?  And when will I break down and get another 200.. :-?

So here they are..hmm where's that 50?  The 85, 135, dirty 100/2.8, 100/4 macro & 150/3.5.  Note that as of today the hazy m100 macro is a like-new A100 macro!  I've contacted the seller since this is clearly not a sub-$50 lens.  I cannot allow a misconception that large to pass without comment so the ball is in the seller's court as they say.

Note also that another mini-crisis hit our wallet, and the da40xs, fa.j 75-300,  f17-28 and 50/2.8 macro were returned for refunds.  A sub $50 lens was OK, the m85 barely worked but the others combined cost well over twice as much.  And now, back into sell mode.

02 May 2015

my dad

We on earth can be a greedy bunch.

My dad has taken the leap of faith and reached Heaven, at the age of 95 years and a month.  Married for over 70 years, his health failed at the end - and yet  we still expected to see him rally and spend a little more time with us!  His last week was uncomfortable though, and when pneumonia caught him it was too much to bear.  Three of my siblings prayed him onward after I had taken our exhausted mom back home for the night.  

What a guy!  And what a life filled with wonderful memories, friends and family (five children, nine grandkids, and twelve more in the next generation!).  He touched so many people, including complete strangers - especially if a baby or dog was involved.  We'll never see the likes of him again.

dad's first trip to Paradise, circa 1970
Mt. Rainier NP, Washington

Some perspective on Dad's life!
  • He was born after Ireland's Easter Rebellion in 1916 but before the Irish Free State was formally recognized in 1922.  Watch the movie "Michael Collins" to learn of those gruesome times.
  • He had no middle name but the nuns at school 'requested' one. His mom pointed into a book of saints' names for it!
  • My parents were married the day before the Battle of the Bulge began!
  • His dad had a ticket on the SS Titanic, but gave it away because he had to remain in Ireland a bit longer..
  • Like so many soldiers he was a smoker, but quit before I was born.
  • Scout leader, little-league coach, outdoorsman.. everything a boy could ask for.
Thanks for everything, dad!