The ‘New’ Lenses!
The new DA lenses are expensive and this caused me to pause, until I realised they were no more expensive than the Hasselblad and Phase One offerings and just as good. I also noted, with an uncomfortable shuffle of my bottom, that they are priced the same as average Leica optics and not as expensive as Leica’s fastest lenses. The problem here is that there are not very many of them and nothing over 90mm (75mm in FF terms)! I also did not want to jump in with both feet and pony up the money for a full set of their newest optics, so acknowledged that legacy lenses would have to feature.
I did a lot of research and have summarised my ‘pre-use’ impressions below, as collected form various resources. I’m confident that this is a fair set of generalisations, although it won’t cover every perspective or opinion. Some may disagree vigorously, but this was my personal evaluation:
SMC Pentax DA 645 25mm f4 (IF) SDM AW: Trouble with filters (bulbous front end), very expensive, very sharp on centre, falling off noticeably at the edges and corners at distance, due to curvature of field. I saw some samples at distance from several copies and my honest opinion was ‘stick with 35mm & 36MP – this will be an expensive way to achieve only modest gains’. Add to this Sony-Zeiss-esque stories of terrible quality control and my interest was nil. I know there are good copies out there and I know some people love theirs, but it was not looking right for me (too much risk and too much scope for frustration). 1050g.
SMC Pentax DFA 645 55mm f2.8 AL (IF) SDM AW: Nice and compact, very sharp on centre, but with that darned field curvature issue at the edges and corners plaguing subjects at long distance. I saw some samples that made me think ‘you are better off with 35mm cameras by a mile’. Frankly, this lens stinks at infinity at the edges, unless stopped down to f11 or more at which point it is no better than ‘OK’. Closer in it looks amazing, but I am not aiming to shoot portraits. I also noted that lots of people sent copies back due to edge performance only to find their replacements were the same i.e. it was by design. Quality control seemed fine. 450g.
HD Pentax D FA 645 MACRO 90mm f2.8 ED AW SR: Absolutely top quality lens on par with the best. Moderately but not great Shake Reduction (SR), nice image look…. but not really that much better than the venerable 120mm A or FA macro at medium apertures and very expensive. Hmmm, would love one, but if a $200 lens will largely match a $3000 lens (for my needs) then living without SR is an easy decision. Nobody seemed to complain about soft copies, which was encouraging. Lovely lens, but not one that would be a cornerstone of my new system. 1040g.
HD Pentax DA 645 28-45 f4.5 ED AW SR: This is where things got interesting. User comments suggested this lens performed better at 28mm, in every regard except distortion, than the 25mm and by some margin. Other suggested it as sharp to the corners wide open, at all focal lengths. Everyone said it was the size of an artillery shell, but they had the thing glued to their 645D or Z. The stabilisation reportedly works nicely… there were no reports of bad copies… it was a zoom with prime lens quality, covering off (full-frame equivalent of) 21,24, 28 and 35mm and everything in between. The enthusiasm was there, evidenced by the ‘holy mother of … comments’. I shoot perhaps 75% of what I do in this focal length range, so if I can cover off the remaining 25% with legacy lenses. Another factor is format. I find I do not need to shoot quite as wide with the 4:3 format, because it is relatively deeper than 35mm. If you work only on the vertical aspect of the frame, at the wide end it is the same as 20.4mm on full-frame, rather than 22mm when using the diagonal for conversion. Excellent. [cough, aherm] 1500g!
The Legacy Lenses!
With roughly 21mm to 35mm already covered, all I needed now were some solid longer lenses. A standard option and a decent tele for starters.
I have compiled a list of the most common (and sought after) 645 lenses for the 645Z and 645D and inserted three numbers, which from left to right are a very rough approximation of the worst opinions I saw more than once, the median (in brackets) and the best. This gives you an idea of the spread as well as what’s typical (from my subjective non scientific recollection of what I have read). FA and A variants are optically the same (or appear to be) unless otherwise stated. Again, this is a rough idea – YMMV:
35mm (A and FA): 470g (A) 550g (FA) 8 (10) 10 and 8 (9) 10 respectively.
The consensus here is that both the A and FA are amongst the best Pentax 645 lenses, but are different in a few key areas. This is unusual, because most other A and FA variants have the same optical configuration. The FA version reportedly has more field curvature that causes considerable difficulty holding super-crisp edge and corner details for distant planar subjects (i.e. horizon for seascape). On the other hand, it supposedly has better CA control and possibly a touch more contrast (some say. The A series has a flatter field and thus is preferable for landscape shooters, who regard it as a ‘must have’ lens. I picked up a bargain of a 35mm A-series and will say up front that I agree (more to come later).
33-55mm (FA only): 3 (3) 5
I have not heard anyone suggest this is a great lens on the 645 digital bodies, but plenty expressing great disappointment. It just isn’t up to it. 585g
45mm (FA): 2 (3) 5
This lens gets a hammering. Terrible curvature and frankly poor performance at the edges. Everybody criticises it on digital, assuming there is anything resembling detail at the edges and corners. 465g
55mm (A only): Not sure…
I have seen relatively little on this lens. One reputable reviewer said the newer 55mm DA is better in every regard, but I would be interested to know if the older lens is better on field curvature. If so, it could make much more sense than the 55mm DA for landscape shooters. 410g
45-85mm (A and FA): 7 (9) 10
Consensus is that at 55mm it is very competitive to the new 55mm f2.8. In fact, the impression I get is that for landscapers the zoom may be better, with less field curvature at 55mm. You can pick up clean used A series examples from Japan for £120+ (A series). The short end ties nicely with the 28-45 too. Consensus is that its best at the wide end and drops off in performance after about 75mm, but constitutes one of the best zooms ever made for MF. Modest sample variation. 870g.
55-110 (FA only): 3 (5) 6
Some people find theirs acceptable and at times ‘quite good’ but it always seems to come with caveats. Its OK… barely… but the Pentax 67 version is much better. 500g
75mm f2.8 (A and FA): not impressive wide open, great a few stops down and superb by f8-11 from corner to corner. Nice signature, bokeh, contrast, colour, microcontrast… all good. As light (215g) as a full frame ‘nifty fifty’ and not priced too badly. A solid 60mm equivalent just long of standard. Nice. £380 from The Photo Specialist, which is the same as the new price in Japan. Few used FA lenses on ebay, but a fair number of older A series lenses at about £150+.
80-160mm (A and FA): 6 (8) 9
Everything as per the above lens, but not quite up to the same standard. Very good, however, but perhaps not ‘amazing’. A fair amount of sample variation. £90+ (A series). 1000g
120mm Macro (A and FA): 9 (10) 10
Brilliant. Everyone says the same thing: ‘one of the best lenses I have ever used regardless of label’. Eyeball slicing on the 645Z and also very good at infinity. I am always of suspicious of this, as most Macro lenses need plenty of stopping down at infinity and perform poorly until f11 or more. Almost no sample variation. All seem great. 650g or so. £200+ (A series). 690g (A) 740g (FA).
150mm f3.5 (A only): 8 (9) 10
Great. Some regard it as up there with the 120mm macro. Very sharp, compact and moderately light. £130+ (A series). 435g
150mm f2.8 (FA only): 5 (8) 10
Often great, but sometimes not. Some soft copies lurking, but a nice copy has superb bokeh – very gentle and neutral – flattering gentleness wide open and very sharp indeed at landscape apertures. £400+ (FA series). 500g.
200mm f4 (A and FA): 2 (8) 10
An interesting one. There seem to be some truly awful copies out there. Utter dogs. Or focusing problems on the earlier 645D. Its hard to tell, but I did not hold out much hope. That said, there are some users who say theirs perform even better than their 75mm FA lenses, so clearly the design is excellent, but the execution sometimes lacking. 570g (A) and 640 (FA). £50+ (A series, Japan) to £350+ (FA series), Europe.
150-300mm f5.6 (FA only): 7 (8) 9
Some say its as sharp as the long primes by f11 (which is superb), but weaker at under f11. I figured that was fine because I don’t shoot landscapes at f8 and 150mm very often, never mind 300mm. Depth of Field is too slim. £550-600+ from Japan. 920g.
300mm f4 (A and FA): 10 (10) 10
Stunning, always. Absolute top quality lens. Large and heavy, so not appealing at all for a lens that I would rarely use. £300+ A series. 1500g.
300mm f5.6 (FA only): 8 (9) 10
From ‘excellent’ to ‘as good as it gets’ and matching the 300mm f4 at f8 and beyond, but a touch weaker at f5.6. £480+ ebay, Japan. 775g.
400mm f5.6 (FA only): 8 (8.5) 9
Just a subtle half-notch down on the 300mm f5.6. Very, very good. £500+ ebay, Japan. 1250g.
Third Party Lenses for the Pentax 645Z
Hasselblad V series lenses can be adapted to the 645Z, because you have live view and the flange focal distance is longer on the Hassy. This means some very fine legacy lenses are available from this system, should one desire. Lenses that may be of interest include:
- 60mm f3.5 Distagon – in lieu of the Pentax 55mm DA? And a lot cheaper, actually.
- 100mm f3.5 Planar – for that 80mm equivalent and spectacular performance at distance.
- 150mm f4 Sonnar – affordable and brilliant. More expensive than a 150mm f3.5 A, but is it better (I don’t know)?
- 180mm f4 Sonnar – one of the best long Hassy lenses ever made instead of a 150mm & 200mm Pentax combo?
- 250mm f5.6 Sonnar – Not as hot as the shorter sonnars, but still very good. They’re cheap too – far cheaper than a Pentax-FA 300mm f5.6….
If you are happy to look at the earlier CF versions, rather than later CFE and CFi lenses, there are some great value choices out there. Fotodiox makes a quality adaptor that I will be picking up in due course. To begin with, though, it made most sense to think only about native lenses, as these surely form the bread and butter!
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