Regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of the Pentax 645Z, which I reviewed here. Despite the appearance of cameras like the 50MP Canon 5DSR and the 42MP Sony A7R II, this is where I will be investing in terms of my landscape shooting. The reason is that I love the camera, the amazing files and also the lenses. One of the criticisms of the 645Z is that there are relatively few super modern digital era lenses (they are slowly coming), but this suggests that the older lenses are not great.On paper and in practice, some of the older lenses are not great; however, others remain spectacular even on a 51MP sensor. Most possess another quality I rather like in the modern era: they aren’t perfect.
I have provided commentary on some of the Pentax FA and A series 645 lenses, but will now roll out some short reviews of those I can get my hands on, starting with the Pentax SMC FA 645 150mm f2.8 IF.
Build Quality & Handling
This lens weighs in at only 500g, which is comparable to lenses like Canon and Nikon 135mm lenses. Build quality is very solid and it is clearly going to last. A 67mm front filter keeps things sane and its only 9.6cm long, which is less than four inches.
It possesses an aperture ring, which I like and the standard clutch type AF/Manual Focus selector on other FA lenses. I find this practical, but a bit ‘clunky’. Still, its solid and it works.
At f2.8 the lens is a little ‘glowy’, which is a quality you do not find in super modern lenses. The result is that it will be flattering for people shots, while still showing lots of actual detail. Unfortunately I lost my f2.8 shots and I am now in Afghanistan, but I will try to post some examples at a later time. My personal view is that this slight glow, combined with detail, is highly desirable…. but only if it goes away by the time you reach landscape apertures.
Which it does. By f4, The lens is performing at a very high level indeed. The centre is excellent, the edges are very close behind and only the corners lag a touch. Micro-contrast is excellent yet the rendering (macro-contrast) is typical of Pentax FA/A lenses i.e. not harsh at all. The overall contrast is modest when combined with the 645Z, party due to the lens and partly due to the huge Dynamic Range of the sensor and the way Pentax outputs the files from the camera.
All images 1500 pixels on the long side. Moderate sharpening applied. All photos shot hand-held at speeds of 1/400th +/-, so it will get sharper than this. No contrast or clarity added to the very low contrast files the 645Z generates via Lightroom.
By f5.6 the lens is spectacular. Its like a razor and not much changes all the way to f11. I see no real loss due to diffraction, which is good news for landscape photographers, who are likely to shoot at f11 for medium-far landscape shots.
The lens does show some Chromatic Aberration, but most vanishes when you apply the lens profiles in Lightroom, but in extreme cases, a few manual tweaks in Lightroom sees it the residual CA easily taken care of.
I did not formally test bokeh, but this lens is well known for exceptional bokeh and I saw nothing to indicate otherwise.
If the lens has one weakness it is flare. Shooting straight towards a very bright overcast sky, with backlit subject matter is a cruel test of any lens. Super modern lenses like the Sony 55mm f1.8 FE pass with flying colours, refusing to allow any loss of contrast and still delivering a lot of bit. The result, however, can be a little ‘sterile’ and I feel you lose something if you cannot provoke a lens to flare no matter how hard you try (a personal opinion of course). The Pentax SMC FA 645 150mm f2.8 is absolutely nothing like the Sony 55mm when pointed towards a ‘light box’ sky. It belts out veiling flare like nobody’s business, even with a hood in place. This can be a disadvantage, but for a B&W shooter like me, I feel the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages.
Its a screw type autofocus system and definitely not up to the standards of USM or ring type focus motors. It makes that typical ‘zzzzp’ as it focuses and, while swift, it is not going to win any speed records. That said, it is a lot quicker than my 85mm f1.2 L II on my Canon 5D III. Overall, I would put it on par with good quality 35mm DSR lenses during the film era, which is what you would expect really. I foud focus to be quite decisive and hunting to be limited when pointed at most subjects. For a landscape user, its more than good enough on the 645Z. Portrait shooters using AF are more likely to be restricted by the limited spread of AF points on the 645Z than the AF speed.
This lens is typically listed at £500-600 second hand, but if you have time on your side, you can pick them up for less. I got mine from a dealer, with a six month warrant, for £349. Despite the increase in FAA and A 645 lens pricing, as a result of the 645D and 645Z, that’s still pretty impressive value for money if you ask me. New lenses are still available and will run you in the region of £1150+ in the UK or $1400+ in the US.
Pentax SMC FA 645 150mm f2.8 Conclusion
For those of you interested in lenses for the Pentax 645 system, I recommend you look at the Pentax Forums database of lens reviews. While not as useful as Lens Rentals style reviews, where up to ten copies of a given lens are averaged, it does show the various ratings that different users have submitted. This allows you to spot the ‘lemons’ and get an idea as to what sort of performance most users experience.
In the case of the Pentax SMC FA 645 150mm f2.8 it seems we’re all on the same page! It really is a tremendous lens and comes highly recommended. Performance is top drawer, it feels small and light on the 645Z and optical performance is impeccable without being ‘in your face sharp/high contrast’. All this comes (used) for less than you’d pay for many (used) pro-quality 35mm prime lenses. It’s a genuine bargain when compared to new primes for the likes of the Sony A7R II. A new Sony FE 90mm f2.8 OSS Macro will set you back 2.5 times more.
More image samples on the next page – Click Below for Next Page….