Pentax is probably best known as the maker of the iconic K1000 film camera and the workhorse Pentax 67 medium format camera, but Pentax Corporation has been making high-quality camera lenses (famous for their tack-sharp resolution, color fidelity, and accurate contrast) for more than fifty years. Portraitists, photo artists, and street shooters have used Pentax lenses to shoot jazz, blues, gospel, folk, & rock perfomers, primitive cultures, documentary projects, and life on the streets of the cities of the world.
The Pentax smc P-DA f2.4 70mm Limited Edition lens is the latest offering in that long tradition of quality optics. It's extremely compact, lightweight, relatively fast, and very well made. Photographers who eschew prime (single focal length) lenses in favor of more versatile zooms should consider this - zoom lenses are inherently more complex optically (than prime lenses) and as complexity increases optical faults are magnified exponentially. Critically compare most prime lenses with most zoom lenses and the primes will (almost invariably) win hands-down in every important category (resolution, contrast, color fidelity, and bokeh).
Pentax smc P-DA 70mm Limited Edition lens on Pentax K10D (view large image)
I really liked the Pentax smc P-DA f2.4 70mm Limited Edition lens for general/event and candid/street photography. It is substantially more compact than a 50mm normal lens, but it gives the photographer almost fifty per cent more stand off distance from his/her subjects. Taking pictures of people being themselves is actually quite difficult, since almost everyone will "pose" if they are aware that they are being photographed. The extra stand off distance with this lens allows the photographer a bit more anonymity.
The Pentax smc P-DA f2.4 70mm Limited Edition should also be a great travel photography lens - an ultra-thin 105mm (35mm equivalent) lens and superb optical performance will make shooting crowded markets, environmental portraits, and colorful street scenes a snap. This lens is also excellent for natural light portraiture, since short telephoto lenses in the 70mm to 115mm range give the most pleasing perspective for head and shoulders portraits. The fast maximum aperture will blur the background and place emphasis on the subject , plus this lens has good Bokeh - making out of focus background highlights appear softer, more rounded, and subtler.
In the Field/Operation and Handling
The Pentax smc P-DA f2.4/70mm Limited Edition is a lightweight ultra-thin prime lens. Pentax included this lens with a Pentax K10D dSLR that I just finished testing - because they didn't have the Pentax f/3.5-5.6 18-55mm kit zoom on hand. Lucky me, this is one of the nicest prime lenses I've ever used. Build quality is very good, especially in this era of polycarbonate lens mounts and plastic lens elements - this optic features a metal alloy lens barrel and optical glass lens elements. F-stop numbers and the depth of field scale are engraved - old school style - rather than (as is generally the case) painted on the lens barrel. The focus ring is well placed (and understandably a bit narrow) and manual focus (unlike most digital camera lenses) is very well damped - it's really nice to feel a little resistance when you turn the focus ring, rather than the loose and unconnected feel of most current MF rings. This optic auto-focuses very quickly (with the K10D) at the f2.4 maximum aperture your subject will pop into focus so fast that it can be startling.
I used the Pentax smc P-DA f2.4 70mm Limited Edition lens to shoot outdoor scenics at Cave Hill Cemetery. Cave Hill is filled with an almost dizzying array of trees, bushes, and plants, hundreds of time-tilted weather-worn headstones, a rustic old groundskeeper’s cottage, and folks feeding the resident ducks, geese, and swans around the shore of the small lake at the center of the this old graveyard – so there is always something to shoot.
I also shot intimate landscapes (ala Eliot Porter) in the old growth trees parallel to Beargrass Creek and runners, in-line skaters, and dog walkers on a pretty day in Cherokee Park. The ultimate test for the lens was a couple of trips to Louisville’s Extreme Park to shoot skateboarders and BMX bikers. Many of the kids at the Extreme Park are talented athletes who love showing off for the camera. Optimal framing/timing (centering a boarder or biker in the frame and stopping the action in mid air) is very difficult and with the this lens I had to move in pretty close - because a 70mm lens just doesn't give you enough reach to allow standing off at a safe distance and still getting frame filling shots. I also shot some vegetable and fruit displays under mixed fluorescent and window (daylight) lighting our local Kroger Supermarket. The little Pentax smc P-DA f2.4 70mm Limited Edition prime lens was game, no matter what I tried.
The Pentax smc P-DA f2.4 70mm Limited Edition’s colors are consistently hue accurate. Resolution is reliably tack-sharp. Contrast is balanced with impressive shadow/highlight detail. Corners are consistently almost as sharp as the center. Overall, I would rate this optic as “pro” quality and near equivalent to Nikon’s legendary f1.8/85 Nikkor.
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Digital SLR photography can easily become a very expensive hobby; it is not at all difficult to spend a couple thousand bucks on your basic walk around shooting kit. The Pentax smc P-DA f2.4 70mm Limited Edition may sound a bit expensive, but when compared to professional quality Nikkors and "L" series zooms, this diminutive Pentax lens is a bargain.
Pros: Tack sharp, relatively fast, excellent bokeh, superb color
Cons: None worthy of note
The Bottom Line: The Pentax smc P-DA f2.4 70mm Limited Edition lens is an almost perfect portrait/travel/street short telephoto lens