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Pentax 50-200/4-5.6 Lens Review

by Josh Root, July 2007


The Pentax SMC 50-200mm f/4-5.6 DA ED is a well-built midrange zoomlens with an attractive sticker price of $249 (August 2007).

In a typical two or three lens DSLR kit, the idea is to have a lensto cover the wide-to-mid zoom range, and a lens to cover themid-to-telephoto zoom range. The Pentax SMC 50-200mm f/4-5.6 DA EDcovers the mid-to-telephoto range very nicely. It is a lightweight,compact and user-friendly lens. The DA designation signifies that thelens is specifically designed for Pentaxs digital SLR bodies. Thesize and weight of this lens makes it a natural choice for travelphotography and it fits easily in the smallest of camera bags. Themain limiting feature of this lens for an advanced photographer is thefact that it is not a 2.8 lens. Due to the 4-5.6 maximum aperture, asunny or bright overcast day is needed to get the most out of thePentax 50-200. Photographing indoors using available light is verydifficult and photographing in a dimly lit location, such as a bar orclub, is virtually impossible at any reasonable shutter speed. That said, there is no lens in theworld that combines a large maximum aperture, high quality images,compact size, and reasonable price.

If you already know that you want this lens, why not buyone right now from amazon.com and help to support photo.net.

The Pentax 50-200s image circle covers the 23.5mm x 15.7mm APS-Csized CCD in Pentax (and Samsung) DSLR bodies and will not work properly on Pentax 35mmfilm cameras. The lens has an angle of view from 31.5 degrees to 8.1degrees which is equivalent in focal length from 76.5mm to 306mm inthe 35mm format. 75mm is a nice group portrait length and 300mm willallow you to fill the frame when shooting a single person from adistance.

One of the features that helps keep this lenss size and weight downis the aforementioned 4-5.6 maximum aperture. As stated above, thislimits its usefulness in low light situations and makes it harder toisolate the subject from the background using a shallow depth offield. The 75-300mm effective focal length makes it a good choice for photos ofkids playing sports. However, due to the slow AF speed, capturingfast-moving action is somewhat challenging. Autofocus is driven by theold Nikon-style "screwdriver blade" body motor and is slow by thestandards of any USM style lens (Canons USM or Nikons AF-S for example). If it isnt quick, it is at leastaccurate. The 4-5.6 maximum aperture does seem to sometimes cause problemsacquiring focus in low light situations.

Optics

The Pentax 50-200 is a medium complex design, with 11 elements in 10groups including ED elements (Extra-low Dispersion). There is a verysmall amount of pincussion distortion throughout the range, but it isnot noticeable in everyday use. No evidence of barrel distortion wasfound, though we did not photograph a test chart series. Sharpness isquite good for a lens of this price and zoom range. Even moreimpressive is the consistency from center to edge and from wide totele. This lens performs quite well in all regards.


Construction

While the compact size of the Pentax 50-200 encourages its use as atravel lens, it should be noted that it is not weather sealed. Careshould be taken when using it in wet or dusty environments. If youneed a weather and dust sealed lens in this focal length range, youshould look at the Pentax DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 ED IF SDM, (buy from Amazon).

The included lens hood for the Pentax 50-200 bayonets onto theexterior of the lens, leaving the 52mm filter and lens cap threadsfree. The lens hood can also be reverse-mounted on the lens forstorage. The drawback is that the hood will now be blocking access tothe manual focus and zoom ring. Pentax has included a feature on thislens they call the Quick-Shift Focus System, which is something likethe "full-time manual focus" on some Canon lenses. This is nice formaking fine adjustments or manually focusing in difficultsituations. Or at least it would be if the Pentax 50-200 had a usefulmanual focus ring. As it is, the ring is small, hard to find quicklywithout looking, and rotates during AF. Despite all of this, it has a high quality feel that isnicer to turn than the manual focus rings on many other AF lenses andit does have distance markings, which are both bonuses for MF users. Inaddition, it is nice to see that Pentax is staying dedicated to manualfocus and continuing to include MF rings on their lenses. While the ringcould have been designed better, it is nice that it is there atall.

Weight is 9.2oz (261 grams), which balances reasonably well with thePentax K10D body. A smaller Pentax DSLR body like the olderPentax *istDL, 18-55mm kit, (buy from Amazon), or thePentax K110D, (buy from Amazon), would also be a wonderful fit forthis lens. The lenss dimensions are a compact 2.6in x 3.1in.

Alternatives

Here are some other lens options to consider:

  • Pentax DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 ED IF SDM, (buy from Amazon), Pentaxs soon-to-be-releasedconstant 2.8 internal-motor lens; said to be very well built.
  • Sigma 55-200mm f/4-5.6 for Pentax and Samsung, (buy from Amazon), cheap and light, but imagequality can drop in this price range

Conclusion

Overall, this is a fine lens and would make a good addition to aPentax DSLR users camera bag. It has a large and useful focal lengthrange, while not losing much in the way of image quality in exchange. In fact, when comparing its low $240 price toits high image quality, this lens can be considered one of the best bargains in photography today. If low light photography is moreimportant than price or lens size, you might consider other lenses inthis focal range. For the average photographer, pairing this lens witha few telephoto prime lenses, aperture of 2.8 or faster, shouldovercome any low-light limitations of the Pentax 50-200.

Where to Buy

You can get this lens overnight from amazon.com.Their prices are fair and you help to support photo.net.

Specifications

Focal Length 50-200 mm
Maximum/Minimum Aperture f/4 f/22
35mm equivalent focal length (PentaxDSLR) 76.5-306 mm
Lens Construction 11 elements in 10 groups,consisting of 2 Extra-low Dispersion elements
Minimum Shooting Distance 3.6 ft(1.1 m)
Aperture Blades 6 blades
Filter Size 52 mm
Dimensions (Diameter x Length) 3.1" x 2.6" (7.8x 6.6 cm)
Weight 9 oz (255 gram)

More

  • Photo.netPentax forum
  • photo.net street photographytutorial
  • Pentax website

Examples

50mm, f/4.5, 1/180th, ISO 400. The 50-200 isnt weather sealed, but it held up just fine in this wedding rainstorm.

80mm, f/4.5, 1/125th, ISO 400. With the large telephoto zoom range ofthis lens, I was able to capture a number of different compositions ofthe subject without moving from one stationary location.

200mm, f10, 1/350, ISO 200. The 200mm (equivalent to a full frame300mm perspective) long end allowed me to photograph these childrenwatching a juggler without being noticed. Their expressions ofconfusion, neutrality, appreciation, and excitement remained natural.

50mm, f10, 1/250, ISO 200. While the AF is not blazingly fast, thelens did respond quickly enough to allow me to take some weddingimages.

160mm, f/6.7, 1/350, ISO 400. I had plenty of zoom range to photographthrough the chain-link safety fence surrounding this logging show.

50mm, f/4, 1/500, ISO 400. This guy is surprised at the 50-200squality considering that it only costs $240. Or maybe he was makingfaces at Hannahwho was photographing next to me.

88mm, f/4.5, 1/60, ISO 400. Here is a situation where a larger maximumaperture would have been preferable. It was a dim cloudy evening, andI would have like to have kept my shutter speed up slightly higher toeliminate motion blur from the child and her mothers hand ticklingher.


Text and pictures ©2007 Josh Root. All images were captured usingthe Pentax K10D, (buy from Amazon) (review), camera body.

Article created July 2007

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