Review: Pentax DA* 55mm f/1.4

A few weeks back I decided to rent the Pentax DA* 50mm f/1.4 lens.  Many call this one of the best modern prime lenses offered by Pentax so I was intrigued by it.  Also, I would be covering a student robotics competition typically in low light environment and with a lot of opportunities to give this lens a try.  I ended up not using it even once at the competition but still took it out for some general work to see how it performed.  I do wish I would have spent more time photographing some people with it to see how it performed as an event lens or as a portrait lens.  Click any photos below to see larger versions.

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Pentax K-3 Silver Edition with DA* 55mm f/1.4

Some of the generals stats about the lens:

  • APS-C lens
  • f/1.4-f/22
  • 9 rounded elements in 8 groups
  • SDM Autofocus
  • SP Coating (front element)
  • Weather-sealed
  • Weight:  375g
  • Diameter x Length:  70.5 x 66mm
  • Filter size:  58mm

Initial impressions

The first thing I of course noticed about the lens when I received it was of course the build quality.  The DA* series of lenses are all weather sealed, professional grade, and built extremely well.  It looked nice on the K-3 although probably nicer on a black edition of the camera as the gold on the DA* lenses didn’t go quite as well with the silver.  The other thing I noticed immediately was how large the 55 was (compared to the FA 50mm f/1.4 for example that I used to own or the vintage manual 50mm lenses) but yet how balanced it was on the camera body.  That was until the lens hood was attached.  It still felt balanced in the hand but not when standing up as you can see from this photo where I had to prop up the front of the camera.  I guess this points to just how finely balanced the lens itself really is.

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Pentax K-3 with DA* 55mm f/1.4 and attached hood.

Real-World Shooting

The lens was great in shooting a variety of situations. It was a comfortable focal length on the K-3 (82.5mm equivalent focal length on the cropped sensor) especially if you are shooting a variety of subjects or street photography and don’t want to be right up in someone’s face.

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City of Pittsburgh. Image right out of the camera. K-3, ISO200, f/6.7, 1/1000.

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Farmer’s market. Image right out of camera. K-3, ISO400, f/1.4, 1/1500.

Bokeh

Of course one of the big reasons people are attracted to this lens is the f/1.4 constant aperture.  It is honestly one of the things that would have me tempted to buy the lens since the offerings for modern Pentax lenses with f/1.4 aperture are slim.  And the FA 50mm f/1.4 lens to me was always too soft even stopped down which is why it rarely left my camera bag (and why I ended up selling it).  But as suspected, the bokeh on this lens is DREAMY!  Check out the shots below to see what I mean.

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Bokeh and low light test. K-3, ISO1100, f/1.4, 1/30

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K-3, ISO100, f/1.4, 1/4000

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K-3, ISO100, f/1.4, 1/4000

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K-3, ISO100, f/6.7, 1/250

Sharpness

One of the most impressive things to me was the sharpness of this lens.  I am not a pixel peeper, but it appeared to be really sharp at f/1.4.  But stopped down a stop or two and this lens was crazy sharp!  These examples are not sharpened at all in post and are right out of the camera.

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K-3, ISO200, f/5.6, 1/1500

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K-3, ISO200, f/6.7, 1/500

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K-3, ISO200, f/6.7, 1/125

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K-3, ISO200, f/2.4, 1/1000

Would I buy this lens?

This is definitely a great lens and it is VERY tempting to add it to my bag.  Others would likely agree as they have rated it a 9.19 on Pentax Forums where you can read more about the lens as well as reviews from others who own the lens.  The price for a f/1.4, professional quality, prime lens is really not that bad either at $796.95 at B&H but at the time of this posting it is on sale for $699.95.  It is pretty easy to find for less on the secondary market.  The SDM focus speed is like the other DA* Pentax lenses meaning it is silent and usually pretty accurate just incredibly slow.  I mentioned the constant f/1.4, creamy bokeh, very useable focal length, build quality, weather sealing all great reasons to purchase this lens.  But for me, I have entirely too many lenses already covering this focal length to consider adding it to my bag (FA 50mm f/2.8 macro, M 50mm f/1.4, M 50mm f/2, DA* 50-135, DA* 60-250, DA* 16-50).

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