After very promising results recently with an SMC Pentax-A 35-105mm, the next step in my explorations of zoom lenses was to try something that would embrace the wider end.
It was time try the lens I got this with the 35-105mm, a 24-50mm, also Pentax-A series.
Now I’ve realised (duh!) that I can use a zoom as a set of primes, use one focal length at a time and ignore all the others, they’ve become vastly more appealing. At least a select few have.
The aforementioned SMC Pentax-A 35-105/3.5 appears to offer a wonderful range of primes – 35, 50, 80 and 105mm if you stick to the focal lengths marked on the barrel (which I do).
On paper this lens offers everything I need, bar maybe a 120 and/or 135mm prime at the tele end plus a 24 and/or 28mm at the wide.
Turns out it’s not just promising on paper but actually a bit special in practice too.
So let’s say this lens WAS the only one I needed between 35 and 105mm. What about that wider end? I have my Super-Takumar 28mm f/3.5 – pretty special in its own right too. But nothing wider.
Enter the 35-105’s little sibling, the SMC Pentax-A 24-50mm.
Following its barrel markings, it offers 24, 28 and 35mm, as well as 40 and 50mm.
At 35 and 50mm it duplicates focal lengths of the 35-105 (and my surprisingly impressive 35-70mm f/4, also a Pentax-A zoom), and though the 24-50mm is significantly smaller and lighter, its close focus of 0.4m across all focal lengths puts it way behind the 35-105’s intimacy potential up close and personal at 35 and 50mm.
So my consideration of the 24-50 is almost exclusively as a twinset of 24 and 28mm primes.
With that in mind I took it for a spin at 24mm.
In short, it’s pleasant enough to use, pretty compact for a zoom, but still with a wide enough focus ring to be very comfortable. The focusing is pretty smooth too.
The all metal aperture ring has a good feel, very similar to the M series lenses, and better than many A series with their reliance on plastic.
In practice I use A series lenses on their A setting, then have the camera on Manual (M) mode, adjusting both the aperture and shutter speed via the dial wheel(s), but the build of the aperture ring is reassuring nonetheless.
Overall the lens performed well enough.
It’s sharp is enough for my needs, and the colours are similar to my other A series – natural yet quite vibrant (more so than my Takumars), and the combination with the CCD sensors of my Pentax DLSRs gives results I really like with minimal post processing.
But I have two main issues.
First, the close focus of 0.4m, whilst respectable at 50mm, and just about passable at 35mm, is just nowhere near close enough for me at 28mm or 24mm. A bit of a let down in all honesty, compared with the 35-105’s excellent “macro” shift focus action that works across the entire zoom range.
As I mentioned, this feature alone would make me reach for the 35-105 for a 35 or 50mm lens over the 24-50mm every time, again making it in practical use just a 24 or 28mm lens.
The second issue is not really the lens’s fault but more just my unfamiliarity with 24mm. And this is a major reason I bought it – to get more familiar with 28 and especially 24mm.
I struggled not so much with finding compositions that suited 24mm, but the focusing, and the (deep) depth of field (DOF).
Even at my usual starting point of f/5.6, there’s a fairly extensive DOF (and remember the lens only goes down to 0.4m – obviously at half this distance the DOF would be significantly more shallow) so I didn’t have my usual comfort blanket/ crutch/ excuse for not intelligently making every single element in the frame work together and blurring it out with shallow DOF.
With the 24mm field of view I wanted to get really close. But the lens wouldn’t let me.
At least not unless maybe I used a tiny aperture and relied on the DOF at this aperture to bring everything in focus. Which I didn’t want to do.
In a way this is all good, and challenging for me as a photographer. It was just different to get used to.
In time once I am more used to 24mm I’ve no doubt it will have a positive effect on me using longer focal lengths too, and being less reliant on wide apertures to magically disappear backgrounds.
So to sum up, the lens mostly ticked the boxes I wanted it to – providing an affordable option at a 24mm focal length, to allow me to experience and start to embrace that focal length for wider, more distant scenes at least.
The fact is, it’s unlikely to be used at 35 and 50mm (maybe I’ll dabble at 40mm a little) and maybe not even at 28mm (that Super-Tak 28/3.5 is arguably the loveliest and most balanced handling Tak I’ve ever had).
Which makes it essentially a 24mm prime in a more chunky package that only focuses down to 0.4m. Hmmm.
So whilst it does give me a taste of 24mm, the prime alternatives I might consider are the 24/3.5 Takumar which goes down to 0.25m, and a DA 21mm which focus as close as 0.2m. A whole other world of intimacy compared with 0.4m.
I’ve also got decent enough results a couple of years ago with a Sigma Super Wide II 24/2.8, which are far more affordable than either of the Pentax options mention above and also focus close.
I’m all for embracing the versatility of zooms, but with this one I’m still undecided.
A zoom that offers four focal lengths, but I’ll only realistically use for one of them, 24mm, doesn’t seem such good value.
It deserves another couple of outings, but my hopes of it being as big a surprise as my other two A series zooms are somewhat dashed.
Which 24mm (or wider) lenses have you tried, whether as a prime, or within a zoom?
Let us know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.