Tick Tick Tick Tick Zoom?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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6 thoughts on “Tick Tick Tick Tick Zoom?

  1. I have a 19mm Vivitar which is surprisingly good and a 20mm af nikkor which is surprisingly bad, so soft in the corners. My favourite lens though has to be the 24mm 2.8 Zuiko, it’s so sharp and has good contrast.

  2. I’ve never gone wider than 28mm, not with a 35mm SLR lens anyway. Perhaps one of these zooms is the way to try it, as I expect they will be relatively inexpensive.

    One thing I wish about zooms is that they would “click” into place as you twist through the various focal lengths. Then I could do it by feel. I prefer to zoom to exactly one of the standard/marked focal lengths.

    1. Yeh I know what you mean about the clicking, me too Jim! I stick to the set focal lengths marked on the barrel and check every few shots that it hasn’t crept in or out. I’d genuinely find it unsettling if I thought I was shooting at say 35mm and it was 32 or 37 on the barrel!

      I guess for the majority they don’t care about specific focal lengths, they just want to zoom in or out until the composition fits.

      I have had a few film compact zooms where the focal length was either marked on the barrel as it extends out, or in the LCD, so again you could stick to a certain focal length if/when you wanted. The very competent Pentax 70 zooms I think are all like this.

      I can’t recall which it was (but I think it was a Konica), but one zoom compact I had just one zoom button. Each time you pressed it, it went to the next focal length. I think it had 28, 35, 50 and 70mm. There wasn’t the usual Wide and Tele rocker switch, just the one button. So with each press it went to the next – 28, 35, 50, 70, then back down again – 50, 35, 28, 35, 50, 70 and so on. For some I’m sure this would seem super clunky but I really liked it!

      1. My Canon S95 has a wheel around the lens that clicks. I have it set to zoom to 28, 35, 50, 85, and 105mm. It totally rocks. No guessing.

      2. That’s a great feature on your little Canon! I expect it’s one of those things that most cameras don’t have, because the average consumer and casual photographer doesn’t really care what focal length they’re at as long as they get their shot. They can just point, zoom and shoot oblivious of focal length, aperture shutter speed etc.

        Like you said before it would be interesting to have a subtle click on zoom lenses at the common focal lengths, but I guess again the majority of people will potentially want to slide from one extreme of the zoom to the other quite frequently, so this would interrupt that smoothness and speed.

  3. Hey Dan,
    As usual great shots and a great read. My first thought is why buy a new lens with the expense. Just get a set of K-mount macro rings. Though be sure to get a set with metal non anodised bayonet other wise metering won’t work on newer Pentax…from PKA onwards. But then every lens you have focuses close, you may only use the 10mm ring…so what! I would also recommend the Pentax-A 70-210 f4 which means my Pentax-M 80-200 f4.5 which is nice and lighter too has to go.
    You don’t seem use anything that long, you seem to appreciate the wild and nature, you’re missing out on a whole world of creatures too scared to let us get close.
    I still haven’t had the 20mm cosina or the 24mm I mentioned previously back yet. I have a tokina 17mm that’s nice, though soft at the edges till stopped down. And a fun zenith 16mm fish eye. If you can get a cosina 19-35mm designed to cover full frame, its all plastic cheap but if you want a play on loan with it get in touch we can sort something. Avoid an all metal 18-28 that’s out there under various names…it’s horrid.

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