Shooting the 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M lens

I found a deep appreciation of a 35mm lens on a 35mm film camera after shooting one all over Ireland last fall. The wider field of view over my usual 50mm lenses was just so darned useful. Yet I could still move in close without wildly distorting my subjects.

So I wondered if 28mm would be even better. Spoiler alert: worse.

Because at 28mm, it’s super hard to avoid what I like to call “The Twist,” a kind of distortion you get when you shoot something long, straight, and flat. Like this:


Photoshop can correct all sorts of problems but I haven’t been able to get it to correct that one. If you know how, do let me know in the comments. Of course, there’s always the good advice: don’t shoot scenes like that. Which I heeded through the rest of this roll of Kodak Tri-X, scanned myself on my Epson V300. I shot these with my Pentax KM, which I totally need to shoot more often because it is a jewel.

I drove over to Second Presbyterian and stood in my usual spot to shoot this stately church. At 50mm, I can’t get it all in. At 28mm it looks a little lost in the frame. 35mm might have let it fill the frame better. Or maybe I should have just walked closer.

Second Presbyterian

Which I did for this dramatic shot. Finally I started to find this lens’s mojo.

Second Presbyterian

I drove a mile or so south to the Meridian Street bridge over the White River and found this graffiti under one of the arches. I’ll share more shots from that bridge visit in an upcoming post. If you think the highlights are blown out here, you should have seen them before I gave them a good Photoshopping.

Meridian St. Bridge

I visited common photographic haunts with this lens, including nearby Juan Solomon Park. I couldn’t have gotten this shot at 50mm, and maybe not even at 35mm.

At Juan Solomon Park

I also drove over to 56th and Illinois to get this shot I’ve shot before. Sometimes it’s just comforting to revisit covered photographic ground. Every lens, camera, and film can see a scene in a new way.

56th and Illinois

I’ve also started taking morning walks through my neighborhood. My stupid left foot is still not fully healed going on three years after surgery and I’m gaining weight from inactivity (and probably age). I’m tired of favoring that foor and I just need to get mobile again, so I’m walking through the pain. Anyway, we finally had a skiff of snow in this unusually warm winter, and I photographed some tire tracks in the street.

Light snowfall

I’ve shot this lens before and didn’t love it, and this roll of film didn’t help. I think it’s because its inherent distortion limits what I can do with it. It’s acceptably sharp, and (on color film) it renders color well enough. Faint praise, I know, but I managed to squeeze out a few good shots with it on this roll of film. There are some scenes for which this lens is a smashing fit, it turns out. And for that reason alone I’ll hang onto it.

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26 responses to “Shooting the 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M lens”

  1. pedrol Avatar

    I really like the last photo, in the beach :) PedroL

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks! Dirty little secret: it’s snow!

      1. pedrol Avatar

        Really?? Ahah sorry, on my mobile it looked sand :) it’s kind of absract photo though :) keep on :) regards!! PedroL

  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Love the 28mm, and they’re dirt cheap at KEH. The 35mm is my “normal”, and then I usually go for the 24mm, but your article here is making me rethink!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      After shooting 35mm in Ireland, I can see why it’s a charming normal lens. I’m not sad to own this 28mm, but its inherent distortion limits its usefulness.

  3. J Avatar

    My Olympus XA4 has a 28mm but I am irritated by the weird distortions too. Rather than try to correct them in Photoshop, I guess I should just try to accept the distinctive look.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I don’t know how you even would correct this distortion! So yeah, acceptance appears to be the way.

  4. dan james Avatar

    I’ve also struggled with this focal length Jim. I’ve had the Pentax-M, a Minolta MD and a very impressive Yashica ML, all 28/2.8.

    Most of the time it just feels too wide, but not extreme enough as if shooting a 24mm or something like the amazing 22mm Superheadz (Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim clone). so it kind of falls between two stools.

    I think like you say it’s just a case of practising more and getting more familiar. If we used nothing but that focal length for three months, no doubt we’d come to appreciate its strengths more!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I think you’ve put your finger right on it: if I shot this lens for three months solid I’d probably find its charms.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        One of the reasons I do the 35mm/24mm thing, is that 35mm is wide without distortion, and 24mm is very wide and adds distortion when you are looking for it. Problem is, the camera companies tried to talk the “prosumer” into one wide angle, and one tele as additional purchases. They sold so many 28mm’s (’cause it wasn’t too wide or too short), that they were able to price them really cheap. Not unusual to find an excellent condition Pentax 28 M for 79 bucks! The 35mm’s run about 190!

        But, yeah, the 28 can be “not wide enough”, and “too wide and distorted”. Lot’s of street shooters using it, tho!

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I’ve noticed that price difference too. I’d love to have a 35 for my Pentaxes but jeez, they’re pricey. I got a 35 for my Nikons and it wasn’t too bad. Nikon must have achieved good economy of scale on their 35s.

  5. […] via Shooting the 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M lens — Down the Road […]

  6. Bill Bussell Avatar
    Bill Bussell

    As always, your pictures and observations are enjoyable. Amazed you can get a great scan from an Epson 300. I quickly learned that a 35mm-focal-length lens was needed for 95% of everyday daily newspaper photo work. I used Pentax H3V models, but I quickly obtained an F2 35mm Takumar. There was a Canon staff guy, but most had Nikons with a 35mm lens as standard. That lens was especially suited for the Bourbon beat. Cheers

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Bill! My Epson 300 is minimally adequate. I get better scans when I pay the processor to do them, but then they have good Noritsu equipment. But I’m trying to save a buck these days and so I’m pressing the 300 into service. I wish it did medium format, but alas, it handles only 35mm.

      After shooting that 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor around Ireland last fall I can see why that focal length makes sense for newspaper work. It’s wide enough to get in a broad scene, but narrow enough to do acceptable work from five feet away. I love it that you shot Pentax in your newspaper days! I have a Pentax H3 and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed using it. I liked it better than my Spotmatic.

  7. Mike Avatar

    I think your distortion issues are typical of what architectural photographers routinely face. They are a combination of dealing with perception and expectations more than they are of optical properties. I see two corrections you might make which would bring the image closer to what might seem correct.
    If you look at the little rectangular section of the building on the right you can see that there is a considerable counter-clockwise tilt indicating that the entire image needs to be rotated about four degrees in the clockwise make the horizon level.
    The other issue is apparent vertical distortion which is not a function of lens aberration, bur rather of having the film plane tilted back so that the verticals in your image seem to converge toward the top of the image. That kind of apparent distortion can be avoided at the time you make the picture by keeping the camera and its film plane vertical. That is not always practical in reality, but you can also make small perspective corrections in Photoshop using the crop tool with the “perspective” box checked on. Then, you draw your crop frame and pull in the top left and right corners slightly toward the center. When you accept the crop, the verticals will be realigned to the same degree as the vertical crop lines. One has to be judicious with such corrective perspective adjustments because fully correcting the verticals in a shot such as yours will produce another sense of distortion in the opposite direction.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Mike, thank you for the useful advice. I’ll find a moment to play with this image in Photoshop as you suggest to see if I can reduce or eliminate “the twist.”

      When framing this photo, I had to choose between a horizontal horizon or a vertical left edge. You can see which I chose.

  8. Joshua Fast Avatar

    28mm is a love it or hate it focal length. When i use one as a walkaround lens, I find my ratio of keepers drops significantly.

    35mm and 50mm are too close to carry together. 35mm is my preferred, but when i do carry a 50mm that 28mm becomes a useful companion.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, I don’t see 28mm as a good walkaround focal length. 35mm is fabulous, however. But I can see that 28mm has its uses — you just have to know what they are, and have that lens ready at those times.

  9. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    I tend to go in the other direction; I love my 85mm lenses. And, with reference to one of your recent posts, I’ve been spending a lot of time really getting to know my arsenal of 50s.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m curious to test-drive 85mm and see how I like it. I would probably really enjoy it for close work, and it would probably be fine for distant work, but I wonder if I’d find myself frustrated by how much I have to back up to get medium-distance stuff in frame.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        I was “sold” on the Nikon 105mm early in my career, they were really pushing that lens (especially in their advertising), and it was a cherry. Lot’s of pros using it as their “go-to” portrait lens. I did very little 35mm work for money, it was all larger format; but somewhere in there I figured out that I was using the Hasselblad lens all the time that was the equivalent of an 85mm. When I started using the Nikon 85mm, it was great! Made more sense as the next jump up from 50mm, and it was the “shortest” telephoto to really trust for portraits. In Pentax, tho, they are hard to find! You can find (and buy) 3 nice condition 100mm’s, for every 85mm you can find. Last one I saw in decent shape was 400 bucks!

  10. Mediocre Model Builder Avatar

    Those are some great photo’s Jim. And some very interesting comments -they make me think I don’t examine my photo’s hard enough!
    My 28mm pretty much lives on the front of my F-1, it’s my go to lens when I’m out with my family.
    I haven’t noticed any issues with it but then A. I don’t shoot buildings and B. as I said I don’t look for them…

    …might have to the next time I process a roll – Thanks Jim :-D

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Sometimes I wish I didn’t look for issues! I’ve got an OCD streak and things lining up really matters to me!

      1. Mediocre Model Builder Avatar

        lol – Yeah I can understand that – Thankfully I’m less OCD and a lot more slapdash!

  11. calebkeeth Avatar

    Hey Jim,
    Wanted to ask what camera you use most, and which camera you would recommend. Do you like Canon? I have a Rebel XS. Also, what are some essential lenses?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I use my Pentax ME most, with one of my 50mm lenses on it. What camera I’d recommend and what lenses are essential depend on what you want to use the camera for and your personal preferences. It’s a giant topic!

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