Owning Pentax film gear appeals deeply to my inner tightwad. Bodies and lenses usually go for less, and often for far less, than their Canon and Nikon equivalents. And the lenses are (usually) so good. As a result, I own more Pentax gear than any other kind.

So I reach for my Pentax gear most often when I have a specific shooting need, such as low light or distance or macro. So it was in Cincinnati recently. I took my 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M lens for the available light of the American Sign Museum, and my 80-200mm f/4.5 SMC Pentax-M Zoom lens for the Cincinnati Zoo.

80-200mm f/4.5 SMC Pentax-M Zoom

The tl;dr, especially for those of you poised to pooh-pooh this lens for not being a prime, is that it’s a pretty good performer. Would primes along this zoom’s range perform better? I’m sure they would. But in each shot it took me only a second to push or pull the zoom ring to the right focal length. Try that with a bag full of primes.

Cincinnati Zoo

At 5 3/4 inches from mount to tip, and a half-inch or so longer when focused to infinity, this is a lot of lens to mount to a body as compact as my Pentax ME. It’s not terribly heavy at about 20 ounces, but it made the camera front-heavy just the same. It’s solidly built of all metal (with a rubber zoom grip). The zoom ring has great heft as you push and pull it. It feels like quality. My only beef with the lens’s build quality is that the aperture ring feels thin and tinny inside as you twist it through the crisp detents.

This lens is adequately sharp. The forums say it’s a little soft wide open, but I never saw any of that. What I do know is that all the images on this roll of Fujicolor 200 ran uncharacteristically cold, and I had to warm them up in Photoshop. And a couple of my images show a wisp of purple fringing.

Cincinnati Zoo

It was a chilly but bright early-spring afternoon and many of the animals were not out. Those that were just wanted to lounge quietly in the sun.

Cincinnati Zoo

It made for easy, if not terribly interesting, photography: zoom in, frame, and click. Little animal motion to contend with.

Cincinnati Zoo

You might remember this photo from a few weeks ago, and that I couldn’t remember which camera and lens I used to shoot it. I’ve figured it out: the Pentax ME and this zoom.

Kitchen window

Yep, this zoom delivered this lovely swirly bokeh. (On expired Kodak Gold 400, no less.)

Victoria at Northgate

So this lens is a keeper. I’ll probably use it once every blue moon, but when I need it I’ll be very glad I still have it.

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21 responses to “Shooting the 80-200mm f/4.5 SMC Pentax-M Zoom lens”

  1. Heide Avatar

    You’re right that the lens is a keeper, Jim — it looks plenty sharp to me, and you’ve gotta love that swirly, buttery bokeh! I had been thinking of selling my own superzoom (because I seldom use it) but your post has convinced me to hang on to it “because when I need it I’ll be glad I have it.” I will be thanking you soon enough, I expect.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It helps a lot in this case that this lens didn’t require a large up-front investment! I forget where I got it, whether I bought it for some purpose or it came with some camera. But I know me: I didn’t pay much for it. So it’s not tempting to sell it, because I wouldn’t get much for it! A quick check of eBay shows that these can typically be had for about 20 bucks.

      1. Heide Avatar

        $20???!!! My goodness, Jim. I’ll need a moment to pick my jaw up off the floor, please. :)

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          That’s part of the beauty of Pentax film gear.

  2. dan james Avatar

    Lovely tones to these photographs Jim, they look they could be from my childhood in the 80s.

    I have the slightly smaller sibling, the Pentax-M 75-150mm f/4, which I’ve got some very decent shots with so far.

    I don’t really zoom in real time with zooms, just use them as a set of primes within one lens. With this one, the handy barrel markings make it very useful as a 75, 100 or 150mm lens. Though I bought it initially to use mostly at the 75mm end I’ve found I like using at 150mm more so far. Just an extra bit more intimate and up close than a 135mm.

    Worth having just for that large silky smooth focusing barrel, they really handle beautifully, as with all Pentax-Ms I’ve come across.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I don’t use zooms unless I think I’m going to need to zoom. I dunno, maybe I should try your trick someday. I have a 135mm SMC Pentax-M lens around here somewhere and every time I’ve used it I’ve had trouble with shake and softness. There was none of that with this zoom and I can push the zoom ring right to 135.

      1. dan james Avatar

        The way I see it, usually a zoom is cheaper than a prime and if the quality of the zoom is good enough it’s a better option, and often a fraction of the price.

        With the 75-150mm I don’t have a prime between 55 and 105mm so I see it as a potential 75 prime, right in the middle of these other two. A Takumar 85mm prime usually fetches £150-200. My zoom was £20.

        At the long end I have a bunch of 135mm lenses but not any 150mm, so again the 75-150mm fills a gap.

        In the middle also, at 100mm (the lens barrel is marked at 75, 100 and 150mm), I only have one other lens anywhere close to 100mm, the M42 Takumar 105/2.8, so it gives me another option there, and in Pentax K mount. My Tak 105/2.8 is fantastic but wasn’t cheap, around £75. Again, the zoom was £20.

        I read a while back that the zooms that cover a 2x focal length (eg 35-70mm, 40-80mm, 75-150mm) are optically much simpler in design than something like 28-80mm or 80-200mm, so they tend to give better results, as there’s less glass and a more direct route for the light to pass through. I’m sure there are exceptions but my two manual focus zooms stick to this “rule” – a Pentax-A 35-70/4 and the M 75-150/4.

        Re the M 135/3.5, I had one recently and it was ok, but probably weaker than all six M42 135s I have. I also have since picked up one of the original SMC Pentax 135/3.5 lenses (the original K mount lens range before Pentax shrunk them down for the M series) and in the little experiment I’ve done already it’s given me significantly better results.

        So on the Pentax front I’d recommend a Takumar 135/3.5 or the SMC 135/3.5 just mentioned over the M 135/3.5. Plus there are so many great M42 135s around for peanuts it’s just not worth having something only quite good in K mount. : )

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I own a Nikon 35-70, and zomg the barrel distortion at the wide end.

          I’m glad to know you aren’t enamored of the M 135/1.5.

          I’m investing in a well cared for, CLA’d Spotmatic F — it’s at the repair now. This will be the single most expensive old camera I’ve ever bought, but then I can start amassing some great M42 lenses! (I do have a Spotmatic and an ES II, but I’m betting the Spotmatic F is going to be the one I take to best.)

  3. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    Decent, affordable zoom lenses with a wide focal range, even if they weren’t exceptionally fast, is what made zooms more commonplace than fixed primes on walk about cameras. It’s rare to see a fixed focal length lens on a DSLR these days.

  4. Sam Avatar

    Great pics Jim, I love the swirly bokeh on that last shot!

  5. David Gibson Avatar
    David Gibson

    Curious if anyone knows, there are two versions of this lens with two very different optical formulas (16 elements-12 groups ver 1) vs. (12 elements-9 groups version 2), my question is, does anyone know, as I’ve not seen any article or discussion on it, which is the better lens? It seems opinions in the reviews of it vary mostly as to fringing and aberrations and I thought maybe the variance is because Pentax Reviews has lump both lenses into the same page.
    In looking at the many(and I looked at every one) on ebay the only discernible exterior difference is the second version(debut in 1982) has the serial number at the bottom(camera end) of the lens and the end of the built in hood has only horizontal lines rather than a cross hatch in version 1. The ones I found on ebay that were version 2(I presume from the exterior difference) were all serial starting with 825xxxx and I found only 3 of those vs the probably 50+ of version 1. Oh and the second version supposedly weighs about 60grams more, is 3 mm longer both extended and not, and has a closer (1.2m vs 1.6m) min. focus distance.
    Oh, and it may be just coincidence, but all three version 2’s I found on ebay were selling for twice what the version 1’s were.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Welllllll! This is news to me. Mine’s clearly a Version 1. Fascinating that the Version 2 has gotten so little press.

      1. David Gibson Avatar
        David Gibson

        It seems the version 1 was a rebranded “smc” in 1978 and the version 2 was introduced in 1982
        version 1

        version 2

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Thanks for this info! I wasn’t aware of lens-db, so thank you for putting that on my radar too.

  6. dwyattgib Avatar

    Yes, I discovered lens-db.com and have conversed with owner via text. He’s VERY adamant about the integrity of his baby. That’s why you’ll discover, you can’t right click on anything or copy, even in the comments, as he’s afraid info will get disseminated wrong and dilute the value of his research. And he does do research. I asked about an old Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 lens I have which is very good,yet info on it is sparse, I only had a year that one reviewer had said he bought his new.Well, the owner of the database researched it and found original brochures that mentioned it, on it for me. Quite incredible the info resources he has.

  7. dwyattgib Avatar

    I thought I’d add that I just bought a version 2 on ebay,hopefully in good shape. I have a version 1 already. Let you know, if you want, differences I discover.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I look forward to hearing about your results from both lenses!

  8. dwyattgib Avatar

    Got the version 2 Pentax-M 80-200mm in relatively good shape,some dust,but no haze or fungus,great deal for the $36 including shipping and tax I paid. Will take some shots with both this week of same things to compare. Those wondering which version they may have, key points of exterior physical difference on version 2 are serial number on base rather than front of barrel,focus distance scale goes to 1.2m on version 2 vs. 1.6m version 1, and lens hood has only horizontal lines at end rather than a cross hatch of vertical & horizontal. Other than those 3 things, identical look unless side by side, then version 2 is longer and has 1 more row of cross hatch on the focus rubber grip.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I look forward to hearing about your results from the lens comparison!

  9. […] 80-200mm f/4.5 SMC Pentax-M lens and it doesn’t offer macro mode! (See images from that lens here and […]

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