Photography

Shooting the 80-200mm f/4.5 SMC Pentax-M Zoom lens

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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10 thoughts on “Shooting the 80-200mm f/4.5 SMC Pentax-M Zoom lens

  1. Heide says:

    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.

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    • 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.

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  2. 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.

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    • 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.

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      • 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. : )

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        • 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.)

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  3. 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.

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