Shooting the 35mm f/2 SMC Pentax-FA AL lens on my Pentax K10D

It was totally an impulse purchase, the 35mm f/2 SMC Pentax-FA AL lens I bought. I’d been toying with buying a fast prime for my Pentax K10D. Then a Black Friday email from Used Photo Pro pushed all of my buttons: the lens was already marked down and then they offered an an additional 15% off.

It is also the single most expensive bit of photo gear this cheapskate has ever purchased. Because of that, the bar is super high — I’d better absolutely love this lens.

I took this kit to Coxhall Gardens, a park in Carmel, an Indianapolis suburb. I harbored a fantasy of man rapturously bonding with machine to produce fine-art images for the ages.

Pond at Coxhall Gardens

Instead, I experienced a camera whose autoexposure frequently couldn’t find enough light to fire the shutter and a lens and autofocus system that often struggled to guess what I meant the subject to be. Even when it got the subject right, it sure hunted a lot trying to focus on it. Here, I wanted the pump to be in focus.

Coxhall Gardens

Here the K10D focused on the pine tree out in the mid-distance rather than the large tree trunk right in front of it. What the? I checked: I had multi-point autofocus on.

Wood by the street

I drove home disappointed: I just didn’t bond with this kit on this outing. But I think I need to give it another chance. I’ve only had the K10D a few months and have yet to learn its ways. I remember that it took a few months to really become one with my beloved Canon S95. I need to give the K10D time, too.

Coxhall Gardens

It is, however, telling that the camera behaved better for me on my previous two outings: the first in Chicago with a 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M manual-focus lens, and the second on my October road trip with a 28-80mm f/3.5-4.7 SMC Pentax-FA lens.

Coxhall Gardens

If after a couple more major outings with this lens I don’t start to make it sing, I’ll probably just sell it. The great thing about lenses like this is that they tend not to depreciate. This lens in particular is highly regarded and should sell with no trouble for at least what I paid for it.

Coxhall Gardens

For fun I did a bokeh test. Here’s the lens at f/2, 1/500 sec.

Coxhall Gardens

f/4, 1/160 sec.

Coxhall Gardens

f/8, 1/50 sec.

Coxhall Gardens

f/16, 1/30 sec.

Coxhall Gardens

When the lens manages to focus properly, it is plenty sharp and offers reasonable bokeh.

I think my next trial of this lens will be on one of my Pentax film bodies — this lens has a manual-focus ring and should work great. If it passes muster, I’ll know that my meh experience here was not the lens’s fault, but the photographer’s.

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10 responses to “Shooting the 35mm f/2 SMC Pentax-FA AL lens on my Pentax K10D”

  1. Joshua Fast Avatar
    Joshua Fast

    I shoot my sister in laws family pics here every year. I love what this location has to offer. I think your results were great aside from the autofocus niggles. The colors are spectacular, exactly what i expect from pentax glass. You’re making me seriously consider a K10 to use with all of my K lenses.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      A K10D can be had for under $150, so it’s not expensive (relatively) to try one and find out.

      Coxhall Gardens has some interesting features, but the park itself feels too open to me. It’s my wish for many of Carmel’s parks, actually, that they have more of a secluded feel. Indy’s Garfield Park is surrounded by neighborhood on all sides but when you’re in the park you aren’t keenly aware of that. I am always aware at Coxhall Gardens of the bordering roads and the neighborhoods beyond.

  2. dan james Avatar

    I was surprised to hear about you having AF problems Jim, so I got my K10D out with the only AF lens I have, the DA 35/2.4. In very low light (it’s 8pm on a dark winter night and there are just two lamps on) it does sometimes hunted (like a tiny twitch) for a split second, rather than focusing instantly on the subject. But I can’t recall this being an issue in decent outdoor light, and it does always focus correctly, it might just not be absolutely instantaneous. If you’re not photographing birds in flight or hyper children I can’t see it being an issue.

    But not being much of a fan of AF (in a DSLR at least) I use even the DA lens as manual focus. I had to try to remember how to set the K10D to AF – that switch on the left side of the lens! The DA doesn’t have distance markings but that’s mostly irrelevant to me, as long as the part of the scene you want is in focus. And it’s got a pretty wide a grippy focus ring, not like some AF lenses.

    Whilst I took the K10 pretty quickly, and it feels very instinctive and comfortable to use, it does take some patience I believe to get the best from it.

    I’m sure you’ll find also that some lenses just work better than others, as with film cameras, both from an ergonomic and tactile point of view, and the final image.

    I’m enjoying following your progress and adventures with it…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I kind of wonder whether I should have bought the 35/2.4 — it’s significantly less expensive than the 35/2. I didn’t even really know about the 35/2.4 when I bought my 35/2. That’s the problem with impulse purchases.

      Like I said, I think I just need more time with this body and lens. I do think my next step is to shoot the lens on my Pentax ME, though — a body I know well. The 35/2 has a rubber focus grip and should work fine on that body.

      1. dan james Avatar

        The DA 35/2.4 is a very impressive lens for the money (mine used cost about £75) but I haven’t compared it directly to a 35/2, I’ve not had one. If I wanted a DSLR outfit that was super small, light and versatile, it would be a Pentax DSLR (quite possibly my Samsung GX-1s which is a Pentax *ist DS2 clone) with the DA 35/2.4.

        It’ll be interesting to read about how you get on with the 35/2 on a film body, I know I’ve had some lenses that have been great on film and not so good digital, and vice versa.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I’ll probably get to the 35/2 on my Pentax ME in the next couple weeks. My older son wants me to teach him how to use a camera so that will be a perfect opportunity. I’m going to get out my Pentax KM and probably my 55/1.8 SMC Pentax for him — nothing like a little match-needling to teach a man exposure.

          1. dan james Avatar

            Yes, a fantastic combo to learn the basics!

  3. Sam Avatar

    Hey Jim, while I never thought of you as a “cheapskate” somehow I was surprised by this purchase! 😊 I had the same lens when I had the K10D! And all you wrote about the K10D’s exposure and focus issues…I said yep that’s the K10D alright! I had a love hate affair with that camera/lens combo. When it was “on” it gave me some great images that made me believe. But more often than not it did exactly as you wrote and let me down. I found center point AF helped but it still had issues more than I’d like. But the lens worked really well for portraits with its neutral bokeh that I liked. At its best it’s a great lens! Hope you will eventually bond with it. And Merry Christmas!!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I am at once relieved (because it’s not just me) and disappointed (because this OUGHT to work right) that this is a typical experience with this body and lens. Thanks for saying so. Perhaps this lens needs to be resold and I need to figure out another plan for a good AF prime for this body.

      1. Sam Avatar

        Hi Jim, it’s definitely not you! That’s the way that combo runs!! It just needs more love and attention. Treat it like an old film camera and it should give you great returns! Sorry for the late reply and Happy New Year! Wish you all the best as always.

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