Shooting the 35mm f/2 SMC Pentax-FA AL on the Pentax ME

I bought this autofocus 35mm f/2 lens hoping it would make my digital Pentax K10D SLR into a useful kit. But that combo and I just didn’t bond. I thought maybe, since this lens has a usable manual-focus ring, it might be good on my Pentax film SLR bodies. So mounted it to my Pentax ME to see what it was really capable of.

Looking out

In retrospect I should have shot a film I know very well, like Fujicolor 200, for a more confident evaluation. Instead I shot Eastman Double-X 5222. I had just shot a roll of it in my Canon EOS 630 (as part of Operation Thin the Herd) and wanted to stay in that groove. It’s still enough for me to declare a verdict: this lens is pretty good, delivering great sharpness and smooth bokeh.


Just look at all the detail in the back of this little reader’s head. If you’ve read this blog for a while you might recognize it as the little reader at the James Whitcomb Riley gravesite in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.


I also brought the camera to church one Sunday and made few inside photos after service ended. I have shot this scene a couple times recently — I feel like there’s a good photograph in it, but I haven’t found it yet.

West Park CC

When I evaluate these photos on their merits, I see fine sharpness and detail. So then why do I feel so lukewarm about this lens?


It’s probably because it was the single most expensive photographic purchase I’ve ever made. I forget exactly what I paid but it was about $250. (Ok, so I’m the last of the big spenders.) For that kind of money I want this lens to absolutely sing.


And it just didn’t. I could get a manual-focus 35mm Pentax lens for my film bodies for a lot less money and be just as happy with it, I’m sure. I think that’s what I’m going to do, because I find 35mm to be such a useful focal length on a 35mm SLR body.

And with that, my Pentax K10D DSLR experiment comes to an end. I just can’t find a solid purpose for it in my gear stable. I’ll be selling it, this 35mm lens, and a 28-80mm zoom lens I bought for it, on eBay soon.

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15 responses to “Shooting the 35mm f/2 SMC Pentax-FA AL on the Pentax ME”

  1. Frank Lehnen Avatar

    Strange, I tried a K10 too and came to the same conclusion. Not good with M42 lenses, not my cup of tea image-wise….

    Too bad cause it feels really great and solid. But there are greater and more solid cameras out there, analog wise… looking at you, Spotmatic!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah! I love my Spotmatic F. It does great work.

      I do have a place in my world for the right digital camera. I hoped this was it; it is not.

      1. Dan James Avatar

        I’m disappointed that both you and Frank didn’t gel with the K10D. Maybe because I haven’t used many DSLRs I rate it really highly with little frame of reference. But maybe there are much better DSLRs out there now I just haven’t tried.

        I haven’t really had any focusing issues with the lenses I’ve used – mostly Takumars in M42 and KA series. But I wouldn’t use it often with slower lenses, the focusing does get harder then.

        You both mentioned the Spotmatic F and this remains my sole M42 film camera, and one of only two film SLRs I own now. Needless to say I rate it very highly, and I do see the lineage with the K10D, they feel like they came from the same place.

        Re the 35mm lens hunt Jim, what about a Takumar 35/3.5? Tiny body, usually luxurious Tak quality, plenty of good ones around, and probably about 20% of the cost of your 35/2. Yeh it’s not as fast, and you’d need to manually stop down, but they do give lovely results, and are a joy to use…

        1. Dan James Avatar

          Jim also check out the DA 35/2.4. I was very sceptical about a largely plastic AF lens, but the results are highly impressive. It punches well above its weight and then can I think still be bought new. My used but mint condition one cost about £70 from a camera shop online. Although AF they have a decent manual focus ring, and I mostly focus mine manually as I just don’t really like AF with an SLR. You couldn’t use it on a film body very well though as the aperture is all electronic. But for a DSLR 35mm lens it has a huge amount going for it.

        2. Jim Grey Avatar

          My wife has a Nikon D3200, the Toyota Corolla of DSLRs. It just works, no muss, no fuss. That’s what I hoped for from the K10D. Alas.

          I have a 35/something Takumar. I ought to try it on my ME with the K-M42 adapter.

          1. Dan James Avatar

            I love K mount lenses… But I love Takumars even more… The fact you can have a K mount body (film or digital) and shoot Takumars, plus Pentax K, M, A, FA and maybe more lenses is amazing!

            Are you still interested in a DSLR of some kind? Or will you hold out for the OM MFT?

            I always had the intention of having a film and digital for M42 and K lenses, and originally about four years ago bought a Pentax K-x DSLR. Really didn’t like the VF and couldn’t get beyond that so sold it and got a Sony NEX. That’s why before getting a K10D I did a lot of research about VFs!

            I like that the K10D feels like a film camera, you have to slow down and be patient with it to coax out the best results. When I want “no muss no fuss” I’d pick up a compact digital like my Nikon CoolPix.

            But I know there are later, smaller Pentax DLSRs that’ll give you the same lens compatibility but maybe simpler to set up and use, like the K3.

            As always, interested to see your journey unfold… : )

        3. Jim Grey Avatar

          If I didn’t like to shoot inside so much, I’d just use my Takumar 35/x with my adapter on my ME and move on. But that 35/2 SMC Pentax-M looks miiiiiiiiiiiiighty sweet and would give me more latitude indoors.

          I don’t know that I’m interested in a DSLR for its own sake. I really like having a pocketable but good camera and there’s no DSLR out there that does both. Even the OM-D isn’t pocketable. I might have to trade pocketable for the level of quality I want.

          1. Dan James Avatar

            Or trade absolute quality for compactness, which is what I’ve done with the Ricoh GRD III and Pentax Q. Put the pictures full size side by side with a DSLR’s and you’ll notice the difference. But for me it’s a pay off worth making for the compactness, convenience and handling.

  2. Heide Avatar

    Isn’t is satisfying when the verdict is so clear that you don’t have to agonize over your decision? Your church does look lovely, though …

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      This is the shortest camera experiment I’ve ever undertaken. It makes me sad — I really wanted to love the K10D.

      1. Heide Avatar

        I really wanted to love Dan, my forestry-major boyfriend for about two months. Alas, I just wasn’t into felling trees — and I’m only allowed to have one husband —
        so poor Dan had to go. Life is full of choices and goodbyes, isn’t it.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          You can have as many husbands as you want, as long as the other husbands and the government don’t catch you!

          1. Heide Avatar

            HAHAHAA! You have a bright future in family law, Jim. :)

  3. Roger Meade Avatar
    Roger Meade

    I completely agree that 35mm is the best, most flexible focal length for a 35mm film camera. My first decent camera in 1959 was a Kodak Signet 30, with an Ektanar 44mm lens. With no other reference, that became “normal” during my learning curve. Now I just don’t care for 50mm and certainly not 55 or 58mm for a main lens, and actually am more comfortable going the other way- 40, 38 or 35mm seem much more like a normal human perspective. Perhaps it depends on ones own vison periphery, but I tend to think it is more a matter of training. Outside of a few, and rare, “pancake” 40mm’s,(Konica and Pentax SMC come to mind), the first stop below 50mm is usually a 35mm. A few years ago these were usually pretty cheap but the prices on resale sites seem to be rising.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The more I shoot 35mm the more I love it. I shot a 35mm lens on a Nikon body all over Ireland in 2016 and it was absolutely perfect for that. It was wide enough to take in the landscape but narrow enough that I could get in close credibly if I needed to. It doesn’t suffer from the “twisty” distortion common to 28mm lenses.

      I’m watching for a 35/2 SMC Pentax-M lens. It’ll set me back a couple hundred I think but it should be worth it.

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