Welcome to the 2,000th post at Down the Road! 🎉

35mm is such a useful focal length on a 35mm camera. It’s just right for the kind of work I do so often: walking around photographing the environment. It lets me get big things in the frame without having to back up as far as I need to with a 50mm lens, but is not so wide it can’t do credible close work.

For some time I’ve owned a 35mm lens for my Nikon cameras, and it was the perfect choice when I toured Ireland in 2016. But I shoot my Pentax cameras a little more often than my Nikons, and so I’ve been thinking for a long time about buying a 35mm K-mount lens. I’ve finally done it: the 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A. It’s praised by the reviewers at Pentax Forums and by James Tocchio at Casual Photophile for its sharpness, handling, and build quality.


One recent Sunday afternoon I picked up my son at Purdue and we went for a drive. He brought his Pentax K1000 and I had my Pentax ME with this 35mm lens mounted. I was shooting Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 at EI 200. We stopped in Delphi, the seat of justice in Carroll County. Its downtown boasts the building at the center of this photograph: the recently restored Delphi Opera House.

Downtown Delphi

The photos above and below tell why I love the 35mm focal length for road-trip documentary photography. I got so much into the frame in the wide shot above, and to make the closer shot below I didn’t have to back up all the way into the street.

Opera House

The Wabash and Erie Canal passes through Delphi, and the town has made a lot out of it. If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time you might remember the Houck Iron Bridge, which once stood on a country road in Putnam County. It was dismantled, moved, and restored on this site over the canal in Delphi.

Gray Bridge

I can’t say I know the significance of this big old house, but here it stands on the canal. The 35mm lens captured it all with no drama.

House on the Canal

In focusing, this lens has a long travel from 1 foot to 15 feet, and then almost no travel from there to infinity. It makes the lens feel biased toward long shots. Indeed, given that my subjects this day were almost always beyond 15 feet, I barely touched the focusing ring. It made the camera almost point-and-shoot simple.


Our trip also took us through Battle Ground, where a memorial stands to the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe. We’d been here before, but eleven years prior when my sons were much smaller. It was nice to return and connect to a long ago family memory. I wished my younger son had been with us, as he was fascinated by this memorial and studied every plaque on it.

At the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe

This day I was taken by this gate and arch. The 35mm lens brought it into the frame with no drama.

At the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe

As I’m learning, context is important in documentary photography. It helps the viewer feel like they might recognize a photographed place should they ever come upon it. With the 35mm lens it was easy to bring gobs of context into this photograph, and even to use the surrounding trees to frame this little church.

At the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe

Then I was able to move in close to the church and compose this scene. I see scenes like this all the time when I have a camera in my hand, but at 50mm I usually struggle to capture what I see. At 35mm the scene fell right into the viewfinder.

At the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe

This 35mm f/2.8 lens could well be the one I just leave on my Pentax ME. It’s that versatile and useful for the kind of work I usually do.

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23 responses to “Shooting the 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A lens”

  1. Reinhold Graf Avatar

    Wonderful documentation work.
    I like that focal length (and shorter) and it’s effect on image composition.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you! My enjoyment of this focal length lacks nuance: I can get more in, and there’s none of the distortion I get at 28mm.

      1. Reinhold Graf Avatar

        True … 28mm and less can be a real challenge ;)

  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Great lens (I have the M), and a great “normal”…I don’t do much 35mm, so the 35mm lens is always considered my “normal”. I’ve only owned one 35mm lens that was better than the Pentax, and that was the 35mm Zeiss f/2.8 for the Contax system. I have to say, every Nikon 35mm I had was a “dog” (f/2.8, 2, 1.4 sheesh), which is weird, because the 28mm Nikkor f/3.5 was stunningly sharp! Go figger…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Really? I shot a 35/3.5 Nikkor all over Ireland and it performed well. I ought to do a shootout between the Nikkor and this Pentax-A and see if I can find differences in performance.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        Never had the Nikon 35mm f/3.5, so that could be the “one”, their 28mm f/3.5 was certainly sharp and contrasty, even pre-multi-coat!

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Ok, so I unintentionally lied. I just checked and it was a 35/2.8. But still, I had fine luck with it. Here are some examples: https://blog.jimgrey.net/2017/01/18/dublin-in-black-and-white/

  3. Dan James Avatar

    Jim, great to read when someone finds a combo that just works for them. I know you had that 35/2 Pentax and weren’t convinced. Sounds like the 35/2.8 here is the one!

    And congratulations on your 2000th post, that is a major achievement! Thought I was doing well with recently hitting 150!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The 35/2 was fine on the ME. And the extra stop-ish it gives over the 35/2.8 would have been welcome in some circumstances. But not so much more welcome that I wouldn’t rather have the money I’d get from selling the 35/2 — the 35/2.8 was a darn sight less expensive.

      Thanks! I didn’t realize until after this post went live this morning that it was #2000.

      1. Dan James Avatar

        Often the way with lenses, like 50/1.4s that cost two or three times a 50/1.7 or 50/1.8 that will give just as good results in 99% of occasions.

        Oh I guess WP did that automatically as a celebration – I did wonder how you’d made that little party icon appear!

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Yes. I have a 50/1.4 for my Pentaxes which I bought just so I could do portraiture in dim light. Every other time I need a 50, my 50/2 is a great choice – and I like its “look” better.

          Oh, and I added the “2000th post” thing to the top of this post. I copy/pasted the party popper emoji from https://emojipedia.org/party-popper/.

  4. Film Beginnings Avatar

    Nice post. It’s difficult for me to own and use a camera unless I have a 35mm full frame or equivalent option for it. That focal length has always worked best for me and it is also how I naturally see things. If I have a 35mm lens on the camera more than 90% of the time I walk to a spot and when I bring the camera to my eye it is framed exactly how I envisioned it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I am finding that 35mm works very well for me too and feels normal to me. I used to think 50 was normal for me but then I tried 35mm.

  5. Mike Connealy Avatar

    I have 35mm lenses for all the cameras I use with any regularity. I particularly like them on my rangefinder cameras because of the extra dof and the leeway they provide for focusing accuracy.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      What made me explore 35mm SLR lenses was cameras like my Trip 35 and other compacts that have 35-40mm lenses. They just worked so well on road trips.

  6. seatacphoto1951 Avatar

    I have the Nikon 35mm F2D lens. I have tried the35mm focal length several times but when I do I am very confused when shooting. I can shoot 28mm and 50mm with no problems. I will take out the lens again and put some Tmax P3200 through it just to see what I can do with it. No promises I will be successful. If at first you do not succeed, try, try…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I think lens focal length preferences are so personal. I know someone for whom 85mm just feels right for them. I’m not sure that would ever feel right to me!

  7. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    I have not shot a 35 on any of my SLRs, but I do use my 35 Summicron on my Leica all of the time and absolutely adore it! Just returned from a weekend of street photography in San Francisco and used the 35 exclusively.

    Nice photos here and delicious color!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I picked up the 35/2.8 for my Nikons pretty inexpensively. Might be worth picking one up and taking it for a spin!

  8. Heide Avatar

    2000 posts?! Wow, Jim — congratulations! And congratulations also on this particular post, which is a worthy addition to the “Down the Road” classics. Lovely images all, but that very last one is my favorite because of its simplicity and timelessness.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you! I love the subtle shadows cast across that last shot.

  9. Khürt Williams Avatar

    Thank you for writing this Jim. I wanted to start using my Pentax P3 (the kit I bought in college) for street photograph but it does not have aperture-priority auto-exposure. So I want to upgrade to the Pentax P3n which does. I was hoping to find a “normal” (between 40-43mm) prime lens for the KA mount. But I don’t don’t know what Pentax lenses will work. The SMC Pentax-A 35mm F2.8 seems to be my only option. But I think it’s too wide and the SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2 I own isn’t wide enough.

    I don’t understand the Pentax convention. Is a Pentax-A lens a K-mount lens? What about DA and KAF lens? I’m so confused.


    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Pretty much any Pentax lens that isn’t screw mount is K mount. The SMC Pentax and SMC Pentax-M are the oldest, the SMC Pentax-A are next, and then I lose track of the SMC Pentax- as they figured out program autoexposure and autofocus.

      There is a 40mm Pentax pancake lens, but it’s rare and expensive.

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