Film Photography

35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A

The 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A is one of my favorite workhorse lenses.

I have any number of terrific 50mm lenses for the three SLR systems I use (Pentax, Nikon, and Olympus). For my Pentax SLRs in particular, my 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens is superb. But when I’m on the street photographing the built environment, as I’m wont to do, 50mm is often too constraining. I usually have to stand in the street to put my subject fully in the frame. Sometimes the building behind me blocks me from backing up enough.

This looks like a job for a wide-angle lens!

First I tried the 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M lens that came with one of the old SLRs I bought along the way. It’s optically very good, and it let me fill the frame with my subject in most cases. But the exaggerated perspective inherent in any wide-angle lens was sometimes too much, making my subjects look strange, even grotesque.

I bought this 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A to see if it would ease the perspective exaggeration while still fitting enough in the frame. The SMC Pentax-M version of this lens would have been a good choice, too — it is optically identical. None my Pentax bodies support the program and shutter-priority modes that the A lenses enable anyway. I just happened to find this SMC Pentax-A version first at a price I was willing to pay.

With six elements in six groups, this lens is wonderfully sharp and free from distortion. It’s also incredibly compact — almost, but not quite, a pancake lens. Paired with a small SLR body like my Pentax ME, this lens makes a light and easy-to-handle kit.

Not long ago I extolled the virtues of a compact short zoom for built-environment photography. I stand by those words! Unfortunately, Pentax never made such a lens. Their most compact short zoom was the 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A, but it’s nowhere near as small or light as similar offerings of the day from Nikon or Canon. I own one but use it only occasionally.

The reasons I use this lens put me in daylight most of the time, so its f/2.8 maximum aperture is fine. For those who need extra aperture margin, Pentax also made a 35mm f/2 lens in the SMC Pentax-A and -M series. It’s a less compact than this 35mm f/2.8, but there’s always a tradeoff, isn’t there?

These images show this lens’s good optical qualities. I applied some perspective correction on the first image to correct keystoning created when I pointed the camera up a little to fit the brutalist building in the frame. Otherwise, my post-processing was limited to color and contrast adjustments.

Minton-Capehart Federal Building, Indianapolis
Pentax ME, Agfa Agfaphoto APX 100 expired 7/1998
On St. Clair St.
Pentax ME, Agfa Agfaphoto APX 100 expired 7/1998
House on the Canal
Pentax ME, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 at EI 200
Federal Courthouse
Pentax ME, Film Washi S

I love it that I can move in reasonably close to details with this lens and if I get any perspective distortion, it’s minimal. A 28mm lens yields results up close that remind me of a funhouse mirror.

Oh my gourd
Pentax KM, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400
2022-08-07-0027 proc
Pentax ME SE, Kosmo Foto Agent Shadow, HC-110 Dilution B/i
Perrin Historic District, Lafayette, IN
Pentax ME, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 at EI 200

It’s easy to create a little drama with wider apertures. This 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A lens is no exception.

Second Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis
Pentax ME SE, Kosmo Foto Agent Shadow, HC-0110 Dilution B
Perrin Historic District, Lafayette, IN
Pentax ME, Fujicolor 200 at EI 100
Bridge on State Road 225
Pentax ME, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 (at EI 200)
Underpass
Pentax ME SE, Kosmo Foto Agent Shadow, HC-0110 Dilution B

This lens delivers a smooth blurred background when aperture and shutter speed are right. I’ve never pushed it to the limit to see if I get little hexagons or circles in the background light, but when I want to do that I’m reaching for a nifty fifty anyway.

Lanyards
Pentax KM, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400
At the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe
Pentax ME, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 at EI 200

I’ve used this lens for casual portraits, too. When I mean to make portraits I reach for my long lenses. But when this 35mm lens is on the camera and I want to make a portrait, it works well enough.

Damion
Pentax ME, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 at EI 200

These are the reasons why the 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A lens is my choice when I’m doing my usual documentary work with one of my Pentax SLR bodies. It lets me travel light while always delivering terrific results.

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8 thoughts on “35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    Love the 35mm lens…I have the 35mm f2.8 M, and in screw mount, the 35mm f 3.5, an exceptional lens! To your point, even professionally, the 28 mm has always been a “meh” lens for me. Too “distorty” for some subjects, not wide enough for others…35 is perfect…

  2. I have the slower Super Takumar M42 35mm/f3.5 as well. It’s a beauty of a lens that I got for next to nothing. Those are some great shots Jim! How are you getting on with the Washi S? I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but your shot with it looks great to my eyes!

    • I shot only one roll of the Washi S and I thought it was interesting. I remember shooting it in broad daylight and then reading it’s better in diffuse light. I don’t know that I’ll buy it again as I’m working on settling in on the stocks I use all the time. But if I do I’ll look for a cloudy day.

      • I know that I use it incorrectly as I go for the really high contrast look most of the time, but I haven’t had good luck using Washi S in low or subdued light conditions. But hopefully you’d have better results under those conditions.

  3. I have the thorium yellow version. :D Not only good for 35mm, but a near ‘normal’ lens on APS-C. I like it on the K100 for imitating 1960s colour film shots.

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