First impressions: 80-200mm f/4 Sears Auto Zoom (K mount)

Sears, Roebuck, and Company sold a lot of camera gear in its heyday, including lenses for popular 35mm SLRs. Several manufacturers produced lenses for Sears and it was manufacturer roulette when you bought one. But the prices were sure right compared to similar lenses from the major manufacturers, and so Sears sold a lot of lenses.

One such lens is the 80-200mm f/4 Sears Auto Zoom, which was available for the major bayonet lens mounts. The lens is marked as made in Korea; common speculation is that Samyang made it. I own two of this lens, both for the Pentax K mount; they came with K-mount SLR bodies I bought along the way. One of the lenses includes the mount pins that let the camera control the aperture, if it is equipped to do so, while the other does not. They are cosmetically the same except that strangely, the aperture-control-enabled lens is a fraction of an inch longer. I believe them to be optically identical.

This lens offers a couple of great features, led by its consistent f/4 maximum aperture across the zoom range. It also offers a 1:4 macro mode, which you select by twisting a ring next to the aperture ring. I own an 80-200mm f/4.5 SMC Pentax-M lens and it doesn’t offer macro mode! (See images from that lens here and here.)

This is a push-pull zoom. For a zoom range this large, that makes sense and it works well. The lens handles easily. It’s heavy, so mate it to a full-sized SLR body like the Pentax K1000 or, as I did, the similar Pentax KM. It would make a compact body like the Pentax ME hopelessly front heavy.

I had a roll of Fujicolor 200 in my Pentax KM with about 20 frames left. I mounted this big Sears lens (the one with the aperture-control pins) and took it on a photo walk through my neighborhood on a gray day just after autumn’s peak last year.

Autumn neighborhood scenes

Even though it was cloudy, it was bright. The sky had a tendency to blow out and leak flare onto physical objects. Also, the lens didn’t do a great job of rendering fine detail, as in the leaves on these trees. When you look at these images at maximum resolution, you notice that the leaves all run together and look blobby.

Autumn neighborhood scenes

The trees gave us a lot of red last autumn. It was remarkable. Yellow and orange are more common here. I like how in the image below there’s good separation between near and far.

Autumn neighborhood scenes

I tried to find other colors on my walk, such as this blue playground. The details are more distinct in this image, and the lens rendered them well.

Autumn neighborhood scenes

Not unexpectedly, it was a little challenging to avoid a little camera shake when I zoomed deeply. Everything about this image is a little soft thanks to shake.

Autumn neighborhood scenes

Shooting in macro mode is always fun, at least for me. The lens yielded fine bokeh.

Autumn neighborhood scenes

In this image, I was trying to capture the little logo in the middle of the blue band. That’s the logo of the town of Whitestown. Even though I live in Zionsville, neighboring Whitestown supplies water to my neighborhood. In this light, when I chose a wide aperture for good separation of foreground and background, the shutter speed I had to choose yielded a tissue-paper-thin in-focus patch. Natural human unsteadiness made the logo pass in and out of that patch. The logo is almost in focus here.

Whitestown logo on the fire hydrant

I’m not in love with this lens. It’s an okay, but not great, performer. When you nail focus, you get good sharpness. As already noted, it doesn’t always render fine details well. Color rendition is adequate. My 80-200 Pentax lens performs noticeably better. But the Pentax lens doesn’t offer macro mode, which I enjoy having on any lens.

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I seldom shoot manual-focus zooms with ranges this wide. Really, I need keep only the 80-200mm Pentax zoom, given its superiority. But Sears zooms are essentially worthless on the used market. A quick check of eBay just now reveals that these lenses sell for as little as $5, but no more than $30. My experience selling aftermarket lenses says that I could list either of these for months without finding a buyer. Brand-name lenses like my 80-200 Pentax zoom sell much faster. As of the day I’m writing this, eBay has examples for $25-80.

Autumn neighborhood scenes

I’m not sure what to do with my two 80-200mm Sears zooms. I need no more than one, and that’s only because of this lens’s macro mode. I would be perfectly happy to own zero. This isn’t a bad lens; its flaws are not fatal. But the 80-200mm Pentax zoom is so far superior that I will reach for one of these Sears lenses only when I can’t live without macro mode. That won’t be often enough to justify owning them. But these lenses are worth so little on the open market that it’s hardly worth the effort to sell them. What’s a man to do?

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29 responses to “First impressions: 80-200mm f/4 Sears Auto Zoom (K mount)”

  1. Mike Avatar

    I came across lots of these lenses when I was buying more used cameras. Usually they would be attached to the camera body I was after. Since, as you correctly noted, the lenses are basically worthless on their own. I would package up four or five of them as a lot and sell that one ebay. Usually it would bring in the $30-50 range. I would just list them and then put them in box ready to ship once they sold. Some of these lenses are okay performers, but usually pale in comparison to their name brand counterparts.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m to the point where if an off-brand lens is attached to a camera I want, I think twice and three times about buying the camera. I don’t want to have to deal with them anymore. Sometimes they’re great performers, but mostly they’re average, and duplicate a brand-name lens I already have.

  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    I’ve got a 28mm and a 50mm Sears “K” mount lenses, both came thrown in with other camera purchases. Actually both of mine seem to be Japanese, the 50mm most probably a Ricoh, and both are pretty good performers: sharp, contrasty, the 28 has a little vignetting, but only until about f/4. I would probably not buy these online, but they are great performers with no value, so not worth trying to sell them online. I’ve sort of decided to use them as “street” lenses, with a beater K1000 body I have. I tried to give one away with an old Pentax K1000 body to someone, for way less than the body was worth, doing someone a favor, and I think the deal fell through because it wasn’t a Pentax lens! Go figure, that gift horse got looked at in the mouth.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I owned a couple 50mm K-mount lenses that came on Sears SLRs. They were most assuredly Ricoh lenses. They did fine work, very nearly equivalent to the same Pentax-M lenses.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        Looking at these, that lens is certainly no slouch!

    2. Kodachromeguy Avatar

      One Ricoh Sears lens has become a cult favorite: the 55mm f/1.4 M42 thread mount lens, said to be made by Tamioca. They even made a f/1.2 version, which sells for $ hundreds.

      These may be fantastic, but usually the manufacturer brand lenses performed the best.

  3. Marc Beebe Avatar

    In general, older zoom lenses are not up to snuff compared to modern ones. It’s not surprising then that a store-brand edition would be a bit soft. I have quite a few ‘bargain’ old lenses which frankly were only good for a laugh during testing. But that’s part of the fun, isn’t it?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Zoom lenses really have gotten much better over the years. My 28-80 AF Nikkor is a terrific lens, and dirt cheap on the used market.

      You’re right, it’s fun to test old gear even if it’s not awesome, just to experience it.

  4. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    I have not tried sell an off-brand lens on eBay, but I have listed a few inexpensive photographic items on eBay that I was considering just throwing away and eventually, they sell. As they say in the car business…”there’s a butt for every seat.”

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s true, somebody out there will want these lenses someday. Question is, is it worth the hassle to list them. ¯\(ツ)/¯ My other two choices are to keep them forever and never use them again, which seems silly, or to just throw them away, which is wasteful.

  5. tbm3fan Avatar

    Oh boy did you ever hit the conundrum on the head. Like many of us I got a fair amount of these zooms on camera bodies I wanted. Whatever happened to the standard lens that came with them new is a mystery you need to solve. Must have close to a dozen of them with three Vivatar 200mm telephotos in the mix. I was just thinking on how to get rid of them as they take up space and was thinking donate them to Goodwill short of dumping in the trash.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, Goodwill. Super easy. There’s one across the street from my subdivision. It might get put on their auction site.

  6. Ed Avatar

    Post it free on Craigslist, or donate to a photography class at a school. You could even give it to a photography student.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I wonder if the local high school does film in its photography program. I’m so disconnected from that as our kids are all out of school now.

  7. Jerome Avatar

    Yeah, I have a box of old zooms, about 12 or 13 at the moment. My approach to avoiding more has been to tell sellers not to send the lens, only the camera or specific items from a lot. That has worked mostly. However, I have had sellers include items that were not in the lot I bought just to be rid of them. I might adopt this tactic and add a “bonus lens to each camera set I sell. One good thing—some of the Vivitar Series 1 stuff is pretty good.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I wish I had given away more of these kinds of lenses as bonuses when I was doing Operation Thin the Herd.

    2. Andy Umbo Avatar
      Andy Umbo

      Jerome, the Series One Vivitar stuff was considered premium, it’s day, and easily as sharp and contrast as the manufacturers brand..made with high quality metal mounts and running gear….

      1. Jerome Avatar

        Yeah, I have a Komine 70-210mm (f2.8-4.0) and a 28-90mm that I’m definitely keeping.

  8. marcusterrypeddle Avatar

    Samyang K-Mount 80-200 F3.9. Seems to be the same as yours except for the very slight difference in max aperture. The guy selling it wants 50,000 Won (PPP USD$59). He put it up for sale ten months ago and says it came with an Asai Pentax camera he bought.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yep, I think you confirmed that this lens was made by Samyang!

    2. Khürt Williams Avatar

      I think I have one of these in Minolta SR mount. It’s branded an an Albinar ADG 80-200mm f/3.9 MC macro zoom.

  9. Carol Rowland Avatar
    Carol Rowland

    The fall trees are beautiful!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      We had an unusually beautiful autumn here!

  10. Kurt Ingham Avatar

    Though the camera maker’s lenses are usually top notch, for a while some of the independents sold even better product. The original Vivitar Series One presented some remarkable optics: Solid Cats, Flat Field Zoom, the f2.3 135, etc.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh yes, there are some well-known terrific third-party lenses out there. Then there are lenses like this one.

  11. Khürt Williams Avatar

    I have a similar lens to this one with a Minolta SR mount. It’s a JC Penny Multi-Coated Optics 80-200mm f/4.5 I’m dumping it. I’m not a fan of clunky metal zoom lenses.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, me neither, really.

  12. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    I have one or two lenses like that in M42 mount, just needing a good clean but probably not worth the expense given I have a collection of very good lenses which I use regularly. The saying has always been true, you get what you pay for. To a point ;)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah. And then those lenses just take up space.

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