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