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Pentax Telephoto Lens Comparison: DA* 200 vs. DA* 300

by Justin Serpico, August 2009 (updated February 2011)


This article compares two long awaited Pentax DA* telephotos for Pentax digital SLR cameras, the Pentax DA* 200mm and the Pentax DA* 300mm. The two DA* lenses use Pentax new SDM lens based focusing motors, which are reasonably fast and superbly quiet. Along with the quietness, this new focus mechanism features the ability to reverse focus direction faster than a traditional camera driven slot drive lens. A further advantage is the full time manual focus override without the need to turn off focus switches on either the camera or the lens. This makes manual focus touch up a breeze. The lenses also have a manual focus lockout switch which can be used for full time manual focus. Of interesting note is the fact that both Pentax telephotos are actually digitally optimized versions of the original FA film lenses. Bear in mind though that this optimization may prevent them from being used to their full potential on a film or full frame DSLR. Also, in line with recent history, the lenses lack an aperture control on the lens, thus both lenses require that you use the body controls to control aperture. This would preclude many old film bodies from using these lenses even if they are adequate optically on film bodies.

Where to Buy

Photo.net’s partners have the two Pentax telephoto lenses available. Their prices are fair and you help to support photo.net.

The DA* 200mm and DA* 300mm primes are not your consumer grade plastic lenses with sloppy builds and loose parts. Built to very high standards, both feature internal focusing and weather sealing allowing them to be used in the rain, snow, or sand without much regard to the well being of either lens. With no zoom and internal focus, there is only the large outer zoom ring that moves during manual focus only. Both feature well designed hoods with rubber tips, a feature I wish all lens hoods came with. The rubber tips on the hoods prove incredibly useful anytime you have to shoot against glass (the zoo, aquarium, hockey, etc). It also reduces impact when your lens hits something while dangling, or you set it down in the bag with the hood attached. The final intelligent design of the hood is the now traditional Pentax filter window, which allows for a polarizing filter to be used while the lens hood is attached.

I noted the full time manual override of the DA* SDM lenses, but one thing I found difficult was the manual focusing ease. The very short focus throw takes some getting used to, and over correction can be an issue at first. I think some of this is psychological, consider that easily turning a 77mm front element 300mm f/4 with your pinky not being something you would expect off the bat.

While the DA* 200mm f/2.8 is quite compact compared to a zoom of the same aperture and maximum focal length, it’s still not light by any means. It weights in at 825g (29.1 oz) and is 13.4cm long (5.9in) without the hood. The DA* 300mm f/4 weighs in at 1,070g (37.7 oz) and is 18.4cm (7.2in) long without the hood. With the attached hoods both lenses are an additional 4-5 inches longer.

Disappointingly, the DA* 200 continues a trend of Pentax omitting tripod collars from many of it’s lenses. The DA* 200mm, like the DA* 50-135, is devoid of a tripod collar despite both lenses being hefty enough to warrant one. On the flip side, Pentax put a well designed and removable tripod collar on the DA* 300mm. The collar balances the camera well on a tripod, has detent stops, and can easily be removed.

Both lenses have a respectable minimum focus distance of 1.2m and 1.4m. With a 1.4m close focus, the DA* 300mm is one of the closest focusing 300mm primes on the market, in comparison, the Nikon and Canon 300mm f/4 focus at almost 1.5m. The 1.2m close focus of the DA* 200mm compares especially well against the 200mm Canon equivalent with a close focus of 1.5m. These distances yields a magnification ratio of 1/5x and 1/4x respectively.

Focus speed of both lenses were tested on a Pentax K20D (review), body, but I should note that the DA* 300mm f/4 was intermittently having focus trouble. My first day using it I noticed it was very slow to auto focus, I then noticed I had the MF switch flipped, I assumed once this was unflipped it would work as well as the other DA* telephotos I have used. However, this was not the case. The AF continued intermittently not working, and was fairly slow at times. The DA* 200mm on the other hand was smooth, absolutely quiet, fast, and the focus seems spot on when tested on static subjects. On moving subjects the DA* 200mm didn’t seem to have any trouble keeping up despite the limitations of the dual SDM/slot drive focus system, which no doubt slows down these backwards compatible SDM lenses. As Pentax moves away from the dual focus lenses, I would expect focus speed to improve.

Image Quality

Note: Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions of the lens test shots.

The DA* 200mm and 300mm both feature 9 blade apertures, which are preferred by many for smooth bokeh. The bokeh of both lenses is quite good wide open, and possibly slightly better when stopped down by a stop.

Center Sharp Test

I found the DA* 300mm to be slightly soft at f/4. However, the image was sharp enough to be usable. On the flip side the DA* 200mm was very sharp in the center at f/2.8 and outstanding corner to corner at f/4 and beyond. Both lenses were very good stopped down.

Series of crops of the full scene to test center sharpness with the DA* 200mm f/2.8



Series of crops of the full scene to test center sharpness with the DA* 300mm f/4



As usual for Pentax, both lenses did a good job with flare, no doubt in part due to Pentax excellent SMC coatings that help reduce reflections.

Vignetting + Fringe Test

Vignetting on a DSLR was negligible with both lenses wide open, and with digital processing can be completely eliminated.

In real world shooting I didn’t find fringing to be an issue, although wide open as is typical with most lenses on digital sensors, there is some visible fringing in extreme high contrast situations. With digital processing in programs such as Lightroom or Photoshop, this can easily be removed with as little as 1 mouse click.

Conclusion

When you consider the price of these lenses vs. build and image quality it is hard to really find fault with either. Both lenses performed extremely well in real world shooting, without any conspicuous flaws, and would be a nice compliment to any camera bag.

The only real negative I found was the slightly sub par performance of the DA* 300mm at f/4. Considering the DA* 300mm is only an f/4 lens, losing the f/4 aperture isn’t really something I would think bodes well for this lens. However, the performance was not poor enough to consider the 300mm f/4 unusable wide open, and at times I found it to be pleasingly sharp at f/4.

The lack of tack sharpness of the DA* 300mm only becomes truly evident when you consider the DA* 200mm is a not only a full stop faster but also sharper wide open. The DA* 200mm is no doubt an exceptional lens, and I wonder if the DA* 200mm with a 1.4X TC would actually match the DA* 300mm wide open? Personally, for the size and weight of both lenses, I’d probably look more into the route of DA* 200mm with the upcoming Pentax SDM TC, or go with the Tamron MC4 TC, which supports SDM focuing. The Tamron, however, would to some degree reduce the DA* weather sealing advantage.

Alternatives

As discussed in the conclusion, the logical alternative to the DA* 300mm is the exceptional DA* 200mm f/2.8 with a 1.4X TC. Alternatively, the Sigma 100-300 f/4 is another lens with high praise and more versatility while being equally fast. The downside is it is bigger, and lacks sealing. As for the DA* 200mm, there really is no better or equal alternative to this outstanding and relatively compact f/2.8 prime. There are several 70-200mm f/2.8 zooms on the market from Tamron and Sigma, which would offer more flexibility, but at a greater physical size, and without the advantages of sealing.

Where to Buy

Photo.net’s partners have the two Pentax telephoto lenses available. Their prices are fair and you help to support photo.net.

More


Text ©2009 Justin Serpico.

Article revised February 2011.

Readers' Comments


Add a comment



Douglas Barrow , September 02, 2009; 09:32 P.M.

Excellent review and comparison Justin. Thanks for taking the time. I've have heard nothing but raves about the DA*200mm ever since it came out. Definitely worth considering. Kind of disappointed in what you came up with for the DA*300mm though. I would have thought that lens would match or exceed the performance of the 200 and the DA*50-135mm too. I wonder if perhaps you got a bad one?

Bryan Woodward , September 03, 2009; 12:35 A.M.

Great, timely review, thanks for this! Love my 50-135mm 2.8 DA* to death, but starting to itch for more reach into the 300mm realm. I think I'll either consider the TC route, or just hold off for now, since for how I photograph, 200mm is not too dissimilar from 135mm.

Justin Serpico , September 05, 2009; 01:05 A.M.

Thanks for the comments.

I do wonder if I got a bad 300mm, but if that lens is a "bad" 300mm than a good one would have to be truly exceptional. The only real disappointment to me was that for an f/4 it wasn't tack sharp at f/4, although it was sharp enough. I do believe it is a little short of my Nikkor 300mm f/4 which IMO, is on par with the Pentax DA* 200mm across the board.

Tord S Eriksson , July 21, 2011; 08:30 P.M.

Ineresting that other sites on the net comes to the conclusion that the DA200 is much worse than the DA300, as the former is sharper at the edges than in the middle, when stepped down a bit.

Again, the 50-135 seems hard to beat ;-)!

 


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