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Pentax SMC-FA 28-200/3.8-5.6

by Steve Graham, 1998


Pentax sell a 28-200 lens under their own brand name, but it's a Tamron Super underneath it all. It's supposed to have real Pentax electronics and lens coating, but I've seen nothing to confirm (or deny) this so far. A lot has been written in the Q&A section about this type of lens, so I though it about time for an objective review.

Build

This shell of this lens is of a plastic construction, and it's quite light despite the extensive zoom range it covers. A flimsy but effective bayonet mounting hood is included, and unlike other Pentax lenses it's possible to put on and take off the lens cap while the hood is fitted - a very useful feature. The lens does look like the Tamron it really is, with the Pentax name seeming purely cosmetic. Large 72mm filters are required - I use the Cokin P system with the appropriate adaptor ring.

Optical

A 14 group, 16 element design, with a wide 28-200 range, this is most definitely a compromise lens. Bearing that in mind the performance is certainly acceptable. Stopping down to F8 or F11 is advisable where possible, but the results wide open aren't too bad. There is some distortion at the wide end, and the long end is a touch soft - there are also slight signs of image falloff in the corners throughout the zoom range. For everything except flare resistance this lens seems the equal of my FA 28-80 F3.5-4.7 and FA100-300 F4.5-5.6 - for flare it's the worst lens I've ever used, so be careful shooting into the light and use that hood at all times. Close focusing ability is amazing for a lens of this type, but the payoff does seem to be significant focal length changes when focussing. I recently shot a roll of Kodak E100SW using this lens and a couple of the best Pentax primes (the FA* 24mm F2 and 85mm F1.4). The 28-200 shots are OK, but the prime results are a lot sharper and show better colour rendition - as one would expect.

Handling

This is a two touch design with a large zoom ring and smaller (but still useable) manual focus ring. The viewfinder image is rather dim, due to the small maximum aperture, so manual focusing isn't advisable. Auto focus performace is quite good on the MZ5 and Z1p, and the internal focusing and non revolving front element are useful bonuses. AF performance in dim lighting conditions does leave a lot to be desired however - perhaps inevitable with a lens this slow.

The lens does lengthen considerably towards the long end of it's range, but is quite compact at it's shortest length. Once slight problem is that the lens slips towards the long end whenever it's pointed steeply down. This only happens to me when I'm carrying it on a neck strap, and fortunately hasn't happened while shooting.

Compatibility

Results with this lens (mostly used on a MZ5 in Program mode with Matrix metering) have been very good in terms of exposure, so no compatability problems are evident. One thing that people have complained about is using the wider settings with the built in flashes (RTF) of various Pentax cameras. This isn't restricted to just this lens, but it a function of it's size - my 28-70 F2.8 has the same problem. Removing the hood helps quite a lot.

Price

I paid around 2000 Hong Kong Dollars (approximately 250USD) for this lens (in 1998), which is a bit less than the 299USD that the photo.net recommended retailers were quoting.

Conclusion

A good compromise lens, capable of acceptable results with substantial cost and weight savings over the traditional combination of 28-70 and 70-200 lenses. As a flexible lens for use on family days out this would be an excellent choice. A replacement for F2.8 zooms and primes it isn't though.

This image shows the vignetting that the lens is prone to when used wide open.
Pentax MZ5, Pentax SMC-FA28-200 @ 200mm and F5.6, Fuji Provia 100, handheld.
Ride detail at Ocean Park, Hong Kong.

Portraits are not a particularily challenging subject for a lens.
Pentax MZ5, Pentax SMC-FA 28-200 @ 135mm wide open, Fuji Provia 100, handheld.
This is my daughters German friend Nicole, taken at a family outing.
Note: The highlights have been lost in the scan, which was done using an old Microtek E3.


copyright 1998 Steve Graham

The picture at the top of this review is of a female Orang-Utang taken in a nature reserve in Malaysian Borneo. It was shot using a Pentax Z1p, SMC-FA 28-200 lens at the long end on Fuji Provia 1600 with a burst of fill flash. As I was being a tourist no tripod was used.

Article created 1998

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