HD Pentax DA 15mm F4 ED AL Limited Lens – Review

HD Pentax DA 15mm F4 ED AL Limited
HD Pentax DA 15mm F4 ED AL Limited
image courtesy (©) Ricoh Imaging.
I recently purchased an HD Pentax DA15mm f4 Limited “pancake” prime during the most recent “Black Friday” specials at Adorama for just under $500!  It’s been my experience that Thanksgiving Morning is when lens prices seem to reach their nadir for online sales.  This is the fourth “pancake” limited I’ve purchased to add to my “Three Amigos” set (21mm, 40mm, and 70mm compact limited primes).  The other three have been simply amazing for my photography as I now use them nearly exclusively as I walk around baglessly on solo and group shoots!  This “limited” (describes the class of lens, not limited production or availability) lens, like all the others, is all metal and glass (no plastic) and though light and compact, feels sturdy, well-built, and professional.  I had not originally planned to purchase this lens, but since I often do a lot of building and abandonment photography, I was starting to find my 21mm just wasn’t quite wide enough to capture many scenes and often I was unable to back up far enough.  Also, I guess my “lens-buying addiction” (LBA) was starting to need a new fix!  This lens is my first in the “HD” series (my other three are “SMC”-coated) as the older (and cheaper) SMC versions are no longer made and have become harder to find (I purchased my last one, the 70mm on a fire-sale just after the HD versions first came out, and the others I bought used). I was also able to get this one on a rock-bottom Black Friday sale.  Other reviews seem to conclude that there’s not much difference in the two versions other than that the SMC ones seem to produce better “starbursts” as the HD coating controls flare slightly better.  My experience has been that this HD lens produces beautiful dark blue skies!  I often use a CPL polarizer filter with my 21mm when I want darker blue skies but wouldn’t attempt using one on this one, which would result in a “gradient” effect due to the very wide angle.  Much to my surprise though is that I don’t even NEED one to get beautiful dark blue skies and color with this HD lens!

Downtown Weatherford, Texas (-0.3Ev 1/400 f8 iso100), by (© 2015) me.
Another thing that I’ve discovered with this lens is that it’s “aperture sweet-spot” seems to be around f8-f10, whereas my others seems to be f5.6-f7.2.  The difference in sharpness is very slight, even if shot wide open at f4 (which I am not hesitant use if indoors or if light is scarse).  I initially thought I would be somewhat put off by the slow f4-maximum, but I haven’t found myself really needing tight depth-of-field with the wide-angle shots this lens is designed for!  Otherwise, just either up the ISO and/or slow the shutter a stop or two and take advantage of Pentax’s excellent in-body stablization and noise-control!  This lens is practically as tack-sharp in it’s zone as my other limiteds, with the one exception that (as other reviewers have noted) it’s ever so slightly soft in the corners when you blow up your image on your big 21″ computer monitor, but only when you scale it up to full 1×1 size and pixel-peep!  In other words, it’s practically unnoticeable, unless you want to either print a huge poster or max-crop one corner of your photo.  If this is the case, I’d simply use my 21mm and step back a bit more!  The only reason I notice this is because my other “Three Amigos” are so tack-sharp throughout.  I don’t hold this against the lens, since this is one of the trade-offs to get such a wide-angle lens into such a compact size.  This lens has a standard 49mm filter thread (as do the other three limiteds I own) making current filters work on all. 

Young Co. Courthouse, by (© 2015) me.
Young Co. Courthouse (1/100″ f10 iso100), by (© 2015) me.
Now for some minor gripes.  The hood is a built-in metal “collapsable” that does not get in the way of filters (except a CPL, but I don’t advise using a CPL with such as a wide-angle, as I mentioned earlier).  The hood works well though, extends and collapses perfectly and is even lined on the inside with a thin velvet-ish black cloth, a really nice touch!  The fitting tolerances are perfect too (not tight so that it’s easy to extend and collapse, and not loose, so that it stays collapsed or extended as you set it).  My only beef is that I have to REMEMBER to extend it!  Another issue is with the cap.  The included cap is a beautiful metal SCREW-on cap that covers the hood with a lip that secures the hood collapsed, along with any filter you have attached. It is lined on the inside with the same thin velvet-ish black cloth, which I would absolutely HATE to lose somewhere!  Therefore, I use and recommend using a cheap standard 49mm snap-on cap (with the two little push-levers on opposite sides). Such a cap will not cover the protruding edges of the collapsed hood, but, like I said, the hood will STAY collapsed on it’s own while carrying!  My final, very minor complaint is that I carry my pancakes around in my pockets (along with keys, coins, etc.).  This is easy with the other lenses as the tiny metal hoods they come with (I use a second copy of my 40mm’s hood on my 70mm rather than the removable, collapsable one that came with it) protect their front elements very well in-pocket so that I am in the habit of never carrying around caps!  This lens, however MUST be capped when carrying in a pocket as the front element is rather large and near the surface of the lens and is not protected by the collapsed hood!  I debated on carrying the aforementioned cheap snap-on cap versus leaving a UV filter permanently attached for protection.  I’ve ended up going with the cap option since it leaves the lens slightly smaller in my pocket and I feel that filters slightly degrade image quality in general.  This is slightly the largest of my pancake lenses and is just barely pocketable in bluejeans, but I’ve gotten to where I still carry it often in lieu of the 21mm whilest walking about.  This has resulted in this lens really trying to “live” on my camera, which really doesn’t bother me!  While I find it easy to carry my “Three Amigos” around on foot, carrying four has proven more difficult, especially when wearing jeans.  This means often leaving my 21mm in the bag in the car and simply using the 15 instead.  If I’m really going light, I’ll start out with this one on the camera and just my 70mm in my pocket, though the 40mm, being so tiny, usually finds it’s way into my pocket as well!

Wide open (F4) - Pentax DA 15mm F4 Limited
Indoors (F4.5) (1/13″ f4.5 iso1000), by (© 2015) me.
I can not help but recommend this lens, particularly if you have the 21mm and are always finding yourself needing “just a little bit more!”  I have already had the 21mm for a long time now, but if forced to choose one between the two, I think I would go with this one, unless you’re going to be making poster prints, as the 21mm does render slightly sharper images in the periphery, is 8mm smaller end to end, and the lens itself much better at being pocketed.  In short, if you love your limiteds, as I do, you’ll will love this one too!  I don’t do much starburst kind of shots, but I do do lots of outdoor work, so for that I’d definitely recommend the HD version, particularly for this wide of an angle, as you can get polarizer-quality blue skies without one and crop slightly for a 21mm-equivalent shot.

The images below are full crops showing the center and lower right corners of the same image (original) (-0.3ev 1/320″ f11 iso100)

Full crop corner(Lower Right), by (© 2015) me.
Full crop corner(Lower Right), by (© 2015) me.
Full crop center, by (© 2015) me.
Full crop center, by (© 2015) me.

Twilight Blood Moon Eclipse, October 8, 2014

Bloodmoon Lunar Eclipse, October 8, 2014; (170mm 1″ f8 iso100 HDF, cropped)  image by (c:2014) me.
I had the opportunity to photograph another “blood moon” lunar eclipse this last week!  I was excited about the fact that it was to occur during twilight near dawn and I was looking forward to capturing it near the horizon (appearing larger) and with the dark bluish tint of a twilight sky.  I got up just before six am and went to my desired location.  I found the moon fully eclipsed but still fairly high in the sky as I set up my equipment and waited for it to descend and the sky start to lighten.  Some isolated wispy clouds then began to move in as I waited until the moon was obscured.  As I waited for these to pass, they became more numerous, so when the moon popped out into a hole, I went ahead and shot as I began to worry that the clouds were gaining the upper hand.  This happened two or three times until finally, as I feared, the clouds became a somewhat solid deck in the Western part of the sky and I was unable to get the shots I wanted.
Fortunately I did get a couple of the moon still partially eclipsed in the holes, though higher and smaller than I wanted and without the twilight sky.  I found myself using my camera’s “High Definition” (HDF) mode combined with manual underexposure in order to capture both the darkened reddish portion without blowing out the lit portion.  This shot was the best one, though I used GIMP to crop it, since the original shot was at 170mm (55-300mm kit zoom lens) to include the horizon (since my desire was to capture a shot with the moon closer to the horizon) and to slightly increase the overall brightness by slightly adjusting the input levels.
The HDF added a nice effect to the slight cloud cover and haze over and around the moon.  A second shot that came out really well had a tiny (invisible to my naked eye) power line passing through it.  Despite not being able to get the shot I wanted, I was very pleased with this one. The HDF feature takes three photos at slightly different exposures and combines them to increase the dynamic range.

How things Used to be and Ought to be made, in the USA

Antique lamp-splitter
Photo by (© 2014) me.
Now, this is how things used to be designed and built right here in the U.S.A!  This is an ancient (several decade old) split lamp-socket adapter I inherited from my grandparents.  The pull-switch went on the fritz last week and I was apt to chunk it, as I’m no longer really needing it anyway, until I noticed this screw in the center of the case!  I haven’t seen anything like that in years.

My curiosity then got the better of me, compelling me to unscrew it in an attempt to open it up to see what’s inside (and if there was any possibility of actually repairing it.  I removed the screw in the side and – nothing budged.  I then removed the butt-screw and again – nothing.  I eventually tried removing the bottom screw-in bulb part, which was, alas, bradded on.  This was accomplished by prying up the two bradded indentures, then unscrewing it from the base.  Finally, I had this thing open as shown in the photograph!  Sure enough, I was able to repair the pull-switch which had not jammed, but rather the contacts were worn down from use.  I was able to slightly bend one of the tiny contacts slightly upward, which registered positive results by my olm meter. Unfortunately it’s a four-position switch, of which two are used for ON and two for OFF, but I only succeeded in fixing one of the ON positions, resulting in it being now necessary to pull three times to go from OFF back to ON, but at least it now functions again!  I had no trouble getting it all back together. Something like this made today would be made cheaply in China, be unserviceable, and would likely never last anywhere near five-plus decades!

Crossing the Line to the Other Side!

Approaching Finish Line
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U.S. at 2014 Sochi Olympics, My View

Winter Olympics Diary: Everything's broken in Sochi, is my spirit next?
Photo by (©) Phil Noble, Reuters
story by (©) New York Daily News
Maroney, Figure Skater Ashley Wagner Is Not Impressed By the Olympics Either
“Not impressed” (Ashley Wagner)
Photo by (©) Darren Cummings,
Getty Images
Now that the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia are now officially closed, boxed up, and put back into cold storage for the next four years, I can now officially award additional medals to certain well-deserving athletes!  I ended up watching very little of NBC‘s TV coverage this time due to my life’s current level of busification and my lack of inspiration for the Winter games in general (I have a slight preference for the Summer games).  My general opinion of this particular games was best summed up by a male DJ at KISS FM Radio a few Olympics ago (I’m thinking the Lilyhammer games, but not sure, or whether it was was Kid Kraddick or not), when he sang “I hate the Winter Olympics, little bitty countries kicking America’s butt” to the Olympic theme song on the radio and we broke up laughing.  I was not particularly impressed with the overall American performance either, particularly the “lack-of-speed-skating team” and either gender’s hockey teams.  The U.S. did take the Bronze medal in “overall medaling”, but only due to all the new “X-game” events just added this year.  One thing is certain though, THIS Olympics will forever have an ASTERISK next to it!  (see image above – at the Opening Ceremonies)  That made me ROFL!  I especially appreciated the Russian’s successful effort at self-depreciating humor at the Closing ceremonies (see story by (©) WGHP Fox 8) where actors repeated the unopened “asterisk” ring in formation and then opened it up properly!  One other really cool thing to those of us old enough to remember the Cold War and Jimmy Carter’s stupid Olympic boycott, was seeing and hearing the Star-spangled Banner played in Russia! :D

US women lose hockey gold in heartbreaking fashion
Photo by (©) Mark Humphrey, AP
story by (©) Greg Beacham, Yahoo News
I actually tuned into the third quarter of the Women’s hockey game and was delighted to see them up 2-0 on the Canucks only to get me all excited and my hopes up only to watch them completely crash and burn in the final three minutes to snatch defeat from the jaws of Victory¡  I could not bare to watch the overtime and found out later that they were beaten in a five-on-three power-play.  Hey refs, WHO calls that many penalties in a SUDDEN DEATH overtime in the GOLD medal game unless it’s blatant?!  Let ‘em play, for sport’s sake!  At least the women fought hard to the end.  I did not see the men’s games, so I can’t comment on those except that I found out later that the men just completely rolled over for Finland.  C’mon guys, the Bronze is still worth playing for!  Instead you co-own the “Wooden Medal” with your female counterparts for this Olympics!  At least, you did channel 1980 and beat the Ruskies!

Olympic Alpine Skiing Giant Slalom Results 2014: Men's Medal Winners and Recap
Photo by (©) Charlie Riedel, AP
story by (©) Bleacher Report
Jordan Malone of the United States celebrates their second place finish with the flag of Texas
Photo by (©) Darron Cummings, AP
story by (©) Paul Newberry, AP
courtesy (©) Stamford Advocate
I was most impressed with Ted Ligety’s giant slalom win and Mikaela Shiffrin’s gold medal slalom performance, particularly after she came oh so close to wiping out on the second run but recovered nicely for a gold medal!  In the meantime, (my) hometown’s favorite son Jordan Malone anchored for the men’s 5000m short track speed-skating relay team which took the Silver medal!  Jordan showed off his Texas pride by skating a second victory lap with the Texas flag held high!  Way to go Jordan, the eyes of Texas are upon you!

Anyway, time for the final 2014 Winter Olympic medal awards!:

Mikaela Shiffrin
Photo (©) Russell Isabella,
USA Today Sports
Johnny Quinn
Photo (©) JohnnyQuinnUSA
Johnny Quinn forced to use his 'push training' to break down door of Sochi hotel
Photo (©) JohnnyQuinnUSA
story by (©) Mail Online
This game’s “Iron Medal” (awarded for sheer toughness, grit, determination, stick-toittiveness, overcoming difficult odds, and overall good bull) is a tie between Johnny Quinn of the United States bobsledding, and Mikaela Shiffrin (United States Alpine Team).  Johnny, for overcoming his spartan Communist era-like hotel accommodations and making it to his event after having to break down his locked-from-the-outside hotel room door and then getting stuck in an mal-functioning elevator!  Mikaela, for overcoming certain elimination by coming as close to wiping out as possible and still managing to both fully recover instantly and still finish in gold medal-winning time on the very difficult and treacherous women’s slalom course with sheer grit and determination!

This game’s “Wooden Medal” (awarded for (usually) 4th place and below (expectations) finishes due to utter underwhelming performance, lack of preparation / work-ethic, rotten luck, choking, excessive whining, embarrassment, and / or otherwise snatching defeat from the jaws of near-certain victory, etc.) goes equally to both gender versions of the U.S. Hockey Team; with the whole Men’s Long-track Speed-skating Team finishing a very close second.

Congratulations, Team USA for these and all the other medals won and to everyone for their efforts, medal winning or otherwise who gave their best to represent themselves and the United States in this year’s Olympics!


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