Pentax DA 70mm f/2.4 Ultra Compact Limited (“Pancake”) Lens – Review

Candid shot in downtown Bowie, Texas
Candid shot in downtown Bowie, Texas (1/1250″ f2.4 iso100), by (© 2014) me.
My Christmas gift to myself this year was an SMC Pentax DA70mm f2.4 “pancake” prime.  This is the third and final “pancake” of the three-piece set that I’ve purchased over the last two years.  I have never regretted purchasing the other two since they are simply two amazingly well-crafted works of sheer glass and metal art!  The images I get with them are simply amazing and completely blow away what I can get with my kit zooms.  They are also compact enough to carry in my pockets.  I often now travel “bag-less” on many shoots with only these two lenses – one on the camera and one in my pocket along with a polarizer and a spare battery (If I do bring the bag, it stays in the car).  I had been somewhat hesitant to add this one after swallowing hard and coughing up the dough for each of the other two – used, since the focal length seemed to me to be the least useful of the three (the other two are 21 and 40mm).  I had begun to feel the urge for having the longer focal length one and had started watching prices for used ones on Amazon, since Pentax had recently announced that they were replacing all the “pancake” lenses with identical new “HD” ones with some new-fangled coating.  This meant that the current “SMC” ones were being discontinued and could probably be had for a discount.  The final straw that led me to finally go for it was when, on a simple lark, I decided to check the Black Friday sales on B&H Photo‘s website and, gasp, saw a NEW one for LESS than $400 and LESS than any of the used ones I’d been following on Amazon.  Without hesitating I snapped one up Friday morning!  Sure enough, I just checked again a few hours later and they were GONE – Sold Out!  Anyway, mine arrived a few days later, opened it up and checked that everything was in order and, according to family tradition, it had to go under the Christmas tree until December 25!  (Click on an image to view larger)
Jupiter Coffee House, Denton, Texas
Jupiter Coffee House, Denton (-1.7ev 1/1250″ f7.1 iso100), by (© 2014) me.
Since Christmas, I’ve had time now to get it out and put it to work!  One thing I will have to say about this lens is that it’s the tack-sharpest lens in my bag now, even slightly beating out my 40mm – wow!  That is saying a lot since both my 21 and 40 are very sharp and produce outstanding images.  There’s also almost no purple-fringing.  The only way to see any at all is to shoot a high-contrast scene and then fully crop it down and display it on my 21 inch computer monitor!

I originally suspected that I might not be using this lens nearly as much as my 21 and 40 and now, having been out on some shoots with all three of them, actual experience is bearing this out.  The 70mm is somewhat long for most walk-around shooting like I do, but it does come in handy in certain situations!  One in particular is candid street shots and indoor portraits.  I found it worked great for chest-up portraits of people nearby but far enough away to not always notice you are taking their picture!  The f2.4 aperture permits very sharp flash-less candids at parties and in clubs, even with high ISOs in low lighting.  The lens comes with a cool little retractable metal lens hood and metal front cap, both inner-lined with black felt for a really pro look and feel!  The hood screws on either in place of or in front of a 49mm filter. The cap pushes on over the hood and the felt makes it fit snugly enough to stay on, but not onto the lens unhooded.  The hood also contains no threads for mounting filters on the front.  If you want to cap the lens unhooded, you will need to acquire a standard 49mm snap-on or screw-on cap.  With the hood on, you most likely won’t need the cap, since it seems to protect the lens pretty well and since it’s a special cap, you’ll probably want to keep it home in a safe place anyway.  The lens has a nice old-schoolish focal length and DOF scale etched and painted onto it.  Like the other Pentax Limiteds, it’s all metal and glass, no plastic and, though light-weight, still feels and functions very solid and well-made.  Also, like the others it comes with a cool little black fake-leather pouch with close-able draw-string.

Cooke Co. Courthouse, Gainesville, Texas
Cooke Co. Courthouse, Gainesville, Texas – fully cropped (1/320″ f7.1 iso100), by (© 2014) me.
Now for the drawbacks.  First of all, I’ve grown to somewhat despise the little metal hood this lens comes with (though I love the tiny and unique metal hoods that came with the 21 and 40).  It looks cool and does a good job, but adds 17mm of physical length to the lens (when compressed) and a full 26mm (extended) to a “pancake” lens that (hoodless) is 41.5mm long.  This makes it difficult to pocket this lens in jeans, though not so much when I’m in my cargo shorts or wearing a coat.  The little pull-out extender seems really cool in theory, but in practice I always find myself forgetting to extend it.  I refuse to carry the lens around without the hood since the large front element is otherwise very exposed and would easily scratch up in a pocket.  I thought about a simple UV filter to protect it, but that, combined with no hood, I feel would likely degrade image quality.  Anyway, I believe I’ve found the answer for my hood / size issues – I’m purchasing a second copy of the beautiful little metal hood that came with my 40mm.  I tried it out on the 70 and there was no vignetting and it does appear to protect the glass very well and only adds 7mm to the lens size, and is nice and well rounded for smoothly fitting into a pocket! I ordered a plain knockoff one online for $13 less change on Amazon and am now awaiting it’s arrival.  With this hood, it will be essentially the same length and as well-protected as my 21mm.
Denton Co. Courthouse
Denton Co. Courthouse (-3.3ev 1/25″ f2.8 iso500), by (© 2014) me.
Candid shot literally taken from my hip!
Candid shot literally taken from my hip! (1/50″ f2.8 iso25600), by (© 2014) me.

I have no regrets purchasing this lens, especially at the $399 fire-sale price I paid for it new and, though it probably won’t live on my camera, it will likely join the other one in my pocket on most, if not all shoots going forward! When I want a really tack-sharp image, especially in less than generous light, and can step back a bit, this lens will definitely be on my camera in situations where I would’ve used my 40 and cropped in the past.  The extra half-stop (f2.4 vs the 40’s f2.8) is a plus as well, often providing a better tight DOF alternative to my 50mm f1.4 due to it’s much-superior image quality, with a slightly further reach too.  It nicely fills the gap between my 40mm and my other long prime, a 90mm macro (which usually remains in my bag in the car due to it’s size).  You can also view my Pentax DA 40mm Review.

Sunset in Downtown
Sunset in Downtown (-1.3ev 1/2000″ f7.1 iso100), by (© 2014) me.
downtown Bowie, Texas
(-0.3ev 1/25″f2.8 iso500), by (© 2014) me.
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  1. […] 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 […]

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