01 October 2010

A 200mm f/4: Sleeper Telephoto

Some time ago I had the good fortune to stumble across a used Pentax A 200mm f/4 telephoto that someone was selling on my local photography forum. This was a lens that had always intrigued me partly because it was the last manual focus 200mm from Pentax before AF lenses became the norm.  A quick ring and a short drive later to meet the seller and this manual focus classic was in my hands. Even though it was the late in the evening, the first few test shots were enough to convince me that image quality was promising. It was in excellent condition and the robust build quality didn't show it's age one bit.

Pentax made several 200mm manual focus lenses, culminating in the two versions in the A-series, the faster A* 200mm f/2.5 ED version and the regular A 200mm f/4 version that I have. Unfortunately not much gets written about this lens as it had a pretty short production run and it was certainly overshadowed by the more exotic A* 200mm f/2.5 ED, the stunning A* 200mm f/4 Macro and the A 70-210mm f/4 zoom, a popular lens with a more versatile focal range.

In use the lens performs well enough at maximum aperture though there is a hint of color fringing in tricky high contrast situations. Stopping down a little and sharpness picks up nicely. Color rendition was neutral to a little cool and there is minimal light falloff at the corners even at f/4. The lens isn't too long in size with balance and weight easily allowing shooting without a tripod. About the only thing negative is that the minimum focusing distance could have been closer and the built-in sliding lens hood is just adequate.

I took this feral dog and monkeys while spending some quiet time at Pierce Reservoir. The dog was most friendly and looked in great physical shape and was my willing test subject. Amazingly the monkeys got along fine with the dog even in close proximity. The fine detail in the fur is a good gauge of the detail this lens is capable of delivering.

This is a fine lens but in today's context it does face stiff competition against the current crop of AF lenses. Its closest rival is the DA 50-200mm (now in Weather Resistant guise) a cheap and plentiful lens that's no slouch in terms of sharpness and contrast. AF is just plain faster to use on a telephoto, and the ability to zoom with only a slight loss in maximum aperture makes the DA the more versatile option. Step up the budget and the splendid DA* 200mm f/2.8, the DA* 60-250mm f/4 and popular DA 55-300mm f/4-5.8 are other options available. But photography isn't just about what's new and this classic telephoto can definitely hold it's own and deliver fine images.

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