[Review] SMC Pentax-FA 43mm F1.9 Limited

Started Feb 12, 2015 | User reviews thread
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DonThomaso
DonThomaso New Member • Posts: 6
[Review] SMC Pentax-FA 43mm F1.9 Limited
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This review is for a mint condition 'Made in Japan' FA43 bought second-hand in Sweden, serial nr in the 0026xxx-range. Initial review based on experiences with the K-5 mk1, now updated after 6 months use with the K-3.

PROS

  • Rendering (transitions)
  • Very compact size (great handling on Pentax bodies)
  • Build quality
  • Autofocus speed
  • Full-frame compatible, aperture ring
  • Unique focal length (true normal on FF)

CONS

  • Soft corners at wide apertures (not a big deal for portraits)
  • Bokeh 'halos' (shared with the DA40)
  • Slight aberrations (longitudinal and lateral)
  • Showing age in some areas (no quick-shift, aberrations)
  • Autofocus inconsistency on some bodies

I USE IT FOR

  • Portraits (full body, half-body, headshots)
  • Weddings (indoor, outdoor)
  • General photography

The first Limited I got was the DA40, and soon I started buying them as mint second-hand samples came on the market. After a couple of years I got all the five DA Limiteds and I was pretty well covered (I don't shoot much longer telephoto). There was something mythical about the FA Limiteds though, so after a while I started to look for them as well. I got the FA43 and FA77 at about the same time, then finally the FA31. I always felt that the FA43 was the 'daddy' of the DA40

I have to admit that the focal length of around 40mm initially felt a bit weird, but I’ve been focusing more and more on portrait and I have come to like it more and more. I find between the FA43 and FA77 I have the optimal focal lengths for portrait. Both will work for full body to headshots, where the FA77 is on the long side for small spaces, the FA43 is around my limit for how short I will go for a general portrait.

The FA43 is a very small and fast focusing lens, and it is impressive with full frame coverage, autofocus and pretty fast aperture in such a small package. However it is a bit too long for a general purpose lens, and it is too short to be considered a real telephoto. My favourite lens is the FA77 and I usually pick up the FA43 when there are not enough room to use the FA77, like shooting portraits/people indoors. It will also make a great companion for a two-lens-package with say a DA15 or DA21 for travel.

Image quality is generally very good, but it has a few oddities. First of all, the rendering is very nice. It is also sharp in center at all apertures, but needs to be stopped down for the corners to be sharp, in fact much more so than pretty much all modern (and most vintage) lenses I've used. At f/2.8 and wider the corners are still very soft, almost appearing as they where OOF. For portraits this is not a very big deal though, on the contrary some might argue. Like the DA40 the FA43 does show some pretty weird halos when the OOF background contains bright spots of light (think "christmas light" bokeh shots). The center has a bright center and the outline is very distinct. Normally I like a lens with character, but sometimes this can be a bit distracting.

Autofocus is fast, slightly behind the DA Limiteds. I think that the focus throw of the FA Limiteds is a bit of trade off between short-throw autofocus performance and long throw manual focus. Since the mass of glass is very low the AF still is fast and nothing to worry about. Quick-shift would have been nice though, I miss it more than I thought I would.

On the K-5 mk1 I had problem nailing focus consistently. I had calibrated it properly, but it very often it front or back focused, being affected by backlight, color temperature etc. This has to do with the lens/body-combo, but I have read that many others have the same kind of problems. I used the DA40 more than the FA43 on the K-5 since I didn’t trust the AF. When I got the K-3 things changed however! The focusing system in the K-3 gets along very well with the FA43 and it is now very consistent performer and I feel confident using it at wide apertures, like it is supposed to be. On the K-01 with contrast detection AF it of course shows no problems with front- or back focusing. A proper aperture ring is always a good thing in my book. You can use it on old film and with adapters on newer bodies. It feels like a premium product with the metal build, tight tolerances and heavy weight (for its size). The green felt in the cap is a nice touch!

The FA43 did replace my F50/1.7 and when my focusing issues was resolved with the K-3 I haven’t resorted to the DA40 any more, so I’ll probably let it go soon. The 50/1.7 was soft at f/1.7, but from f/2 it is as sharp as the FA43. The premium build, small package and rendering of the FA43 is what makes it special in my opinion, with some of that pixie-dust and odd focal length in the mix. But the F50/1.7 didn't show that weird halo and it costs a quarter of the FA43... I hope that the FA43 lives on in an updated “D-FA 43” with quick-shift, modern coatings and optimized for digital bodies, and dare I wish for WR?.

You can see more of my work on Facebook or Flickr

Pentax K-3, SMC Pentax-FA 43mm F1.9 Limited. 1/500 sec at f/2.5, ISO 100

Pentax K-3, SMC Pentax-FA 43mm F1.9 Limited. 1/100 sec at f/2.2, ISO 1600

Pentax K-3, SMC Pentax-FA 43mm F1.9 Limited. 1/800 sec at f/2.2, ISO 100

 DonThomaso's gear list:DonThomaso's gear list
Pentax Optio I-10 Pentax K10D Pentax K-01 Olympus OM-D E-M5 Pentax K-3 II +24 more
Pentax smc FA 43mm F1.9 Limited
Prime lens • Pentax KAF • 20180
DonThomaso's score
4.5
Average community score
4.6
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