Conclusion - Pros
- Excellent image quality when stopped down to F2 and smaller
- Very low lateral chromatic aberration
- Almost no rectilinear distortion
Conclusion - Cons
- Very soft wide open
- Extremely 'busy' rendition of out-of-focus backgrounds at wider apertures (larger than F2.8)
- Bokeh chromatic aberration, most visible at wide apertures (F1.4-F2.8)
If you've already read our reviews of either the Canon EF 50mm F1.4 USM or the Nikon AF-Nikkor 50mm F1.4D, then our findings for the Pentax equivalent won't come as much of a surprise. Clearly the conclusions are a little abbreviated in comparison, as Pentax currently only offer APS-C format DSLRs, but the lens's properties are extremely similar. This simply reflects the quality and maturity of the 7 element 6 group, all-spherical 50mm F1.4 general design; the three lenses show individual strengths and weaknesses, but overall are more similar than they are different.
The standout characteristic of the Pentax is arguably its extremely low distortion, which is the lowest of the 50mm F1.4s we've tested. And when the aperture is stopped down to F2.2 or smaller, it's impressively sharp corner-to-corner, right across the APS-C frame. It's important to understand here that the 50mm F1.4 is much sharper than typical consumer zooms; even at F2.8 it surpasses both the DA 16-45mm 1:4 ED AL and the DA 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6 AL shot at 45mm and their optimum apertures around F8.
However this excellent showing when stopped down does come at the cost of an unconvincing performance at large apertures; the lens is very soft indeed at F1.4, and while we described the Canon 50mm F1.4 as 'dreamy', the Pentax renders scenes more as though you're looking through a fine veil of mist. This is accompanied by a distinctly problematic rendition of out-of-focus backgrounds, to which it imparts a jarringly hard-edged appearance and substantial levels of green/magenta chromatic aberration. This in turn slightly limits the lens's usefulness for shallow depth of field portrait use, an application for which the (much more expensive) Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM is rather better suited. Indeed it will be interesting to see how Pentax have chosen to design the recently-announced DA* 55mm F1.4 SDM, which is described as being particularly suitable for portraiture.
So in summary, this is a lens that you buy for its stellar performance when stopped down a bit, and for the fact that it can be opened up to F1.4 when necessary rather than the imagery it creates when it gets there. This makes it an excellent complement to zooms, offering additional capabilities for when light levels drop or shallow depth of field is desired. It may no longer quite be state-of-the-art as far as fast primes are concerned, but still it offers a lot of value for a relatively low price.
Rating (out of 10)
|Ergonomics & handling||8.0|
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Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution. To provide the fairest impression of the lens itself, images are shot in RAW and converted using Adobe Camera Raw at default settings (to bypass the test cameras' automatic JPEG chromatic aberration correction). A reduced size image (within 1024 x 1024 bounds) is provided to be more easily viewed in your browser. As always the original untouched image is available by clicking on this reduced image.
Pentax smc P-FA 50mm 1:1.4 Review samples