In praise of primes - which next?

Started Nov 11, 2012 | Discussions
Confused of Malvern Senior Member • Posts: 1,205
In praise of primes - which next?

I have been a Pentax SLR shooter for over 25 years and throughout most of that time have used zoom lenses.  My main walk around/travel lens is still the 18-250mm and until now I have been content to forgo some quality in return for the convenience this offers.  Recently though I have felt a yearning for better IQ and bought a DA 21mm Limited - the difference in image quality is much better than I had expected and I thoroughly enjoyed working with a fixed focal length.  I am now looking to expand my range of primes - but which to get next?

I mainly shoot travel / landscapes/ urban scenes - some examples with the 21mm from a recent trip to London, below

I have decided that I want to get:

  • Either DA 40mm Limited or DA 50mm (yes, I know it's got a plastic mount but I'm comfortable with that - IQ has been excellent in reviews.  I'm equally not concerned about the difference in max aperture, nor do I want the 40mmXS )
  • DA 70mm Limited
  • [I might add a DA15mm Limited further down the line]

In terms only of focal length, which combination is the most versatile - 21/40/70mm or 21/50/70mm?

Those of you who use primes, which lens do you find the most useful 40mm /50mm or 70mm (i.e. which one to buy first)?

National Gallery

Trafalgar Square

Fountain - Trafalgar Square

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Confused of Malvern
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gooseta Contributing Member • Posts: 707
Re: In praise of primes - which next?

I find 50 a touch too long on aps-c, with 40 you will still get the same feel without having to move back. 21/40/70 is a good combo, but i would also take a look at either 35mm, the limited has a 1:1 macro but the f2.4 is a bit faster. Both are about the  same sharpness, outstanding wide open and at f4. It's also the magical focal length, not too long or too short, rather than a 40 or 50. So in your situation 21/35/70

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Angad S. aka gooseta
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awaldram Forum Pro • Posts: 12,872
Re: In praise of primes - which next?

Well my main used primes go 40/55/400 so maybe I can't help much

Between the 40 and 50 I find the 40 a better all round lens but the 50 better for head and shoulders.

Having said that I always found my f 50 not quite right never one nor the other on aps-c hence the 55 I have now.

So of your options I'd go 40/70

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australopithecus Contributing Member • Posts: 573
Re: In praise of primes - which next? Some answers.


Your question is interesting and relevant.

I grew up with Pentax SLR's and purchased my first one in 1965.  In those far off days zoom lenses were almost unheard of and the so-called "standard" lens that came with my Pentax was a 55mm f2.0.  For some reason this focal length was regarded as the most suitable for ​all round​ photography (whatever that was supposed to mean).

Several years later I took the leap and bought a 35mm f3.5 Super-Takumar prime (the ​Super​ denoting an automatic lens i.e. one that stopped down to the correct f-stop when the shutter was released).  The 35mm was a revelation. It was tiny and I loved the wider angle of view. It became my standard lens and I kept it for many years until upgrading to K-mount Pentaxes.

Once I'd moved on to the K's I purchased 35mm f2.0 and a 24mm f2.8 A-Series lenses. Both, obviously primes, and versatile.  In time I grew to like the 24mm more, I found it extremely useful and as a professional Forester I tended to carry my Pentax about with me when working in the field (rain-forests).  I did buy a 35 ~ 70mm Pentax A-Series Zoom in later years, but never used it much.

Fast-forwarding to today :  Would you believe it, I no longer own a Pentax and am considering buying a K30 when next in the U.K. as I have a number of Pentax primes stacked in my cupboard.

To end my reminiscing and to (try to) answer your question,  I think your choice of the DA 21mm Limited was an excellent one.  If your forte is travel/landscapes and urban photography, then I doubt you could do much better.  the 21 gives you 31.5mm in 35mm equivalent, which is an extremely useful focal length.

Furthermore, primes are lighter, faster and in most cases sharper.  I currently use a Panasonic Lumix G1 which came with a 28 ~ 90mm (35mm equivalent) zoom.  A great lens but a bit too bulky for my liking so I purchased a "pancake" 20mm f1.7 Panasonic lens and find this a pleasure to use. 20mm equates to 40mm (35mm equivalent) in Micro-Four-Thirds speak. No bulk, no fiddling with a zoom ring, fast and sharp.

At times, especially with landscapes, one ​does​ need a bit of reach, so I would take a serious look at the DA 70mm Limited.  The Limiteds are beautifully built (like my legacy primes) and at 70 x 1.5 = 105mm (35mm equivalent) you'll have a very handy lens.

Hope this helps.

My trusty 24mm.  Purchased from B&H Photo in 1984 !

In closing, may I suggest that you take a close look at DP Review's test of the DA 15mm Limited, if I'm not mistaken, they weren't entirely happy with it (some softness, I think, but it's several years since I last read their report).

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J Posthuma Contributing Member • Posts: 833
Re: In praise of primes - which next?

Stricktly answering your question I would choose for de DA40, I find the 50 too long and too far of from the 21.

But I feel with Angad that the 35 would be an excelent choise as well. Specially the macro version being very versatile.

You might additionally analyse your use of focal length with your walk around lens to see which focal lengths have your preference.

Whatever you'll choose, you'll end up having lots of fun and wanting more Please share your pictures....

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richardplondon Forum Pro • Posts: 10,532
Re: In praise of primes - which next?

Like you, my first prime on Pentax digital was the DA21 - having bought my K10d initially with a DA16-45.

For my own case, the 21 + 70 has been a really nice minimalist combination especially for travelling. The 70 is better than the 21 (unsurprisingly) and sufficiently different to the 21 to really produce a separate kind of picture. However the 21 suits my personal pictorial "eye" much better and I take many more shots with that. I have since put the 35 Ltd macro in between - lovely results, still smallish in general terms but a little larger and heavier compared to the pancake trio. Field of view is rather "vanilla" and obvious, which is sometimes just what you want, sometimes exactly what you don't want. I expect the same would apply to the 40, though maybe less so; in retrospect, I should have trialled that against the 35.

Wideangle scenes can often be covered well by pano stitching the 21 - which I find well-suited to this approach. If planning more than a small percentage of very wide shots, though, that is too restrictive practically speaking. I use a Sigma 10-20 there, but it's far from discreet or pocketable. I've wondered about the DA15, but worry that its rather distinctive presentation of a scene may be a bit of a rather expensive one-trick pony. I've seen some cunning and varied use of it here, though, which does leave the subject to dominate the presentation - so it clearly is possible, assuming your visual imagination tends in that direction.

Don't discount cheap choices - I get a lot of fun and IMO nice results from a manual-focus A/28 which I've owned for 30 years. I also recently picked up a flawless M/135 for £26 which is remarkable, if very slightly more laborious to use.

I used to suggest taping a zoom lens to fix one focal length, so as to "try out" the field-of-view of a prime you are considering. But.. it's not quite the same thing, somehow, subjectively and this can be deceiving. Using a prime rather than a zoom is almost entirely about subjectivity!

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klimbkat Senior Member • Posts: 2,156
Re: In praise of primes - which next?

Only your own shooting style will tell you what focal lengths will work best for you.  Since you've primarily been using a zoom that gives you a wide range of focal lengths, consider reviewing your catologue to see where you tend to shoot the most, e.g., more 35-40 or more 50ish, to help you decide which lens best suits your needs.  They are all high quality so its hard to go wrong on that score (though, admitedly, there are subtle differences in renditions and, of course, application).  My trio is 15-43-70, in part because I like wide and in part because I love the 43's rendition (I have a 40 and a 50 which rarely get used).

Most processing programs like Lightroom have a way to sort by focal length.  I believe that there are other utilities that will survey EXIF data.

Jim Beverlin Veteran Member • Posts: 4,205
Re: In praise of primes - which next?

I would say the 21/40/70.  I have (not necessarily limiteds) the DA15, DA21, DA35 macro, SMC-A f1.4 50, FA77 (excellent), DFA100 macro. Takumar 135 M42 mt, and a Sigma 400 f5.6 tele macro.  I used a lot of zooms in my film days but the only one I use now is the SMC-A 35-105, f3.5.  When Adorama or B&H receives more stock on the K-01 I will have the 40mm that comes with this package.  The lens that I have on my K-5 the most is the DA21 and I really do not see that changing.

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Virginia Bill Contributing Member • Posts: 826
Re: In praise of primes - which next?

I agree that 21/40/70 is a more useful trio than 21/50/70. Not at all coincidentally, it's the trio of primes I use. While the 35mm is tempting, I chose the 40mm instead because I much prefer the construction quality and the aperture ring of the Limited lenses. I also agree that the 15mm Limited is an attractive lens; it will be my next purchase.

The 40mm is a lovely little lens which provides a photographic experience nicely complementing that of the 21mm. Think about using the 21 for walkabout street photography: since it's wide angle, you look for images of interesting things in interesting contexts. With the 40mm, slightly telephoto, you look for images of interesting things you can isolate from their contexts. The 50mm provides the same difference, of course, but it's a bit too long for my taste (and my street experience). And since the 40mm is a pancake, people tend to ignore it. Your mileage may vary, of course.

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jimrpdx Veteran Member • Posts: 3,459
Re: In praise of primes - which next?

My set just changed thanks to one of those SMC-A 24s but the steps are pretty much what others are suggesting. I found the Sigma 15mm fisheye for a great price which saved me the extra expense of the DA15, and the A24 now takes time away from my Rikenon 28.  From there the DAs 40 and 70 and a Promaster 100/3.5 macro take over.

So my steps are 15 - 24 - 40 - 70 - 100.

I finally let the SMC-M 135 and 200mm lenses go, as the DA55-300 is plenty good enough, has more modern coatings and is pretty compact and of course very versatile with its range.

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miles green
miles green Veteran Member • Posts: 6,286
Re: In praise of primes - which next?

My usual trio is 21 - 43 - 77, It's nice to have the same filter sizes too, 49mm.

Also have the 31 limited, 50 f/1.2, 135mm M42, and a few more on either end of the focal range spectrum.

I'd definitely choose 40 over 50. Not sure which i'd get first though. Welcome to the club!

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Miles Green
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Corfu, Greece

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bavarius6 Contributing Member • Posts: 577
Re: In praise of primes - which next?

Sounds like your decision is really between a 35 and 40 focal length.  I opted for the DA35 2.4 because that closely equates to a "standard" lens for APS-c and delivers on the IQ front at a great price. While I am sure the 40ltd is a better quality lens I've never really understood why this focal length is made by Pentax as it equates roughly to 60mm on FF.  I'm sure somebody will educate me on this!



DrewE Senior Member • Posts: 2,053
Re: In praise of primes - which next?

I'd suggest the DA40.  It was one of the very first lenses I got when I bought my K10D, and I've not been the least bit disappointed.  I find, at least for me, that the angle of view is quite handy and natural feeling; it's just a little narrower than a "normal" lens, kind of halfway between a normal and a mild telephoto.  It does seem to be something of a love-it-or-hate-it thing, though, for the field of view.

The DA40 has the advantage of being exceptionally well-behaved under most any somewhat reasonable usage or setting.  It works well enough wide open, stopped down, and in between.  It focuses reliably and rapidly if there's anything to focus on.  In short, it's a lens you can use in a point-and-shoot sort of circumstance and not have to keep any caveats in the back of your mind.  (I suspect the 50mm lens is generally similar in that regard, but I don't have any direct experience with it.)

As a rule of thumb for my lenses, I aim for—or at least have ended up with—about a 1.5x difference in focal length between lenses; that seems to be large enough to warrant having another lens, but small enough not to have too large of gaps in between.  I've ended up with 40mm, 58mm, 90mm, 125mm, and 180mm prime lenses.  Some other people try to have a factor of about 2x between lenses, which also works out OK but of course leaves bigger gaps.  It's not a wholly scientific or mathematic matter, of course; there's far more to a lens selection than just its focal length, and some intermediate ranges are more obviously useful than others.  But it's at least food for thought in planning one's bag.

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Benjamin Kanarek
Benjamin Kanarek Senior Member • Posts: 2,297
Re: In praise of primes - which next?

The 40mm Limited and 70mm Ltd are two of my favorite lenses.

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fotobert Contributing Member • Posts: 883
70 mm, what else?

and afterwards, the 40 / 35 macro, depending on what you like more


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Gerry Winterbourne Forum Pro • Posts: 13,124
Re: In praise of primes - which next? Some answers.

australopithecus wrote:

I grew up with Pentax SLR's and purchased my first one in 1965. In those far off days zoom lenses were almost unheard of and the so-called "standard" lens that came with my Pentax was a 55mm f2.0. For some reason this focal length was regarded as the most suitable for ​all round​ photography (whatever that was supposed to mean).

I think 50mm was regarded as a better FL on 135/FF, but the flange distance of 45ish mm on SLRs meant it was easier to design a 55mm lens.  When SLRs first came out 55 was a common FL but the makers gradually moved to 50.

There are various theories about why these FLs were thought best but I've never been convinced by any of them.  My guess (and it is only a guess) is that early cameras had very simple optics in bassic bodies that just had whatever FOV came out.  People got used to that FOV so when more sophisticated cameras came along that FOV seemed natural.

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Lawnmower Shooter
Lawnmower Shooter Regular Member • Posts: 124
Re: In praise of primes - which next?

Heya Malv, I am kinda in the same boat and just started a thread I hope will help me (didn't see yours till just now) so check there too and maybe they can help you. I was linked a good website with reviews on many lenses, even 3rd party glass, . They don't have all of them, but theres also  which has a few different lenses. Here's what I've basically found so far.

Your choice of FL will basically come down to how much you want to spend and how much you want to move. I am leaning towards 15/50/100, something like that. As for specific lenses, the FA43 LTD looks like it will fill my 50mm gap, although it's a little more spendy than I had hoped. The FA100 2.8 is my sure bet for my longer range portrait lens. My only question is how the 43 and the other 50s compare, as I'm hoping to find out with some help from the more experienced people.

In the end, pentax forums dot com has a lot of user reviews of every lens you can think of.

Gerry Winterbourne Forum Pro • Posts: 13,124
Re: In praise of primes - which next?

Confused of Malvern wrote:

In terms only of focal length, which combination is the most versatile - 21/40/70mm or 21/50/70mm?

The strict mathematical answer is 21/40/70 because you can crop a 40mm shot to 50mm but you can't crop a 50mm shot to 40mm.

Like several other replies I'd say that 35mm is more generally useful than either 40 or 50mm; the ideal is probably 31mm but apart from its price the FA31/1.8 is also pretty chunky.

My first prime was the FA50/1.4 which I bought without thing further than "fast fifty".  I very soon realised that on APS-C it's a short tele lens and not what I really wanted.  I was just cursing my choice when the 35/2.8 Limited came out so I bought that and it remains one of my most-used lenses.  Except in a few special cases it's the only lens that is always with me, and often it's the only lens I carry.

In a way, though, it hardly matters what you buy because with primes you soon get used to seeing scenes that fit the FL(s) you have with you.  That philosophy only works if you buy FLs that fit the sort of things you like to shoot, though.

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DougOB Regular Member • Posts: 313
Re: In praise of primes - which next?

I will agree with the majority who appear to say go for the 21/40/70.  The 50 is too far from the 21 and too close to the 70. The DA40 and DA70 are both good, well behaved lenses across the fiels of view and through a wide range of apertures.  And of course they are all very portable.

I have these lenses as well as a FA50 but it does not get much use, the DA40 does.  I also have a DA15 which gets some use, but not as much as the DA21 as the wider angle is a bit more limiting in its use.  At the other end I have a DFA100 which gets a lot of use both for its extra reach and for its macro capability.


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andy amos Contributing Member • Posts: 685
Re: In praise of primes - which next?

DA40, small, full metal jacket, focuses fast, has quick shift and image quality is as good as it gets for the price. A true gem, shame its not as cheap as it was a few years ago when it was a real bargain!

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