[Review] SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited

Started Dec 17, 2014 | User reviews
DonThomaso
DonThomaso New Member • Posts: 6
[Review] SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited
9

This review is for a mint condition 'Made in Japan' FA43 bought second-hand in Sweden, serial nr in the 0026xxx-range.

PROS

  • Rendering (transitions)
  • Compact size (great handling on Pentax DSLRs)
  • Build quality
  • Very sharp already at wide apertures
  • Autofocus speed
  • Full-frame compatible, aperture ring

CONS

  • Slight aberrations (longitudinal and lateral)
  • Showing age in some areas (no quick-shift, aberrations)
  • A bit pricey

I USE IT FOR

  • Portraits (full body, half-body, headshots)
  • Weddings (indoor, outdoor)
  • Sports (may be too short for some situations)

The first Limited I got was the DA40, and soon I started to buy them as mint second-hand samples came on the market. After a couple of years I got all the 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. The DA70 was my favorite of the DA Limiteds, working great for portraits, sharp wide open and so very small. I have read about the 'pixie dust' of the FA77, and it is also faster, full frame / film compatible (I use a ME Super sometimes), has an aperture ring and is a bit faster.

I don't like big lenses, so I use the FA77 (and the DA70) as general purpose short tele/tele lenses. The main use for me is portraits (works for both full body, half and head), events and weddings. Since I have compared it a lot to the DA70 I will use that lens for comparison in this review, and maybe it can help someone choosing which one to buy.

To go trough the basics first. The lens is VERY sharp. Like all lenses it is slightly softer wide open, but I wouldn't call it soft. It gradually builds up and I have used it mostly at F2.2 - F2.8. If you want a model in full focus F1.8 might give too shallow DoF, but that up to you what kind of look you want. With nine apertures blades it the bokeh stays nice at most apertures, so you don't need worry about stopping down with respect to that. The bokeh is very pleasing, but it certainly has a character. A few of the many 85/1.4 lenses around that I've inspected images from has a super clean and almost to perfect bokeh. I love some distinction in the halos and a bit of swirlyness One of the drawbacks of the lens is various aberrations. I think it is a combination of the age of the lens (designed for film) and the large aperture. All lenses struggle in backlit situations, but I would say that the FA77 fares a bit worse than average. Lateral CA is easy to correct in Lightroom 4, but longitudinal is more difficult. As long as you stop down a bit in these difficult situations you would fare pretty well.

Autofocus is fast, but not as fast as the DA Limiteds. I don't mind the screw-drive noise, but in these SDM-days it is worth mentioning. I have used the DA*50-135 for a while and even though it has SDM it was much slower than the Limited-lenses. Also I wouldn't think that I should miss quick-shift from my DA Limiteds, but I guess that I use it more than I thought. It can be small situations like when you are about to put the camera in the bag, you want to retract the lens (focus to infinity), and then you have to fiddle with the AF/MF-switch on the camera. Small things, but I think it is worth mentioning. Build quality is otherwise on par with the DA Limiteds, which is to say very good - tight tolerances, nice materials. The aperture ring has a very slight play though, but as does my FA31 and FA43, so I think it is supposed to be like that. The leather case of the FA Limiteds are a bit sturdier than the DA Limiteds, also the cap has a nice green felt The size of the lens is pretty amazing, having in mind that it is full-frame, fast and feature autofocus as well as a proper aperture ring. There are not many like this around for other mounts. I mean, even the Olympus 75/1.8 for micro4/3 is larger and heavier! Size and weight is perfect for the small Pentax DSLR-bodies like the K-5, well balanced and still large enough to support the lens/camera with both hands.

How does it compare to my old favorite then, the DA70? Well, it is sharper at the same apertures, but both are sufficiently sharp. Bokeh is both smoother and has more character than the DA70, but again - both are good. The FA77 has definitely more problems with abberations, you might want to be a bit cautions in some situations, where the DA70 can handle pretty much everything. The DA70 is also smaller and focuses faster, but both are fast and small compared to the competition. Now comes the big thing speaking for the FA77.. the mythical 'pixie dust'. I would say that it is mostly how the in-focus to out-of-focus transition is handled, which makes the subject almost pop out of the background. Combined with a certain character of the bokeh (and pretty lots of it being a fast lens) and good contrast at larger aperture will combined create the sought-after dust I have not yet decided on which one to keep, the DA70 or the FA77. Both has their advantages, and has any major weakness either. The FA77 is pretty expensive, but it also is pretty unique. Just don't expect perfection (super sharp and no aberrations wide open). Compact, high quality, short telephoto primes is an area where we Pentaxians are spoiled!

You can see more of my work on Facebook or Flickr

Pentax K-3, SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited. 1/125 sec at f/2.5, ISO 400

Pentax K-5, SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited. 1/160 sec at f/2.2, ISO 400

Pentax K-3, SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited. 1/200 sec at f/2.5, ISO 200

 DonThomaso's gear list:DonThomaso's gear list
Pentax K-3 II Fujifilm X-T2 Pentax smc DA 15mm F4 ED AL Limited Pentax smc FA 77mm 1.8 Limited Pentax smc FA 43mm F1.9 Limited +28 more
Pentax smc FA 77mm 1.8 Limited
Telephoto prime lens • Pentax KAF • 27980
DonThomaso's score
5.0
Average community score
4.8
Johan Josefsson Senior Member • Posts: 1,159
Re: [Review] SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited

Great review and captures!

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zakaria
zakaria Veteran Member • Posts: 5,470
Re: [Review] SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited

I like both the review and the images. Yes the fa 77 is near the perfect lens.
--
pentaxian .

 zakaria's gear list:zakaria's gear list
Pentax K-1 II Nikon D750 Fujifilm X-H1 HD Pentax DA 15mm F4 ED AL Limited HD Pentax DA 21mm F3.2 AL Limited +7 more
(unknown member) Senior Member • Posts: 2,649
Re: [Review] SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited
3

Your review is excellent. My only quibble is why do feel you must eliminate either the 77mm or the 70mm? I own both, and would never part with either. They are both too special to discard, especially if you already own them. I find the DA Limiteds to be more overtly contrasty, and this punchiness works well in low light situations requiring flash, such as a wedding reception. If one needs to travel extremely light, they would be hard to beat. The FA Limiteds have a smoother look to their photos,  more reminiscent of film, especially the 77mm. If you are going to shoot with Pentax, you simply have to have the Limiteds, both DAs & FAs. Otherwise, you are missing half the picture.

DonThomaso
OP DonThomaso New Member • Posts: 6
Re: [Review] SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited

SBS wrote:

Your review is excellent. My only quibble is why do feel you must eliminate either the 77mm or the 70mm? I own both, and would never part with either. They are both too special to discard, especially if you already own them.

You are right! I have had the DA70 the longest, initially thinking that the FA77 would replace it. But I've been using them in parallell for the last year. Like you say, for travel I always grab the DA70, mostly for portraits the FA77. But they are both excellent and compliment each other pretty well.

 DonThomaso's gear list:DonThomaso's gear list
Pentax K-3 II Fujifilm X-T2 Pentax smc DA 15mm F4 ED AL Limited Pentax smc FA 77mm 1.8 Limited Pentax smc FA 43mm F1.9 Limited +28 more
miles green
miles green Veteran Member • Posts: 7,656
Re: [Review] SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited

Excellent review, probably one of the best descriptions of the 77 lens character that i have read.

(I have the 77 as well)

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Miles Green
Pentaxian with chronic LBA
Corfu, Greece
N.B. All my images are protected by Copyright

 miles green's gear list:miles green's gear list
Pentax K-1 Pentax K-1 II Pentax smc FA 31mm F1.8 AL Limited Pentax smc FA 43mm F1.9 Limited Pentax smc FA 77mm 1.8 Limited +7 more
Gazeomon
Gazeomon Contributing Member • Posts: 552
Re: [Review] SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited

Interesting read. And I agree on most points. No other lenses will ever grace my Pentax bodies than the ltd's, except the 100mm f2.8 macro. Superb system for travelling and a lot more. It basically ended my search for photographic gear for quite some time to come. Good luck and happy shooting.

 Gazeomon's gear list:Gazeomon's gear list
Pentax K-5 IIs Pentax K-3 Samsung NX500 Leica CL HD Pentax DA 15mm F4 ED AL Limited +10 more
kitsios_spyros
kitsios_spyros Senior Member • Posts: 2,722
Re: [Review] SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited

I appreciated your review so much that I wish that you prepared another one for the 31mm! Your choise and the quality of the 3 samples you posted are also excellent. Many thanks!

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Kind Regards,
Spyros

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Ishpuini Veteran Member • Posts: 6,253
Re: [Review] SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited

Little typo on your first line (copy paste?) where you mention it's a review of a FA43 instead of a FA77...

Other than that detail, your review matches my experience with the FA77 perfectly. There's something special about this lens, IMHO even more than the other two FA limiteds. Though it is not my most used FA limited; that honour goes to the FA43...

Wim

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Antwerp, Belgium, GMT+1

 Ishpuini's gear list:Ishpuini's gear list
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Petroglyph
Petroglyph Veteran Member • Posts: 6,096
Re: [Review] SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited

Ishpuini wrote:

Little typo on your first line (copy paste?) where you mention it's a review of a FA43 instead of a FA77...

Other than that detail, your review matches my experience with the FA77 perfectly. There's something special about this lens, IMHO even more than the other two FA limiteds. Though it is not my most used FA limited; that honour goes to the FA43...

Wim

My 43 will live on after Pentax since I have adapters for E/FE, NX and Q mounts now for it.  (More adapters than cameras )

 Petroglyph's gear list:Petroglyph's gear list
Sony a7R II Samyang 20mm F1.8 Zeiss Batis 85mm F1.8 Zeiss Batis 25mm F2
DonThomaso
OP DonThomaso New Member • Posts: 6
Re: [Review] SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited

Ishpuini wrote:

Little typo on your first line (copy paste?) where you mention it's a review of a FA43 instead of a FA77... [...]

Oh, I missed that one, it is a form I use for other reviews as well It should be a mint condition 'Made in Japan' FA77 bought second-hand in Sweden, serial nr in the 0014xxx-range.

I have more reviews over at Pentaxforums, I think that I will look through them and update if necessary (some may have been written several years ago) and post here later on.

 DonThomaso's gear list:DonThomaso's gear list
Pentax K-3 II Fujifilm X-T2 Pentax smc DA 15mm F4 ED AL Limited Pentax smc FA 77mm 1.8 Limited Pentax smc FA 43mm F1.9 Limited +28 more
DougOB
DougOB Senior Member • Posts: 1,955
Re: [Review] SMC Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited

Great review.  I say that because your experience with the FA77 and DA70 matches mine but also that you expressed it much better than I would!

Doug

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