Conclusion

What we like What we don't
  • Truly excellent sharpness at F1.4
  • Superb build, plus weather resistance
  • Relatively quiet and smooth AF motor
  • Generally nice defocused characteristics
  • Curvilinear distortion almost non existent
  • Vignetting noticeable but very well controlled overall
  • Noticeable LoCA at wide/medium apertures
  • Heavy and bulky, even by modern 50mm F1.4 lens standards
  • Costly
  • KAF4 standard means limited compatibility with older Pentax DSLRs

For the most part, the HD PENTAX-D FA* 50mm F1.4 SDM AW lens delivers on the promise of a modern, high-quality fast standard prime for full-frame Pentax shooters. More than that, it delivers class-leading sharpness across the frame, at all apertures.

By F2.8 this lens is as sharp or sharper than anything else on the market, and that's impressive. Resolution at wide apertures is class-leading, with little to no purple fringing to detract from edge detail. Curvilinear distortion is practically absent, likewise lateral chromatic aberration, while vignetting isn’t much of an issue.

Heavy, multi-element lenses can be sluggish when it comes to focusing, but the 50mm does reasonably well here. It’s speedy enough for everyday subjects, and even in low light on a K-1 II it performs well. Its weight will make its presence felt after a day of shooting, but build quality is superb.

Two points make it less than perfect. First, there's the weight and cost. The HD Pentax-D FA* 50mm F1.4 SDM is one of a generation of heavy, expensive standard prime lenses that arguably started with the Sigma 50mm F1.4 Art. If you're interested in an F1.4 prime because you need stellar performance between F1.4-2, the compromises in handling and price may be worth it.

If you don't, and you prefer your lenses lighter and and your wallet heavier, this might not be the 50mm for you. This is not a criticism specific to the Pentax - the same could be said of all lenses of this type - the Sigma 50mm F1.4 A, Sony Planar T* FE 50mm F1.4 ZA, Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM and the new Panasonic Lumix 50mm F1.4 S Pro and - yes - the Tokina Opera 50mm F1.4, too. Just how good do you need a 50mm to be?

Good flare resistance and great sharpness, but with intense colored fringing around the plane of focus. This shot is a pretty good illustration both of the strengths of the HD Pentax-D FA* 50mm F1.4 SDM AW, and arguably its major weakness.

ISO 100 | 1/160 sec | F1.4

Second, there's the pesky issue of longitudinal chromatic aberration, which - where you see it - is pretty hard to ignore. It's not unusual to see some LoCA from fast primes wide-open, but it's disappointing to still see it from an F1.4 lens at F4, especially when it's all but absent from cheaper (albeit useless to a dedicated Pentaxian) competitors like the Sigma 50mm F1.4 Art. Green halos around a portrait subject's hair, or the branches of an out of focus tree are annoying, at best. Likewise magenta highlights around the buttons on a shirt just in front of the focus plane of a portrait, or around the railings on a slightly defocused metal fence.

Overall though, the HD Pentax-D FA* 50mm F1.4 SDM offers very good performance on the company's current flagship K-1 / II, and should hold up well on higher resolution sensors as the K1 line evolves. For many reasons - not least, let's be honest, the paucity of options for full-frame Pentax photographers - the FA* 50mm F1.4 should be on every Pentaxian's wishlist.


Scoring

HD Pentax-D FA* 50mm F1.4 SDM AW
Category: Normal Lens
Optical Quality
Build Quality
Autofocus
Ergonomics and Handling
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
Excellent build quality and superb sharpness make this lens an ideal companion for Ricoh's high-resolution DSLR bodies. In favorable conditions, the HD 50mm F1.4 also delivers beautifully smooth bokeh, but overall performance is slightly marred by longitudinal chromatic aberration. This can be distracting in some shooting situations.
Good for
Low light imaging and wide-aperture portraiture in low-contrast situations, where this lens's combination of sharpness and smooth bokeh really shines.
Not so good for
Shooting constrasty subjects at wide/medium apertures, where longitudinal chromatic aberration (colored fringing in front and behind your subject) can be distracting.
89%
Overall score

Sample Gallery

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