A funny thing happened while waiting for my K-1, aka the case for older Pentax gear.

You do not need to spend a lot for that muffler (old timey commercial reference).

I recently traded a system to pre-order a Pentax K-1 (more about that when it arrives). I held on to a compact remnant of the previous system (used to take the shot below), but I quickly realized:

  • I am not built for pre-ordering. The waiting. The awful, terrible waiting.
  • Not having a DSLR-ish camera available was going to be more of an issue than I thought it would.

I have moved beyond being self conscious about looking like bootleg paparazzi by regularly carrying a camera on a strap out in the open and much prefer this to having to scramble to get a small camera out of a smaller pocket before a photo opportunity passes (and often failing). While momentarily considering whether to rent a Pentax (my own earlier traded k-3ii at that) from the local shop I remembered my Dad’s Pentax K20D. I put Dad’s zooms aside and scored 2 vintage film era primes, a Takumar 135mm f/2.5 from KEH.com and the Pentax A 50mm f/1.7 found at the local camera shop in their huge Pentax tupperware lens bin. Both were purchased to compliment the Tamron f/2.8 zoom twins I have on hold at the same shop as my K-1 kit.

Here is the thing. This very affordable stop gap set up of an 8 year old DSLR and decades old primes has proven to be awesome. A used K20D can be had for less than $200 and each lens can be had for less than $60. My appreciation for Pentax goes back a ways. In fact if you are not put off by manual focus and enjoy vintage glass as I do Pentax DSLR bodies offer a combination of features that have no equal in the used DSLR market still.

  • In body image stabilization. Most mirrorless cameras and all non-Pentax DSLRs still do not have this feature. Not only does this mean that modern AF lenses do not need IS, but now old vintage lenses will enjoy the benefits as well.
  • In related news modern Pentax digital cameras share their mount with Pentax lenses produced since 1975. Many are ‘A’ lenses, like the 50mm I purchased, which means the aperture can be controlled by the cameras body controls. An added bonus for me is that chosen well vintage lenses offer great looking images and are typically glorious looking and feeling things themselves with their heft in hand and usually metal build.
  • Center focus point is functional on MF. I was floored when I was playing around one day with my father’s K20D and a lens off of the ME Super and it beeped when in focus. Did not expect this on a 2008 camera body.
  • Catch in focus. This. Is. Huge. This is turned on via a setting at the tail end of the customization tab on modern Pentax DSLRs, by setting focus method to AF-S, and then holding the shutter down until an object come in to focus and the camera will take the shot. It is a phenomenal feature. It is billed to be used with a fixed camera, fixed focus distance so the camera will take the shot when an object hits the focus trap. But because of the IS, or SR in Pentax speak, I have found that I can effectively hand hold the camera focus smoothly and have the camera take the shot when it confirms focus at the center point. This effectively makes for an AF set up of a sort with ELW drive instead of HSM or screw type.

The list above talks features, but an additional point I have depends on personal preference so I left it off of the bulleted list. Ergonomics. Your mileage may vary, but Pentax cameras have a feel and control layout that simply does it for me. I once explained to a friend that another admittedly great, very popular camera felt like a screen dependent electronic image capturing device that happened to be shaped like a camera, but Pentax cameras felt like real cameras adapted for the digital era and I prefer the latter. Again, your mileage may vary. And it is water and dust sealed to boot.

On to the lenses (click photos for links to galleries):

  • Compact.
  • Wonderful out of focus bits.
  • Reasonably sharp wide open.
  • Great color rendition.
  • Being an ‘A’ lens it links to the cameras aperture controls.
  • I love the look and feel of this little lens.
  • Infinity is truly infinity. If any of you have ever adapted vintage lenses to mirrorless cameras you may have experienced infinity focus often being a fuzzy mess likely owing to flange distance tolerances being slightly off, but not here. Set to infinity and landscapes and distant subjects are yours for the snapping. True native mount compatibility pays dividends here.
  • All metal and built like a tank.
  • Wonderful out of focus bits.
  • Reasonably sharp wide open.
  • Great color rendition.
  • Not an ‘A’ lens so green button stop down metering is needed if stopped down. Honestly I shoot this wide open 95% of the time so I shoot Av and let the camera meter WYSIWYG.

I will stop myself here, but by my estimation anyone looking for an affordable on ramp to photography, but has limited funds or simply has no desire to spend a fortune on gear should take a look at getting a similar set up of their own. Grab a K20D or newer and your own copy of the very compact Pentax A 50mm f/1.7 and you will have a fantastic set up for not a lot of outlay.





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