Camera and Lens Build Quality

Today I was at a local camera shop (Camera Craft) as my kit is lacking in the telephoto lens department. I’ll be going on a trip soon where I don’t want to bring my DA* 300mm as it is too big. I plan on bringing the DA 14mm f2.8, FA 31mm f1.8, and the lens I just bought today which is the DA 50-200mm f4-5.6 WR. I’ll get to the point of my posting later, but before then I’ll go over why I bought this lens even though I consider myself primarily a prime lens shooter.

As with most people, I started out in DSLR photography by buying the camera body and kit lens together. I had the first edition of the DA 18-55mm, which was a pretty lack luster lens overall. From there I moved on to a Tamron 75-300mm, Sigma 28-80mm macro, a Sigma 24-60mm f2.8, and then finally my first prime lens (FA 50mm f1.4). While the FA 50mm f1.4 didn’t change my viewpoint on what tools I prefer, it did start my move to primes as it has nice sharpness, good bokeh, and is conveniently sized. From that point onward I’ve bought mostly prime lenses as they tend to best fit how I do things. I eventually got rid of most of my zoom lenses excluding the Sigma 24-60mm f2.8 and the Pentax 10-17mm Fisheye.

So as I was saying, I bought the Pentax 50-200mm f4-5.6 WR lens today. My main reasoning was that it has a good focal range to fit my needs on the trip, yet still be compact and weather resistant. If you’ve ever held one before you might be surprised by how well constructed it is, especially considering it sells for around $200. The zoom ring and manual focus ring have a good dampened feel to them. The plastics used are top quality with texturing and appear solid enough to withstand dings. It has weather seals and a metal lens mount. Overall it’s a great value construction wise. Photos results will remain to be seen, but I think I can get by just fine in MTF mode (Program Line setting) considering I’ll be using the lens outside in bright conditions. So I broke my prime buying streak to get this lens, but I just buy the tools that best fit my needs for the situation. I feel that this lens will be a good fit and produce the results I want when I’m not using the FA 31mm or DA 14mm.

While I was at the store I checked up on a few Canon lenses for someone who bought a T1i recently. She has the standard kit lens, but wants either a 35mm or 50mm prime lens. They had the 50mm f1.4 and 50mm f1.8 available, so I handled each of them. I was in shock with how poorly made the 50mm f1.8 lens was. It was extremely light weight and all untextured flat black plastic. I specifically remember wanting to toggle the AF/MF switch, but I didn’t do it as I had the fear I’d break it. The manual focus ring was a tiny plastic thing of which was even lower quality material than the exterior barrel was. Thankfully, the image quality of the lens is good according to reviews (according to at photozone.de). This reminds me of the time I held an original Canon Rebel DSLR after using a Pentax *ist DS and being shocked by how “toy like” the Rebel felt. While it’s difficult for me to forget the build quality I guess that for $100 – $130 the lens is a decent deal if image quality is good. The 50mm f1.4 wasn’t that much better in build quality compared to the f1.8 lens. I just keep telling myself that the f1.8 is targeted for a specific type of customer (aka. the absolute penny pincher). Don’t get me wrong, the new Pentax 35mm f2.4 is similar to the Canon 50mm f1.8 in build quality considering they are both all plastic, however the Pentax does have a smoother more useful manual focus ring.

Question of the day: Is build quality really that important if the lens can produce quality images? I’d tend to say yes, but the type of glass I usually buy is expensive, so quality is expected and I’ve gotten accustomed to a certain quality level. The DA 50-200mm WR was a nice surprise as it’s more than good enough in the build quality and features (WR, quick-shift, metal lens mount) to fit my wants.

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