Pentax K 35 f3.5

The Pentax SMC 35mm f3.5 lens, from the initial batch of K-mount Pentax lenses, was the sharpest 35mm lens Pentax produced until the FA 35 f2.0 optic was released in 1999. It is sharper than the K-, M-, and A-series f2.0 35mm lenses, as well as its successor lens, the inglorious M 35/2.8. The lens is based on the M42 screw-mount SMC Takumar 35mm f3.5. Indeed, one could almost call it a Takumar with a K-mount. The lenses are, except for the mount, nearly identical. The K 35/3.5 is merely a little wider: 52mm filter ring instead of 49mm. For a brief period in the mid-seventies, Pentax seems to have been targeting Nikon as their principle competitor. They adopted a mount very similar to Nikon’s F mount and began making lenses with 52mm filter rings (just like the Nikon lenses of the period). A few years later, however, Pentax thought better of it and decided instead to compete against Olympus by coming out with a series of small SLR cameras and lenses.

The K 35/3.5 enjoyed only a brief two year run, as it was one of the casualties of Pentax’s decision to go small. It was replaced by the M 35/2.8, a lens that was both faster and smaller, but not nearly as good. The K 35/3.5, because of its brief run, is not always easy to find, and prices can run anywhere from $90 to nearly $200. Earlier this year (i.e., 2011), copies of this lens sold for about $180 and $190 on ebay.

Is in old f3.5 manual focus lens worth $190? Well, that is difficult to say. The new DA 35/2.4 is autofocus, a stop faster, and is allegedly based on the FA 35/2, the best 35mm (in FL) lens Pentax ever produced for 35mm film cameras. While the new DA 35 f2.4 probably produces better photos (Photozone found it to be razor sharp), the older Pentax K series lens is built like a tank and should last a lifetime. While it’s rather slow by today’s standards (no one nowadays has the intestinal fortitude to make an f3.5 35mm lens), it makes up for it with its superb resolution, excellent contrast, and striking color rendition. Optically, the only slight caveat to the lens is a tendency to very minor CA issues in high contrast rendering. It seems to me more prone to these sort of issues than most of the other vintage moderate wide angle lenses in Pentax’s lineup. Neither the K 28/3.5 or the M 28/2.8 fringes nearly as easily as the K 35/3.5.

On a Pentax DSLR, the K 35/3.5 produces a somewhat cooler color cast, with rich blues, verdant greens, and rich reds and yellows, placed in a sharp, contrasty perspective:

Castle Crags SP11-57

The lens, as I have already mentioned, is commendably sharp, as per this 100% crop:

Northcoast LE SP11-23-2

Combined with a polarizer filter, this lens can render skies that border on purple, which suggests the possibility of a slight magenta/purple cast. Consider the following image:

San Juan Mts AU11-59

Here’s another example of what can happen with a polarizer filter, especially at high altitudes:

Maroon Bells AU11-95

No saturation of blue, whether global or targeted at blue tones, was introduced in this image. Color wise, this is how the blues were rendered by default settings in Lightroom. Here is another image. In this image, the blues were adjusted to be less purple:

San Juan Mts AU11-Panorama 16

On Pentax’s APS-C DSLR camera bodies, the K 35/3.5 has the FOV of a normal lens. However, with it’s f3.5 maximum f-stop, it hardly makes for a serviceable normal lens on par with 50mm lenses on FF bodies. Wide-open the lens, while still sharp, is hardly stellar; bokeh is average and separation mediocre. It does not make a particularly good portrait or still life lens. The K 35/3.5 is almost exclusively a landscape lens, best used at f8, where it is at its sharpest. In landscape work, the lens is capable of delivering stunning results, with rich, distinctive, aesthetically satisfying (although not always scrupulously accurate) color, as seen below:

Northcoast Misc SP11-Layers2

Northcoast LE SP11-51

San Juan Mts AU11-Panorama 1

San Juan Mts AU11-44

San Juan Mts AU11-148

MacArthur-Burney Falls AU11-Panorama 1

Grand Tetons SP12-471

Arches SP13-187-Edit

San Juan Mts AU11-16