Lens test of Pentax D FA ★ 85 f/1.4 HD ED SDM AW was made with a Pentax K-1 mk II (firmware 1.05) - French version test
An 85mm focal length lens has been awaited for a very long time. Since the release of K-1 in fact. The decision to produce a D FA ★ 85 f/1.4 was taken probably during the design of the brand’s first FF. An easy decision given that it had a legendary basic equipment, the FA ★ 85 f / 1.4 ! Ricoh Imaging was planned to adapt the old optical formula intended film to the specificities of digital .
Unfortunately, it took more than 4 years.
When the design was almost complete and the prototyping started, the engineers decided to completely review the project. The result obtained was not good enough. The old optical formula had limits which were reached with its adaptation to digital. Handicapped by the aspherical lens in first position, the objective was going to be enormous and heavy. Decision was therefore taken to start from scratch, without drawing inspiration from the FA ★, with the only basic concept, moving the aspherical lens to the last position. A radical choice which greatly delayed the release of this objective. Until June 2020, when it is finally available. A few more months of delay due to the global pandemic.
The D FA ★ 85 f/1.4 is primarily and traditionally intended for portraits and studio photographers.But other practices can be envisaged, such as street or landscape photography. Besides, having one is almost an obligation for any photo lens manufacturer.
If you want to read the conclusion directly click here.
Pentax D FA ★ 85 f/1.4 HD ED SDM AW
The Pentax D FA ★ 85/1.4 is an 85 mm fixed focal length lens with f/1.4 aperture belonging to the ★ (STAR) family. It’s the fourth new generation STAR model, after D FA ★ 70-200, DA ★ 11-18 et D FA ★ 50 (test only in French version). Intended for full-frame SLRs, it can be mounted on an APS-C body. Although it is mainly intended for full-frame DSLRs, it can still be used on an APS-C, where it will offer a visual field close to that of a 135mm (130 mm in fact)
Firmware updates are available to take into account this new objective. These firmwares are available for the K-3 (v1.41), le K-1 (v1.53) et le K-1 mk II (v1.05). K-3 II and KP should not be updated (New firmwares correct micro-contrast problems for some sensors. K-3 II and KP are not affected – Same sensors ?).
The lens weighs 1255 gr naked, 1355 gr with the hood. It’s a heavy lens. And expensive. So we’re entitled to expect an exceptional lens. What needs to be checked.
Its maximum aperture f/1.4 makes it a very bright lens. The minimum focusing distance is 0.85m. It features Quick-Shift functionality, which allows manual adjusting of the MAP while using AF.
The objective is of type AW (All Weather), which means that it is equipped with a dozen seals which allow it to resist dust, water and other bad weather. This type of construction clearly indicates that, for Ricoh Imaging, this DFA is not intended to remain enclosed
The diameter for the filters (UV, Polarizing and other ND) is 82 mm (like D FA 24-70/2.8).
The lens is supplied with a simple storage bag (far from the IRIX « shells »).It is supplied with a lens hood including the traditional trap door allowing the rotation of a polarizing filter.
Focusing is achieved by moving a lens group at the rear of the lens. The SDM Engine (Ultrasonic Wave Motor) is a dedicated ring-type ultrasonic wave motor, specially designed for it. Compared to the engine model used for the D FA ★ 50, it offers around 1.3 times more torque, allowing even faster autofocus. This on paper, because the weight of the lenses, their greater number and the need to adapt the stroke of the motor i
We are not equipped to measure the actual focusing speed. The feeling is that it is fast. K-1 mk II and D FA ★ 85/1.4 make up a reactive set. The limitations are on the flashgrip, with a slightly low burst speed.
Small flat on the sound level of the engine. If we compare the noises of D FA ★ 85 and D FA ★ 50, the second is more tenuous while the first is more present, a little more acute. However, these are very low levels.
This new motor offers a gain in energy consumption. That’s a good point.
Technical data of the D FA ★ 85
★ (STAR) Lens
In order to belong to the STAR series, an objective must correspond to precise specifications. The new specification is based on new optical treatments (Aero Bright II coating and new generation of HD coatings). But surprise, in the design of the D FA ★ 85, Ricoh Imaging did not use its Aero Bright II coating when the latter had produced excellent results on the recent ★ objectives. Instead, the engineers worked on the optical formula to achieve the desired result: to be able to produce extremely sharp, high-contrast images, free of flare and ghosting artifacts, while ensuring exceptional separation from the centre to the corners of the frame, even at high aperture.
As AeroBright II has produced excellent results on the recent lens ★, this decision could be worrying.
The engineers preferred to act on the optical formula in order to obtain the desired result: being able to produce extremely sharp images, with high contrast, devoid of flare and phantom artifacts, while guaranteeing an exceptional separating power from the center to the angles of the frame. , even at the largest openings. This is a homecoming somewhere, where optical formulas take precedence over “chemical” treatments…
3 Super ED glass lenses are used : 2 in the front group and 1 in the rear group. They allow the chromatic aberration to disappear. Super ED glass is a very expensive material. It’s the first time that Pentax has used 3 elements of this type< (only 2 for the DFA ★ 50/1.4).
The aspherical lens, for design reasons, has been placed in the last position. It has reduced its size and weight. This lens reduces spherical aberrations and curvature of field aberration. It also ensures uniform contrast from the center to the edges of the frame.
To be checked during testing.
The diaphragm is electronic, allowing more precise and stable control of the aperture, especially at high speeds. In fact, the lens is incompatible with all bodies prior to the K-S1.
Once again Ricoh Imaging offers a heavy lens. With a K-1 (mk I or II), it weighs about 2.3 kg. This is not as well balanced as the D FA ★ 50 or the D FA 24-70. Use it for a full hour and you will notice it.
The grip is excellent, the material used is pleasant to the touch and pleasant to use. Ricoh Imaging has added a « notched » twist around the barrel. A bit surprising at first, but this device proves to be effective in holding the lens and its grip.
The focusing ring is very wide, almost 3.5 cm. There is no discomfort when rotating it in manual use (MF mode) or when correcting the automatic map via the quick shift. The movement is firm and the rotation is smooth. It rotates « endlessly ». If there is no stop, the limits of the focusing stroke can be seen. This ring is made of rubber material. It has small, pleasantly tactile pins.
The traditional AF/MF selector button is placed on the left side of the lens. On the top of the lens is a window to view the focusing distance.
Technical point of view
PENtaxKlub does not have a laboratory. Our tests are not measured by tools. We wish to bring a user and essentially photographic point of view. Our comments and technical note are therefore the result of a visual analysis.
Please note that for any lens, even the best one, it is always possible to obtain visual imperfections (especially with ACs), whatever the focal length and/or aperture.
All the photos used for the tests were taken in RAW (PEF or DNG). Unless explicitly mentioned, not developed or not retouched.
Chromatic aberration and flare
Chromatic aberrations (CA) appear as a violet fringe, unpleasant to the eye. Any lens is susceptible to flare. Especially if one does everything to be in a situation to have it, like facing the sun, which sends its rays at an angle on the lens. This is why we prefer to judge a lens in common and not exceptional image situations.
This 85 f/1.4 is no exception to the rule and produces a little AC … if the circumstances are present ! Which is not often the case. They are mostly visible at full opening and disappear when closing (often less than a stop). From f/2.8 onwards, more are found. They disappear completely at f/2.8. But who is really going to use this lens when photographing permanently branches without large foliage or fences with an oblique sun?
If it should have some, the correction will be done through your processing software (Lightroom or others).
In studio conditions where lighting is controlled, CAs can be forgotten.
We tried to provoke flare, without success. Even in dangerous conditions, whether facing the sun or at an angle (at 45°). The resistance to this optical problem makes it a reference lens in this field.
By changing the optical formula to position the aspherical lens closest to the sensor, Ricoh Imaging took a gamble that paid off. There is indeed a cushion-type distortion. But the distortion is only 2 mm between the bottom (or top) and the center. It’s by taking multiple pictures of walls (mainly brick) that you can distinguish it… using a ruler.
No need to specify that it is tiny, undetectable most of the time and above all very easily correctable, whether manually or automatically (as soon as the profiles are available).
Ricoh Imaging have once again achieved a nice little feat. Note that the aperture has no influence on the distortion.
This is a recurring question every time a new objective is tested. Today, optical formulas and construction are very well mastered. Especially for « high-end » lenses. When shooting with this D FA ★ 85 f/1.4, if a slight vignetting is sometimes detected (rather in the upper right corner), it disappears very quickly. Moreover, you have to be careful to detect it. Beyond f/2.8, there is none. At least, we have not been able to detect it visually. Since the shooting conditions can influence the appearance or not of the phenomenon, it is not impossible that this was the case here. And if it bothers some people, the Post-Processing tools will be able to deal with it easily.
We can only congratulate the engineers for the remarkable work they’ve done.
Looking for image homogeneity at large apertures is not easy. But not impossible, by taking 2 pictures of the same pattern, once in the center and a second time on an edge.
At f/1.4, a slight blurring of the pattern on the right edge can be seen, provided that the image is enlarged strongly! At 100 %, this is absolutely not visible to the naked eye. The sharpness of the image is exemplary throughout the entire image, even in the PO. At f/1.6, this slight blur has disappeared. Ricoh Imaging have indeed worked on these aspects and seem to be at the forefront in this particular area.
|This is an extract of 2 photos of the same traffic sign – Aperture f/1.4|
|car is in the center of the picture||car is in right of the picture|
The HD processing of the lens delivers crisp, sharp and perfectly detailed images with no « forensic » precision. When shooting in the studio, facial imperfections are visible, but not accentuated like a macro lens would. The result is uniform, well defined and very pleasant portraits.
For many objectives the bokeh is important without being fundamental ; but not for this one. A focal length of 85 mm is very often used for portraiture and in this activity, the bokeh is one of the points on which one must particularly linger.
Overall, the bokeh is magnificent. It is very homogeneous and visuall pleasant. The 9 rounded blades of the diaphragm do an excellent job.
If we analyse the results a bit, at f/1.4, the depth of field is very short, especially when the subject is close. Which is the case here (distance about 1m20). The accuracy of the letter « A » is sufficient and one can read without any problem the other inscriptions placed on the same plane. Beyond 2 cm deep (after the focal point), the precision starts to get lost. The back is uniform, very harmonious. The details have disappeared, allowing to highlight the main subject.
This blurred, harmonious and creamy bokeh is present up to f/2. Beyond that, the shapes in the background start to stand out, we gradually gain in precision, the bokeh remaining harmonious and very pleasant. Even at f/11 (and even f/16), a slight blur persists if the subject is close.
With an APS-C body
Apart from the difference in the field of view (it’s « almost » a 135mm), the qualities of the FF lens can be found with an APS-C body. It’s difficult to find real differences, whether it’s for CAs, distortion or image homogeneity. There is only the bokeh which, at f/1.4, will have a visual rendering closer to what is proposed at f/2 on an FF.
Comparison with the FA ★ 85 f/1.4
It is inevitable to want to compare the FA ★ 85 f/1.4 with the D FA ★ 85 f/1.4. Because the first one was a legend and the second one is undoubtedly one of the best 85 today. Having used those of Nikon and Canon, we can affirm that this D FA ★ 85 does not demerit.
The FA ★ 85 is considered a fabulous lens by all its owners. As we said in introduction, the engineers wanted to use its optical formula as a basis for a more modern lens. Additional lens elements have been added to improve the MTF. These additions did not correct the axial chromatic aberration sufficiently. In addition, the size of the aspherical front lens increased dangerously, to the point of making the lens difficult to use.
As it can be seen from the two diagrams below, the two optical formulas are very different in terms of design. This should induce a difference in terms of result.
We haven’t been able to get an FA ★ 85 f/1.4 yet. This part will be completed later.
Given the quality of the new 85 mm, we wouldn’t be surprised if earlier models would be on the second-hand market one day soon.
Price and Competition
In France, 1990 € (VAT included) is the price you have to pay to acquire this objective. And it is impossible to look elsewhere, because there is no competition. One can still find second hand Sigma 85/1.4 or Tamron 90/2.8, not forgetting that the latter is a macro lens. Otherwise, it is always possible to fall back on the FA 77/1.8 Limited. But this is a very limited choice.
If you want an 85 f/1.4, there are no other possibilities.
He’s perfect in every way. Light vignetting in certain circumstances, great resistance to flare, controlled CAs despite the absence of dedicated aerobright-type treatment, and quite exceptional image quality. These are the first things we remember. But they are not the only ones.
Thus, the rendering of reds and greens is exemplary even before any processing. Which is often not an easy task.
As for the weight, in the studio, you are less aware of the 1.3 kg in weight than outdoors.
A very hight score. Which is logical, after all. Pentax (and Ricoh Imaging) have a new legendary lens. I think really that’s one of the best 85mm I ever used, since a long time. A lens that will be at ease in many situations. It’s not just for studio photography. Outdoors, it will prove useful in many situations.
The only downside is the price. At almost €2,000, there won’t be many buyers.
Click on photos to enlarge
photos by fyve (unless otherwise specified)