Lenses: Canon EF vs Pentax SMC

Discussion in 'Pentax' started by William D. Tallman, May 14, 2004.

  1. Straight ahead equipment question, for a change!!!

    So here I've got this neat Elan7 and handful of EF lenses, and....

    This morning I'm out shooting with the LX and a 50mm f1.4. Go figure!

    My question is this: Can anyone authoritatively compare the Canon EF lenses
    against the Pentax SMC lenses (of whatever series)?

    I'm not going to get rid of the Canon gear, but I'm rethinking the Pentax

    Here's why: I've got the EF 100-400 zoom, a real tank and presumably a very
    fine zoom. But where it counts, the sharpness just ain't there, and I'm
    almost always using it at 400mm. Almost. Sometimes, though, I do use it
    as a zoom, especially hand-held. The answer? That 400 f5.6 EF prime, of
    course? Now, I suppose I could manage to do a swap, but then... no zoom.
    And no IS, either. And I can't justify having both.

    Now, I'm thinking I should check into the Pentax tele primes, as they'll
    almost certainly be less expensive. If I'm not going to have autofocus
    (Elan7 won't autofocus over f5.6, and I often use a doubler) and IS anyway,
    why the hell do I need an EF lens if the SMC equivalent is just as sharp?
    Specifically, how does the SMC 400mm compare to the EF 400mm f5.6 prime?

    But is it? Are they? Does anyone know?


    Bill Tallman
    William D. Tallman, May 14, 2004
    1. Advertisements

  2. William D. Tallman

    Bill Hilton Guest

    From: "William D. Tallman"
    There's always Photodo ( http://www.photodo.com/nav/prodindex.html ), though
    the tests are for just a single sample.

    Pentax SMC-FA 400 f/5.6 ED IF grades out to 3.0 which is decent but not
    outstanding. The Pentax 300 mm's were rated much better, optically.

    The Canon 400 f/5.6 L is listed but not graded. However other Canon lenses in
    this class like the 300 f/4 L are rated 4.3 and the L IS at 3.4 (which many
    people would question as being too low. Even the 100-400 that you already have
    and don't particularly like is graded 3.6, and the lowly consumer grade non-L
    75-300 at 3.1.
    I have this lens (my wife has the 400 f/5.6 L) and I agree that it's not
    especially sharp wide open at 400 mm, but it's a handy lens if you shoot
    hand-held due to the wide zoom range and IS. If you use it mostly at 400
    you're doing the right thing by looking at other options though :)

    Bill Hilton, May 14, 2004
    1. Advertisements

  3. Yep, the really long Pentax primes were not very good at best, apparently.
    I saw a grading of the 400 f/5.6 that looked low, but I dunno....

    It's not that I don't like the zoom; I really do!! It's just that it
    doesn't get that last bit that sometimes makes the difference.
    I've read, of course, Bret's raves about the 400 f/5.6, and there seems to
    be agreement that the lens really is phenomenal for the price. Is that
    your experience as well?


    Bill Tallman
    William D. Tallman, May 14, 2004
  4. William D. Tallman

    Nick Fotis Guest

    It depends on your style of shooting.
    Myself, I decided on the 300mm/4 L IS instead of the 400mm/5.6L (I
    haven't received it yet).

    The price is nearly the same at B&H (and the weight, and the filter
    diameter), so you have to decide:
    - do you shoot telephoto shots handheld? Then the IS is very useful
    - If you shoot with a tripod, the IS isn't useful here (since the
    300mm/4L IS is in the first generation of IS lenses, it's advised to
    close the IS when using the lens on a tripod)
    - Do you want to use the 400mm end all the time *or* Image Stabilization
    and capability of cooperating with a 1.4x extender?

    Do not depend much on ratings, try to get a feel for both lens, shoot a
    slide film roll with each, and then you decide for yourself.

    I don't have any experience with Pentax lenses, so I cannot help here.

    Regards from Athens, Greece
    Nick Fotis
    Nick Fotis, May 14, 2004
  5. That's something to think about. I'm trying to do as much shooting from a
    tripod as possible, which is why I'm thinking the 400mm. A doubler makes
    that 800mm, which is enough to reach most everything I've gone for so far.
    Damn!! Well, I'll just hop in the Rolls and toodle on down to the local
    camera emporium and give them both a whirl.... LOL!!!!!!

    Wish I could do that, but my Rolls (my other other car) is sitting on the
    shelf under a clear plastic cover: a model of AX201, dontcha know... umm,
    that's the 1907 40/50 tourer that the owner had the brightwork plated in
    silver... nicknamed it the "Silver Ghost"... RR liked the name, and the
    rest is history.... car still runs, owned now by Bentley.Volkswagen, has
    over 500,000 miles...

    In any case, it appears that really long Pentax glass won't do the job, so
    that sorta limits the scope of application for the LX. <sigh>

    They say the 100mm macro is top notch, though, so maybe it'll find a niche
    doing miniatures and studion work. We'll see.

    Thanks, though, for the heads up on the Canon glass.

    Bill Tallman
    William D. Tallman, May 15, 2004
  6. William D. Tallman

    Nick Fotis Guest

    Forgot to add a "small" detail: autofocus doesn't work on most Canon EF
    bodies past f/5.6 (the exceptions are the EOS3, EOS 1v/1Ds/1D, in which
    the center sensor works up to f/8).

    The 300mm/4L with the 1.4x teleconverter becomes a 420mm/5.6 or so.

    The 2x teleconverter is felt to be only a "last resort" method for
    getting a far reach (reports show it lowers appreciably the image
    quality), and be prepared to focus manually, either with the
    400mm/5.6+any TC (if you don't own a high-end EOS body) or the 300mm/4
    and the 2x.

    Hope this helps,
    Nick Fotis
    Nick Fotis, May 15, 2004
  7. So I discovered straight away!!!


    Bill Tallman
    William D. Tallman, May 16, 2004
  8. William D. Tallman

    Bill Hilton Guest

    I have this lens (100-400 IS) and my wife has the 400 f/5.6 L ...
    I think the 400 f/5.6 L is a very good lens, but we bought it before we got the
    100-400 IS ... if I already had the 100-400 I don't think I'd get the 400, it's
    a *bit* better than the 100-400 at 400 (much easier to make a good fixed focal
    length 400 than a 100-400 zoom with IS) but hard to justify another $1,000 for
    the difference.

    If you want to see a "phenomenal" lens try one of the super tele's some time,
    like the 300 f/2.8 L IS or 500 f/4 L IS. My wife got by fine with her 400
    f/5.6 L and a 1.4x t/c (on an EOS-3, so she had autofocus) until I bought the
    500 f/4 L. She said "No way I'll ever own a lens *that* heavy". Then we shot
    birds side by side at a famous wildlife refuge and when she saw my pics she
    said "Call B&H and order me one of those 500 f/4's NOW" :) She rarely uses the
    400 any more except occasionally hand-held as a flight lens.

    Bill Hilton, May 16, 2004
  9. Okay, I think I'll have to re-evaluate this. It is wide open and at 400mm
    that the lens falls short. At something short of 400mm and stopped down to
    f/11, it does quite nicely for the most part.

    So that means that I'm gonna have to give up the one-film-fits-all approach
    and actually add some 400 to my kit.. <sigh> I guess that's not so bad
    now, and I really should do this. I've just got this "thing" about "if I'm
    gonna go out and get these shots, I damn well want the sharpest film along
    with all this fancy new gear!!!"

    Sigh.. accommodations....
    Awww geez, didya hafta go and put my wallet into fibrillation.... <grin>

    Those things are *expensive*! $5500US!!! Are they really that much better?

    Maybe I really don't wanna know.... <walks off muttering...>

    Anyway, thanks for the comparison, I'll check it out with some faster film
    and see what sort of results I get.


    Bill Tallman
    William D. Tallman, May 16, 2004
  10. William D. Tallman

    ww Guest

    if its Autofocus i would go the Canon 400mm simply a better autofocus
    if its manual focus i would try a tamron 300mm 2.8 or 400mm f4 adaptalls if
    you can find the eos adaptor you can use them on both cameras. i found the
    400mm very sharp used it on my mz-s. Only issue is some ca fringing but this
    it not noticeable on film. here is a test
    scroll down a bit http://members.aol.com/olympusom/lenstests/default.htm
    and apparently it works well with tc's. I found it worked well with pentax's
    1.7x af convertor. Now for the negatives it is big heavy and has a huge
    112mm front filter, very hard to hand hold and not that good for hiking. I
    sold it when i changed to nikon and my combo now is 300mm F4 af-s and 1.4x
    convertor makes a very good 420mm 5.6. I suspect that the Canon 300mm f4
    would be equally as good with a convertor.

    ww, May 16, 2004
  11. If it's Canon, it's AF. If it's Pentax, it's MF. The LX doesn't do AF.

    I kinda hesitate to get into 3rd party lenses, because the quality is never
    reliable. I could get a really good one, or I could get a dog, though the
    chances are I'll get a mediocre one.

    What I think I may do is just go ahead and set up a mount on a real scope,
    and let that serve the long reach function. The LX is a floater in terms
    of usage.. adapt it to anything. The idea of a long lens for it was just
    one idea.

    The Canon 100-400 is probably better than I'm making out that it is, because
    I've been using it at 400mm and wide open most of the time. Not its best
    usage. As I said to Bill Hilton, I gotta give up this one-film-fits-all
    thing I've got going with Reala, and start carrying 400 for that purpose.

    Thanks for the info though; appreciate the response!

    Bill Tallman
    William D. Tallman, May 16, 2004
  12. William D. Tallman

    Nick Fotis Guest


    [ about the 500mm/4 ]
    There are two forces acting here:
    "You get what you pay for", and
    "The law of diminishing returns"

    How often do you need an extreme telephoto beyond 300-400mm?
    If you're doing bird photography (or wildlife), a large focal distance
    is like cybic inches instead of turbo in internal combustion engines -
    irreplaceable :))
    A first-hand experience is the only way to really know.
    Reviews are one thing, personal experience is quite another.

    If you like the flexibility of a zoom lens, may I suggest the Canon
    70-200/4 L? Rather light, relatively affordable (compared to the
    70-200/2.8L and 70-200/2.8L IS I mean), and you can use it with the 1.4x
    teleconverter retaining autofocus.

    Then, you could complement it upwards, either with the 300/4L IS or the

    If you need even more reach without killing your wallet, an idea I'm
    toying with is getting a used manual focus Canon FD 500mm/4.5 or a
    Of course, you should get either a used FD body or the (very rare)
    FD-EOS converter that's acting as a 1.26x teleconverter (you don't have
    autofocus, of course, and you must use stop-down metering in the case of
    this lens in an EOS body).
    And don't forget the weight in these beasts, which is 5+ kgs (and add a
    good tripod/head=even more mass to carry).

    Is it worth the cost/weight? You're the one to decide.
    My feel is that the "small" 300/4 and 400/5.6 are more than enough if
    you print at sizes around A4 (8x12"), if you want bigger sizes in your
    prints you'll need some better technique and fine grain film.
    The 300/2.8 has intense competition from the 300/4 - both use IS, and
    the tests seem to verify their quality in numbers
    http://www.wlcastleman.com/equip/reviews/300mm/ and
    For the 400mm/5.6 you can read these:

    Don't forget that good Canon 'L' lenses don't lose value as, say, a
    digital camera body.
    At worst, if I'm not satisfied with the 300mm/4 I'll trade it for the
    400mm ;-)
    If you shoot slide film, you could try these approaches
    Kodak Ektachrome E200, probably pushed one stop (shoot at 400) - this is
    pretty flexible in most cases, and has fine enough grain, plus a rather
    warm palette compared to the Fujis.
    Fuji Provia 400F, you can even push it one stop (at 800).
    Also, a typical 100 ISO film like the Fuji Sensia I use can easily be
    pushed one stop.

    Hope this helps,
    Nick Fotis, May 16, 2004
  13. And it's that last tenth of a percent that makes the difference between the
    absolute best, and whatever that is that isn't the absolute best... <grin>
    I can't quantify that, however, and so have only my own sense of what is
    acceptable to have to satisfy. Problem is, I don't know exactly what that
    is, because I've never compared my stuff with anything else. Print quality
    in magazines disqualifies them, and stuff on a monitor is even worse.

    Time will tell whether I achieve satisfying quality without hocking the
    entire estate (whatever that turns out to be...lol!).
    Yep. I push that 100-400 to 800 with a doubler much more often than I
    imagined I would, but I cannot accept the quality of the images I get. So
    I either take what I can get or avoid doing that when the occasion arises.

    For instance, I live on the Olympic Peninsula in western Washington.
    Recently the old antique ferry "Kalakala" was towed down the Admiralty
    Straights from Seattle, and out Puget Sound, down the Straight of Juan De
    Fuca to the Makah reservation very near the Pacific Ocean, where it will
    receive a paint job prior to be restored. So I'm down at Ft Flagler,
    overlooking the Admiralty Straights, to get some shots of it as it went by.
    Of course, the channel was on the opposite side, which gave me an angle of
    view of the ferry and tugs at 400mm. If I wanted the ferry itself, it
    would be with the doubler: 800mm. On a tripod, no wind, stopped down, IS
    off, MLU (preframing) and 5 seconds wait: the images showed stripes in the
    US flag and the name of the ferry on its super structure, and that was the
    best I could get. I went for it.

    And that's one of many occasions.
    Nope, I've got the 85mm f/1.8.. killer lens! I will probably wind up
    getting the 100mm Macro, which can also be used at infinity. I find I
    rarely use anything less than 300mm with the zoom. The 200mm reach is one
    I just don't find useful, I guess. But one never knows....
    Ahhhhh..... well, in that regard, how do the FD lenses compare with the
    Nikkors (thinking of getting an F2... but I love my LX, and that's where
    all this started!!)

    I could see getting an older F1 (not the F1n, no MLU!!!), but again, I luv
    my LX!!
    At that point, I'd be disposed to opt for a refractor with a camera mount.
    Dunno how well I could get a Newtonian to work for land based photography,
    but I'm beginning to lust after an 8" Newt, like one sold by Orion.
    Probably not,

    Problem is, those refractors are every bit as expensive as the long white
    lenses themselves!
    That seems to be the case. I dunno what my 100-400 would bring. I keep it
    pretty nice, but it has a very small ding on the chrome rim at the
    objective end. No chips, scratches other than that, and the glass is
    pristine (caps and filters at all times!). I bet I could get more for it
    than the price of the 400m f5.6, though. I've thought of that, but at the
    moment, I don't like the idea that well.
    I shoot strictly print film, as I have no use for slides (I don't project
    images, I print them). I use Fuji Superia 100, which is very close to
    Reala, and that's all, though I'm thinking that the next load of film
    bricks from B&H will include one of 400 as well.
    Thanks, Nick. I appreciate the response. Gives me more to think upon...

    Bill Tallman
    William D. Tallman, May 17, 2004
  14. William D. Tallman

    Nick Fotis Guest

    [ Replying from my work account ]

    Well, life is full of compromises (but I'm sure you already knew that ;-) )
    E.g., if I was to keep a super telephoto with me I would prefer the 500mm
    instead of the 600mm, since it's 1 kg less weight.
    (never mind the cost, that's an academic question ;-) )
    That's the reason I ask you to compare for yourself.
    Really, there's no other way to do that! After all, it's your own money you
    The 2x TC is a 'last resort' tool, while the 1.4x TC can be used more
    Yeah, I think there's this lens in my future too, especially for portrait
    and low light shots
    (that's really nice when you wish to shoot at concerts)

    Since I shoot mostly trains, the 70-200mm/2.8L IS I own, and the 50mm/1.4
    are amongst my most used lenses.
    (adding a 1.4x TC to the telephoto zoom).
    I hope to get soon the 24-70/2.8L to replace my (adequate in general) Sigma
    28-70/2.8 EX.
    This macro lens is probably too sharp for a portrait lens.
    You may have to use a soft focus filter in order to make flattering
    As far as I know, the white manual focus Canon L lenses are very nice, so
    this may be a real solution.
    Check at Ebay, the 500mm/4.5L for FD Canons sells for around 1000 USD or so.
    The 1.26x FD-EOS converter is much rarer, usually it fetches 300 USD or so
    (as an interim measure you could get an FD body with mirror lock-up, or a

    There's also more rarely the 600mm/4L FD lens.
    Or you could try to find their 1200mm/11 telephoto (a really rare bird),
    which needs lots of technique though in order to get a good shot (two
    tripods, very careful focusing, etc.)
    All these lenses are very specialized, in my opinion, though.
    my LX!!

    Well, for photo-freaks like us, there's no such thing as 'too many cameras'
    "Have car, will travel with a telescope" :) (no, I don't own a car)
    Note that in such large focal distances, the atmosphere starts to cause big
    problems (heat waves, etc.) in photography

    There are 800mm refractor lenses for all mounts, but their quality usually
    is inadequate (and these have fixed aperture, usually at f/8).
    Check at Ebay for such a lens, you *may* find it preferable instead of the
    100-400L+2x TC (probably the 400/5.6L+2x TC will be a better quality
    combination, though).
    lenses themselves!

    And probably these are much more unwieldy and inflexible.
    I guess you use a car, right?

    Look at Ebay to get a feel how much this lens fetches at the close of an
    If you need the flexibility of a zoom, I suggest you try the 70-200/4L.
    Probably you could get nearly a used 70-200/4L and the 400/5.6L by selling
    (or exchanging) your 100-400
    Neither I project images, I print a selection myself too.
    It's just much easier to have intense colours (and get published, like I
    did) when you use slide film.
    And it's cheaper for me, since I usually don't print more than 1-2
    photos/film, often at A4 side (nearly 8x12 inches for you)
    Well, let me offer my viewpoint regarding slide film:
    At least, here in Athens it's easy (and cheap) to proccess slide film (E-6)
    in 1-hour shops in the city center.
    I pay 3-4 Euros for a 36-frames Fuji Sensia 100, plus 3 Euros for the
    If I like a photo, I just print it at the minilab, and it's much easier to
    match colours when they have a slide original to compare with (and the cost
    is the same in the digital minilabs here - they print in typical photo print
    paper, like from the negatives)
    The reason I switched to slide film was the disappointing performance of the
    local minilabs with negative prints (and the prints from slide film seem to
    pack much more intense colour).
    Also, pushing a slide film is easy, even at two stops (a friend used a 400mm
    Sensia pushed two stops at 1600, and he shot photos inside a mine without

    Regards from Athens,
    Nick Fotis, May 17, 2004
  15. <snip>

    Thanks, Nick. Lot of stuff to think about.

    Incidentally, yes the refractors (or any other astro scope for that matter)
    do require transportation, but the smaller refractors are no more unwieldy
    than the large photo teles. Basically the same thing configured
    differently at the mount, and very much in the same price range as well!

    And isn't that all a part of the fun of photography? Figuring out the best
    way to do the next shot, especially if one hasn't one such before?

    Bill Tallman
    William D. Tallman, May 17, 2004
  16. William D. Tallman

    lalil Guest

    OT: watch out for a lawsuit from BMW.
    lalil, May 17, 2004
  17. William D. Tallman

    Bandicoot Guest

    The Pentax 600mm f4 F* or FA* are fabulous lenses, and they'll work just
    fine on your LX...

    Not that I want to stir up trouble, of course ;-)

    Bandicoot, May 20, 2004
  18. William D. Tallman

    Nick Fotis Guest

    If you say that, 'de gustibus non disputandum est' (or something like that
    :) )
    That was nasty of you :)
    Looking at Ebay at the moment, it seems there aren't that many of these
    lenses on offer (read: 0), though.
    Probably it'll take some time before spotting one sample.

    Nick Fotis, May 20, 2004
  19. William D. Tallman

    Bandicoot Guest

    True - there was a 600mm f5.6 A* quite recently, but it wasn't cheap.

    Bandicoot, May 20, 2004
    1. Advertisements

Ask a Question

Want to reply to this thread or ask your own question?

You'll need to choose a username for the site, which only take a couple of moments (here). After that, you can post your question and our members will help you out.