Pentax HD D FA 21mm F2.4 ED Limited DC WR Review

Pentax HD D FA 21mm F2.4 ED Limited DC WR Review

The Pentax HD D FA 21mm F2.4 ED Limited DC WR lens is a worthy splurge with all the trappings of the FA Limited family Epblogs goal is to be the tech side of trust. We are proud of our independence and of our Pentax HD D FA 21mm F2.4 ED Limited DC WR Review thorough testing methods, in which we take our time with a product. We regularly check our test reports for changes and thus keep them up-to-date over a longer period of time – regardless of when a device was released.guaranteed reviews . Trust our Epblogs comprehensive reviews. We tested the products over a longer period of time and were able to see how they cope with everyday tasks. This is how we help you to find the best product for your read our guaranteed reviews .

Epblogs verdict

The Pentax HD D FA 21mm F2.4 ED Limited DC WR lens is a worthy splurge with all the trappings of the FA Limited family, including unique optics, metal construction, and a size-conscious form.

Pentax is expanding the full-frame wing of its metal barrel Limited lens series for the first time in more than two decades. The latest entry to the long-running family, the HD D FA 21mm F2.4 ED Limited DC WR ($1,399.95), brings a wide-angle perspective and an innovative optical formula to the table. Pentaxians who use the full-frame K-1 or K-1 Mark II can make very good use of the lens, especially if you prefer a prime over a heavy zoom like the 15-30mm F2.8. That said, K-3 Mark III owners have more affordable APS-C options to consider.

FA Limited: An Exclusive Club

Each camera maker has branding to denote its best lenses Canon L, Nikon S Line, and Sony G Master are all examples. Pentax has a couple its Star line tells us a lens is a top performer; the latest entries use polycarbonate barrels, come with full weather protection, and emphasize image quality and focus speed over portability. The HD D FA* 50mm F1.4 is a recent example.

The Pentax Limited series is a bit different. It debuted back in the film era, 1997, with the original SMC FA 43mm F1.9, a pancake-style prime with all-metal construction and, at the time, exceptional optics. Subsequent entries followed the same paradigm, the FA 77mm two years later and the FA 31mm in 2001.

In the digital era, Pentax waited a long, long time before releasing a full-frame camera, but it didn’t abandon the Limited concept. The DA Limited series set the Pentax system apart from Canon Rebels and Nikon SLRs back in the 10MP era. All told, the company made a half-dozen different DA Limited lenses, many of which are now in their second generation and sport updated HD coatings. The original FA Limited trio also received updates with HD and SP coatings last year, along with a new member.

Full-Frame vs. APS-C Coverage

The HD D FA 21mm F2.4 ED Limited DC WR makes the threesome a quartet and looks right at home next to the others. It’s the second Limited lens with a 21mm focal length, but because the DA Limited 21mm F3.2 covers only an APS-C sensor area, the two aren’t analogous on full-frame cameras. The HD D FA 21mm delivers a very wide angle of view and full 36MP resolution with a K-1 or K-1 II, whereas the DA 21mm cuts resolution down to 16MP and has a 31mm equivalent angle of view.

Conversely, putting the FA 21mm on the latest Pentax, the APS-C K-3 Mark III, cuts down its angle of view to the same 31mm-equivalent. The K-3 III is the company’s best-performing SLR, with an autofocus system that’s much better than the one on the K-1, but the full-frame 21mm is a tough ask when APS-C photogs can get the tiny DA 21mm for around $500.

The HD D FA Limited offers one big feature missing from the DA 21mm F3.2, however: weather protection. The FA 21mm Limited is the first prime in the series to bear the WR designation, indicating protection from dust and splashes. Even so, it’s difficult to justify a move from a $500 lens to a $1,400 one just for weather sealing.

For Pentax system owners who care more about APS-C than full-frame, the HD DA 20-40mm F2.8-4 Limited is a more sensible purchase; it costs $800 but has been around long enough to go on sale (at press time, you can grab it around $500). The 20-40mm gathers nearly as much light at the same angle, includes weather protection, isn’t too far off in size from the FA 21mm, and is purpose-built for APS-C sensors. But if you’re an APS-C owner looking for a wide prime lens, we think the DA Limited 15mm F4 is the best pick for the system; it’s vastly superior to the old DA 14mm F2.8, which it essentially replaced in the lineup.

Handling and Autofocus

The HD D FA 21mm F2.4 Limited fills a big gap in the company’s full-frame lens line. In recent years, only the hefty, autofocusing Pentax 15-30mm F2.8 (5.7 by 3.9 inches, 2.3 pounds) and manual focus, third-party Irix 21mm F1.4 Dragonfly (4.1 by 3.7 inches, 1.8 pounds) covered the angle. Both of these lenses are relatively massive and the FA 21mm is more in line with what we expect from a wide prime. The new lens measures 3.5 by 2.9 inches and weighs just 14.7 ounces. It’s a much easier lens to carry and balances well on the 2.2-pound K-1 Mark II.

Pentax sells the FA Limited series in black or silver anodized aluminum finishes; we received one in black for review. Much like the HD FA 31mm Limited, the FA 21mm has an integrated lens hood to help suppress flare and supports 67mm threaded filters. An aluminum, slip-on cap lined with green felt also arrives in the box.

Green is a color associated with Pentax its SLRs have long included a Green Button function button to bring exposure settings back to default if you made unhelpful adjustments. That hue is present here too, in the form of a jeweled bead on the lens barrel. The small ornamental accent is made from Shippo-yaki, a Japanese enamel. The Shippo-yaki bead is exclusive to the FA Limited series and appears on every release except the original SMC 43mm from 1997 (though the HD FA 43mm Limited from last year features this design element.). This bead does not appear on any DA Limited lens.

We’ve touched on the weather protection already the 21mm sports the WR designation, which indicates that it is weather-resistant, though not to the same extent as All Weather lenses such as the D FA 150-450mm AW zoom. The lens does not have an IP rating, nor do any Pentax cameras. It does include an HD coating to suppress flare and reflections, however, as well as anti-smudge fluorine on the glass, which Pentax denotes with the Super Protect (SP) label.

A DC motor drives focus. This is a more up-to-date approach than the screw-driven autofocus systems that most other FA Limited entries use, as well as what you get with most DA Limited lenses. The motor is rather quiet, but the lens makes some noise during the focus process its mechanically coupled focus ring turns along with autofocus and you can hear a little bit of whir when it does. It’s not loud enough to hear across a room, but it is audible on the video soundtrack, assuming you are using the K-1’s internal mic to record audio. The Pentax system isn’t a good pick for serious video work, however, so we don’t expect it to be a concern for many customers.

I won’t say the same about the focus ring movement, though. The HD D FA 21mm F2.4 uses a mechanical manual focus ring, like many SLR lenses. But, unlike those with internal focus motors, the manual focus ring moves when you engage autofocus. The knurled metal rubs up against your fingers when you cradle the lens in your hands. We’re used to this behavior for lenses that rely on screw-drive focus systems, but this is out of character for an internal focus lens.

Pentax is a victim of form over function here; the ring turns because it’s tied to an engraved-and-painted distance scale. This is useful for photographers who work slowly or from a tripod because the scale shows the set focus distance in feet and meters, along with markings that indicate how much depth of field you have at a given focus point and aperture. I won’t pretend the printed scale doesn’t make the lens look a bit more professional and more vintage than its actual age, but it’s not an entirely practical design. I would prefer a mechanically coupled ring that turns only when you move it like the one on Nikon’s AF-S Nikkor 20mm F1.8 for the F-mount SLR system. That said, the Nikkor sacrifices a useful distance scale.

Oddly enough, despite sticking with the old-school focus control ring, Pentax opted to skip an on-lens aperture control ring. It’s not an issue at all when you use the lens with a Pentax digital SLR or a late-model film camera with autofocus, but it means you can’t use the lens on classics like the K1000, MX, or LX as you can with the other three FA Limited lenses. I’m fine with the trade-off; the omission likely made a higher degree of weather protection possible, but I did miss pairing the lens with my old LX to see how it rendered with Ilford HP5 or Kodak Ektar film.

The lack of an aperture ring also means that photographers who want to use the lens on a mirrorless camera need to pick the right type of adapter. Fotodiox and others offer K-mount adapters(Opens in a new window) with on-adapter aperture control, but those are manual focus only. The MonsterAdapter LA-KE1 is the only option available for autofocus and electronic aperture control; it lets you use the lens on Sony E-mount bodies. I tried the D FA 21mm Limited with the LA-KE1 and the Sony a7R IV—it works like a charm and I enjoyed snappier autofocus acquisition than with the K-1.

You read that right with the K-1 Mark II, the lens takes a little bit to set focus. I clocked a 0.6-second lag between engaging focus to drive from infinity to a target about a foot away from the camera. With the K-3 Mark III’s quicker focus system, the lag decreases to about 0.4-seconds, as fast as the MonsterAdapter and Sony a7R IV.

Pentax has gone on record about its intention to stick with SLR cameras while the rest of the industry (including the conservative-minded Leica) has moved to mirrorless systems. The K-1 Mark II is way behind the times for video, so creators may look to mirrorless systems for cinema work. The HD D FA 21mm Limited is a good fit the manual focus ring makes repeatable focus racks possible and the optics show almost no breathing when the plane of focus shifts.

With a 7.1-inch close-up focus distance, the FA 21mm Limited is also a good option for shots with a prominent subject and broad backdrop. This type of range delivers macro results with a different perspective than telephoto lenses and limits subject magnification to a 1:3.8 life-size ratio.

HD D FA 21mm Limited: In the Lab

I tested the HD D FA 21mm Limited in the lab to check its resolution with the 36MP K-1 Mark II and Imatest software. It shows very good central resolution (3,000 lines) at its widest aperture and improves to around 3,200 lines at f/4.

We see lower scores off-center, but they aren’t indicative of poor performance. Our resolution tests are made at a close distance, about two feet from the test chart for a 21mm prime, and the optics have a distinctly curved plane of focus at near distances that results in lower off-center results. In the field, we see the sharpest edge results at distance from f/8 to f/16; those are the settings you should use for landscape images.

Out of sheer curiosity, I ran another batch of resolution tests using the MonsterAdapter and 60MP a7R IV. The scores are higher because Imatest results scale with megapixels, but are in line with what we saw from the K-1 Mark II’s 36MP after we took that into account. At f/2.4, the central resolution is around 4,200 lines, a very good score for the a7R IV, and we see outstanding results by f/4 (4,900 lines). If Pentax releases a full-frame camera with a higher-pixel count, the 21mm is ready for it; likewise, these numbers indicate outstanding resolution for the K-3 Mark III, since its 26MP APS-C sensor uses the same size pixels as the a7R IV.

Broad Views, Niche Appeal

Pentax’s FA Limited lenses have earned a legendary, almost cult-like status in their decades on the market. I cut my photographic teeth with the SMC FA 31mm Limited and K10D(Opens in a new window); they were the tools I picked up when I started to learn how to properly use a camera. For fans of the line, a new entry is big news, and although there are a half-dozen DA Limited lenses for APS-C cameras, the full-frame FA Limited family has stayed small for a long, long time.

The fourth entry broadens the angle of vie the HD D FA 21mm F2.4 Limited ED WR nets a much wider perspective than the FA 31mm. It also expands the system if K-1 owners wanted a similar prime new from the store, the only option was the manual focus Irix 21mm F1.4 Dragonfly; the Pentax SMC FA 20mm F2.8 is long out of production.

Its simple existence isn’t enough for us to recommend a $1,400 lens, of course. Make no mistake: I’m impressed with the HD D FA 21mm Limited’s optics. It may not put up stellar edge scores on test charts, but detail is sharp in real-world shots and you can get crisp edges at the narrow apertures you are likely to use for capturing landscapes and architecture. Its wide aperture comes into play when you work in dimmer light or for shots in which you want to isolate the subject, too. The lens even performed well on a camera with a 60MP sensor, which means it’s basically future-proof.

As good as the FA 21mm Limited is, it enters the market as a very niche option. Pentax cameras have a tiny market share in the US (though they remain beloved in Japan). A small market means fewer R&D dollars and Pentax’s release schedule is telling. The K-1 Mark II is a warmed-over version of the original K-1, which wasn’t nearly bleeding-edge when it debuted six years ago. Like the rest of the folks who love the classic FA Limited lenses, I’m waiting to see if an upgraded full-frame camera is coming down the pike.

Pentax does have a new camera, though: The APS-C K-3 Mark III offers a much more capable autofocus system and thoughtful ergonomic touches. It’s the best camera to get if you have a stash of DA series Pentax lenses, but it’s tough to recommend that crop-sensor customers spend so much on the full-frame 21mm F2.4 when more sensible alternatives are available. The DA 20-40mm F2.8-4 Limited zoom, for example, costs much less and isn’t too far off in character or design language. That lens also includes weather protection and an internal focus motor. The HD DA 21mm F3.2 is another Limited option for K-3 and KP photogs, but isn’t nearly as optically impressive as the FA 21mm Limited or the DA 20-40mm.

If you’re holding onto your Pentax SLR at this point, it’s almost certainly out of love and devotion to the system. I may be preaching to the choir here, but the Limited lenses have something special unusual focal lengths and optical formulas, along with the attention to craftsmanship you’d expect from Leica. The 21mm angle isn’t underserved, but the optical formula here sets the FA apart from the crowd. It’s also a fresh design from Pentax, reaffirming the message sent by the K-3 Mark III: Pentax may not be going mirrorless, but it’s still innovating.

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