Pentax HD DA* 16-50mm F2.8 ED PLM AW

The HD Pentax DA* 16-50mm ED PLM AW

For those who are not familiar with me yet; my name is Mike Muizebelt and I’m a Dutch wildlife- and nature photographer. I specialize in nature and wildlife on the African continent and host photo-tours into Botswana and Namibia on a regular basis.
I’m an ambassador for NiSi, Mindshift, Sirui and last but not least, Pentax. About a month ago I received a pre-production copy of the new Pentax DA* 16-50mm in order to use it on the recently released Pentax K-3 mark III.

This lens is launched as a successor to the DA* 16-50/2.8ED AL [IF] SDM to meet the enhanced imaging capabilities of the Pentax K-3 mark III. This new Star-series lens aims to be a perfect match for this flagship APS-C camera.
Besides enhanced imaging capabilities another goal this lens aims to achieve is to give us, e.g. the photographers out there, a more creative tool. By closing the aperture, the image becomes crisp, opening the aperture renders a more soft and mellow image. The zooming capabilities give us an additional creative tool by a focal length than can be changed.

During the years that I’ve been working with Pentax I’ve known the PENTAX Star-series lenses to be positioned as premier-quality lenses. Lenses from this line are roughly defined by excellence in three categories: exceptional image quality, a large aperture, and a lens barrel design with excellent strength and outdoor protection against the elements. I’ve used the predecessor to the lens, the SDM version, on my Pentax K-3 mark I with great joy. It’s focal length is the perfect companion to an APS-C sensor and it’s comparable tot 24-70mm on a full-frame body.

Pentax K3 mark III - 16mm - ISO 100 - F10 - 10s - NiSi 3 stops medium GND - NiSi 6 stops ND - NiSI Landscape Polariser

Working with the HD Pentax DA* 16-50mm

I usually work with my other Pentax bodies; my “workhorse” the Pentax K-1 mark II and my preferred landscape camera, the Pentax 645Z. For this review I’ve left them at home and I’ve been using the K-3 mark III with the new DA* 16-50mm exclusively. Where applicable I used my NiSi landscape filters as I would normally do. All images are edited in the RAW-coverter that’s build into the Pentax K3 mark III unless otherwise stated.

The first thing I noticed when I received this lens was it’s outstanding build quality. It’s sturdy, it packs some weight and seems a few centimetres longer the the previous SMC version of this lens. (I’m not writing down any technical information about the lens, for this information you can visit Pentax’s corporate site).
It’s got the familiar AF/MF button on the side and it’s instantly recognisable as a Star*-series lens by the golden ring at the front. The green ring near the lens-mount clearly gives it away as full weather sealed lens as well. The lens also has a quick-shift focus system that will switch to MF if you rotate the focus ring after locking autofocus.
After mounting it to the Pentax K3, and bringing the viewfinder to my eye, I felt how well balanced the combination is. It feels like a so called perfect fit and a great walkabout combination.

Pentax K3 mark III - 16mm - ISO 100 - F13 - 13s - NiSi 3 stops medium GND - NiSi 6 stops ND - NiSI Landscape Polariser

Optical Performance of the HD Pentax DA* 16-50mm F2.8 ED PLM AW

As every other photographer that I know, one of the first things I do after mounting a lens to the camera….is to check the image at 100% magnification. And boy was I impressed! It’s instantly clear that this lens is able to bring out the best of my K-3. Crips, contrasty and sharp. Not only in the centre, but also in the corners.
In due time we will no doubt so comparison images between the SDM version and this PLM version and I can tell you already now; you will be very impressed by the differences, not only in the centre, but mainly in the edges of your frame. As a landscape photographer this is a major improvement that I applaud loudly!

As an outdoor photographer I often encounter difficult lighting situations and the optical design and coating used in the lens seem to control the various aberrations very well also. I’ve yet to encounter a (backlight)situation where this lens has let me down in this respect (I’m now about 1500 images further).

Pentax K3 mark III - 16mm - ISO 200 - F8 - 1/100s

Autofocus performance of the HD Pentax DA* 16-50mm F2.8 ED PLM AW

The construction of conventional standard zoom lenses is always the same: the second lens group contains the focusing and zooming function. This was the case also with the DA★16-50mm F2.8 ED AL[IF] SDM. lens. In this new lens, the design is altered drastically. Pentax was able to reduce the weight of the focussing group to approximately 1/3 of the conventional lens and they were able to improve the image characteristics. This reduction in weight made it possible to drive this focus-lens group with the advanced PLM (Pulse Motor). This assures a smooth, high-speed autofocus operation with minimized operational noise. Thanks to the redesigned focus mechanism, it provides the minimum focusing distance of just 0.3 meters, and the maximum magnification of 0.24 times, making this a versatile, regular-use lens for capturing all types of subjects — from everyday snapshots to close-ups and landscapes.

When using the autofocus on the K-3 mark III I felt a snappy and very responsive operation. Accurate and with perfect sharpness, even at full open aperture of F2.8.
Not only AF-Single but also in AF-Continuous it performed flawless.
When zoomed out wide, the focus movement time is reduced to about 1/2 the time the SDM version needs. At the tele range of the lens the reduction in time is about 1/3th. The movement speed is also greatly increased; at the wide end it’s approximately 2 times faster, at the tele end approximately 1.5 times.

Pentax K3 mark III - 16mm - ISO 500 - F3.5 - 1/200s

Special features of the HD Pentax DA* 16-50mm F2.8 ED PLM AW

AW (All Weather) sealing

Nine places of the lens component are sealed to resist the intrusion of water or dust.

Rounded Diaphragm

Nine blades with a rounded diaphragm. The rounded blades aid in the creation of a smooth and beautiful bokeh. But by making variations in your selected aperture you might opt for a more crisp look if preferred.

Electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism for high-precision diaphragm control

This zoom lens features an electromagnetic diaphragm control mechanism to assure high- precision exposure control when used in combination with compatible digital SLR cameras. It also lets the user capture video clips using automatic exposure control, even when there are considerable differences in brightness during the video shooting.

HD Coating

This lens is treated with the high-grade, multi-layer HD Coating. Compared with conventional multi-layer coatings, this PENTAX-original coating assures higher light transmittance and less reflection to deliver bright, high-contrast images reducing of flare and ghost images, even under demanding lighting conditions such as backlight.

SP Coating

SP (Super Protect) Coating applied to the front surface of the lens aids to effectively repel water and grease.

Pentax K3 mark III - 16mm - ISO 100 - F8 - 1.6s - NiSi 3 stops medium GND - NiSI Landscape Polariser

Conclusion

After using the lens for almost a month I can only conclude that Pentax has put an amazing lens to the market. The imaging quality is among the best out there and it will be a great addition to the camera bag of each all-round photographer.
With it’s snappy and accurate autofocus you can leave the technical part of your photography to the camera while you concentrate on the creative part.
In this case I dare to say that One and One equals Three. Paired with the P-3 mark III, this combination is a winner. With releases like this, Pentax clearly shows it’s commitment to bring out the best photographic tools. In my opinion this lens was well worth the wait!

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