Review: Pentax 15-30mm f2.8 ED SDM WR (Pentax F)

The Pentax K-1 is probably the greatest thing to happen to many Pentax users in a while; and when you consider some fantastic lenses like the company’s Pentax 15-30mm f2.8 you start to see more and more how someone could almost want to switch systems. The Pentax 15-30mm f2.8 is a weather sealed beast of a lens that works very well with the Pentax K-1 and is designed for landscape, architecture, and Real Estate photographers. But it’s also a generally great walkaround lens if you’re the type that enjoys shooting wide. Like all wides, it can also be used to deliver a very unique perspective when shooting portraits.

With 9 aperture blades in its design and HD coatings to render even more details, there’s a lot to love here.

Pros and Cons

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Pros

  • Fantastic colors
  • Great image quality overall
  • Great weather sealing
  • Feels great in the hand
  • Fairly affordable price point
  • When connected to the camera, it can still fit into most messenger style camera bags
  • Fast focusing, but it’s also a wide angle lens so you have to expect that

Cons

  • Shows a bit more distortion than we’re used to seeing with wide angle zooms these days (Canon and Sony especially!)
  • Focusing and zoom ring are a bit too small for my liking

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the company’s website.

LENS MOUNT PENTAX KAF3
FOCAL LENGTH (35mm FF) 15-30mm
FOCAL LENGTH (APS-C) 23-46mm
APERTURE F2.8
MIN APERTURE F22
LENS CONSTRUCTION 18 Elements in 13 Groups
ANGLE OF VIEW (35mm FF) 111° – 72°
ANGLE OF VIEW (APS-C) 86° – 50°
MIN FOCUSING DISTANCE 0.28m (0.92 ft.)
MAX MAGNIFICATION 0.20x
FILTER DIAMETER N/A
DIAPHRAGM CONTROL Fully Automatic
NUMBER OF APERTURE BLADES 9
APERTURE BLADES Rounded Aperture:
W 15mm: F2.8 – 4
T 30mm: F2.8-5.6
LENS APERTURE RING N/A
LENS HOOD Built-in (fixed)
LENS CAP O-LW98A (included)
LENS CASE S120-160 (included)
MAX DIAMETER X MIN LENGTH 3.88″ x 5.65″
WEIGHT 1040g (36.7oz)
NOTES HD Coating, SP (Super Protect) Coating, Quick Shift Focus,
SDM (Supersonic Direct-Drive Motor), WR (Weather Resistant)

Gear Used

For the review of the Pentax 15-30mm f2.8, we used the Pentax K-1 and the Adorama Flashpoint Zoom LiOn flashes.

Ergonomics

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When you look at the Pentax 15-30mm f2.8 lens, you’ll notice that it’s pretty large overall. A Pentax lens feels much different than anything Canon and Nikon put out. Most of the body is arguably dominated by the focus and zoom rings. In between each area is the textured plastic.

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The front of the lens has the hood permanently attached to it. So the lens cap actually goes over this entire area.

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Like Sony’s lenses, this Pentax doesn’t have any sort of switches on it. That’s because the focusing is controlled via the camera’s AF/MF switch on the side of the front.

In Comparison

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The closest thing that I really want to compare this lens to is the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 L III. The Canon has a much larger focusing ring and for that reason, it’s also just easier to grip onto at times. What Pentax has going for it though is the significantly better texture on these rubber rings. In fact, they’re the best I’ve felt.

Rating

four-star-Phoblographer-Star-rating

I overall like Canon’s option better because again, it’s easier to grip onto. In some ways, it’s the difference between a full baguette and a cannoli.

Build Quality

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If you’ve followed us on Instagram, you’ll know that we took it out in the rain to test. The lens stood up to the rain with ease and never stopped working. Additionally, the lens hood protected the front element very well.

This is the reliability I’ve come to expect from my gear at times.

In Comparison

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Canon’s 16-35mm f2.8 III can also handle the rain with ease. They both feel like they’re designed to do a lot of work, but I can’t really figure out which one is built better overall. It’s quite a tough choice.

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Rating

Phoblographer-Star-rating

It just makes sense that Pentax’s 15-30mm f2.8 lens works very well.

Ease of Use

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The Pentax 15-30mm f2.8 lens is in some ways more like a Sony mirrorless camera lens than anything else. Equivalent offerings from Sigma, Canon, Nikon, and Tokina all have switches on the side. But the Pentax doesn’t. So if you’re new to the system, you’ll need to remember this. If you’re an experienced veteran, then that’s fine and most likely not an issue.

Otherwise, you’re just pointing the lens, focusing, and shooting just like you would with anything else.

In Comparison

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I mean, it’s really just an issue of a switch. You may accidentally set it to MF when you want to autofocus, so just one more thing to keep in mind. Sounds petty, and it really is. But it can be annoying at times.

Rating

Phoblographer-Star-rating

Again, nothing to really complain about here.

Autofocus

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This is a wide angle lens, so you should expect it to focus quickly. With the Pentax K-1, it also focuses very accurately. There wasn’t a single time when I felt that the autofocus slowed down to a serious crawl. It can surely hold its own with the latest Canon and Nikon offerings out there.

In Comparison

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It’s honestly very hard for a wide angle lens to miss its focusing point unless you’re not looking through the viewfinder. So don’t worry about it that much.

Rating

Phoblographer-Star-rating

Image Quality

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The overall image quality from the Pentax 15-30mm f2.8 is impressively sharp and great overall. There’s a lot to love about this lens’s image quality. Landscape photographers will love the overall wide angle, but architecture and real estate photographers may not be so happy about the distortion control. Sure, it can be fixed in Lightroom, but I’d be telling you a complete lie if I said that rectilinear primes and lenses aren’t available on the market right now. It’s also tough to get any bokeh from it, but what’s there is enjoyable for the most part.

Bokeh

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To get any sort of bokeh from this lens, you really need to shoot at f2.8 and 30mm–then focus in closely. You’re not going to get a whole lot, but what’s there is pleasing from the nine aperture blades. Overall though, don’t get this lens for the bokeh.

Chromatic Aberration

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Yes, I understand that towards the edges you’ll get distortion plus you’ve got perspective distortion, but you should also note that even though Lightroom does a good job minimizing it, there are still lenses out there with even less. With that said though, it’s still usable.

On top of that, we couldn’t find any purple or color fringing from this lens at all.

Color Rendition

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The colors from this lens are truly something special. They’re saturated more so than Canon and Nikon’s offerings, but not like Sony’s. When you apply the camera profiles to the images, you’ll get even better results too.

Sharpness

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Here’s where I really start to dig this lens. To get the best sharpness from any scene, I tell everyone to use a flash due to the way that specular highlights and flash durations work. Indeed, this lens renders incredibly sharp images even when not stopped down. In fact, I almost never wanted to stop it down.

By far, the sharpness and color rendition are the best features of this lens.

Extra Image Samples

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In Comparison

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I’ve only played with a prototype of the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 III L, but it’s still very capable of producing very sharp images. When you combine this with the company’s 5Ds, you’re blowing what Pentax can do out of the water.

Rating

four-star-Phoblographer-Star-rating

This lens has good image quality, but in some ways I feel it falls behind what some other wide angle zooms are doing these days. Every zoom also falls behind primes.

Conclusions

Likes

  • Build quality is solid
  • Nice colors
  • Great sharpness
  • Fantastic price point

Dislikes

  • For landscapes and architecture, the distortion will be a bit much depending on your opinion. For me though, I don’t mind it all that much.

The Pentax 15-30mm f2.8 lens is a very good one. Lots of Pentax users have really loved the company’s primes for many years. This zoom is quite a great one and probably better than most third party options currently available (though that will change). The best part about it is the build quality. It’s not at all a bad lens. It’s an excellent lens, but there are better options out there if you switch to multiple primes instead.

Phoblographer-Star-rating

The Pentax 15-30mm f2.8 lens receives five out of five stars. For what it is, it’s great. But I’m typically the photographer that goes for primes over zooms. Want one? Check out Amazon’s listings.

Recommended Cameras

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Pentax K-1: I really wish Pentax had more full frame DSLRs. But they don’t at the moment.