Pentax Lens Buying Guide

Find out what sets Pentax lenses apart from the pack.

Credit: Pentax
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  1. What Pentax Has to Offer A unique approach to lens design
  2. Pentax K-Mount Lenses Strong legacy, bright future
  3. Terms to Know AW or WR? DC or SDM? Here’s how to decode Pentax lens names.

1. What Pentax Has to Offer

A unique approach to lens design

Though it’s one of the most recognizable names in the camera industry, Pentax has maintained a relatively low profile in the digital age. Still, while it can’t match market leaders Canon and Nikon blow-for-blow when it comes to lens availability, the brand has a strong lineup highlighted by an impressive range of compact, high-performing prime lenses.

Along with Nikon, Pentax is one of only two DSLR makers who have maintained mount compatibility through the transition from manual focus to autofocus, and from film to digital. That means Pentax shooters can use more than 40 years’ worth of first- and third-party manual and autofocus lenses on their modern DSLRs, no adapters required.


2. Pentax K-Mount Lenses

Strong legacy, bright future

Pentax Lens Family
Credit: Pentax

Today, the Pentax lens lineup is divided into several distinct groupings. DA lenses are the company’s consumer-grade offerings, covering the usual kit lenses and lightweight, mostly plastic primes. The enthusiast-focused DA Limited lenses feature metal bodies, unique focal lengths, and compact design. DA* lenses are larger, weather-sealed, and designed for professional use.

HD Pentax 15mm f/4 Limited Lens
Credit: Pentax
Pentax Limited lenses, like this 15mm f/4, boast compact design and an all-metal build.

Since the K-mount was designed for 35mm film, it’s also large enough to accommodate a full-frame digital image sensor. All of the company's DSLRs to date have been APS-C models, but Pentax has continued to manufacture full-frame FA Limited lenses, as well as some in the newer D FA series. The latter group includes two new D FA telephoto zooms designed to work with the company’s upcoming full-frame DSLR.

Pentax lenses do not include optical image stabilization, since all Pentax DSLRs use sensor-shift in-body image stabilization (IBIS). This means that any and all lenses you mount on a Pentax DSLR will be stabilized—yes, even decades-old manual glass.

Pentax has long had a reputation for noisy autofocus, since most of its lenses used in-body “screwdrive” autofocus long after the competition moved on to silent in-lens electronic focus motors. That seems to be changing. After experimenting with SDM (Supersonic Drive Motor) technology, the brand has recently moved to using DC (direct current) autofocus motors in most new lenses.


3. Terms to Know

AW or WR? DC or SDM? Here’s how to decode Pentax lens names.

If you’re in the market for a new Pentax lens, you’re going to be wading through an alphabet soup of acronyms and unfamiliar terms as you shop. Here’s what you ought to look out for.

Pentax Lens Detail
Credit: Pentax

DA: This is the basic label applied to Pentax lenses designed to cover the APS-C image sensor.

DA L: DA L lenses are lightweight, less expensive versions of existing Pentax DA lenses, often sold bundled with the company’s most affordable DSLRs.

FA: This is the basic label applied to Pentax lenses designed to cover the 35mm full-frame image circle.

D FA: Describes full-frame lenses designed in the digital era.

★: DA* and D FA* lenses feature robust build quality, high-quality optics, and weather sealing, making them suitable for professional use.

Limited: DA and FA Limited lenses feature all-metal build quality, unique focal lengths, and compact design.

Pentax WR Weather Sealing
Credit: Reviewed.com / Ben Keough
Pentax WR lenses include a visible red o-ring seal around the lens mount, along with various internal seals that you can't see.

DC: Short for “direct current.” Refers to Pentax’s newest kind of electronic autofocus motor.

SDM: Short for “Supersonic Drive Motor.” A type of electronic autofocus motor that was used in some DA* lenses.

WR: Indicates that a lens is weather resistant—sealed against moisture and dust. WR lenses feature a bright red o-ring gasket on the metal mount.

AW: A beefed-up kind of weather sealing found on some DA and D FA* lenses. DA* lenses feature weather sealing generally considered equivalent to AW.

AL: Describes lenses that use aspherical elements, which help produce higher corner sharpness and reduce optical aberrations.

ED: Describes lenses that employ extra-low dispersion glass elements, which can help eliminate chromatic aberrations (color fringing) in photographs.

SMC: Short for “Super Multi Coating,” this was Pentax’s standard lens coating for many decades. Designed to reduce flare, ghosting, and internal reflections.

HD: This is the new Pentax lens coating, which the company says provides a more than 50% reduction in reflections over the previous SMC coating. May also reduce flare and ghosting.

RE: Describes collapsible lenses, which are designed to be more compact when not in use.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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