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SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR Lens Review

SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR Lens Review - John Riley reviews the SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC, a weather resistant, compact lens.

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Category : Interchangeable Lenses
Product : Pentax smc DA 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR
Price : £334
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Features
Handling
Performance
Verdict
Specification
SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR
Weather resistant, compact, sporting the new DC motor and all in a very compact package, this new Pentax lens is very appealing. Braving the English rain, we shall see if its performance lives up to its potential.

SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR: Features

An impressive feature set starts with the simplified weather resistant construction. This makes it difficult for water to gain ingress and shooting in the rain becomes a real possibility. The SP (Super Protect) coating also repels water, dirt and grease, further aiding bad weather use.

The KAF3 mount means that this lens has no AF drive shaft and therefore needs the newer generation of Pentax DSLR bodies, starting with the K10D providing that it has been updated to firmware v1.30 or above and with the K-5, K-r, K-7, K-x, K-m, K20D, K200D and K100D Super being fully compatible. Older bodies will mean using the lens for manual focus only.

The lens is constructed with 13 elements in 11 groups and the 7 blade diaphragm ensures a virtually round aperture for enhanced bokeh.

The new DC motor is silent and swift and the lens is also enabled for Quick Shift, a Pentax feature whereby after AF is achieved the focus point can be tweaked manually. This is especially useful in macro photography and, although not a macro lens, the maximum magnification approaches a useful 1:4.

The lens is quite chunky,taking 62mm filters, and weighs a solid 405g. The 35mm-equivalent range is 27.5-207mm. The metal bayonet is firmly secured by five screws, giving reassurance that the construction is solid and will wear well.

SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR: Handling

This is a very chunky lens and, unusually for Pentax, the manual focusing ring is located near the camera body rather than near the front. This means adopting a slightly different hold, but this is not a problem and just takes a moment to adjust to. The grip on both manual focusing ring and zoom ring is positive and the action of both is smooth but firm. The lens seems to be very well made and the finish throughout is to a high standard.

The lens balances well on the K-5 body that I tested it on and is a very useful range, ideal for a standard zoom. The Quick Shift feature is a real advantage in many situation especially, as mentioned above, close up shooting. The focus point can be fine-tuned after AF locks on without having to operate any additional switch. One nice thing about Pentax lenses is that there are no inconvenient macro settings to worry about – focusing is continuous throughout the range.

The new DC motor, built into the lens, is very slick. It is silent, fast and just locks on to the subject first time, every time. During this test there was not even one occasion when focus was not instantly achieved. Being used to the sound of conventional AF built into a camera body, this new style of focusing is quite odd at first, like living in a silent world.

The metal bayonet mount is smooth and locks firmly into place, more firmly than older lenses because of the weatherproof seal at the back of the lens. The Internal Focus means that the lens does not change length whilst focusing, although the focusing ring does still rotate.

In terms of handling and general functionality, this lens design would be very difficult to improve on.

SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR: Performance

So does the performance live up to the handling? As we look at both the lab tests and the in field photography, the answer to that is not as straightforward as we might expect.

In terms of photography in the field and in the studio, the lens performs very well. There's no doubt that images have superb colour, good sharpness and very pleasing bokeh. Aesthetically this scores very highly, producing very pleasant images.

The downside is in the compromises that have been made to make the lens as compact as it is and, probably, to make it Internal Focusing as well.

At 18mm, the lens puts in its strongest performance. The MTF50 chart shows good levels of detail, albeit it falling off in the corners. The MTF20 chart reveals a contrasty lens that has a high visual sharpness. This contributes to the good overall perception of the images. In terms of chromatic aberration, the centre of the field is very well controlled but this falls off dramatically towards the edges. It is in the area of distortion that things have been really let go, and we have quite high levels of barrel distortion that would easily be noticeable in architectural shots.

  CA MTF20 MTF50
18mm SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR CA 18mm SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR MTF20 18mm SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR MTF50 18mm
35mm SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR CA 35mm SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR MTF20 35mm SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR MTF50 35mm
70mm SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR CA 70mm SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR MTF20 70mm SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR MTF50 70mm
135mm SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR CA 135mm SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR MTF20 135mm SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR MTF50 135mm

By 35mm the distortion and CA are coming under better control, and the high contrast is well maintained across the frame. The fine detail as shown by the MTF50 chart is not there in the corners, but is reasonable to about half way across the field. Images still look good because the coarser details are reproduced very well.

This pattern is maintained through the 70mm and 135mm charts. High central resolution falling over very severely towards the corners, good even contrast across the frame and good central control of CA being allowed to drift considerably toward the outer field and especially the corners. Distortion is quite visible throughout as it varies from wide angle barrel to telephoto pincushion.

However, we do not routinely buy lenses to take pictures of test charts and in the real world this is a very attractive lens that produces really good images. This is clearly because high visual sharpness is achieved through an excellent MTF20 result, where coarser detail is reproduced well across the frame.

SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR Pleasing results from fill-in flash in fading daylight   SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR Alison poses for a test shot in the studio
Pleasing results from fill-in flash in fading daylight, ISO200, 1/125, f/4.5, 68mm (35mm equiv: 102mm)   Alison poses for a test shot in the studio, ISO100, 1/100, f/8, 135mm (35mm equiv: 202mm)
SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR The widest shot at 18mm   SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR The longest zoom at 135mm
The widest shot at 18mm, ISO200, 1/125, f/8, 18mm (35mm equiv: 27mm)   The longest zoom at 135mm, ISO200, 1/160, f/8, 135mm (35mm equiv: 202mm)
SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR The passageways of Manchester show moderate distortion with careful choice of viewpoint   SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR Coarser detail is reproduced well, along with vibrant and attractive colour
The passageways of Manchester show moderate distortion with careful choice of viewpoint, ISO200, 1/30, f/8, 24mm (35mm equiv: 36mm)   Coarser detail is reproduced well, along with vibrant and attractive colour, ISO200, 1/200, f/8, 78mm (35mm equiv: 117mm)
SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR A good level of detail is present in this shot in the rain   SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR An ideal range of focal lengths to capture most events as they unfold
A good level of detail is present in this shot in the rain, ISO200, 1/160, f/8, 21mm (35mm equiv: 31mm)   An ideal range of focal lengths to capture most events as they unfold, ISO200, 1/100, f/8, 21mm (35mm equiv: 31mm)

SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR: Verdict

There is a lot to like about this lens and in a practical sense it gives a good account of itself. There are design compromises that have lead to drawbacks, but often it is a matter of matching a lens design with the desired application.

If a lens for architecture and copying of documents is wanted, then this is not it. If it is wanted for general shooting of pictorial subjects and portraits then the lens produces excellent, visually appealing images that have a very attractive character about them. When we add to this the ability to keep shooting in the rain and cold, then we do have an extremely versatile option for Pentax users. In terms of handling the lens is an absolute joy to use.

 
  A versatile lens that produces pleasing results but with some optical compromises.

SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR: Pros

SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR Superb handling
SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR Weather resistance
SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR Silent DC motor
SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR Close focusing
SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR Quick Shift manual focus
SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR Visually appealing images

SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR: Cons

SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR High distortion levels
SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR High CA levels
SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR Low fine resolution at longer focal lengths
SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR High price

FEATURES SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR
HANDLING SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR
PERFORMANCE SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR
VALUE FOR MONEY
SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR
OVERALL SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR

SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR: Specification

Price £529.99
Contact www.pentax.co.uk
Filter size 62mm
Format APS-C
Construction 13 elements in 11 groups
Angle-of-view 79° ~ 11.9°
35mm equivalent focal length (on APS-C body) 27.5-207mm
Internal focusing Yes
Image stabilisation No
Minimum focus 0.4m
Maximum aperture f/3.5-5.6
Minimum aperture f/22-38
Weight 405g
Size (lxw) 73mm x 76mm
In the box Front lens cap O-LC62
Rear lens cap
Lens hood PH-RBC 62mm

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Comments


Rees 6 14 Wales
1 Jun 2011 9:10AM
A very interesting and thorough review. I am surprised it reached a score of four and a half.
On the basis of the review, I will not be purchasing this lens.

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bigjohna 5 22 Scotland
19 Oct 2011 9:50AM
Can you suggest a lens covering similar focal length that is a better buy than this and will fit a Pentax K200D?

Thanks
Alan_Baseley e2
13 320 2 England
31 Aug 2012 9:53AM
After reading this, and other reviews, of this lens I was unsure whether or not to buy one, but, in the end, decided to take the plunge. Initial reaction is very favourable, the lens is superbly made and, as stated in the review, "a joy to handle".
The shots I am getting seem to me to be better than with my Sigma 18-125, the autofocus is quick, quiet and spot-on.
At the moment I can't fault the lens.

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