I’ve been looking for a 28mm lens to complement my Contax 35-70mm f3.5 zoom lens for a while now. I imagined someday having a nice set for my A7 with the Contax Distagon 28mm f2.8, 35-70mm, and 85mm f2.8 Sonnar.
Earlier this spring IÂ borrowedÂ a copy of theÂ Contax 28mm f2.8 from a friend. I was immediately in love with it- the amazing Zeiss contrast, color, and “pop.” All three together yield a look that is unique. I decided I had to have one too.
The problem came when the only copies available were around $400. Not a bad price for a great lens like that, but more than I wanted to spend forÂ a lens that wouldn’t see much use at work.
So while my wife watched Real Housewives and Dance Moms one evening I set out to find a deal onÂ the Contax and revisit the test shots I had made with the borrowed lens.
After failing to find a dealÂ for the ContaxÂ I startedÂ reading a lengthyÂ forum post comparing 28mm lenses. One of the contenders was the Pentax K 28mm f3.5. A few posters claimedÂ that it was as sharp as the Contax, all the way to the corners!
My criteria for a goodÂ 28mm is all about how it performsÂ with landscapes and wide shots, meaningÂ technical performance at or near infinity. Its not a focal length I really like to use forÂ expressive images, and certainly if I wanted an interesting 28mm I’d head right for the Distagon f2.0. But the idea of a <$250 lens that will makeÂ impressively detailedÂ 36″ prints was pretty exciting.
Clicking over to KEH.com, there was a copy in mint condition for $140. Two business days later the little guy arrives fresh from Georgia. ExcellentÂ build quality, literally factory condition….
#TKTK Picture of the lens on A7
BUT THEÂ FOCUS TURNSÂ TO THE LEFT!!!
#TKTK Picture of focus marks
Immediately the bar for this lens not to get returned wasÂ raised two-fold. Working with lenses that turn this way is tough, the muscle memory to turn right for infinity is so strong its nearly impossibleÂ toÂ work intuitivelyÂ with this setup.
Now, I planned to use this lens at f8 and near infinity most of the time, which means not much fiddling with focus. I mounted it up and took it out with me for errands around the city.
Now, does it deliver when you set it to f8 and focus it well? Yes. Sharp as you could want it, all the way to the last pixel in the corners. It feels like its optimized for different detail frequencies than the Zeiss is, so while it is just as sharp the effect is different.
There does seem to be a tiny amount ofÂ field curvature, soÂ to get that perfectÂ corner you need to zoom in and adjust the focus slightly for it, but its never enough adjustment to defocus the center.
There is some chromatic aberration at f3.5 and f4. Less with f5.6 and almost none with f8, but it always disappears completely when you enable CA correction in Lightroom. I did find that you need to be careful and not default to using it “on” since it actually added CA to some images that weren’t showing it.
Any distortion is impossibleÂ to spot. I didn’t correct any of these images for it. Vignetting is there at f4, and is almost gone at f8. If you need a perfect gradient I found thatÂ +20/50 correction in LightroomCC worked for f8.
At the minimum focus distance the center 80% of the image was sharp, I found the edges didn’t hold up so well. This is understandable since its not a modern floating design. If I am going to get wide and close, I’m going to get theÂ Nikkor 20mm f3.5 out and get crazy for real.
The bokeh is good. Not distracting even though you will see your out of focus highlights as pentagons starting at f4.
The 5 bladed iris is one of those things I wish was some mad-scientist lens tech could fix for me. The dream would beÂ transplanting theÂ nicer 8-blade iris from a donor 50/1.4 lens,Â but I doubt I’ll be using it closer than 10′ very often.
All told I love the value proposition of this lens: Mint for $140 and it delivers a pleasing image and all the resolution youÂ need for big prints. A quick check on Ebay and it sold for as little as $50 recently. At that price point it means that I’m much more likely to bring this lens out to the playground, shove it in my bag going out for errands, or just loan to a friend for their vacation.
In the end, I can’t get over the Contax. Its rendering, focus turn, andÂ it can be readily converted to EF mount- making it a “revenue-generating” piece of kit forÂ work. Look for that review soon!