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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Pentax 67 100mm Macro Lens: Review

By Ctein

click for full-size illustration
This close-up of some of the brilliantly-colored pahoehoe lava that can be found in Hawaii shows off the fine performance of the 100 mm ƒ/4 macro lens. Contrast and color saturation are excellent, and the details are sharp (within the limits of the very shallow depth of field) from corner to corner in this near-life-size photograph.

The Pentax 67 system is almost four decades old and has been my camera of choice since its introduction. Many of the 67 lens designs are also that old. Then, they were state-of-the-art; today, not so much.

The 135mm ƒ/4 macro lens focused down to 1/3X magnification with no extension tubes while providing images of good quality at normal distances. But, it's a bit low in contrast, lacking the snap typical of other Pentax 67 lenses, and 1/3X is hardly close focusing by today's standards.

Enter the next generation: the 100mm ƒ/4 macro lens. It focuses to better than 1/2X with no extension tubes and greater than life-size with a front-of-the-lens converter. The compact lens hood screws into the front element of the lens or converter, and the lens cap snaps on the front of the hood, so the whole assembly makes a nice package when not in use.

click for full-size illustration
The old (left) and new (right) Pentax 67 macro lenses. The old 135 mm ƒ/4 macro is at full extension. The new 100 mm ƒ/4 macro at full extension with life-size converter and screw-in lens hood.

The front converter means I don't need to dismount the lens to get greater than 1/2X magnification. The converter goes on and off much faster than extension tubes, takes only one hand, and I'm less likely to disturb my macro set-up. Of course, I can still add an extension tube or tubes to get more than 2X magnification.

The 100mm macro lens is a fine performer at all distances. That its close-up performance is beyond reproach will not surprise anyone, but it's a really great lens all the way out to infinity.

I was sufficiently impressed with this lens that I tested it against the normal 105mm ƒ/2.4 lens, a much-lauded optic that is one of the very best in the Pentax 67 line. The 100mm macro matched or bettered the 105mm! It was at least as sharp, if not a touch sharper, and it produced negatives with better contrast. So long as I won't be needing apertures greater than ƒ/4, I could leave the 105mm lens at home and use the 100mm macro as my standard lens.

Focusing the 100mm macro requires an extraordinarily fine touch, though. The focusing ring on the 135mm macro lens has 60% more travel for the same depth of focus tolerance, and the 105mm standard lens is over three times as forgiving.

But, it's such a superior lens that I'm saving my pennies to replace my older macro lens. For quality like this I'll learn to live with super-fussy focusing.

Posted by: CTEIN


Anonymous said...

The utter lack of enthusiasm and response here goes to show how indifferent people are about even some of the most wonderful pieces of optical engineering if they aren't compatible with the digital capture medium.

8:09 PM  
Anonymous said...

...or if they do not use a Pentax 67....

12:10 AM  
John Roberts said...

There are basically two kinds of people who visit photography sites: First, those whose passion is the craft of photography. To them, equipment equals tools. Next are those whose passion is the equipment, gadgets, and paraphernalia of photography. To them, equipment equals the reason for being. Perhaps the lack of enthusiasm and response indicates that this site is frequented more by the former than the latter?

4:27 AM  
Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, photographers really should worry/talk/argue about equipment they'll never be able to use. Things aren't bad enough already, I guess.

6:05 AM  
Mike Johnston said...

"...or if they do not use a Pentax 67...."

Like not owning something prevents photographers from discussing it on the internet. (s)


6:10 AM  
Anonymous said...

I have never used the 67 100mm, but I have the 135mm, which is a very nice lens as described. My favorite of this genre is the 645 120mm macro. Infinity to 1:1 without tubes or add ons (it pays a price in the weight department for that feature however). Incredibly shape in the macro region, I would say sharper than the 135mm to the point I feel I can get better results with the 120mm despite the smaller format. I wonder why Pentax never made a 67 version of this lens

6:35 AM  
yuri said...

It was great to have a post about medium format film equipment. While I don't shoot Pentax 67, I do shoot Bronica SQ and appreciate any discussions about medium format equipment and techniques.

10:10 AM  
Ctein said...

Dear Folks,

Something I probably should have mentioned in that mini-review is that *IF* Pentax ever gets around to releasing their digital 645 that they've been talking about for 2 years, it'll be compatible with the current Pentax 645 and 67 lenses.

Sorry for not mentioning that.

12:22 PM  
Anonymous said...

The promise of the pentax 645 digital is why I've been thinking of hitting up keh for a bunch of used pentax lenses and a nice 645 or 67 body.

Can all be had for cheap.

2:00 PM  
Chris said...

I have used the Pentax 67ii almost exclusively for the past 5 years while living in Japan. The bigger film size gives me the quality the stock agencies and magazine photo editors prefer and although heavy the weight it still acceptable. I use the 35mm fisheye, 45mm, 75mm shift, 100mm macro, 105mm, 165mm and 400mm. When I travel I always take the 45, 105 and 165 and then vary the others depending on the situation.

If you want to see what the camera can do the easiest way would be to look at the images on my website all the photos were taken with the Pentax 67ii.

I love the camera and continue shooting with it while my colleagues are now using the Canon EOS 1Ds MarkII or the Nikon D2X.

In Japan the Pentax 67 is nicknamed Gulliver because it looks like an oversized 35mm camera. Just as apt would be The Terminator: it's a tough piece of equipment, it makes nearly every other camera out there look like "girly-men" and when you press the shutter it echoes like a shotgun blast.

Hope this inspires others to set out on travels with Gulliver.


7:28 PM  
yuri said...

This lens review has in part helped spur me to get a Pentax 6x7 (with MLU) and I am now on the prowl for this particular lens. I also have a couple of Pentax 645n bodies that I plan to use this lens on as well (with the P67 to P645 adapter).

Thanks again Ctein for posting this!

4:13 PM