Pentax K-Mount Lens Series Explained: The differences between various Pentax lens series

In a nutshell  
There are several series of Pentax K-mount lenses; the ones currently being produced include the DA (digital), DA L (cheap digital kit), D FA (full-frame, digital optimized), and FA (full-frame) series. While all Pentax K-mount lenses are currently compatible with the Pentax DSLRs (and the new K-01), there are siginificant differences between each lens series and each has different features. We'll be exploring those differences in this article. Read more about K-mount lens/camera compatibility.  
Feature
Auto-Aperture
Auto-Focus
Quick Shift
Aperture Ring
Full-Frame
DSLR-Compatible
K-mount Variant
DA Series
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No
Yes
KAF / KAF2 / KAF3
DA L Series
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
Yes
KAF
D FA Series
Yes
Yes
Yes
Varies
Yes
Yes
KAF/KAF3
FA J Series
Yes
Yes
No
No
Yes
Yes
KAF
FA Series
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
KAF / KAF2
F Series
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
KAF
A Series
Yes
No
N/A
Yes
Yes
Yes
KA
M Series
No
No
N/A
Yes
Yes
Yes
K
K Series
No
No
N/A
Yes
Yes
Yes
K

Yes = Yes No = No Varies = Varies

Note that Pentax changed their K-mount designations mid stream so that KAF2 now is used exclusively to designate lenses that have power contacts as well as screw drive autofocus (some lenses with the KAF2 have an in-lens AF moter in addition to screw drive). For an in-depth explanation of the K-mount, visit this article on PentaxForums.com

For a full list of Pentax lenses, visit the lens database at PentaxForums.com.

Lens Name Structure

A Pentax lens name is usually written in one of these two forms:

The elements of the name are as follows:

  • 1: Lens coating
  • 2: Lens series
  • 3: Largest F-stop. If two values are indicated the first refers to the wide end of the zoom range and the last on to the telephoto end
  • 4: Focal length: If two values are indicated it indicates the range of a zoom from wide to telephoto
  • 5: Suffixes: These codes tell about certain features or construction details of the lens

Lens Coating

The lens name prefix smc or HD indicates the type of coating. SMC stands for Super Multi Coating and was introduced back in the 1960'es. Naturally this coating has evolved and been improved over time. HD stands for High Definition and is a new coating introduced in 2012. The purpose of a lens coating is to reduce light loss as light rays travel through the lens elements and also to reduce stray light reflecting off the lens element surfaces. The net effect is less flare, less ghosting and better contrast.

Certain budget lenses from the film era lack SMC or HD coating and have no smc or HD prefix in their name.

smc PENTAX-DA, HD PENTAX-DA, smc PENTAX-DA L, smc PENTAX-DA*  
  • The current generation of lenses for APS-C Digital SLRs
  • Image format: APS-C sensor format (16 x 24mm)
  • Suited for DSLRs with APS-C sized sensor
  • Autofocus
  • No aperture ring
  • Automatic aperture setting is available
  • Sub-categories: DA* (professional), DA Limited (high-end pancake) and DA L (budget kit)
  • Introduced in 2004
  • In production

The smc PENTAX-DA, HD PENTAX-DA, smc PENTAX-DA L, and smc PENTAX-DA* lenses are designed to be used exclusively on digital cameras with an APS C sized sensor (the K and *ist D digital camera series). Their image circle covers only the 18 x 24mm format of APS C sized sensors so the corners of the image will come out dark if the lens is used on a 24 x 36mm film camera.

DA lenses (except for the 18-250mm and 18-270mm zoom lenses) feature a Quick Shift focusing system that allows the focus to be fine tuned with the focusing ring on the lens without setting the camera focus selector to "MF".

DA L lenses are a light weight edition of their DA counterparts. They have a bayonet mount made of plastic rather than stainless steel and they do not have the quick shift focusing capability.

DA* Lenses: The DA series includes a number of "star" lenses (DA*) with top notch optical and mechanical engineering. All DA* lenses have the Quick Shift focusing system and - despite not having the WR designation - are also weather sealed.

DC or SDM: Lenses with the DC or SDM designation feature a built-in autofocus motor. Newer cameras (K100D Super, K10D, and later) will take advantage of this motor and not use the screw-drive mechanism.

Some DA lenses are DC/SDM-Only (KAF3 mount), such as the smc PENTAX-DA* 55mm F1.4 SDM prime lens and smc PENTAX-DA 17-70mm F4 zoom lens. These lenses lack the traditional screw drive autofocus coupler and will therefore only autofocus on the K10D, K100D Super, and newer Pentax cameras.

RE: Lenses with the RE suffix are retractable and manual focus is carried out by the AF motor in the lens. These lenses cannot be focused at all on DSLRs older than the K10D/K100D Super since these older cameras do not provide power to the lens motor.

XS: Lenses with an exterior design by Mark Newson matching the Pentax K-01. The lenses will, however, work on any Pentax DLSR with an APS-C sized sensor.

WR: Lenses with the WR designation are weather resistant. They are sealed so that they better withstand use in light rain and blowing dust.

Note: Many users report that the smc PENTAX-DA 40mm F2.8 Limited, also known as "the pancake," covers the full 24 x 36mm frame. Optically it is based on an earlier lens in the M series.

smc PENTAX-DA 40mm F2.8 Pancake

 
smc PENTAX-D FA, HD PENTAX-D FA  
  • Current (third) generation of autofocus lenses for the 24 x 36 mm "full frame" format
  • Image format: 24 x 36 mm "full frame"
  • Suitable for APS-C digital sensor format and the 24 x 36 mm "full frame" digital and film format
  • Autofocus
  • Only the two earliest D FA lenses have an aperture ring
  • Automatic aperture setting is available
  • Sub-category: D FA* (professional grade)
  • In production

Remarks: smc PENTAX-D FA lenses work like FA lenses. They have been optimized optically for digital sensors but work equally well on a 35 mm film camera (D FA lenses without an aperture ring require that the aperture can be set from the camera - these lenses are thus not suitable for use on all film cameras). Their image circle covers the full 24 by 36mm negative format. These lenses provide an easy way to manually fine tune the subject distance set by the autofocus system ("quick shift" focusing system).

DC: Lenses with the DC designation feature a built-in autofocus motor and no screw drive AF mechanism. These lenses can only autofocus with newer cameras (K100D Super, K10D, and later). The HD PENTAX-D FA 150-450mm F4.5-5.6 ED DC AW is an example of a D FA lens without screw drive support.

The second version of the SMC Pentax-D FA 100mm F2.8 Macro WR does not feature an aperture ring, unlike its non-weather-sealed D FA predecessor.

smc PENTAX-D FA 100mm F2.8 Macro

 
smc PENTAX-FA  
  • The second generation of autofocus lenses
  • Image format covered: 24 x 36 mm
  • Suitable for APS-C digital sensor format and 24 x 36 mm "full frame" format
  • Autofocus with screw drive system
  • Aperture ring
  • Automatic aperture setting is available*
  • Certain zoom lenses feature the power zoom function**
  • Sub-groups: FA* (professional) and FA Limited (compact high-end) series
  • In production: Only five of the original 42 lenses are still in production (as of May 2010: FA 35, FA 50, FA 30/43/77 limited)

The FA series lenses are autofocus and allow for certain modern cameras (film and digital) to automatically set aperture (Tv mode), shutter speed (Av mode), or both (Program mode). You can also set exposure manually if the camera body allows for this. On recent camera bodies (e.g. *ist and all digital SLR cameras) you use dials on the camera body to set the aperture value (the aperture ring on the lens must be in the "A" position at all times). On older models (such as ZX-5N, MZ-5N, LX, ME, MX, K1000) the aperture is set with the aperture ring on the lens.

Three FA "Limited" lenses were made available in 2001. Except for these and the 35mm f/2 and 50mm f/1.4, the FA series, which consisted of 42 lenses total, has been discontinued.

While FA lenses are identical in operation to F lenses, they feature improved electronics that support the MTF program line.

The FA series also includes 11 "star" lenses (FA*) that employ the finest of Pentax optical and mechanical engineering.

*Exceptions: The smc PENTAX-FA Soft 85mm F2.8 and smc PENTAX-FA Soft 28mm F2.8 lenses have no "A" setting on the aperture ring. Hence they work like smc PENTAX-M lenses with respect to exposure; they are still autofocus. The "A" setting has been removed because the degree of image softness is controlled by the aperture ring and it would be meaningless to let the camera decide the setting.

**Power zoom is only supported by certain camera bodies. The following lenses feature power zoom:

-SMC Pentax-FA 28-80mm F3.5-4.7
-smc PENTAX-FA 28-105mm F4-5.6
-smc PENTAX-FA 70-200mm F4-5.6
-smc PENTAX-FA 100-300mm F4.5-5.6
-smc PENTAX-FA* 28-70mm F2.8 AL
-smc PENTAX-FA* 80-200mm F2.8 ED [IF]
-smc PENTAX-FA* 250-600mm F5.6 ED [IF]

smc PENTAX-FA 50mm Macro F2.8

smc PENTAX Star 80-200mm F2.8 ED [IF]

 
SMC Pentax-F  
  • First generation autofocus lenses
  • Image format covered: 24 x 36 mm
  • Suitable for APS-C digital sensor format and 24 x 36 mm "full frame" format
  • Autofocus with screw drive system
  • Aperture ring
  • Automatic aperture setting is available*
  • Sub-categhory: F* (professional)
  • In production: No

Remarks: Lenses in this series work just like FA lenses; see above for features and limitations.

The F series consisted of 20 lenses is now fully discontinued.

The F series also includes 3 "star" lenses (F*) that employ the finest of Pentax optical and mechanical engineering.

*Exceptions: The smc PENTAX-F Soft 85mm F2.8 and smc PENTAX-F Soft 28mm F2.8 lenses have no "A" setting on the aperture ring. Hence they work like smc PENTAX-M lenses with respect to exposure; they are still autofocus. The "A" setting has been removed because the degree of image softness is controlled by the aperture ring and it would be meaningless to let the camera decide the setting.

SMC Pentax-F 50mm F1.4

 
SMC Pentax-FA J  
  • A small series of 3 autofocus zooom lenses
  • Image format covered: 24 x 36 mm
  • Suitable for APS-C digital sensor format and 24 x 36 mm "full frame" format
  • Autofocus with screw drive system
  • Automatic aperture setting is available, but there is no aperture ring
  • In production: No

Remarks: SMC Pentax-FA J lenses lack the aperture ring but otherwise work like an FA lens set permanently to the “A” position. Due to the lack of an aperture ring these lenses cannot be used on camera bodies where use of an aperture ring is mandatory (such as LX, ME, MX, K1000), but can be used on e.g. the ZX-5N in Program and Tv mode. These lenses provide full functionality on all recent bodies like the *ist, *ist D series and K (digital) series

SMC Pentax-FA J 18-35mm F4-5.6

 
smc PENTAX-A  
  • The third generation of manual focus lenses
  • Image format covered: 24 x 36 mm
  • Suitable for APS-C digital sensor format and 24 x 36 mm "full frame" format
  • Automatic aperture setting is available
  • Sub-categhory: A*
  • In production: No

Remarks: smc PENTAX-A lenses are manual focus. Regarding exposure control they work like FA lenses.

The A series also includes 9 "star" lenses (A*) that exemplify the finest in Pentax optical and engineering.

smc PENTAX-A 135mm F2.8

 
smc PENTAX-M  
  • The second generation of manual focus lenses (generally smaller than K lenses)
  • Image format covered: 24 x 36 mm
  • Suitable for APS-C digital sensor format and 24 x 36 mm "full frame" format
  • Manual aperture
  • Sub-categhory: M*
  • In production: No

Remarks: smc PENTAX-M and smc PENTAX (commonly know as "K") lenses are manual focus and have no "A" setting on the aperture ring. These lenses allow for the camera to automatically set shutter speed (if it has the Av auto-exposure mode). You can also set exposure manually if the camera body allows for this. The ZX-5N is an example of a body which provides Av mode as well as manual exposure mode with M and K lenses. Almost all K and M lenses have an automatic diaphragm.

Some recent bodies cannot use M and K lenses or only with some limitations. An example are the *ist D and K (digital) series. In M mode you set the aperture using the aperture ring on the lens; the camera will set the shutter speed when you press the green button (or AE-L button if the camera has no green button). Or you can set the shutter speed manually (there is no exposure read out in the finder to assist you).

The M series includes a single "star" lens (M*) that exemplies the finest in Pentax optical engineering. That is the smc PENTAX-M* 300mm F4.

smc PENTAX-M 135mm F3.5

 
smc PENTAX  
  • The first generation of manual focus lenses
  • Image format covered: 24 x 36 mm
  • Suitable for APS-C digital sensor format and 24 x 36 mm "full frame" format
  • Manual aperture
  • In production: No
smc PENTAX 18mm F3.5

 
Uncoated PENTAX Lenses  

Pentax also produced several "budget" lenses that lacked the SMC lens coating. Most of these lenses are identical to their SMC counterparts but feature different coloring on their barrels.

  • Takmuar Bayonet lenses work in the same way as smc PENTAX lenses
  • Takmuar-A and PENTAX-A lenses work in the same way as smc PENTAX-A lenses
  • Takmuar-F and PENTAX-F lenses work in the same way as smc PENTAX-F lenses

 

Pentax-A 28-80mm F3.5-4.5

 

Lens Name Suffixes

The following abbreviations are used in lens names:

AL: Aspheric Lens. Special lens elements that improves the optical quality. Particularly valuable in wide angle lenses.
AW: All Weather. The highest degree of sealing against dust and rain.
DC or SDM: The lens has a built-in super-sonic motor for autofocus (K10D, K100D and newer cameras can take advantage of this).
ED: Extra-low Dispersion. Special glass material which helps reduce chromatic aberration. Particularly valuable in tele photo lenses.
IF: Internal focusing. Focusing is achieved by moving lens elements within the lens. The lens barrel doesn't move. IF lenses generally focus faster than ordinary lenses.
RE: Retractable lens. The lens collapses is length when not in use.
XS: Lenses with an exterior design by Mark Newson matching the Pentax K-01. Works like an ordinary DA lens.
WR: Weather Resistant. The lens is sealed against dust and light rain.

Conclusion

A, F, FA and D FA lenses work on all Pentax bayonet cameras ever produced. Exceptions: 1) A lenses do not work on the MZ-60/ZX-60, 2) the D FA 100mm F2.8 WR and newer D FA lenses have no aperture ring which restricts their use on some film cameras.

FA J, DA and DA L lenses work on cameras which have Tv and Program auto-exposure mode. Av mode and manual exposure is supported on some of these camera bodies. DA should only be used on cameras with an APS C sized sensor (16 x 24 mm).

M and K lenses work on all cameras except the MZ/ZX-30, MZ/ZX-50 and MZ/ZX-6. They work with limitations on the *ist film camera. They work with stop-down metering on the *ist D series and K series digital SLRs provided that a custom function is set appropriately.

For more information on lens compatibility, please visit our Lens Compatibility Chart.

 

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