Pentax 31mm Limited

Warning! This post contains cliché photos of cats, Christmas tree bokeh, and in some cases…BOTH.  Please forgive me.

What I like about Pentax is their utter disregard for following convention.  There are certain focal lengths for prime lenses that everyone seemed to agree on: 24, 28, 35, 50, 85, and 135.  Lenses bearing those numbers can be found in any manufacturer’s lens collection.  Pentax however, went their own way: 15, 23, 31, 43, 77.  Their FA (full-frame) Limited lenses (31/1.8, 43/1.8, 77/1.8) are renowned for their compactness, build-quality and image quality.  Pentax offers some made-for-digital DA Limited lenses (including the 35/2.8 which I own) which are excellent, but Pentax users seem to have a special place in their hearts for the older FA Limiteds.  The FA Limiteds are even rumored to have fairy dust in them which makes your pictures better.  Since I knew I’d need the extra speed (f/1.8 vs. f/2.8) for indoor photography during the holidays, I decided to rent the 31mm Limited and find out.  When the lens arrived, I was surprised that it wasn’t as compact as I expected and it was fairly heavy, but it oozed quality in a way that few digital goods do these days.  As is required of any new lens, I tested it on my cat.

Pentax K-7, 31mm ISO1600 f/2.5 1/30

This bored him.  I apologize for the gratuitous Christmas tree bokeh.  It’s unnecessary and it won’t happen again.

Pentax K-7, 31mm ISO1600 f/1.8 1/60

Oops, there it is again, I’m sorry.  Here’s a close-focus, wide-open aperture shot to show off more of that legendary bokeh.  It’s sharper at f/4, but the sharpness here at f/1.8 is more than adequate and far better than my Minolta 50mm at f/1.8.

Pentax K-7, 31mm ISO1600 f/2.0 1/80

Oh man, another cat picture.  The combination of moderately wide angle and shallow depth of field that the 31/1.8 provides is just plain fun.  A shot like this wouldn’t turn out as well with the 31mm Limited’s competitor, the Sigma 30/1.4.  Reportedly, the Sigma is sharp in the center of the frame, but very soft in the corners.  However, you could buy three of the Sigmas for the price of one 31mm Limited.  Hmmm…

Pentax K-7, 31mm ISO800 f/2.0 1/80

Look!  People!  The holidays are a great time to take photos of the relatives that you don’t see very often, but it can be hard when those relatives get annoyed by being photographed.  But what is it really that annoys people about being photographed?  Usually it’s the shutter noise (for DSLR’s) or the flash.  The K-7’s quiet shutter and the large aperture of the 31mm Limited solve both of those problems.  Also, 31mm isn’t so wide that you get weird distorted body parts.

Pentax K-7, 31mm ISO800 f/2.0 1/80

Here’s another shot of game-playing fun and a bit more Christmas bokeh to clog up the interwebs.

Pentax K-7, 31mm ISO1600 f/2.0 1/60

I took this picture of my grandmother getting dessert ready and it’s probably my favorite photo taken with the 31mm.  Mmmmmm, pie.

Pentax K-7, 31mm ISO1600 f/2.8 1/60

I don’t have a point to make with this photo, but I thought the internet could use just one more cat photo.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this collection of Christmas snapshots disguised as a lens review.  The Pentax FA Limited 31mm f/1.8 lens was tons of fun to use and I’d love to own one.  However, it’s very expensive and it’s not as versatile or as compact as my 35/2.8 macro.  The large aperture of the 31/1.8 is nice, but there are more cost-effective options out there.  Neither of those should count against the lens and in fact I can’t come up with a single thing to fault the 31mm Limited for.  Excellent build-quality; excellent image quality right from f/1.8; compact enough; a little heavy, but not too heavy.  The great thing about any of the Pentax Limiteds is that they have that extra something that makes them more fun to use and there just might be some fairy dust in them after all.


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