Review – Pentax HD DA 55-300 f/4-5.8 ED WR (Part 2)

The Pentax K3 APS-C DSLR with Pentax tele-zoom attached.

The first part of my review on the HD DA 55-300 WR dealt with the lens’ specifications, build quality and autofocus performance. Now let’s have a look at what matters most – optical quality.

A lovely couple

Optical quality (4/5) I did a quick and dirty sharpness test on a test chart, if you are interested in more accurate measurements and charts on resolution, distortion etc., check out the reviews of this lens on ePhotozine and the older but optically identical model on Photozone. It is a bit difficult to judge the image quality of a lens without having anything to compare it against, but subjectively I was surprised at how sharp this lens is. Looking at the RAW files at 100% at the lens’ long end still revealed plenty of detail. My test chart shots revealed that at 300 mm sharpness and contrast in the centre of the frame increased when stopped down to f/8, but stopping down further to f/11 did not yield any additional benefits. On the edge of the frame the story was very similar with the difference that f/11 was actually even sharper and more contrasty than f/8. The real-world relevance of this is probably nil, since hardly anyone needs edge-to-edge sharpness at 300 mm. However, stopped down edge sharpness at 55 to 200 mm is certainly good enough for some landscape shots, as evidenced by the dune and Deadvlei images shown below. Naturally, the lens also performs better at 200 mm than towards 300 mm, but that is the case with pretty much any zoom lens. You can compare centre and edge performance at 300 mm from f/5.8 to f/11 via a couple of test chart images in the samples folder at the end of this article – please be aware that these are random, smaller than 100%, crops without any sharpening applied. They were pushed +0.5 EV in LR though since they were a little dark.

Banded mongoose

Chromatic aberration can become somewhat prominent towards the edges of the frame at the long end, but is easily removed in post-processing. Stopping down also did not change the amount or prominence of CAs, at least not at 300 mm. The lens hood and new HD coating are doing a very good job at reducing flares, in fact I noticed pretty much none at all. I also tested for decentering (a deviation of one or more optical elements from the optical axis that causes one side of the image to be softer than the other side) and could not discover any. I downloaded some RAW samples of Pentax’ new, €2,200 professional grade HD FA 150-450 f4.5-5.6 ED DC AW zoom lens and compared them against the output of my HD DA 55-300 WR, and while the former is definitely ahead in terms of image quality (especially sharpness), I found the latter to perform very, very well for a consumer zoom of about 1/6th the price.

The dune

Sun rays over Deadvlei

Verdict (4/5)

The AF is a bit of a bummer, but it has been less of a hindrance in real-world scenarios than I would have expected initially. In regard to image quality this lens punches way above its weight. Stop it down a bit and you get sharp and contrasty results that would not seem out of place in any professional portfolio. Coupled with the high build quality this makes the HD DA 55-300 WR a great package and well worth its asking price. I would recommend this lens to anyone looking for a compact, lightweight, sturdy tele-zoom that delivers great results while not breaking the bank.

Samples

The images shown throughout this review have been freely edited and cropped to my taste, and lens corrections were applied in Lightroom 6. To allow for a better verdict on optical quality some full-resolution RAW files can be downloaded here. All images were shot with a Pentax K3.

Do you own the Pentax HD DA 55-300 WR? What do you think  of this lens? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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3 thoughts on “Review – Pentax HD DA 55-300 f/4-5.8 ED WR (Part 2)

  1. Don Simmons says:

    Yes, I agree the autofocus is problematic – particularly trying to grab a bird in flight. If you lose the bird momentarily while focusing, it hunts and then parks itself at the short end of its range. I always use only the back button for focus with this lens.

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    1. Fox says:

      Yes – I am particularly disappointed because every zoom they introduced since 2011 features built in focussing. The late 2013 HD DA 55-300 WR is the only exception. If they already went to update it with HD and WR, why did they not upgrade to DC? I guess it would have required too much of a redesign of the barrel, bust still disappointing.

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