Pentax (APS-C) DSLR Cameras & Lenses

What are the absolute best value Pentax (APS-C) cameras and lenses? I’ve narrowed it down to 3 cameras, 8 prime lenses, and 7 zoom lenses.

Note: prices are in US Dollars based on recent eBay sales (exact prices will depend on your local area).

Best Value Cameras:

Note: there are many Pentax DSLRs, both new and old. I chose the ones below for their superior ergonomics, handling, and weather sealing / ruggedness. In my opinion, the whole point of choosing Pentax is to buy tough cameras. If you want the best continuous autofocus/tracking, you’re better off with Nikon or Canon.

  • Pentax K-5 II/IIs ($250 used):
    Functionally, these two are the same camera (the IIs doesn’t have an anti-aliasing filter, and would be my choice). 16 MP, 7 fps, 11 AF points, weather sealed, in-body stabilization, 1080p 25 fps video. One SD card slot. 
  • Pentax K-3 ($350 used):
    24 MP sensor, 8.3 fps, 27 AF points (significantly improved AF performance vs. the K-5 cameras). Two SD card slots, 1080i 60 fps video, with microphone and headphone ports. Rugged and weather sealed (much more so than the K-5 series). Supports newest KAF4 lenses via firmware update. 
  • Pentax K-3 Mark II ($600 used):
    Very similar to the K-3, with some refinements to the Autofocus and the addition of a built-in GPS module. Supports newest KAF4 lenses via firmware update. On a budget, I’d go with the original K-3 and put the money towards lenses.

Note: while the latest flagship (K-3 Mark III) goes for around $1,200 used, I don’t think it’s the best value for most users. I’d spend the rest of the budget on quality lenses instead!

Best Value Lenses:

Prime lenses (wide to normal):

  • Pentax-DA SMC 15mm F4 Limited ($300 used):
    If you want a small, sharp wide angle lens – this is the one (22.5mm equivalent field of view). Produces excellent sunstars (7 aperture blades = 14 point stars).
  • Pentax-DA SMC 21mm F3.2 Limited ($220 used):
    Becomes an excellent walk-around / general / street lens on your camera (21 * 1.5 = 32mm field of view). Perfect for travel, and produces excellent sunstars (7 aperture blades).
  • Pentax-DA SMC 35mm F2.4 AL ($80 used):
    It’s small, light, and sharp – an easy recommendation for Pentax shooters. You may never want to use your kit lens again 🙂
  • Pentax-DA SMC 40mm F2.8 Limited (150 used):
    This absolutely tiny pancake lens instantly turns your camera into a portable travel / street machine. Bokeh is below average.
  • Pentax-DA SMC 50mm F1.8 ($60 used):
    Excellent value for money – especially for portraits. At this price, it’s an easy recommendation. Pairs well with the kit lens. Major weakness: slow autofocus.

Prime lenses (telephoto):

  • Pentax-DA SMC 70mm F2.4 Limited ($250):
    One of Pentax’s best lenses – now available for a bargain price. Amazing for portraits (a definite step up from the 50 1.8).
  • Pentax-D FA SMC 100mm F2.8 Macro WR ($200 used):
    A truly excellent macro – and an incredible bargain for the price. Full frame lens (will work great on your camera).
  • Pentax-DA* SMC 300mm F4 ED IF SDM ($600 used):
    Simply put, one of the best pieces of glass you can stick on your Pentax camera. Excellent for wildlife and birding. At this price, it’s a bargain!

Zoom lenses (mid-range):

  • Pentax-DA HD 16-85mm F3.5-5.6 ED DC WR ($350 used):
    The “easiest” lens to recommend to a Pentax shooter: this is a very versatile zoom that puts similar lenses from Nikon and Canon to shame. It’s weather resistant, too – and uses the latest HD coating technology. If you’re not sure which lens to get for general photography – this is the one. Pair it with a fast prime for portraits / low-light work, and you’re all set!
  • Tamron SP 17-50mm F2.8 XR Di II ($150 used):
    Back in the day, this lens impressed with its “3D pop” and excellent colors/ rendering. Great for photojournalism / environmental portraits on a budget. Note: this is the non-VC model (A016).
  • Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM ($220 used):
    An excellent performer, and a popular upgrade over the kit lens. Features OS (Optical stabilization). Generally pleasing bokeh, and corners sharpen up nicely by F4.
  • Pentax-DA HD 20-40mm F2.8-4 Limited DC WR ($300 used):
    Don’t be put off by the “strange” focal range: it could easily become your favorite lens (35-60mm equivalent field of view). Built like a tank, with beautiful rendering at all focal lengths – now available for an absolute bargain price. The weather resistance and modern HD coating are welcome features, too. Pure joy.

Zoom lenses (telephoto):

  • Pentax-DA 55-300mm F4-5.8 ED ($70 used):
    Need a great telephoto on a budget? This is it! For the price on the used market, it’s a real bargain.
  • Pentax-DA 55-300mm F4.5-6.3 ED PLM WR ($300 used):
    An excellent telephoto zoom – punches above its weight (and price). Turns your camera into a decent wildlife setup. Note: you’ll need a camera that supports KAF4 lenses (K-3 / K-3 II will need a firmware update; K-5 II doesn’t support this lens). Weather sealed.

Zoom lenses (all-in-one):

  • Pentax-DA 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 ED AL IF DC WR ($150 used):
    It’s a “superzoom” so it’s not going to be sharper than a decent kit lens – but it gives you tremendous versatility, and is weather sealed. At this price, I don’t think we can complain! At its widest setting (18mm), you’ll want to stop down to at least F5.6. “Sweet spot” seems to be between 20 and 70mm.

Note: there are many great value Pentax FA (full frame) lenses that you can use without any issues on your APS-C Pentax camera. Check out our Pentax Full Frame article for the best picks!

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