A passionate underdog: Pentax-D FA Star 85mm f/1.4 review summary

Ricoh-Pentax has delivered another exceptional lens, but will anyone notice?

by | Sep 1, 2020 | Gear

In my 9/10 review on Digital Trends, I take a look at the Pentax-D FA Star-series 85mm f/1.4 lens for K-mount cameras. The lens is one of the top portrait lenses I’ve had the pleasure to shoot, marred by what I see as only one real issue: People who don’t have a Pentax DSLR won’t be able to use it.

Yes, that’s more-or-less true for any first-party brand, but Pentax has a decidedly smaller user base than, say, Canon. While I have no plans of switching to Pentax (nor back to a DSLR), I am thankful I had the opportunity to try this lens. I’m intrigued by Ricoh’s efforts with the Star series. Despite the smaller customer base, the company is going after top-tier lenses, like the Sigma Art line, and isn’t afraid to price the Star series out of reach of normal people (the 85mm f/1.4 costs close to $2,000).

It’s an admirable a approach, and I love that Ricoh — scorned by third-party manufacturers who have stopped making K-mount lenses — took it on itself to build its own exceptional glass. That’s not to say the company is a stranger to lens making. Pentax, long before it was owned by Ricoh, produced great lenses for decades. But the brand has sadly struggled in the digital era.

I don’t know how many Pentax photographers remain in the wild, but judging by the size of the readership of my Pentax reviews, it isn’t very many. Of those, how many can truly afford a lens like the Star-series 85mm? In such a landscape, what does a lens like this really mean?

That’s the question that guides my Digital Trends review. It may simply be that Ricoh is content with a high-margin, low-volume lens. Its remaining customers may not be many, but they are certainly loyal — at least, if the YouTube comments section is anything to go on.

But my hope is that this lens is a signal of great things to come. Ricoh-Pentax has already reaffirmed its commitment to the DSLR, and I really hope the company has something truly novel up its sleeve. Nothing short of a groundbreaking new appraoch can save the DSLR now. Am I putting too much faith in the brand to deliver that?

Probably. But the Star series 85mm at least proves that Pentax can still deliver an exceptional product. But it alone won’t be enough to draw people back to Pentax DSLRs. There has to be something more.

For additional sample photos and to read more about the Pentax-D FA Star 85mm f/1.4, see my full review on Digital Trends.

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