Pentax 35-70 f/3.5-4.5 and Contax 28-85 f/3.3-4.0 – a few pictures fresh from the lab

Today I received the scans of two series of pictures I had taken in the Atlanta area at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic (which explains that the parks and the streets look empty).

Over the last couple of months, I’ve used alternatively my most recent acquisitions, a Contax ST with its very (very) large Contax-Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar 28-85 f/3.3-4.0 lens, and a Pentax P3 with its very (very) small Pentax SMC-A 35-70 f/3.5-4.5 zoom.

Contax ST and Carl-Zeiss Vario-Sonnar zoom – 28-85 f/3.3-4.0

First observation – almost all pictures are usable – correctly exposed, with the subject in focus. No major flaw with any of the cameras or zooms.

Second observation: I knew that this Contax ST had an issue with the transmission of the value of the aperture selected on the lens to the body, and I set it with a permanent correction of +1.3 EV to counterbalance it. It’s probably too much – I’ll reduce the correction to +0.5 EV in the future. I experienced difficulties with the film rewind on the P3 (I had to open the film door in a dark room and push maybe 6 inches of film back into the cartridge) but only one frame was lost in the process. I suspect the issue to be related to the film receiving spool. Both cameras are approximately 30 years old, they can be temperamental.

Third observation: both cameras have all the features I need (aperture priority auto mode, semi-auto mode, exposure memorization) and a good viewfinder (the Contax’s is fantastic, the Pentax’s is very good considering the original target audience of the camera). Both are really pleasant to use. The Contax is definitely a big and heavy camera, and the lens is even larger and more ponderous. When you use the Contax combo, you get noticed, and you make some people nervous (carry it in a bag, and don’t shoot with it in an area where people tend to be very concerned for their privacy – that would be asking for trouble). The Pentax set, on the other hand, is compact and light, and does not draw attention. But there is a trade off to compactness: image quality.

Pentax P3 – all controls are well placed and large enough, even for photographers with big hands

Which bring us to our fourth observation. My intent was not to perform a scientific comparison between the Zeiss and the Pentax zooms. I shot the pictures on different days at different locations, but since it was in the same type of urban settings, and with the same type of film (Kodak Ektar 100), we can somehow compare the pictures and draw some conclusions. Sorry Pentax fans, the difference is extremely visible. I may have bought a bad copy of the lens, the front element may be dirty (I did my best to clean it, though), but in any case there’s a world of difference between pictures shot with the Vario-Sonnar and the SMC-Pentax-A zoom, in particular when it comes to contrast and sharpness. Thirty years ago, I was using a Pentax KA 35-70 zoom on my Pentax MX (I don’t remember if it was the same f/3.5-4.5 version of the lens, or the constant F/4 model) and I was pleased with the results, so not all Pentax zooms are bad, and I’ll shoot with another Pentax lens as soon as I can.

After I imported the scans in Lightroom, I made adjustments to the exposure and the highlights (the sky was over exposed by both cameras), and I tried to increase (massively) the contrast on the images taken with the Pentax lens, but Lightroom sliders can only do so much if the original picture is too soft. See for yourself.

A word of caution: you won’t see much of a difference if you look at the pictures on a good smartphone – the screen is small and smartphones are very good at enhancing images – but it’s more visible on a tablet, and pretty obvious on the monitor of a full size personal computer. Also, remember that WordPress displays the images of this blog at a relatively low resolution (width: 1024 points) – to really visualize the difference in image quality, click on the images and you will see them full size (they were scanned at 3130 x 2075 points).


Atlanta – Krog Street – Contax ST with Vario-Sonnar 28-85 f/3.3-4.0 – Kodak Ektar.
Atlanta – Centennial Park – Contax ST with Vario-Sonnar 28-85 f/3.3-4.0 – Kodak Ektar.
Atlanta skyline from the Vinings Mountain – Contax ST with Vario-Sonnar 28-85 f/3.3-4.0 – Kodak Ektar.
Atlanta – Old Vinings Inn – Contax ST with Vario-Sonnar 28-85 f/3.3-4.0 – Kodak Ektar.
Lely Freedom Horses – Naples, Florida – Pentax P3 – Pentax SMC-A 35-70 f/3.5-4.5 – Kodak Ektar
Lely Freedom Horses – Naples, Florida – Pentax P3 – Pentax SMC-A 35-70 f/3.5-4.5 – Kodak Ektar
Atlanta – Yellow Bronco Violet House – Pentax P3 – Pentax SMC-A 35-70 f/3.5-4.5 – Kodak Ektar
Atlanta – Pink house- Pentax P3 – Pentax SMC-A 35-70 f/3.5-4.5 – Kodak Ektar
Atlanta, Little Five Points – Pentax P3 – Pentax SMC-A 35-70 f/3.5-4.5 – Kodak Ektar

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