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Old Apr 3, 2011, 5:20 PM   #1
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Default LBA post: DA 55-300 f4-5.8

Hi All,

I received the like-new DA 300 f4-5.8 on Fri, and have been playing with it for the past couple of days. I've wanted to try this lens since it came out, and when the opportunity to get one at a fair price came up recently from a trusted private party, I bought it. The lens has appeal as a lightweight walk around lens for me. I saw it as a step up in IQ and functionality from the old Tamron 70-300/4.-5.6 and Pentax FA 80-320 4-5.6 that I own, but rarely use anymore.

The K-5's extraordinary high ISO and low light AF performance allows me to pretty much ignore lens speed as a practical consideration for some purposes. The Kr, while not quite as good overall, is not far behind, so I would think my findings would also apply. A good "consumer grade" lens on these new cameras can deliver some surprising IQ in even marginal lighting, and I was counting on this when I chose to get this lens. I'm no longer forced to shoot at very slow shutter speeds when stopping down the lens for some extra resolution.

At 440g (15.5 oz) it's less than 1/2 the weight of my FA* 300/4.5 (935g/33oz), and at its smallest, it's about 2" (49mm) shorter, so I can easily carry it in a largish pocket. It's also smaller and lighter than the nearest Tamron and Sigma competitors, but not by much (the Sigma is about 110g (almost 4 0z) heavier though). However, both of the 3rd party lenses have "macro" modes and can focus closer in this mode to achieve 1:2 magnifcation while the Pentax doesn't have this mode, and can only get @1:4, which really doesn't matter for me. The zoom ring is smooth, and is tight enough that zoom creep is not a problem. The focusing throw is a little long, but the lens focuses pretty quickly and is pretty positive in locking AF with the K-5.

For birds, 300mm is a little short for me, especially when they're skittish, but with 16MP, there's a lot of room for cropping if needed, and it's still possible to get some feather detail. These were not shot for content, just convenience -- I just wanted some subjects with fur or feathers.

Here are a few examples at 300mm:

These first 2 are from about 45 feet, and are 1/8 frame crops, so are actually @ 2MP each to start. I think this distance is pretty typical for birds and animals that unexpectedly appear while wandering around.





Both were shot at f11, and even at this small aperture, some CA/PF shows on the branches in the Cardinal shot. I didn't correct for this, but you can see it's not glaring for the most part. The resolution isn't great, but for such extreme crops, these look pretty good, IMO. High ISO allowed pretty fast shutter speeds with such a small aperture, and enough fine detail is evident that these impress at first glance, but they fall a little short when examined closer.

The next 3 shots are of similar subjects at 15-20ft in differing lighting conditions using the lens alone, a Tamron F 1.4x PZ AF MC4 TC, and the Pentax F 1.7x AFA respectively. The 300 and 420mm shots were cropped to @ 2500 pixels on the long side, and the 510mm shot was full height, only cropped on the sides to 8x10.

One thing to note is that the bokeh seems to get busier with the TCs. I accept the tradeoff, and take the extra detail and then selectively apply some Gaussian blur to the BG if it's really bothersome. I'm not a purist. . .luckily, I don't have to be one.

These are all PP'd to taste, but only sharpened and denoised. I rarely post any pics that aren't. The point of what I do with photography is to show the best images I can (at least to my eye). PP is just part of the process.

300mm, f13, ISO 1300, 1/800, w/AF


420mm, f9 (actually f13 corrected), ISO 1000, 1/800, w/AF


510mm, f6.7 (actually f9.9 corrected), ISO 640, 1/250, w/AF


Some notes about effective and displayed aperture values. The Tamron does not apply any correction to the aperture shown in the camera, so the value needs to be multiplied by the 1.4x magnification to get the true effective aperture. The P F 1.7x AFA usually does apply a correction factor for the Av in the camera, but for some reason, this does not work correctly for this lens (other than Sigmas, this is the only lens that shows an error). The DA55-300 shows f6.7 at 300mm, but this should be f9.9, and the error seems to be constant over the range. I'm sure this is irrelevant to most, but I thought I should mention it.

This brings up another subject -- AF performance with a slower lens + TC. The K-5 is pretty exceptional in this respect, at least among Pentax bodies. With bodies prior to the K-7, AF with an effective max aperture of f8 and smaller was pretty hit-and-miss. In good light, you might be able to get a good lock, but the AF system struggled. The K-7 improved sensitivity, and I could push past f8 effective, but not too far, and a 1.4x TC would work, but would struggle, and the lock to lock hunts if you missed were frustrating. Using the 1.7x AFA with an f5.6 max lens (effective f9.52) was not something I could count on to even a small degree, even in the brightest light.

Another note on TC compatibility for those interested. The Sigma 1.4x APO AF TC (and I'm pretty sure the APO DG is the same) will not attach to the DA 55-300. Though the rear lens element recesses at anything longer than 55mm, the opening at the rear of the lens is too small to accommodate the protruding front element of the TC.

With the new SAFOX IX AF sensor, the K-5 will lock AF with the 1.7x AFA even with f5.8 max aperture of the DA 55-300, but not really what I'd call reliably. In pretty good light, it misfocused, but indicated a focus lock on a couple of occasions. I'm not complaining as this is really pushing the AF system's sensitivity, and with moving subjects, handheld at 510mm, there's a huge possibility of user error. I am very happy that I could possibly use this combo with any reliability. . .and more use will confirm whether or not I'll end up using it much.

All that being said, the IQ with the TCs held up pretty well, IMO -- judge for yourself. AF seemed a little slower with the 1.4x, but still quite acceptable for me. The 1.7x AFA was very quick, but prefocus had to be pretty close for it to attempt a lock. With most lenses that I use the AFA with, the drill is to activate AF, start to manually prefocus, and the AFA would take over when its effective focusing range was reached, and focus would lock. With this lens, it seems that I need to prefocus first, and then when it was close to focus, I could actuate AF to get a lock.

In very dim conditions, AF with the AFA struggled, like in this last pic, but as you can see, it can be pretty accurate.

510mm, f6.7 (9.9 actual, and wide open at the lens), ISO 1250, 1/250. I had mistakenly left Ev comp at -1 for this shot, so it was underexposed. At ISO 1250, this would have been disastrous with the K-7, but with the K-5 it really wasn't a big deal.



I was also surprised that with the AFA, the best of the images were taken wide open, but I seemed to need to stop down with the lens alone. BTW, I did do some tests for focus micro-adjustment, and the lens was calibrated on the money.

My conclusion -- This is a very good lens! Will it replace my FA* 300/4.5 as my main handheld birding lens?. . . not really. . .I'll have to use it more to make more judgments as to how it fits into my lens collection, but it will be one of the first to be considered if carrying weight needs to be considered. My Sigma 17-70 f2.8-4.5 and the DA 55-300 f4-5.6 would make a pretty formidable two lens combo for a whole lot of situations with the K-5. Add the D FA 100 macro and the AFA, stick them all in the pockets of (an admittedly geeky) photo or fly fishing vest, and I could wander around all day with no trouble covering 17-510mm with a dedicated macro to boot.

There seems to be a lot of people who feel that the high resolution sensors make older or less capable lenses look that much worse. I'm feeling more and more that the newer sensors just make those slower less expensive lenses more useful. . . I guess it depends on your perspective. . .

Scott
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Old Apr 3, 2011, 9:53 PM   #2
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Interesting about how the lens works with the TC - I wouldn't have expected it to work well that way. Thanks for the review, it looks like it will be a good addition for you.
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Old May 30, 2011, 6:12 PM   #3
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Scott

I am not a hard core birder, I just would like a good long lens for occasional wildlife shots. A 300mm would not be my constant companion but I would appreciate shots that are not obviously soft. So far the closest I have owned to a sharp 300mm was (unbelievably) the FA 100-300mm f4.7-5.8 (silver and all). The F 100-300mm f4.5-5.6 is close, as is the FA-J 75-300mm f4.5-5.8 but neither can give me a sharp 300mm shot at a greater distance (the main reason for owning the lens). I have compared the FAJ, the DA 55-300 and the DA* 300 (thanks to Harriet) and found that the FAJ was decidedly worst, the DA 75-300 was just a little soft compared to the DA* 300. Now I get to the crux of the matter, $1200-1500 is a lot to spend for a lens that will get occasional use while $400-500 is much easier to take. Obviously the DA* is better but do you honestly feel that the DA 55-300 can produce reasonably sharp images at the 300mm mark.

I am not rushing into a purchase here so what I really want is just an informed opinion. If you did not own the better lenses would you be satisfied with the results of the DA 55-300? I will be using it on my K20D and have been reading about techniques for action shots in this months Outdoor Photographer so I am practicing with the DA 50-200mm WR in preparation for a longer lens. I do not have the F 100-300mm or the FAJ with me now (the FA 100-300 was stolen from my son so it is gone) but I do intend to give them a far more rigorous test this summer.

Thanks
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Old May 30, 2011, 11:36 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Monza76 View Post
Scott

Now I get to the crux of the matter, $1200-1500 is a lot to spend for a lens that will get occasional use while $400-500 is much easier to take. Obviously the DA* is better but do you honestly feel that the DA 55-300 can produce reasonably sharp images at the 300mm mark.

I am not rushing into a purchase here so what I really want is just an informed opinion. If you did not own the better lenses would you be satisfied with the results of the DA 55-300? I will be using it on my K20D and have been reading about techniques for action shots in this months Outdoor Photographer so I am practicing with the DA 50-200mm WR in preparation for a longer lens.
Hi Ira,

There are a lot of considerations that have to be made, IMO.

Long shots are not my forte, though I shoot ultra tele FLs the great majority of the time, and I do take the occasional long shot if that's the only alternative.

One essential to long shots is a very stable hold, and technique is going to play a role in lens choice for this. A faster lens that's sharper at wider apertures is going to give you better results under just about any conditions if for no other reason that you are shooting at faster shutter speeds that will reduce the effects of camera shake and subject motion. Add the higher potential resolution that you get with the higher grade of glass used and superior optical design of a prime against the compromises made when designing a zoom, and the differences in results can be dramatic.

That's not to say that you can't get great results with the zoom, it's just a bit harder. Let's say that you have to stop the f 5.6 zoom down at least one stop (to f8) to equal the prime in resolution at f4. Now you need 4 times the shutter speed to get an equivalent exposure. If you consider the old rule of thumb of 1/FL for a handheld shot, then factor in maybe another 2 reliable stops for SR, then you can probably manage to shoot well with a consumer >300 zoom handheld on an overcast day. Results will depend on handholding technique to a very large extent and luck will be a significant factor in the percentage of sharp shots.

Give me that 2 stop advantage (and more with the high ISO IQ capabilities of the K-5) with the better lens, and things are a whole lot easier. As a shooter who shoots long tele the great majority of the time, I wouldn't be able to settle for the zoom. Add the high resolution that I want for close shots, and there's no question that I want the higher grade lens for my use.

However, add very stable support and good long shutter technique to use lower ISO, stop down the zoom, add some DOF advantage to mask focus errors, and one would probably be hard pressed to distinguish the results in distant shots for stationary subjects, IMO.

The premium lens will probably continue to offer significant advantages for moving subjects though. Higher shutter speeds will be needed to freeze subject motion, and higher ISO as a means to get these will be not be that viable because the noise will detract from the detail needed to make distant subjects distinguishable, and even great NR programs will not help much since they will use some degree of blurring of detail to reduce the noise.

For me, the ability to use TCs to stretch the lens a bit further in sometimes challenging lighting is a high priority, and this seals the deal in favor of the faster premium lenses. The extra speed and higher resolution at wider apertures works in my favor at every level, but I use these lenses much differently than you plan to. . .

Scott
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Old May 30, 2011, 11:54 PM   #5
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Okay, how about this, a DA* 200mm f2.8 lens with a good quality 1.4X AF TC like those from Sigma, Tamron or Kenko. That would give me a very high quality, very fast 200mm and a 280mm f4 without too much loss in IQ. Does that sound right. A Pentax F 1.7X AFA would be even better but they are hard to come by and quite expensive. What about a 7 element 2X converter, a 400mm f5.6 with the 200mm. This would offer more flexibility but would the image quality be high enough? I have used TCs before but they were of poor to mediocre quality (4 element 2X units) so I am curious of the 7 element models. Tamron and Kenko each make SDM capable units I can find for about $150 so the DA* 200 plus one of these is still far less expensive and considerably lighter, plus I would have a lens that could be used at indoor events.

This is still a fact finding mission for me and I would rather the opinion of someone experienced with lenses like this than a cold clinical review.
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Old May 31, 2011, 9:00 PM   #6
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I am in a very similar situation as Ira, so I am very much interested in following this thread. I do relatively little bird watching and wildlife photography, but when I do, I would really like some high quality glass. In about 6 weeks my wife and I are going on a puffin-watching trip off the coast of Maine, and I will probably rent either a DA*60-250 or a DA* 300 for that trip. I would love to own one or both of those lenses, but the price tag is a serious deterrent. Also, the recent info you folks recently taught me about the SDM autofocus problems has me somewhat nervous about buying one of those lenses. The more I think about it, if I could find a Sigma EX 100-300 f/4 in good condition for a fair price, that might be my ideal high quality long lens.
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Old May 31, 2011, 9:26 PM   #7
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Yes I think I will just practice with my FA-J 75-300mm f4.5-5.8 and see if I can learn to make the best of that lens. If I manage to master that I will then look at getting something better such as the DA* 300, DA* 60-250 or something of equal quality. It is too big a financial leap when I look at my current images and find that my technique is probably at least 50% of the reason I am not getting sharper images. I cannot fix that problem by throwing money at it.
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FA 35mm f2, FA 50 f1.4, FA 28-70mm f4, FA 28-80mm f3.5-5.6, F 50mm f1.7, Tamron SP 70-200mm f2.8 Di, DA 10-17 f3.5-4.5, DA 14 f2.8, DA 16-45mm f4, DA 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 WR, DA 50-200mm f4-5.6 WR, AF-540FGZ

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Old Jun 2, 2011, 11:32 PM   #8
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The 55-300 although a consumer lens, is an excellent lens. Popular Photography rated it as excellent and noted that the sharpness of the lens is consistent and sharp from the 250-300 mm range.

I understand that the latter focal range of many zooms in this focal length range, don't do well in the higher range..ie: 250 to 300 area.

I've had mine since June 2008...shortly after they were introduced. Mine wasn't the kit version with the plastic mount and no lens hood.

I've taken pictures of wildlife, birds, particularly owls. I've been very happy with the picture quality of this lens.

I've thought about the DA 300, as I realize it's of very high quality.

The reason I haven't pursued it...is because of it's focal length. With my 55-300 I have the 300mm level covered.

When I use my 55-300...I always remember the old adage about ensuring the shutter speed is at least over 1/500th....even better over 1/1000th.

I also find practice, practice, practice with catching BIF is essential. Developing a good, effective technique...can't say too much about this.

A buddy indicated to me that the best place to get this bif practice and technique, is to park yourself by a bird feeder. The little songbirds dart around so quickly that when you finally have the hang of getting regular blur free pictures of these fast little rascals ...you're more than ready for the big and slower flying stuff....like Owls, Eagles, etc.

I also have been waiting for something longer than 300mm....I would like a DA 400 F 5.6.

I don't want to buy a 300mm...only to find that a 400 mm is coming down the pike.

F 5.6 would be fast enough for my purposes and the 400 would give me significantly more reach.

I have a friend who has a Canon 400mm L, F 5.6. Excellent lens and the price in Canada new, is competitive with the Pentax DA 300.

Who knows if Pentax will bring out a DA 400 F 5.6....but I think this is where Pentax will head.

They have the primes, moderate zooms and the wide angles covered relatively well.

They have obvious gaps above 300 mm. To me I would think this is where they need to and likely will go.

So, I'm prepared to wait another couple of years.
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Old Jun 4, 2011, 1:45 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Monza76 View Post
Okay, how about this, a DA* 200mm f2.8 lens with a good quality 1.4X AF TC like those from Sigma, Tamron or Kenko. That would give me a very high quality, very fast 200mm and a 280mm f4 without too much loss in IQ. Does that sound right.
The problem with this scenario is that the DA*200 is an SDM lens, and there are no truly SDM compatible 1.4x TC available. The Tamron and Kenko (generally believed to be the same TC rebranded by one of the mfgs) have PZ contacts, so power is supplied to the SDM motor, but in my experience with the DA* 50-135, this does not mean that they're actually SDM compatible, as they were never designed to operate in the very quick and sensitive feedback loop of the SDM AF system.

Realize that both the Tam and Kenko were discontinued around the time (actually before, IIRC) the first SDM lenses were released. My DA* 50-135 hunts, then stops at misfocus twice before it's close enough to lock focus on the third try. I've read numerous posts in other fora that describe similar performance, but also about an equal number of posts that state that their SDM lens focuses fine with either the Tam or Kenko. I won't dispute their claims, but I suspect that they might have a different concept of what "focuses fine" means. . .

The Sigma EX 1.4x TCs do not even have the PZ contacts, so there is no chance that they will AF with an SDM, or even their own HSM lenses. Sigma TCs also have protruding front elements, and this limits their physical ability to mount on lenses that don't have a large enough recessed space behind the rear element of the lens.


Quote:
A Pentax F 1.7X AFA would be even better but they are hard to come by and quite expensive.
This is the only viable AF TC for any SDM lens. It is extremely versatile, and has a number of advantages for my use, but if you don't foresee shooting tele that much, the expense is possibly not justified. I have, however bought two out of the three that I currently own during the past two years, and paid an average of less than $150 each. With a seemingly larger Pentax user base in Canada, I would think the possibility of finding one at an out of the way dealer is probably a bit better than below the border. One of mine was from a small town in Minnesota for $78 in EX cond when the used market was demanding over $250.

Quote:
What about a 7 element 2X converter, a 400mm f5.6 with the 200mm. This would offer more flexibility but would the image quality be high enough? I have used TCs before but they were of poor to mediocre quality (4 element 2X units) so I am curious of the 7 element models. Tamron and Kenko each make SDM capable units I can find for about $150 so the DA* 200 plus one of these is still far less expensive and considerably lighter, plus I would have a lens that could be used at indoor events.
I own 3 well rated MF 2x TCs, and rarely use them as I've never gotten results that were satisfactory from them. They are the Tamron 2x Macro Focusing TC (it's good at the macro end, but not at the tele end), Tamron 2x SP 200F Adaptall 2 (6 elements), and the Pentax A Rearconverter 2X-S (7 elements). I've found that stacking my Tamron 1.4x and my Sigma 1.4x AF TCs gives me better IQ than any of these 2x TCs. The only one I've heard of that gives really good results is the MF Pentax A Rearconverter 2X-L (6 elements!), but it's very expensive and only useable with lenses that have a deeply recessed rear element. I would use this so infrequently that for me, the expense is not justified.

The alternative for use with a good 1.4x AF TC is to get a fast screw drive 180 or 200, or get a very nice fast MF 180 or 200 to use with the AFA. The FA* 200/2.8 or Sigma 180 f3.5 Macro are about your only alternatives in AF lenses, and the Tamron SP 180 f2.5 Adaptall 2 and A* 200 f2.8 are your best bets in premium MF lenses.

If you can deal with more weight, the 70/80-200 f2.8 class of lenses would also yield some alternatives. At 40+ oz vs the under 30 oz of the FA*200, In order of reputed IQ, they are: Pentax FA* 80-200 f2.8 (easily the best, but $1500-2000+ on the used market), Sigma EX 70-200 APO (the very first model, not HSM) or the current Tamron 70-200 f2.8 Di LD (these are, in my estimation about tied), Sigma EX 70-200 f2.8 APO DG (DG for optimized for digital, and still not HSM), and the Tokina 80-200 f2.8 AT-X AF Pro 2, and AT-X AF Pro. I have the Tokina AF Pro 2, and it's a very good lens, just not quite as good as the Sigmas or current Tamron.

The Sigma APO DG and Tokinas are attractive because their reputations don't command higher prices, so they are usually offered at lower prices. I bought my Tokina right after it and the Sigma APO DG were discontinued, and prices of these lenses were escalating to over $1000 because there were no 70/80-200 f2.8s available new. Mine cost me @ $400, and is easily worth it, IMO. Used Sigma screw drives will probably go for $550-650, and the new Tamron usually goes for under $700. I have not upgraded my Tokina because it is fine for my use, and I really don't use this FL range enough to justify buying another lens in this class. The newest Sigma is an HSM only lens and will not AF with a TC for the same reasons that SDM lenses don't.

There really is little difference in performance between these lenses with the exception of the Pentax, figure that they can be rated between say 8.8 to 9.3 on a scale of 10. The DA 50-200 would probably rate at about 8 on the same scale, and is one of the better consumer grade lenses ever in this very historically popular zoom range. None of the zooms is quite as good as the FA*/DA* 200/2.8 which will probably rate in the 9.6-9.8 range. Realize that much of the overall ratings and reputations (both good and bad) of older lenses come from edge and corner resolution on 135 film, and some lenses that are weaker in this area are fine performers on APS-C digital cameras since the areas where the main faults were found are cropped out.

The last 2 lenses I'll mention are the MF 80-200 f2.8 lenses out there, to possibly be used with the AFA. They are the Tokina 80-200 f2.8 AT-X SD and the Tamron SP 80-200 f2.8 LD Adaptall 2. They are usually offered at between $200-300 on the used market. The Tamron (which I own) is a better lens optically by a margin, IMO -- I've also used a Tokina briefly). Both are one touch (push-pull) zooms, and I prefer this for some work, so I use the Tamron over the Tokina for use with the AFA, and prefer the Tokina without a TC because of the AF. Even considering the cost of adding the AFA, these might be a viable alternative because of price.

IMO, the 180 or 200 + TC might be the better option for you as 180-200mm is a great range to get head shots and candids indoors, and you'd probably use it more than a premium 300. You can get some very unusual perspectives of people with long teles from a distance that doesn't intimidate them in the least.

Quote:
This is still a fact finding mission for me and I would rather the opinion of someone experienced with lenses like this than a cold clinical review.
That''s why I don't mind going on and on about these lenses. I've been there and done that, and might as well share what I've found since I did a lot of digging and playing around before I made my decisions, and might as well share my findings.

Meanwhile, I'm getting pretty good results with the DA 55-300 -- see my latest post with the Swans in the main forum. . . The images need a bit of sharpening, and don't offer the same level of detail as the FA*, but there is plenty of detail in the files, and it's by far the best of the consumer grade xx-300 zooms I've tried in the K mount. The swans against the dark water are a good test for CA/PF, and there is very little evident in these images, and what was there was either very easy to correct for or inconsequential.

Scott
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Old Jun 7, 2011, 9:13 PM   #10
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Scott

I am not a hard core birder, I just would like a good long lens for occasional wildlife shots.

I am not rushing into a purchase here so what I really want is just an informed opinion. If you did not own the better lenses would you be satisfied with the results of the DA 55-300? I will be using it on my K20D

Thanks
Ira, here is a sample taken with the DA55-300 on the K20D.

http://forums.steves-digicams.com/wi...ving-fish.html
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