Each December, the XLR8R staff takes a few minutes every morning to spout off about what we’d like to see wrapped up and under the tree come December 25. Next, Ken Taylor takes us on the ultimate “un-pro photo experience,” with the Pentax SMC DA* Series 16-50mm F2.8 and 50-135mm F2.8 DSLR lenses.

Working in the magazine world for a few years, one tends to learn to absolutely despise anything less than perfectly crisp images. With the advent of digital photography, and the instantly gratifying display screen on the back of just about every camera made these days, there’s simply no excuse for fuzzy pics—of any sort. (I’m looking at you, Facebook friends.)

Now, I’m by no stretch a photographer—a dabbler, maybe—but I can appreciate a good image, so when it came time to make the leap to the digital SLR world, I chose Pentax… for a few different reasons. For starters, my first camera was a Pentax K-1000, and it saw me through my high-school and college years of dark-room foolery with ease. Also, I’ve still got all its lenses, and they work just fine on my new Pentax K200D body, save for having to make some adjustments for frame cropping due to the new body’s sensor size. As well, when it comes to upgrading to higher-end DSLR lenses, Pentax has made the smart move of keeping a lot of the mechanical controls in the camera’s body (as opposed to in each of its lenses), so that keeps the lenses a bit cheaper.

But what’s stunning is just how cheap Pentax has made their pro-line of SMC DA* Series lenses. Comparatively, they’re some of the most affordable pro-level lenses on the market, yet they perform like the most costly.

This past weekend I shot with both that series’ 16-50mm F2.8 and 50-135mm F2.8 lenses, and got some absolutely amazing results—at least for my completely un-pro photo experience.

Despite it being pretty cool out, Saturday had some great sunlight. I tested the 16-50mm F2.8 outside of XLR8R’s new digs, and noticed the lens’ sharpness to be impeccable. Focusing in daylight was great, and the amount of available light and resultant bokeh with the F2.8 was delicious. I mean, I’m taking pictures of a heap of garbage with a dirty pig toy in it, for crissakes!

I couldn’t help but check back on the piggie later that night (the trash heap just kept on piling up, as you can see). And while I had some very minor low-light auto-focusing issues in the super-close range, when it hit, the sharpness was incredible again.

Day two was a dreary one in the Mission District of San Francisco. But I had the great fortune of running into a friend, who made for both a willing participant and great model. Again, amazing bokeh and luscious color.

A little motion—and rainy lighting—never hurt a lens test either.

That afternoon, I also took the Pentax SMC DA* Series 50-135mm F2.8 into the studio for a bit more of a portrait test. I’ll reserve my only complaints here for my not-so-great computer monitor, as, on a big screen, these images’ clarity and color pops with amazing brilliance. Sometimes the focus seemed almost too sharp, revealing facial blemishes that were virtually unnoticeable to the eye. And let me say, that’s no criticism of this lens. It simply blew me away.

So, the bottom line: If I can scramble enough post-holiday gift money together, I’m going in for the Pentax SMC DA* Series 50-135mm F2.8 first… and then the 16-50 as soon as the next $900 shows up.

Pentax SMC DA* Series 50-135mm F2.8 $999.95

Pentax SMC DA* Series 16-50mm F2.8 $915.95

Day 1: Keurig Platinum B70 single-cup coffeemaker
Day 2: Score! Merge Records: The First 20 Years
Day 3: Low Self-Esteem by Katie West
Day 4: New Balance 420 and PF Flyers’ Number 5
Day 5: Janus Films Presents: Essential Art House Vols. I and II
Day 6: Kenwood TT756SL 2-Slice Radio Toaster
Day 7: The Ghostly Box
Day 8: Pentax SMC DA* Series 16-50mm F2.8 and 50-135mm F2.8 DSLR lenses