How I Learned to Appreciate Good Lenses

My first eBay purchase was a Maxxum 7000i with two lenses: a Minolta 35-80mm and a Minolta 75-300mm from the last generations of Minolta’s AF lenses. At 42.00 for the set, which included a flash, I thought I had done quite well. Generally, I was happy with my purchase, and everything was fine.  I was new to film photography and pleased with the images I captured. Looking back, I think the richness of the colors and seeing my flowers in picture form overtook my concerns about  image quality. But after a while, I started noticing that some shots looked softer than others, which I attributed to poor focusing—even though I was using AF cameras. It never occurred to me that the lenses might explain the softness. Naively, I assumed the lenses must be good; otherwise, why would the original owners have bought them?

The difference in lens quality did not occur to me until I looked at an image of two flower pots. That image looked crystal clear with no softness. Yet, other photos taken with the same camera and different lenses looked okay but not quite as clear. Why???

At that point, I had read only enough about photography to use the cameras. So, seeing the variations between images taken with the same camera, I assumed my lack of skill best explained the differences. At the time, I also looked at pictures taken with my Minolta 70-210mm f4, a lens all bloggers insisted I should have. Some of those images were also soft, making me assume my photos would improve as I became more proficient.

Favorite AF lenses

Over the next month, I began reading more articles and learned that most lenses are sharpest at f8 or f11. Since I had kept track of each roll of film using an app, I went back and cross-referenced those images with lens FL and aperture. The sharp flower pot image was at f8 and the softer images were at f5.6 or larger.

It was the Minolta 28-105mm that came with my Maxxum 7 that made me see the lenses were the problem. Every image I made with that lens was sharp. Stumbling through the Internet, I came across the Dyxum site. Dyxum contains user-submitted reviews of Minolta lenses from a variety of manufacturers. From Dyxum, I learned that the 28-105mm lens was considered a much better lens than those I had used. To be sure, I went back and shot the same staged scene using each of the questionable lenses. Sure enough, all gave worse results than the 28-105mm. Of that group of kit/third-party lenses, only the Minolta 28-100mm (D) gave decent images most of the time.

I wasn’t happy to learn I had to buy better lenses. Further reading taught me that the better the lens, the sharper it is at large apertures. Using Dyxum, I went on to buy the Minolta 35-70mm f4 and the 35-105mm, f3.5-4.5. As for the 70-210mm f4 softness I had seen in some images? It turns out those bad results were the result of camera-shake and the wind. I had been shooting in “P” mode (Program) and had not paid much attention to shutter speeds or the wind when shooting outside.  Many images were made at 210mm but with a 1/90 or 1/125 shutter speed.  Also, I never used a tripod.

The importance of lens quality really hit home when I bought the MD Zoom 28-85mm f3.5-f4.5 based on a review from the Rokkor files. Every image made with that lens was sharp with excellent color and contrast.

These days, I have two boxes holding my kit/third-party lenses. I can’t decide what to do with them. Most are good at f8/f11, so I will likely toss one in with each camera I sell as a surprise bonus (possibly with a note advising “best at f8-f11”).

Live and learn…

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