When I decided to do the Vintage Minolta Love Project, the focus was on camera bodies and how camera features and technology had changed over the years. The plan was to own only a few lenses and use them to evaluate all cameras. Having started with autofocus cameras, I had minimal interest in buying manual lenses. The first manual camera I purchased was the X-570 with an MD 70-210mm 4.5-5.6, for which I paid 20.00. I wanted access to a manual camera but didn’t want to invest much money in something I planned to use rarely. My foray into the world of manual cameras would have ended there if not for two fortuitous events that brought me an XD11 and an MD Rokkor-X 50mm 1.4 lens.
I had read about the Minolta XD11 and the collaboration with Leica. The history intrigued me, so I bought an XD11 on eBay for not much more than I paid for the X-570. Next, deciding that I needed something on the wide end, I bought a Tokina 35-135mm lens from Goodwill, my intention being to use only those two lenses for any manual camera shooting. The Tokina ended up being for the Pentax K mount, so I still had only one manual lens.
The MD Rokkor-X 50mm 1.4 lens was up for auction on ShopGoodwill. I knew about this lens from many years ago when I owned an SR-T 101. I never had one but knew it was considered excellent. Four people were bidding for it, and I bid 25.00 on a whim, never thinking I would win because, in past auctions, 50mm 1.4 lenses went for much higher prices. I forgot about the auction and was shocked when I received an email that I won! After receiving the lens, it sat unused for weeks because, at the time, I was still very much into autofocus cameras.
At some point, I read that mirrorless cameras were good for shooting manual lenses. I did not have a mirrorless camera, but I did have an old 4/3 E300 that I discovered could be used with manual Minolta lenses with a simple adapter. I bought a Fotodiox adapter, and one day while bored, attached the 50mm 1.4 to the camera and took a few shots of some bottles. A few hours later, when I downloaded the images to my Mac, I was shocked at the sharpness and color rendition. It was those images that made me decide to explore manual Minolta gear.
Having decided to buy more gear, I was clueless about what to buy. What was the best 50mm lens? What manual cameras were worth owning? The Vintage Minolta Love Project solved the camera problem—buy all significant models. Lenses were a different matter. First, they cost a lot more than cameras. Second, in terms of reference material, lenses often had fewer reviews. The Minolta SR Lens Index provided a list of all lenses made, but not much about which ones were worth buying. For example, there are many reviews of the 50mm 1.4 PG and 58mm MC Rokkor 1.4 PF, but few for their 1.7 cousins. The gems such as the 85mm 1.7 and 35-70mm f3.5 have many reviews, but try finding some for the MC Rokkor-X 80-200mm.
Eventually, I decided to pursue a “Love” strategy for lenses. However, instead of trying to shoot all the major lenses, I have opted to try a two-pronged approach. First, I decided to match 50mm normal lenses with the cameras released with them. Thus, I have matching 50mm 1.7 and 1.4 lenses for all generations of manual cameras. These lenses will only be mentioned in relation to the cameras being reviewed; none will receive its own post. On the other hand, those lenses that are rarely mentioned will have individual write-ups—this will apply to both AF and manual lenses. Here is the list of lenses I will write about:
- Zoom Rokkor 100-200mm
- MC Rokkor 80-200mm
- MD Rokkor 75-200mm
- MD 50mm 3.5 Macro
- MD Zoom 28-85mm
- MD Zoom 50-135mm
- MD Zoom 75-150mm
- MD Zoom 35-135mm
- MD Zoom 35-105mm
- MD Zoom 100-300mm
- 28-105mm (not xi)
- 50mm f2.8 Macro
- 35-70mm f4 (original)
- 28-85mm (original)
- 75-300mm (original)
- 35-105mm (original)
I am evaluating these lenses to see which I like and will keep. Since there is overlap in focal lengths, only the winner will remain. Thus, all the mid-range MD zooms are competing, and so far, the 28-85mm and 75-150mm are the ones to beat. I have some of the more famous consumer-focused lenses (MD 35-70 f3.5, MD 70-210mm f4, 100mm AF f2.8 macro, etc.), but they will be mentioned only with cameras. Everybody has reviewed the famous lenses—I see no reason to do yet another review.
I’m looking forward to this part of the Vintage Minolta Love Project! I’m intrigued at exploring the capabilities of these lenses first-hand. And seeing that there’s a pandemic to sit out, finding and playing with these lenses will be welcome distractions.