My December: The Canon Serenar 50mm 1.8 LTM was a Bust, and the Vivitar 35ES…

Cameras with interchangeable lenses slowly goad one into buying more lenses. Curiosity often overtakes common sense, and the nagging desire to try another lens wins out. My Minolta-35 with LTM mount has done this to me. I managed to obtain a 45mm f2.8 Minolta lens for it, and that lens is better than I expected in terms of sharpness and the way it handles light. It flares, but not nearly as much as expected. So, I was happy with it until I started reading lens reviews.

After reading reviews for all the normal lenses Minolta produced for the Minolta-35 (45mm f2.8, 50mm f2.8, 50mm f2, and 50mm f1.8), I learned the 50mm f1.8 was considered the superior version. Well, a Minolta 50mm f1.8 in good condition with clean glass costs at least 300.00, often more than 400.00. That is beyond my budget limit. So, I got the bright idea to look for other 50mm 1.8 lenses. Soon, I discovered that the Canon Serernar 50mm f1.8 was a close second to the Minolta, so I went looking for one. Luck seemed to favor me because I found an auction for a Canon 7 rangefinder with a 50mm f1.8 attached, and the seller said the lens had only a few dust spots! Problem solved? Nope…

When the Canon 7 arrived, the selenium meter worked perfectly and the shutter had no wrinkles. Great news! However, the rangefinder alignment was off, a lot vertically and slightly horizontally. Rangefinder issues didn’t really bother me because I bought the camera to get the lens. Unfortunately, the lens was also a disappointment. I shot 24 frames using different combos of the Canon 7, the Canon 50mm f.8, and the Minolta-35 IIB.

The images from the Canon 7/Canon 50mm 1.8 were badly blurred. Clearly, the rangefinder required servicing. The next day, I shot more frames using the Minolta-35 and Canon Serenar and those images were sharper but still softer than expected. Assuming I had shaken the camera, I shot another set of frames and noticed that low-light images looked sharper than those in brighter light. Puzzled, I inspected the lens using a light source and found multiple small marks, long scratches, and haze—obviously, more than a few specks of dust. I returned the Canon gear.

The Vivitar 35ES made its way to me because it is said to have the same lens as the Minolta 7sII, which has an excellent lens (also, they are cheap). While the cameras have the same form factor, they differ in function. Both are shutter-priority rangefinders with 40mm f.17 lenses, but the Vivitar lacks a well-defined manual mode. Test shots proved the lens to be sharp and the metering accurate. The camera works as advertised, but I admit it feels awkward. I usually shoot in aperture-priority mode or manual. Not having a proper manual mode feels very limiting. It’s like using a P&S camera, but with manual focusing. So far, the jury is still out.

The Vivitar 35ES, Konica Auto S3, Canon QL17 GIII, and Minolta 7sII are often compared. Some say they have a common manufacturer—I don’t know this to be a fact. Having used the Vivitar and Minolta, I can say they have the same basic feel except for the Vivitar’s lack of a manual mode. The explorer in me wants to try a Canon to see how it compares, and judging by recent prices, a Canon try-out may be in my future. Canon models seem to be far more plentiful than the Minolta 7sII, with a broader price range. They are said to have brighter viewfinders and equally sharp or even sharper lenses than the 7sII. That Canon will need to be spectacular to beat my little Minolta 7sII. We shall see…

Overall, December brought some disappointments and surprises, and I’m still hoping for a good 50mm f1.8 lens that won’t break the bank. But, if I’m honest, the 45mm f2.8 is just fine.


  1. There’s a lot of rumors and speculation about the Minolta Hi-Matic 7sII, Vivitar 35ES, etc as you mentioned. I think I have found the origins of some of it in various places online where noted camera writers with large followings said confusing things and it got repeated with slight changes and different meanings. However, I’ve serviced many copies of all of these, and I assure you Konica made the Konica, Canon made the Canon, and Cosina made both the Minolta and Vivitar (and it was also produced for Revue). The Minolta and Vivitar are just obviously the same camera under the hood with very slight tweaks, and the Vivitar is actually stamped Cosina. So it’s true that the camera branded Minolta was available with slight changes under different brands, but not as many as the Internet says.

    1. Author

      Thanks for this info! I’m will surely try the Canon now!

  2. Sorry to hear about the lens woes. I bought a LTM mount rangefinder over the summer that just got CLA’d and needs to be picked up. It came with a lovely 50mm lens, but like you, because lenses are “interchangeable” I want another. The problem is unlike SLRs where you can pretty much use any lens that will fit the mount, with a rangefinder you’re limited by “frame lines” in the viewfinder. Sure, you can use a lens that doesn’t fit within the frame lines, but you’ll lose any framing accuracy. My LTM has 50mm and 100mm frame lines, and the whole viewfinder is supposed to be 35mm. LTM lenses are cheaper than M mounts, but not as cheap as Minolta SR–only the scratched and hazy lenses fall into my budget window. I’ll keep looking…

    I was gifted a Canonet QL17 G-III over the summer. I like it a lot. Shutter priority is not my preferred exposure method, but I’m used to it. The manual mode is good, though I rarely use it. Lens seems sharp. And it’s all in a nice tidy package. Before I got one I thought they were overhyped, but now I say pick one up if you can.

    1. Author

      Yes, the LTM marketplace is expensive, which is why I will be sticking to my 45mm f2.8 for a while. Maybe I will spring for a Minolta 50mm f1.8 after selling a few items.

      Thanks for the info on the Canon QL17 GIII. You were spot-on about the Minolta 7S, so I will keep an eye out for the Canon.

      My main focus in on moving forward with the VMLP, and after the setbacks of the past 18 months, I’m eager to get going again. I have a backlog of Minolta rangefinders, folding cameras, and SR lenses to work through.

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