The Vintage Minolta Love Project (VMLP), which is nothing more than a way to rationalize buying more Minolta gear than I need, is progressing well. I’m shooting more and have enough material for a few months of VMLP posts. I have used nearly every camera in my Minolta collection multiple times and have definite favorites. However, lenses are a different story. I have a few favorites, but I’ve added so many lenses over the last year for the VMLP that it is impossible to create a definitive ranking because I have yet to use many of them.
A while back, I went through my list of cameras, rating them on capability, ease-of-use, emotional attachment, and whatever else crossed my mind. I will begin a running ranking of my favorite lenses with a few comments about each. Every few months, I will write a new post with updated rankings. I will classify them according to my experience with my copies only—no other information is used. Keep this in mind because your mileage will likely vary. Also, since I got into photography with AF cameras, I have spent more time using AF lenses, which is why they dominate the list. Many SR mount zoom lenses were somewhat difficult to find, which is another reason AF lenses outnumber SR lenses in the rankings.
Here is my classification system.
1. Excellent: Sharp* at nearly every aperture, good color, easy to focus or fast AF, low distortion** (get one if you can)
2. Good: Central sharpness at nearly every aperture, good color, easy to focus or fast AF, mild distortion (worth having at a good price)
3. Okay: Central sharpness at 5.6 and above, good color, easy to focus or acceptable AF speed, mild distortion* (if it came with the camera, use it until something better comes along).
4. Bye-Bye: Not worth wasting another roll of film.
(Flare and bokeh are individual matters and are excluded—sometimes, I want flare.)
- 50mm f2.8 Macro; (Excellent—but not as good at f2.8 as the 100mm f2.8 macro)
- 100mm f2.8 Macro; (Excellent—Superb!!!!)
- 50mm f1.7; (Good—I have a tough time liking this lens. The colors seem off, and it seems soft. It does not seem as good as the manual versions).
- 28-85mm f3.5-4.5; (Good—decent sharpness, but my copy has noticeable barrel distortion)
- 28-105 f3.5-4.5; (non-xi); (Excellent—possibly the best consumer/amateur AF zoom)
- 28-100mm f3.5-5.6 (D); (Okay—if stopped down to f5.6 or f8.)
- 35-70mm f4; (Excellent—surprisingly good lens. Buy the original f4 version. The later versions are worth using if they come with the camera, but not worth buying when the original is available for less than 30.00.)
- 35-105mm f3.5-4.5; (Good—hard to pin down. Very sharp, but my two copies have terrible pincushion distortion at every FL. Since I have an “XX” version, I’ll keep it. Otherwise…)
- 70-210mm f4; (Good to Excellent—can be sharp with little distortion, good colors.)
- 75-300mm f4.5-5.6; (Original version: Good to Excellent—not sharp at 300mm)
- 75-300mm, f4.5-5.6 (D); (Good—the original 75-300mm seems generally sharper)
- MD Rokkor 50mm, f1.4; (Excellent—Best at f2.0 and up)
- MD Rokkor 50mm, f1.7; (Excellent-ish — Most Minolta 50mm lenses tend to be soft wide-open. They sharpen quickly when stopped down.)
- Auto Rokkor 55mm, f1.4; (Good—stop it down, but why get one unless collecting?)
- MC Rokkor 58mm, f1.2; (Excellent—I get that it has great bokeh, but bokeh is not a reason for me to like one lens over another. As a normal lens, it is excellent. I got my copy at a ridiculous price but would not pay market rates for one.)
- MD Zoom 28-85, f3.5-3.5; (Excellent—sweet. This may be my most used SR lens.)
- MD Zoom 75-150mm, f4; (Excellent—fantastic lens, sharp, no discernible distortion, great colors.)
- MD Zoom 35-70mm f3.5 (III); (Excellent— I have not used this as much as those above, but seems on par with the 28-85mm)
- MD Zoom 35-135mm f3.5-4.5; (Good—This lens is hard to pin down. Sometimes it seems great, and at others, it disappoints. It appears to be best in the middle FL range between 50mm and 110mm. At 35mm and 135mm, it seems soft wide open. At f5.6 and up, it is good at all FLs)
Favorites (for the moment)
The MD Zoom 28-85, f3.5-4.5 has a great FL range and produces beautiful images. I have to force myself to use something else. The MD Zoom 75-150mm, f4 is a great studio lens or for any planned shots. I’m sure it would work for landscapes as well. I need to use the 35-70mm, f3.5 more, but the 28-85mm is so versatile and so good that I rarely grab the 35-70mm.
The 50mm lenses seem equal, and any one of them is worth having. So far, I have had trouble finding a suitable subject for the 58mm at f1.2, but it renders beautifully. It will take more testing before I can declare a sharpness winner among the 50mm lenses, but I get the feeling it doesn’t really matter.
My go-to set of AF lenses: 50mm 2.8 macro, which I use instead of the 50mm 1.7, 28-105mm, 70-210mm f4, and 100mm 2.8 macro. They cover all my needs. Because of my interest in studio work, I may one day seek out an 85mm 1.4. However, since I have a Pentax 645, in all likelihood, any additional studio work will go to it. I have the Pentax 120mm f4 macro, and it is a great lens.
What are your favorite Minolta lenses?
* I mostly scan or use a digital 4/3 camera (Manual lenses). If an image looks sharp to my eye when taken under my normal shooting conditions, I am happy with the lens. Generally, this means that central sharpness is essential and the extreme corners are not. Also, judging film image sharpness involves more than the lens. Scanning or darkroom printing can also affect the perception of sharpness. I haven’t been able to do darkroom stuff since the pandemic started.
** Minolta lenses I’ve used have had minimal (if any) pincushion distortion (except the AF 35-105mm), and only one has had barrel distortion (AF 28-85mm). Both types of distortion can be seen best when looking at parallel lines. Therefore, often it goes unnoticed unless one is looking for it.