VMLP 12: Minolta MD Zoom 28-85mm, f3.5-4.5—Yeah, You Want One of These

Minolta made so many SR mount lenses that it is difficult for someone new to the brand to make an intelligent buying decision. There are a few famous lenses, and they get all the press. When I bought my first manual camera in July 2019, the most widely touted lenses for regular folks were the MC Rokkor 50mm 1.4 PG, the MC Rokkor 58mm 1.4 PF, and the MD Zoom Rokkor 35-70mm macro. Everything I read seemed to mention these three lenses. At the time, my budget for lenses was still around 35.00 (before I dreamed up the VMLP). Searching eBay, each lens cost more than that, and the 35-70mm, much more. Deciding I needed more lens suggestions, I changed my strategy and started searching for “best manual Minolta lenses” using Google. That search led to a few forum posts, some of which mentioned a wider variety of good lenses. Four lenses that seemed to be mentioned more than others at being better than they were given credit for were the MD Rokkor 80-200mm, MC Rokkor 75-200mm, MD Zoom 28-85mm, and the MD zoom 35-135mm. From then on, most of my lens quests were based on forum posts.  

Initially, I was interested in getting a mid-range zoom because, at the time, I had no manual primes or normal lenses, only an MD 70-210mm 4.5-5.6 that came with an X-570, which I bought only because the set was 20.00. The deciding factor in purchasing my first manual zoom was a post on the Rokkor Files comparing the 28-85mm to primes. The 28-85mm held up very well, so it became my first intentionally-purchased manual lens.

Introduced in 1983, the MD Zoom 28-85mm, f3.5-4.5 comes in only one version. Looking at old Popular Photography magazines from late 1983, the 28-85mm was the second most expensive zoom at about 190.00. The 24-50mm and the 35-135mm were the most costly zooms (250-300.00), and the 70-210mm f4 and 100-300mm were slightly less expensive than the 28-85mm. The 35-70mm was much cheaper at 119.00. The 28-85mm seems to have been sold by fewer vendors than the other zooms. I wonder how many were sold?

Technical Specs
The minimum focus distance (MFD) is a little more than 2 feet, 6 inches. It has a 55mm filter size and separate zoom and focusing rings. However, in macro mode (at the wide end), the distance drops to 18 inches. It is sturdy and well-built, weighing about 16.5 ounces (470 gms). (For more detailed specs, see Minolta SR Lens Index)

Fortunately, if one is buying, obscurity works in your favor. Back in July 2019, there were only two 28-85mm lenses listed on eBay in the US. One was 80.00, the other was well over 100.00—neither fit my budget. Then I discovered ShopGoodwill.com. Searching specifically for the 28-85mm never turned up any candidates. So, it was a complete accident that while looking for an SR-T 101 to replace the one from my college days, a listing appeared for an SR-T 101 with a 28-85mm attached. No one bid on the set (obscurity to the rescue), so for 9.99, I got the SR-T 101 and my first 28-85mm. Both were in good condition and worked fine. 

The black and white images (Ultrafine 400) included were shot with two Minolta XD11s. Color images (expired Fuji 100 shot at box speed) were made using an SR-T 201. The first four images are my sharpness tests. Two images were made at 28mm (f3.5 and f8), and the two were shot at 85mm (f4.5 and f8). The focusing distance of 2.6 ft made it impossible to get close enough to exclude areas outside the lightbox, but I decided not to crop the images anyway. I made two images to test the macro mode. One turned out well enough to use. (I was experimenting with lighting—something I will not do while testing lenses hereafter.) All images were home-developed using CineStill chemistries and scanned with the Epson v600.  (WordPress scales images, lowering resolution)

Macro mode (28mm)

The 28-85mm renders sharp images with superb color. Center sharpness wide-open is quite good. The MFD is annoying, but it is much less than some of my other favorite manual zooms, such as the 75-150mm f4 (4 feet). The macro mode is simple to use, but I did not explore it fully.

At 16 ounces, this lens isn’t light, but I did not find it to be burdensome. I have used this lens many times and keep it on my shelf within easy reach. Overall, this is a sharp, well-built zoom that comes close to primes in sharpness and color. I have used it on nearly every manual Minolta, including the SR-2 and SR-3. I love this lens. They show up in spurts on eBay. My advice: if you see one, buy it.  

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