VMLP 16: Minolta (1985) AF 35-70mm f4–Short and Sweet

Look through enough forum posts (there are very few reviews of Minolta AF lenses), and you will likely come across a favorable mention of the 35-70mm f4. It is a good performer that is widely available and costs very little. When putting together a newbie Maxxum camera kit, having the 50mm f1.7, 35-70mm f4, and 70-210mm f4 lenses makes sense. That way, all the essential focal lengths are covered. I bought my first copy before purchasing a 50mm 1.7 because, being new to serious photography, I saw no need for a 50mm lens and a 35-70mm. Since my focus was on flower photography, and I have a small garden, I did not expect to use either the 50mm or 35-70mm that often. I planned to mainly use the 70-210mm to take flower images and sometimes use the wider lens for a few broader shots.

My attitude toward the lens shifted when I bought a camera that came with the 1993 version of the lens. I intended to sell the 1993 version, so I popped it on my Maxxum 5D to test it. I was shocked at the sharpness of the images! Then, earlier this year, I read a post by Jim Grey that reviewed the 1993 version, and his pictures were also sharp with great color. Looking on Dyxum, I discovered that the original 1985 version that had been sitting on my shelf for about 18 months was considered superior, so I decided to try it out.

 

Background
The 1985 model of the 35-70mm f4 was the original version of the lens. It was the kit lens sold with the Maxxum 7000, so thousands are floating around. The next iteration came in 1993 with the release of the Maxxum/Dynax 700si, which, by the way, was one of Minolta’s most highly praised cameras, winning four major awards. Neither version lens has any relation to the MD Rokkor 35-70mm f3.5 that Minolta licensed to Leica. Occasionally, one might see the lens referred to as the “mini-Beercan.”

Technical Specs
The minimum focus distance (MFD) is about 3 feet, 3 inches (1000mm). It has a 49mm filter size and different zoom and focusing rings. Be aware the filter ring rotates while focusing but not during zooming. Having an all-metal frame, it is sturdy and well-built, weighing about nine ounces. Size-wise, it is barely larger than the AF 50mm. The maximum aperture is f4, and the smallest f22, and the f4 aperture is constant through all focal lengths. Kurt Munger provides a detailed review of the lens. Flare control seems to be the most cited problem with this lens. Notably, the lens has a macro function, but AF does not work in macro mode. I don’t see the point of an AF lens that cannot autofocus.

Buying
Since the 35-70mm f4 was the official kit lens for the Maxxum 7000, they are not hard to find. Many eBay Maxxum 7000 sets include this lens. Standalone copies sell over a wide range. I have seen “sold” eBay prices range from around 15.00 to the low 30s. My copy cost 27.00. The 1985 version is considered superior to the 1993 model, but I think either would be suitable for someone starting out. Since they cost the same, there is no reason to buy the 1993 version. However, if the later version falls into your lap, there is little reason to buy the older version except for the build quality.

Images
The black and white images are XP2 exposed at box speed using the Maxxum 7xi. Color images are Fuji CN 100 (expired 2019) and also shot with Maxxum 7xi.

Sharpness tests were done at FL 35mm (f4 and f8) and 70mm (f4 and f8). No images are cropped. All photos were developed with CineStill c41 chemistries and scanned with the Epson v600 with lint removal.

My TLRs, XP2

Impressions
Two things I like most about this lens are its small size and light weight. Used with a lighter, smaller Maxxum such as the Maxxum 70 or Maxxum 5, it is an excellent walk-around lens for a sunny day. The Maxxum 70/Maxxum 5 and the 35-70mm f4 also make for a nice travel combo if a P&S would be too limiting.

The images have good center sharpness, and the bokeh is satisfactory. On crop sensor cameras, such as the Maxxum 5D and 7D and Sony a100, this lens performs even better. I prefer the 1985 version for the build quality, but on the digital Minoltas, both the 1985 and 1993 models perform well.

I don’t use this lens much because, after buying it, I discovered the 28-105mm, which has even better sharpness and a wider range. However, the 28-105mm (original or RS) is heavier, harder to find, and costs more. Together with a 70-210mm f4 Beercan and 50mm 1.7, the 35-70mm f4 makes for a very capable lens set.  If the focal lengths fit your needs, it’s worth having.

2 Comments

    1. Author

      Yes, this lens is nice. I feel guilty for not using it more. But I’m beginning to think it is a perfect match for my Maxxum 70, which is a great little camera. So, it will likely see more action.

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