VMLP 20: The Minolta MD Zoom 35-135mm, f3.5-4.5—The Jury is Still Out

The Minolta MD Zoom 35-135mm came to my attention through a forum discussion about zoom lenses. Only one of the discussants had heard of or used the lens. At the time (spring 2019), the only images I could find were the few supplied in the forum discussion and this review from LensWorks QA. It seems the 35-135mm had escaped nearly everyone’s notice. The guy on the forum said he had one because his family owned a camera store and he got a good discount. Intrigued, I went looking for a copy.

Zoom lenses can be disappointing—they offer range but can lack image quality. But my experience with the 35-70mm and 28-85mm made it clear that exceptional lenses were out there waiting to be discovered. Besides, the 35-135mm FL is a very compelling range. My eagerness to find another gem and the VMLP were enough to get me interested in tracking one down. At the time, I had very few Minolta lenses, so the thrill of the chase added to the fun. As expected, it took months, about six, before a copy showed up on eBay.

When initially released, this was an expensive lens. That fact, and its being challenging to find, made me think it might be very costly to purchase. As it turned out, its obscurity worked in my favor. I bought my copy from a camera store in very good to excellent condition for 35.00.


Like the 35-70mm, 28-85mm, and 70-210mm, the 35-135mm was released in 1983. What was Minolta thinking that year, releasing so many zooms with overlapping ranges? Throw a bunch of zooms on the market and see what catches on???

An ad from a 1985 issue of Popular Photography listed the 35-135mm at 224.00, one hundred dollars more expensive than the 35-70mm 3.5, and the 70-210mm (the 28-85mm was the second most costly at 149.00). In reviewing ads and price lists, only the MD Zoom 24-50mm lens was consistently more expensive. I have not been able to find any vintage reviews of the lens.

Technical Specs
The minimum focus distance (MFD) is 1.5m (~ 5 feet). It has a 55mm filter size and combined zoom and focusing rings (one-touch). However, in macro mode (long end), the distance drops to 18 inches. It is sturdy and well-built, weighing about ~18 ounces (510 gms). (For more detailed specs, see Minolta SR Lens Index)

The MD Zoom 35-135mm is rare, at least on eBay. Only one was available when I checked on March 9th, and only one copy had been sold since December 2021. The lack of listings and the scarcity of mentions on the web imply this was not a popular lens—possibly because it was so much more expensive than other MD Zooms.  Maybe there was no niche for it to fill. Since they are rare if you wish to try one, buy it when you see it.

Color images are expired Fuji 100. Black and white images are mostly XP2 with some FP4+, a new-to-me emulsion, and so far, I like it as a replacement for Ultrafine Xtreme 100. Both color and B&W images were made with the Minolta XG-M. I did sharpness tests in both B&W and color because the reds in the color images seemed somewhat off as if smeared. The smearing-like effect may be due to the light being too bright. Fuji doesn’t usually cause problems with red, but in bright light, red has been a constant problem for me–especially with Ektar.

Sharpness tests were done at 35mm (f3.5 and f8) and at 135mm (f4.5 and f8) for color and B&W. The minimal focusing distance of 5ft made the 35mm test a pain to do. All images were home-developed using CineStill Monobath or 2-Step Color Kit and scanned with the Epson v600. I didn’t try the macro mode.

Books and Drinks, XP2, 135mm

I took the lens out for a stroll to get a better feel for it. Murals were shot at 35mm, mostly at 5.6 under overcast skies. The still life shots were taken at the long end: books and aperitifs at 135mm, f4 (focus is on the bottom book’s print), and the guitar at about 85mm f5.6. All were shot using window light in late afternoon, thus requiring larger apertures. Shutter speeds for the still life shots were slow, requiring  the self-timer of the XG-M because I didn’t have a remote release.

The few forum posts I read about the lens said it was sharp. Wide-open, it seems a little soft at 35mm and 135mm. Shots taken while stopped down have good sharpness.   Center sharpness tends to be very good to excellent throughout all focal lengths when stopped down.   Color rendition is good, but contrast seems lacking in some shots but that may be due to development or scanning.

The image quality is good to excellent, as I have no deal-killing complaints regarding sharpness, but the MFD is a problem. I suppose macro mode would help, but it is only at the long end. Build quality is excellent. It seems like a great lens to carry around based on the focal length range offered. That being said, overall, I am ambivalent. Unlike the 75-150mm and 28-85mm, it doesn’t grab me with its performance. Perhaps that is part of the problem—I am so fond of the 28-85mm and 75-150mm that I compare all other lenses to them. Having both of them leaves me without a compelling reason to have a 35-135mm as well. Given the number of MD Zooms Minolta released between 1981 and 1983, I can see why this lens, being more expensive, did not sell as well.

Will I keep this lens?

Well, this copy lacks the wide-open sharpness of the 35-70m and 28-85mm. On the other hand, from f5.6 on, it performs quite well, and I do like the FL range it offers.  The fact that it is rare appeals to the collector side of me.  For the time being, I will keep it around for the sake of the VMLP.  At some point, I’ll run a roll of Ektar past it and then decide.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *