VMLP 25: Minolta (1985) AF 35-105mm f3.5-4.54—Buy One (You’ll Thank Me Later)

The Minolta AF 35-105mm f3.5-4.5 is an oddity. It is widely touted for its sharpness and has an overall rating of 4.64/5 (sharpness, 4.78) on Dyxum, with the main ding against it being relatively poor flare control. I have seen it mentioned glowingly many times in forums. Yet somehow, I could not find a single blog review.

My first encounter with this lens (disappointing) was three years ago. That copy had terrible pincushion distortion from 50mm on up. The lens did excel on sharpness, contrast, and color—I even liked the macro function. However, the distortion made it unusable for film. The lens went back on the shelf where it has remained.

Last year, I was seduced by a really cheap crossed “XX” Maxxum 7000 on eBay, and when it arrived, an “XX” AF 35-105mm was in the package. Had it not been a crossed “XX” version, it too would have been relegated to a shelf. But knowing I was going to add it to my “XX” collection, I kept it handy. Once the VMLP was well underway, I realized there were far more SR mount lenses than A-Mount, so the 35-105mm was added to the review queue to provide more balance. Surprisingly, on using the crossed “XX” version, I was not able to reproduce the pincushion distortion! This copy lives up to its online reputation.

Background
This report concerns only the 1985 version released with the Maxxum 7000. Having the crossed “XX” logo, my second copy is obviously from the earliest production batch. There are two versions of the 35-105mm—the original 1985 model and a 1988 model. Both have the same aperture range of f3.5-4.5. The 1988 version is not as highly regarded, and I have never used one.

While the 35-105mm is widely praised, I cannot find any background info regarding its design, so I have no idea whether it is related to the SR mount zoom lens of the same focal length range.

Inspection and Technical Specs
For a 37-year-old lens, this copy is in excellent condition. There are a few cosmetic marks on the lens barrel and little else. The minimum focus distance (MFD) is about 5 feet (150cm). However, in macro mode, that shrinks to a little more than 15 inches (40cm). Autofocus is lost in macro mode. 

The AF 35-150mm has a nice balance, its metal body weighing in at around 17 ounces (485 gm). The length is about 3.5 inches (87mm). The filter ring (55mm) turns during focusing but not while zooming, and the smallest aperture is f22.

Buying
When it comes to the original lens released with the Maxxum 7000, the 35-105mm is slightly more scarce than the other zooms (35-70mm, 28-85mm, and 70-210mm) released in 1985. The 1988 version is easier to find. Possibly many people opted for the 50mm, 35-70mm, and 70-210mm set, and the 35-105mm was not perceived as offering any added benefit. Both of my copies came in a Maxxum 7000 lot.

Images
Sharpness tests were done with Kentmere 100, two at 35mm (f3.5, f8) and two at 105mm (f4.5, f8). Film color images are expired (2019) Fuji CN 100. The XTsi was used for the film shots. Digital images are from the Maxxum 7D.

Color film was developed with CineStill 2-Bath Color kit, black and white with Df 96 Monobath. Scanning was done with an Epson V600 and Epson 2 Scan software.

I shot the Kentmere images the same day as an outing with my new Pentax 645. Comparing images between cameras, the 35-105mm held its own with sharp images and good contrast. The Kentmere 100 showed it is a keeper as well. I especially like the image of the stone gate entrance. It has no pincushion distortion, and the reproduction of the shadows on the grass and water is exactly what I wanted. The color film images came out as hoped. However, the butterfly (black swallowtail) was constantly moving, so some of that image is slightly blurred.

Minolta XTsi

The stand of bamboo was in very deep shade, and, surprisingly, the image is not a total blur. I shot it at 1/45, leaning with my back against a post. It has been a very long time since I got a decent handheld shot below 1/60.

Digital images of the society garlic and curcumin flower were taken to test for color rendition, which, as you can see, was fine. The Maxxum 7D always returns gorgeous colors, and the 35-105mm did its part, as well.

Impressions
The AF 35-105mm (1985) is a winner. It is sharp while offering great color and contrast. The pincushion distortion seems to be limited to only a few copies. When I’ve asked about this on forums and such, no one else seems to have encountered this issue.

On both cameras, autofocus lock seems equally fast. At 17 oz, it is not light, but on the Maxxum 7D, the AF 35-105mm felt well-balanced. Using it on the less weighty Maxxum XTsi, balance was still fine.

Long-time readers know of my love for the Minolta 28-105mm (non-xi) lens. Well, the 1985 version of the 35-105mm matches it in every way except focal length. Walking around with the lens, especially with the XTsi, the weight and balance made the pairing a perfect combo. I didn’t have a strap and never missed having one.

The pincushion distortion in images taken with my first copy of the lens is noticeable only when the scene contains closely-spaced vertical parallel objects. Thus, the distortion need not make the lens completely useless (except maybe for architectural shots).

Overall, this is an excellent lens. Based on focal length range, I prefer the 28-105mm but would have no problem grabbing the 35-105mm when heading out the door. My only concern in using my copy is that I might lose a crossed “XX” original in great shape—it would be very difficult to replace.

Buy one—you’ll thank me later.

2 Comments

  1. Your last photo is of Yuccas. I also have this 35-105 lens and love it as well. I prefer the 1985 Maxxum lenses over all the rest.

    1. Author

      Thanks, for the Yucca info! My wife identified for me as well.

      The 35-105mm was a very pleasant surprise. I will definitely use it more.

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