VMLP 27: Minolta MC Rokkor-X 80-200mm, f4.5—Better Than Expected (Leica Liked It)

Those following along will remember my quest to try as many Minolta manual zoom lenses as possible. I am doing this for the VMLP and a little bit for the same reason people climb Mt. Everest. However, in the case of the 80-200mm, f4.5, there is a detective story of sorts. When the Minolta-Leica collaboration began in the 1970s, Leica adapted some of Minolta’s zooms for its new line of SLRs, and the MC Rokkor-X 80-200mm f4.5 was one of those chosen. One would think that Leica’s approval would raise the profile of the 80-200mm f4.5. But looking online, this lens is rarely mentioned, and I have never seen an actual review. Curious…

Background
A little research provided a hint as to the lens’ obscurity—price. According to a cached SubClub page, this lens sold for close to 400.00 (about $1500.00 today) when released in the mid-1970s. That was a lot of money, so they were not flying off the shelves. The release dates in the Minolta SR Index indicate the MC Rokkor-X 80-200mm was one of the very first MC Rokkor-X Zooms released in 1973, along with the 100-500mm, 40-80mm, and the 100-200mm. Of this group, the 40-80mm has a cult following, while the others fall into the rarely mentioned category. Minolta introduced the 75-200,f4.5 in 1978 (also adapted by Leica), which seems to have led to the eventual demise of the 80-200mm. An MD version is listed in the Minolta SR Index, but I have never seen one for sale.

Technical Specs
The minimum focus distance (MFD) is almost 6 feet (1.8m). Sporting a one-touch, push-pull design and a 55mm filter size, it weighs a hefty 24.7 ounces (700g). Well-built and sturdy, it offers apertures from f4.5 to f32 with a constant f4.5 aperture across the entire zoom range.

Buying
Intrigued by my findings, I went looking for the 80-200mm. It took a while before one finally appeared on eBay. Based on what I have seen since buying my copy, these lenses are uncommon, and they tend to be inexpensive when they do show up. I suppose there is little demand to drive the price up because most new Minolta users are unlikely to have heard of this lens. Based on infrequent eBay listings, and no reviews, I assume few were sold.

My copy cost less than 30.00 (US) and came with caps and a filter. It was in very good to excellent condition with few cosmetic blemishes and clean glass.

Shooting
No question–this is a heavy lens. I used it with my SR-T SC-II, and shooting without a tripod quickly proved to be a challenge. Push-pull lenses are growing on me. I like the one-touch design; it makes it easier to concentrate on capturing the image. While the one-touch design is convenient, zoom creep is a potential problem. I cannot say much about flare because I was shooting late in the afternoon or on cloudy, overcast days.

I am not used to holding a three-pound camera-lens combo while shooting at low shutter speeds, so some camera shake was inevitable. That being said, most of the time, everything worked out well enough. After outings with Lomo 100 and then Kentmere 400, I did a few more test shots with my Olympus e300.

200mm, f8 (e300) (repeat

Sharpness
I shot the initial series of sharpness tests using Lomo 100 and a lightbox. Next, I shot a few color images wide-open at f4.5, 200mm, to finish out the Lomo 100. Later, after developing the film, the final sharpness tests shot at f8, 200mm seemed off, which I attributed to possible camera shake.

The lens is not tack-sharp at 200mm wide-open, but it is better than most zooms I’ve tested. It is at least equal to my AF Beercan at 210mm f4 and much better than the 75-300mm wide-open at 300mm.

Since I had no intention of shooting another roll for just two more sharpness images, I used the Olympus e300 to repeat the sharpness test at f8, 200mm.  I followed that with a series at f5.6 at 80, 100, 135, and 200mm. From those five images, the lens seems to be most sharp from 80-135mm. However, still not confident of the results, I used the Olympus e300 to grab a few images at 100 or 135mm at f8 to test for sharpness just at those FLs.

Since the e300 is a 4/3 camera, these images can only verify issues with central sharpness. The focal lengths 80, 100, 135, and 200 are marked on the lens barrel, and there is very little spacing between 135mm and 200mm, so I used only the set FL markings. Central sharpness from 80-135mm seems very good to excellent. At 200mm, softness is evident even at f8, but again, it is no worse than my 75-300mm AF lens (big Beercan).

Images
Images using Kentmere 400 were shot on a very dark overcast day right before it began to rain. Ideally, I should have waited for another sunny day, but I was trying to meet a deadline, and it had been raining almost daily for nearly two weeks—not something I ever thought I would say about Atlanta in July! As a result, those images were shot at f4.5 and 1/125, an invitation for camera shake issues with a 200mm, 700g lens. The resulting pictures are darker than I would like, and some seem softer than expected, possibly due to camera shake. Images shot in better light, such as the stone cross, show much better contrast and definition.

Impression
All things considered, I like this lens. I can see how it might have been a big deal when released in 1973. It performs more consistently than my Minolta AF 75-300mm zooms and only slightly worse than my 70-210mm f4 Beercan. I like the one-touch, push-pull design because it makes focusing and zooming faster. My main sticking point is its weight.

Minolta produced three later variations approximating the 80-200mm FL: the MD Rokkor-x 75-200 f4.5, MD Zoom 70-210mm f4, and 70-210mm f3.5-4.5. Of that group, the 70-210mm f4 is widely-praised as the best. Once I have evaluated its successors, I will decide which to keep. No matter which lens survives the weeding process, I definitely prefer using AF cameras with long zoom lenses. I would have tried pushing the Kentmere, but never having used it, I demurred.

As far as color and contrast are concerned, the MC Rokkor-X 80-200mm f4.5 performs well. Sharpness is not a concern from 80-135mm, and the softness at 200mm makes it acceptable for portraits or whenever clinical sharpness is not required. It is also well-built and durable—I can see why Leica chose it as one of its early SLR lenses.

Overall, the MC Rokkor-X 80-200mm f4.5 is a good “first try” for Minolta at this FL. It is not perfect, but it is pretty good for a zoom from 50 years ago. If you can find one cheap, it’s worth a try–Mt. Everest and all…

2 Comments

  1. I actually own this lens! I got mine from Blue Moon for the princely sum of $11.99 It works fine, though because of size I rarely use it.

    1. Author

      Yeah, the size is an issue. It is a quirk of fate that this very expensive lens goes for so little these days.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.