VMLP 8: Minolta Maxxum 28-105mm — Very Good, Rarely Mentioned

This is my first true Lens Love post. My goal is to report my experiences with various lenses, primarily how they work with film. There are many detailed lens reviews available that use digital cameras—and I use those reviews quite often—but digital sensors react to light differently compared to film. One significant difference is in their response to overexposure. Film can handle 3-4 stops of overexposure with little trouble; digital sensors cannot. I may introduce a lens using a digital camera as I did in the Minolta MD Zoom 75-150mm post. But I will always use film when preparing a report. 

Background
Why did I choose the 28-105mm as my first Lens Love report? Google it. You will find only few mentions: Dyxum, which gives it good marks, and two old links to Photography Reviews. One link leads to six reviews that, overall, give low marks. The other link has two reviews and agrees with Dyxum. Even Kurt Munger skipped reviewing the 28-105mm. 

I got my first copy in a lot I bought for the Maxxum 7. I ignored this lens until I was trying to decide what to get rid of. I shot a few frames with it to see how bad it was, and I fell in love instead.  

I went looking for reviews, but other than Dyxum, few people have written about this lens. I bought the 28-135mm “secret handshake” lens because it is highly touted. It is a great lens, but since trying the 28-105mm, I haven’t used the 28-135mm. The 28-105mm is lighter, smaller, and to my eye, equally sharp. 

Technical Specs
The 28-105mm comes in three versions–the “xi” version introduced in 1991, a 1994 non-xi version, and a 1997 version dubbed “Restyled” (RS). The 1994 and 1997 versions are rated higher than the original xi version.  All versions weigh about 500 grams (17 ounces).  It is about three inches long and extends about two more inches. The aperture has seven blades.

The minimum focus distance (MFD) is a little more than 19 inches, which I find surprising and useful. It has a 62mm filter ring, which is irksome because that is an odd size for me. I have 49, 55, 58, and 72mm filters, but no 62mm. The filter ring does not rotate during focusing or zooming.

Buying
Dyxum gives the last two versions good marks in most areas. I agree. I have four copies of this lens, one xi and three of the 1994 version. The xi and two of the 1994 version came in camera lots. Generally speaking, the non-xi versions don’t show up that often for sale as individual items. After getting the 1994 version in the Maxxum 7 lot and being so impressed by it, I went looking for a second copy—it took three months for one to show up on eBay. The xi versions dominate eBay listings, and unless you want to the xi experience, don’t buy it. 

Images
Images in this report were shot with the 8000i (XP2), 7000 (Fuji Xperia 400), and Maxxum 7 (Kodak UltraMax). The color images are commercial scans and the B&W are home-scanned XP2. 

Sharpness is a crucial concern for any lens. Many tests are done with digital cameras and special charts. I wanted to use everyday items for my tests because that is what I photograph.  

The first four images are my attempt at sharpness demonstrations. I shot at the extremes 28 and 105mm, and there are two shots, one wide open, and the second at f8, for each FL. The only distortion I notice is a slight pincushion distortion at 105mm.  

Impressions
Shooting with the non-xi versions is pleasant. The MFD of only 19 inches is very useful and unusual for Maxxum zooms. By comparison, the 28-105mm (500mm) MFD is less than half of the 70-210mm beercan (1100mm). Autofocus is quick with every Maxxum body I have used (Maxxum 7, 7000, 8000i, Alpha 7).   This is a great walk around lens. Stopped down to 5.6 and beyond, it is sharp at 28mm and 105mm. It has the same issues with flare as most 90s lenses, but nothing off-putting. Build quality is good; it is substantial without being too heavy, and at little more than three inches length-wise, it is compact and easy to carry.

When going out to shoot, I find the 28-105mm, a 50mm (usually the 50mm macro not the f1.7, even when I’m not shooting any macro images), and the 70-210mm f4 “beer can” are enough to meet my needs. I rarely shoot at 28mm in low light, so I don’t need a fast wide angle lens. Color reproduction is excellent.

I advise against the xi version because of poor ease of use and image quality issues. Xi lenses are cumbersome all the time and a real pain to use in manual mode.

Overall, this is one of my favorite Maxxum lenses, joining the 50mm and 100mm f2.8 macro lenses, 70-210mm beer can, and the 35-70mm f4 (1985). The 28-135mm will yield similar results but with more weight. If you can find a 28-105mm 1994 or RS version, buy it.

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