Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
At first glance, this lens looks like a good deal: it covers a nice broad zoom
range in an easy-to-handle package, it's an APO lens, and it only costs $700.
Unfortunately, it's slow enough that you can't handhold it in anything but "sunny
16" conditions, the quality is lowest (as with all zooms) at the 400mm end you
were probably hoping to use a lot, AF performance is unspectacular at 100mm and
hunt-prone at 400mm, the front element rotates during both zooming and focus, and
the bayonet lens hood is only a token effort (it can be used without vignetting
on the 85mm/f1.4 lens, so it's not very good at 100mm and completely useless at
400mm; use it anyway, since it protects the front element, but don't count on it
to prevent flare).
Good news? It balances well, even when extended trombone-style to the 400mm
setting, it is reasonably rugged, it has decent sharpness and contrast when
stopped down and used on a tripod, and hey, it's a zoom. You can carry it when
space and weight are more important than absolute quality, or think of it as a
decent 100-200mm zoom that supports in-camera cropping.
If what you really want is a long lens, you're better off buying the 300mm/f4
(which currently costs $800 after Minolta's rebate) and possibly adding the
matched APO 1.4x teleconverter to get a 420mm/f5.6 for extra length. The 200/2.8
with the matched 2x APO teleconverter should also deliver better image quality at
most apertures than this lens. There are other long telephoto zooms in Minolta's
lineup that get good remarks, but I haven't tried them myself.
Physically, it's a mix of metal and plastic, heavy on the plastic, which is
what makes it light enough that it balances well, and prevents the lack of a
built-in tripod mount from being a real problem. Manual focus is heavy and a bit
jerky when trying to make fine adjustments at the long end of the zoom range; the
"trombone" zoom action puts too much mass out in front of the focus ring with no