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Minolta 100-400mm/f4.5-6.7 APO lens

by J Greely, 1999

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 support.

Text and pictures Copyright © 1999 J Greely

The pictures are from the under-construction Microsoft Silicon Valley campus. The zoom range was handy for shooting into a fenced-in area. Aperture was between f11 and f16.

Article created 1999

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