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5 Gifts for Good

As we shop for our loved ones this holiday season, we are often reminded of those less fortunate. Here are 5 photo-related gifts that give back.

Minolta Autofocus Camera Lenses

by J Greely, 1999

Preliminary list, based on what I've owned and used. Full reviews will be split out into separate pages as they appear. Have a favorite lens that I don't discuss? Send me a review in email.

  • STF 135mm/f2.8 [T4.5] (New!) For those who think Minolta doesn't make exotic special-purpose lenses, here's a doozy. When it came time to fill the gap left by their long-discontinued 135mm/f2.8 (see below), the folks at Minolta decided to build a high-tech siege gun designed to wage war on the out-of-focus areas of your pictures, particularly portraits. I'd never heard of an apodization filter before, but it's there, along with a second ten-blade aperture designed to give precise control over aperture (the two features together are responsible for the T-stop designation). The goal is to produce a very smooth transition between in-focus and out-of-focus areas in your pictures, and reduce or eliminate distracting background effects. When I get my test roll back I'll know whether or not it delivers on its promises, but there's one thing I can say right now: this is the easiest-to-focus lens I've ever used, period. [full review coming soon]
  • 16mm/f2.8 Fisheye A local camera shop was going out of business, and gave me an excellent price on this rather specialized lens. Well made, with built-in vestigial hood and internal filters, but to be honest I haven't shot even a single picture with it yet. It's very easy to take bad pictures with a fisheye lens, and many people have, so it'll probably gather dust for a while until I think of something interesting to do with it.
  • 24mm/f2.8 Good solid wide-angle lens. Fast internal focus, 55mm filter, flower-shaped bayonet lens hood.
  • 28-135mm/f4-4.5 (discontinued) The secret handshake of dedicated Minolta users, this surprisingly sharp and contrasty zoom is a hot item on the used market. The slow maximum aperture and relatively poor close-focus ability (five feet) are the tradeoffs the designers made to allow this lens to perform extremely well, even wide-open. 72mm filter (but don't actually try to use normal 72mm filters below about the 40mm setting), fast internal focus, variable flare (mine seems fine, others have to use it carefully, and it wasn't designed to take a dedicated hood), no lens hood. Has a special "macro" mode that I've never seen much point to, that gives you roughly 1:5.

    If you want to fit a hood to this lens, you have two choices: buy a 72mm wide-angle rubber hood, which gives you a little protection at the 28mm setting and is completely useless at 135mm, or buy a 72-77mm step-up ring and a 77mm Hama zoom lens hood. Use it folded back at 28-35mm (you may get slight vignetting), at the official "wide" setting at 35-50mm, at the "normal" setting from 50-90mm, and at the "tele" setting from 90-135mm. [full review coming soon]

  • 28-70mm/f2.8 G Given the performance of the 28-135 mentioned above, my primary interest in this lens isn't the quality or the speed, but simply the ability to focus closer than five feet. I do expect higher quality, but that's a bonus; the real win is not having to elbow as many people out of my way when I'm shooting casuals in a crowded room. 72mm filter, non-rotating front element, relatively slow AF.
  • 35-105mm/f3.5-4.5 (second version, discontinued) Small, light, inexpensive. Also a bit flat and prone to flare, but still capable of decent pictures when pointed at the right subject. 55mm filter, clip-on lens hood.
  • 50mm/f1.7 Lighter, cheaper, better-corrected, and with faster autofocus than the more expensive 50/1.4, this lens is the same incredible bargain that it is in every other line. 49mm filter, built-in lens hood. It has reportedly been discontinued recently, but with luck they're just clearing out old inventory before introducing a new version.
  • 70-210mm/f4 (discontinued) The little brother of the 80-200/2.8, this is a better lens than the ones that replaced it. In looks it reminds me a lot of the 20-ounce beer cans my college roommates used to bring home most weeknights. Reasonable autofocus performance, good flare control, 55mm filter, clip-on lens hood, focuses down to 3.6 feet.
  • 80-200mm/f2.8 APO (old version) This is where I get to say "nyah, nyah" to Nikon users, because even the old version of this lens has a built-in tripod mount that can be rotated for shooting verticals. Of course, they get to laugh right back, because it only focuses down to six feet rather than the five feet that every other lens in this category is capable of. Reasonable autofocus performance, solid construction, 72mm filter, rotating front element, bayonet lens hood, excellent flare control. Depending on which reviews you believe, this is either optically just as good as everyone else's, or at least close enough to still produce professional quality, even wide-open. The newer version promises faster autofocus and a white finish.
  • 85mm/f1.4 (old version) This lens gets top marks from all who try it, including me. My first test roll was terrific, and I'm looking forward to using it often. It balances well, is easy to focus manually, and is very, very sharp. 72mm filter, bayonet lens hood, non-rotating front element (recessed for excellent flare control).
  • Tamron 90mm/f2.8 Macro This lens costs $10 less than a Minolta 100/2 and $155 less than a Minolta 100/2.8 Macro, making it an excellent compromise if you want to shoot both portraits and close-ups while saving some money. Very sharp, terrific contrast, reasonable AF speed, and excellent flare control even without the hood, due to the deeply recessed (1.75 inches) front element. The focusing ring can be pushed forward to rotate freely when the camera is set to auto-focus, or pulled back for well-damped manual focus, and there's a focus-limiting switch at the 1:3 mark to reduce the "hunt" distance for AF. 55mm filter, bayonet lens hood, non-rotating front element.
  • 100-400mm/f4.5-6.7 APO
  • 135mm/f2.8 (discontinued) My Christmas present to me, this hard-to-find lens comes highly recommended, and I'll be taking it out for a spin as soon as I get a chance. 55mm filter, non-rotating front element, built-in lens hood, internal focus, minimum focus distance about 3 feet.
  • 200mm/f2.8 HS APO The smallest of the sexy white lenses in Minolta's pro telephoto line, this fast, easy-to-handle lens is a superb performer wide-open, and is compatible with Minolta's dedicated 1.4x and 2x teleconverters. It has fast internal focus, takes a 72mm filter, and focuses down to five feet. Manual focus is smooth and easy. [full review coming soon]
  • 500mm/f8 Reflex I picked this up cheap, in suspiciously immaculate condition. I think it had been mounted on a body once by the previous owner. Internal filter (clear and 4x neutral density supplied), autofocuses with central sensor only (on some bodies) and hunts more than a bit even then, minimum focus 13 feet. [full review coming soon]

    (At this point, you might ask yourself exactly how long a lens you need)

    How far away is your subject? (in feet)

    How high is the object you want to fill the frame? (in feet)

Text Copyright © 1999 J Greely. The picture at the top was taken in the San Francisco Zoo.

Article created 1999

Readers' Comments

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T C Khoo , December 22, 1998; 03:11 A.M.

Everyone knows about the G lenses, but IMHO Minolta has some quiet achievers which at the least, match, similar optics from the rest of the big 4. Under the current list: the 28/2, 35/2, 50/1.7, 100/2, the 24-85/3.5-4.5. They also represent some of the best bang for the buck in the market, bar none.

I also hv access to the Contax, SLR and G system. Different signature, but little in it. The only noticeable gap is in the wider CZs for the G1 below 35MM. The Biogons and Hologon are a breed apart, and coupled with the mirrorless G1/G2 rangefinder, give a sterling performance. Other wise, a very good effort by Minolta for the glass they put out. Many criticise the gaps in the system, and admittedly, there sure are (no shift lens still....), but what they have, in terms of quality, is certainly far more than adequate for the serious and discerning photographer, especially those with interest in street, travel, portraiture and weddings.

Dennis Dennis , September 23, 1999; 07:07 P.M.

My favorite lens is the 35mm f1.4. It's fairly light and compact for its kind-- and its sharp. I like to use if for hiking, travel, low-light shots when I don't want to lug around a tripod. One ding against it, like other Minolta primes, is the tiny, non-grippable, manual focus ring. Ugggh. I also like the new Sigma, 28-70mm f2.8 EX. It provides very good value. I don't own any Minolta zooms (the only one that I think would be a good buy is the 100-300mm APO). Does anyone really own the 17-35mm f3.5? It got a good review in Practical Photography (UK), as I recall-- but pay $1,599 for a f3.5?!

James Joyce , January 18, 2000; 07:19 P.M.

I have the 50mm 1.4 as well as the 1.7 and my experience is that the 1.4 is a much sharper lens with consistently better results.

Jeff Measamer , February 22, 2000; 06:19 P.M.

I finally managed to get an excellent used (still had a 1986 dated registration card) 135/2.8 Maxxum lens, it was worth the effort. I've only taken a few photos to check it out but am really pleased with the sharpness and overall image quality, highly recommended. I currently use a 28/2.8, 50/1.7 and the 135/2.8 all Minoltas, all bought used and all excellent performers.

Peter van Es , March 13, 2000; 10:36 P.M.

I have a Minolta 700si body, a 5400HS flash and two lenses that I use almost all the time, and carry with me on my overseas trips (Asia primarily). I have the Minolta G series 24-85mm lens (3.5-4.5) which is excellent in optical quality and range for daily use. I have a Tokina 80-200mm (2.8 throughout the range) which I use for Zoom and sometimes even with a 2x teleconverter. Because the lens is light sensitive that still works and off a tripod certainly produces decent results. The only downside: the lens is a very heavy 2lbs!

Together these two lenses in a small Billingham bag cover all my travel needs excellently !

Qiao Xie , April 04, 2000; 04:23 A.M.

I recently bought a Minolta DYNAX 505si SUPER ( Maxxum XTsi in the US), which came with an AF ZOOM 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 MACRO lens as part of a cost-effective package.

Obviously the lens is a consumer-grade compromise. I have even detected 6 tiny white bubbles inside the lens. The fact that Minolta has let such a product pass its quality test indicates it's a low-quality lens. In addition, a lens performance survey at http://www.photozone.de/ has stunned me. The Minolta 20-80 is rated the worst of all the lens surveyed in terms of optical and build quality. It is simply rated as a bad product, much worse than most others.But is it really so bad and how can Minolta sell such a product?

Although I did not find strong evidence that the lens greatly affected picture quality except for some occasional flares, I decided I should buy a higher-quality lens this time. Standard lens are said to be the best lens for beginners. There are two choices: either AF 50mm f/1.4 or AF 50mm f/1.7. The immediate temptation and common sense seem to go for the cheaper compromise of AF 50mm f/1.7. But I have been resisting it as I heard an expert say that f/1.4 can take pictures at about half the available light of f/1.7, and f/1.4 can also make better use of Minolta's unique high-speed flash synchronization both outdoors and indoors let alone its higher contrast and sharpness. I have bought a compromise product, and it seems I should not buy a second compromise product. But will this be a correct decision?

Dennis W , April 06, 2000; 05:48 P.M.

To Qiao: Minolta has a mostly lame consumer zoom product line... IMHO. Of course if you're shooting mostly 4x6 prints, what you have may be ok.

Bubbles in the glass: This isn't only a Minolta problem. I have the same problem with Canon lenses. I return anything I'm not happy with, although very small bubbles are probably not worth bothering about (chips, hairline cracks are though).

50mm lens? Boring. I don't quite go along with the conventional thinking that the 50 is 'best for beginners'. But they're cheap second-hand (I got one for $50). You could also try eBay. Pop Photo rates the newer f1.4 better than the old one if you want to pay the $$$bucks.

Also, consider the Sigma 28-70 f2.8 EX or the Minolta 35 f2 (some consider 35 as the new 'standard'). FYI an f1.4 lens needs half the light of an f2 lens, not an f1.7 as I recall. If you're shooting with print film, a (great) 400 film like the Kodak Portra 400N will give you speed.

Jay Park , October 18, 2000; 03:01 A.M.

I have Maxxum 5000 and 7000 w/prog back and 28-85 3.5-4.5, 50 1.7, 200 2.8 APO. In my opinion, I choose 50 1.7 is best in sharpness and color rendition. 200 2.8 APO tends to show little greenish when picture come out. I and my wife like Minolta we have very much though I am a collector of Nikon cameras. Everybody in this news group says that Nikons superior to others. However, yeh I am an amature not pro and just my own subjective opinion that Maxxum's 50 1.7's build quality and overall performance is rival to that of nikon (I have 50 1.4 NAI, 50 1.2 AIS, 50 2.0 NAI, 50 1.4 AFD, 50 1.8 AIS, 50 1.8 AF and maxxum's 50 is superior to all of nikon except 50 1.8 AIS-just in my experience).

Frank L , January 17, 2001; 04:23 A.M.

I travel extensively throughout Asia and Europe on business trips and I also love taking this advantage of taking pictures in different cultures. One observation: Minolta products (specifically the Maxxum/Dynax/Alpha system) are highly popular and well-received in Japan and Germany just like any other camera brand. I suspect that marketing and advertising has something to do with Maxxum's popularity (or the lack of it) in the US as opposed to Nikon or Canon. I had been a Nikon user for 8 years before switching to Minolta 2 years ago. I missed the "metallic feel" of my old Nikons and Nikkors. However, I've soon become a believer in the Minolta system because their cameras are simply "cool" and very capable. I also like their lenses (well, most of them) because they produce such beautiful color and contrast. Out of focus blur (called "bokeh" in Japanese) is amazing and aesthetic due to the use of circular diaphram. Now I understand why Minolta is indeed a big name in other parts of the world.

Casey Veranth , August 08, 2001; 10:49 P.M.

fellow minolta fans we got to keep telling others that minolta lenses SUCK!!!!!...why? to keep them cheap on the used market of course :)

just try to find the original 135/2.8 or 100/2 used....minoltans know these are good lenses and snatch them up asap.

some lenses i think are great for minolta...keep in mind i'm just a serious amateur, meaning i look for pro quality on the cheap and take good care of my equipment :) some really good lens that are easier to come by used are the 50/1.7 of course, the 28-135/4-4.5 (not a close focuser at 5 feet or a lightweight at 26 oz, but probably the sharpest "superzoom", and comes with a neat "macro" feature at 28mm), and the 100-300 apo (only 16 oz and focuses to 5 feet too, giving 1:4 at 300mm)...

I use these and a green tamron adaptall 300/2.8 which another bang for the buck lens, albeit manual focus which i prefer because minolta's mf rings on their af lenses are kinda wimpy and i don't like af for this kind of optic given how i use it. if you are looking for a 300/2.8, remember green...the tamron came in white (optically considered the worst and uses helicoidal focusing over if, which still makes a difference with mf lenses) and grey (the latest incarnation, not so affordable, focusable, or converter compatible is the scuttlebutt on this lens...never used it though)..its adaptall so you can use it on all kinds of cameras!

I am very pleased with the versatility of this combo...ttl paid for these lenses, only 1300.00!!!!! most of which was the 300/2.8, the 50 was the only lens of my "original" stable that i kept...a 100/2.8 macro, the "ok" 28-105xi, replaced by the 1st generation crappy tamron 28-200, replaced by the original (and best of these zooms) minolta 35-70/4 and 70-210/4

I sold the 100/2.8 macro (bought new, not cheap new or used, not unlike any macro though) since the 100-300 apo gives nearly as good results with a quality close up lens attachment....that zoom is a helluva deal and works great at any focal length and aperture. any of the lenses I kept will match or surpass the nearest nikon/canon equivalents in the real world for picture quality, handling and focusing speed...and save you a lot of money until pros and collectors spoil minolta maxxums like the other brands :)

Marcus Erne , September 11, 2002; 08:33 A.M.

Indeed, Minolta rocks!!! Good value for the money, great cameras, especially the 7 model (and the 5, too)! The "classic lenses" are extremly good "consumer" items, some of the newer zooms are optically marvelous, despite some distortion & vignetting. The G-lenses are top-notch!

The only thing that I am missing is an interchangeble lens digi-SLR and IS-lenses. I often have to shoot handheld and "image-stabilisation" would surely improve MY results.

Thomas Fabian , October 09, 2002; 09:46 A.M.

I just want to clarify one thing with everyone. I own the so called bad product known as the 28-80 II 3.5-5.6 macro zoom. Yes this is a consumer grade lens but it won't give any really noticeably worse results than some top of the line lenses. Todays technology and standards have allowed minolta and all the other companies to mass produce a quality lens for an attainable price. Though due to this, the lens body is chincy and feels like you could break it by blowing on it, this lens is in fact produced to many of the same standards that their top of the line lenses are. The only real difference is in quality inspection procedures (since it is mass produced) and calibration procedures (where as some lenses may go through calibration 5 or 6 times, consumer lenses go through at most 2 to 3). So if you don't want to pay lots of money for a superb lens, little difference will be noticed if you opt for an excellent lens

Ted White , September 10, 2004; 12:46 A.M.

In 1984 my friend Jack Stroebel, who at that time owned a three story camera store in St. Louis, called me (I live In Arizona)and said "You must come out here and take a look at the new Minolta Maxxum 7000 line I just got in." I did, and he gave me two bodies with a bunch of lenses and I spent two days wandering about downtown St. Louis shooting Tri-X. Each day I returned to his shop and processed and printed. I was astonishied at the AF, it was magic, and I bought (guess what?) the two bodies I had been given and a few lenses: 24mm f:2.8, 50mm f:1.7, and the 135mm f:2.8. This is 2004, I still have the original bodies and lenses, in addition to a Maxxum 7 body with the vertical control grip. These three lenses have been my bread and butter lenses and have paid for themselves many times over. Each works perfectly to this day.

My question us this: Does anyone have either of these two, newer, lenses: The 50mm Macro or the 24-105 zoom lens? I am particularly interested in the 24-105.

Tomas Telensky , November 29, 2004; 04:55 P.M.

To Peter Van Es: Do NOT take http://www.photozone.de/ seriously! It has put down many good lenses in a horrible way! You don't even know how the lenses are rated, what the scale of the raters is. Much better is photographyreview.com.

Sait Özyurt , December 09, 2004; 02:14 P.M.

I actually got that lens (24-105 3.5/4.5D) with a Maxxum 7 body. It goes fine for now. It is mostly sharp, and it is good for not changing lenses all the time unless you need serious telephoto. Anyway, I consider buying one or two fixed lenses for wider apertures. One thing is, it is very hard to detach the hood, you might be damaging the lens every time you put it on and off the lens.

Peter Blaise , September 30, 2006; 08:38 P.M.


Now of course, the Minolta A-mount or Alpha-mount for electronic auto focus SLR lenses fit ALL these:

- Sony Alpha DSLR

- Konica Minolta Alpha Dynax Maxxum SLR and DLSR

- Minolta AF and Alpha Dynax Maxxum DLR and DSLR

Tony Gayasih , August 22, 2007; 10:02 P.M.

I used Minolta Maxxum 8000i with all it's accessoies. Now I use Nikon D70s, is it possible to use all my minolta lens to nikon D70s. Is there lens converter for minolta lenses to nikon d70s mount.Thank you

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