Using Minolta Prime Lenses

In this article we discuss the great success we have had with using vintage Minolta Prime Lenses on the Sony A99II camera.

(Also included is some limited testing of Minolta Primes on a 1980’s Sony A350 14MP APS-C camera).

Minolta Prime Lenses 01
We have also seen on the web, people using old Minolta Primes on the A7 and A7RII mirrorless cameras, (via LE-A4 adapters), and the results appear to be equally as good as what we have obtained on the Sony A99II.

Note that if viewed on a phone, images in this article might be distorted, (squashed in horizontally, or over streteched vertically). It is best to click on the image to view full size to see it accurately in its true perspective.

 

Lenses for Sony A99II

The Sony A99II is an incredible 42 megapixels full frame camera, and so it needs quality lenses mounted onto it.

In Australia we paid nearly $4000 AUD ($3100 US) for the A99II camera body shortly after it was released.
(We then spent some money taking out a world wide insurance policy on the camera).

Unfortunately this left no money in our budget to spend on Full Frame quality Sony Zeiss lenses.
(Sony Zeiss lenses are great quality but cost thousands of dollars here in Australia).

A good list of modern day lenses suitable for the A99II can be found at the link below.

List of Modern Lenses for the Sony A99II

Minolta Prime Lenses 02

However as mentioned previously many of these lenses are prohibitively expensive for our current part time photography endeavours here at Photos By Passy.

We already owned a Tamron 24-70 F2.8 zoom lens that we had been using on our Sony A55 camera, and so this lens got us started on the A99II. All of our other lenses are APS-C crop frame lenses that are not suitable for the A99II.

One of the best features of the A99II is the enormous 42MP image size, which means separate detailed images can be cropped out and made from original wide angle shots.

However, to do this effectively we need a good starting wide angle image, and therefore a great sharp prime lens to capture this initial shot.

This led us to look at getting a wide angle prime lens, and internet research showed that the Minolta 28mm F2 lens would provide a high quality economic solution.

On eBay we sourced a Mint Quality 28mm F2 lens for $500 AUD ($390 US) from Japan, and this was our first Minolta lens.
The 28mm F2 lens performed brilliantly on the A99II and this resulted in us progressively purchasing several more Minolta lenses.

Here is a cropped portrait made from a wide angle shot taken with the A99II and the Minolta 28MM F2 lens.

Minolta Prime Lenses 03
(Click Image to View Larger Size)

 
 

Sony A99II Cropping

The following example shows the amazing post production cropping capability of the 42 Megapixels on the Sony A99II.

This first image is already cropped moderately, and was captured using the Minolta 28mm F2 Lens.

Minolta Prime Lenses 04
(Click Image to View Larger Size)

The image below is a further Photoshop Crop to produce an image of the Champagne glasses the people are holding in their hands.

Minolta Prime Lenses 05
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Here is another 42 megapixel cropping example which was shot in low light at a Music Concert.

Minolta Prime Lenses 06
(Click Image to View Larger Size)

There will be plenty more photos that have been taken using retro Minolta Prime Lenses later in this article.
If you cannot wait to see the images, then click on the Collage image below to go to our full Flickr Photo Gallery.

In this gallery, if you click onto an individual image and scroll down, the EXIF data can be viewed to see the Camera, Lens, Aperture, ISO, etc details.

Minolta Pics Collage

 
 

Minolta Lenses

Minolta was for years one of the finest lens making companies in the world.
It is rumored that several classic Minolta lenses were developed jointly with Leica.

Many Minolta lenses have exceptional build quality, with solid steel components rather than plastic.

They also have brilliant sharpness, great bokeh (out-of-focus areas), and gorgeous rich color that is like no other.

However our testing revealed that it’s not all butterflies and rainbows using old Minolta retro lenses from the 1980’s. The screw drive focussing is driven by the camera and the lenses are noisey when focussing and consume camera battery power.

Due to the continual focussing noise, these lenses would not be suitable for shooting video using auto focus. This does not really worry us at all, as we do all of our video work in full manual mode using manual focus and Sony’s excellent Focus Peaking.

Surface coatings on lenses have come a long way since the 1980’s, and the old Minolta lenses are prone to flare and purple discolorations when shooting into the sun.

We also found that when shooting music performances under coloured lights, the lenses can sometimes give a purple and blue colour cast, but this is easily corrected in Lightroom.

The Minolta Maxxum (or Dynax) AF lenses were first introduced in 1985, and these are the ones which are compatible with Sony A-Mount.

The older Minolta Rokkor lenses are not compatible, and require a lens adapter inorder to be used with modern cameras.

Minolta was purchased by Sony in 2006, and several Sony A-Mount lenses still use Minolta designs.

In our article we will be focussing on the Minolta A-mount “Maxxum” lenses, and not the older “Rokkor” lenses.

The following article discusses some of the great Minolta Lenses from the 1980’s.

Best A-Mount Minolta Lenses Article

The above article also has clickable links in the right hand column, where more detailed information about some of the lenses can be obtained.

Wikipedia has a full list of Minolta A-Mount Lenses in a summary table at the following link:

Wikipedia Table of Minolta Lenses

Many items in the table can be clicked on to get additional information for each particular lens.

 
 

Scope of Testing

The Minolta A-mount Prime Lenses we have purchased from Japan and fully tested include the following:

Minolta Prime Lenses Table 07

We also plan to purchase the Minolta 85mm F1.4 at a future date to complete our set of Primes for the Sony A99II. We might also purchase the 20mm F2.8 wide angle Prime lens for landscapes.

As well as the above Prime Lenses, we have also purchased and used several Minolta Zoom Lenses; however this will be the subject of a separate article at a later date.

We have found that it is well worth spending the extra money and buying “Mint”, “Near Mint” or “Excellent+++” rated lenses from Japanese sellers on eBay. You might pay $100 to $200 AUD extra, but the lenses are in immaculate condition, totally clean, and look and function like they were brand new.

In the remainder of this article we will discuss the positive and negative aspects of the three retro Minolta Prime lenses that we have tested.

 
 

Minolta 50mm F1.7 Lens

Minolta Prime Lenses 08

This is an excellent lens for portraits where the border sharpness is not really an issue and it can take nice clear images when stopped down.

There were two Minolta 50mm lenses produced in the 1980s, the 50mm F1.7 (a kit lens sold with Minolta cameras) and the 50mm F1.4.

The Minolta 50mm F1.4 AF lens is said to be a better quality lens, but the eBay prices were around $250 AUD for a mint copy, whereas our 50mm F1.7 only cost $100 AUD. As we are currently on a very tight budget, we went for the 50mm F1.7 lens.

Here is an image taken in low light at a live music performance at F2.8 and ISO 1600 with the 50mm F1.7 lens on the Sony A99II:

Minolta 50mm Prime Lens Mercy Kills 09
(Click Image to View Larger Size)

Here is a street photography portrait done at F3.5 with the 50mm lens mounted on an old Sony A350 camera.
The A350 is an APS-C cropped sensor, and so the effective focal length is actually 1.5 x 50 = 75mm which is nice for portraits.

Minolta 50mm Prime Lens Laptop Lady 10
(Click Image to View Larger Size)

And another Street Portrait done at F2.2 on the A350 camera with nice natural colour and good background blurring.

Minolta 50mm Prime Lens Skater Girls 11
(Click Image to View Larger Size)

Overall the sharpness seems to be sufficient for our needs, and we really like the colour and background blurring.

For the $100 AUD ($80 US) we paid for the lens we are delighted with the results so far.

Future plans are to try the 50mm out do some Street Photography on the A99II and see how it performs for casual portraits at its true 50mm focal length.

There is a detailed review of the Minolta 50mm F1.7 lens by Kurt Munger at the link below.

(Note that the F1.7 that we actually own is the red letters “AF” model, which is one model before the model in Kurt’s Review).

Kurt Munger Review of Minolta 50mm F1.7 Lens

If you have $250 AUD (US $190) to spend on a retro 50mm lens, then you might want to consider buying the F1.4 lens rather than the F1.7 that we have reviewed.

The following article by Ken Rockwell gives a great detailed review of the Minolta 50mm F1.4 lens.

Ken Rockwell review of Minolta 50mm F1.4 Lens

 
 

Minolta 35mm F2 Lens

Minolta 35mm F2 Prime Lens 12

As shown above, there were two models of this lens, the original one with AF written in red on the front of the lens and a metal focus ring, and a later “restyled” one that had a rubber focus ring.

The newer “restyled” version can be identified by its wider rubber focus ring and duller surface finish, and “AF” on the front of the lens written in white.

Both lenses have identical optical designs, but the “restyled” version has better coating on some of the lens glass surfaces to reduce flare and ghosting. The newer version also has a circular aperture installed in place of the old straight bladed design.

We purchased an original (Red AF lens). This was not easy to find and a rather expensive aquisition at $500 AUD, but we are quite happy with the lens.

When it grabs focus it is nice and sharp, but we found that getting a nice sharp shot is about an 85 to 90 percent rate, and sometimes it just does not pull sharp focus.

In comparison, the 28mm F2 always grabs focus and the results are always ultra sharp.

There are also 35mm F1.4 Minolta lenses for sale on eBay, but the prices are outrageously high averaging around $1100 AUD. This price is totally ridiculous for a used lens from the 1980’s.

Eg. A brand new Sigma 35mm F1.4 ART lens(which has an amazing DXOMARK rating of 42) can be purchased for $950 AUD as a modern state of the art brand new lens!

Various reviews on the Internet do rate the $1100 AUD ($840 US) Minolta 35mm F1.4 highly, but there is no way we are going to pay more than the cost of a brand new Sigma lens to obtain one.

 

We tried out our retro (Red AF) 35mm F2 lens on the Sony A99II camera for Street Photography, and we have been very happy with the results.

Here is a casual street portrait done at F4 and ISO 640:

Minolta 35mm F2 Prime Lenss Guy Eats with Dog 13
(Click Image to View Larger Size)

Here is a street scene at F9 and ISO 100:

Minolta 35mm F2 Prime Lens Ferrari 14
(Click Image to View Larger Size)

This is another casual street portrait at F4 and ISO 160:

Minolta 35mm F2 Prime Lens Cattle Dog Guy 15
(Click Image to View Larger Size)

Overall we found that the 35mm F2 lens is not always totally razor sharp, and performs best as a daylight street lens at apertures of F4 and above.

Future plans are to try out the 35mm F2 on the crop frame Sony A350 (which will therefore effectively be 52mm) for some Street Photography and then compare its performance against the Sony F1.8 35mm lens that we already own.

For the $500 AUD ($380 US) we paid on eBay it is a great lens for the A99II, but further down the track we will probably replace it with the Sigma ART F1.4 35mm lens which is around $900 AUD ($690 US) brand new.

There is a detailed review of the Minolta 35mm F2 lens by Ken Rockwell at the following link:

Ken Rockwell 35mm F2 Lens Review

 
 

Minolta 28mm F2 Lens

Minolta 28mm F2 Prime Lens 16

Like the 35mm lens, there was an original (Red AF) model, and then a restyled Rubber Focus Ring Model.

We purchased the original (Red AF) model which has the metal focus ring and the “AF” on the front of the lens painted in red.

The 28mm F2 wide angle lens from Minolta has great reviews on the web and is extremely reliable for sharp focussing. It consistently produces razor sharp images on the Sony A99II.

Minolta Prime Lenses A99II 17

We obtained our lens from Japan on eBay for $350 AUD, ($270 US) and it is the prime lens we are most happy with. It is great as a walk around lens on the A99II for photographing outdoors, but is not so great for Portraits.

If we shoot with the subject in the middle of the lens as a distance full or half body shot, and then crop in Photoshop to make a close up portrait the results are reasonable.

Minolta 28mm F2 Prime Lens Winery Ladies 18
(Click Image to View Larger Size)

However if we shoot closer to the subject initially, (like we would with a 50mm lens), the face gets horizontally distorted and rounded as in the image below.

Minolta 28mm F2 Prime Lens Face Distortion Nic Noo 19
(Click Image to View Larger Size)

But if we shoot the subject vertically, as shown below, then the results are greatly improved with less facial distortion.

Eg. Vertically shot portrait at F4 and ISO 1600

Minolta 28mm F2 Prime Lens Portrait Noo Chocs 20
(Click Image to View Larger Size)

Basically ANY 28mm wide angle lens is not very good for doing portraits. The 28mm viewing width is designed for landscapes and outdoor shots, and not for people pictures.

If we have the 28mm lens on our camera and we need to take a people shot, then it is best to be a fair distance away with the subject centred in the lens. We can then crop in Photoshop to get a portrait type shot.

Overall we have found that for general scenery and interior room shots, the Minolta 28mm F2 is an excellent sharp prime lens with really nice colour.

Eg. Grand Room at Yering Station at F4 and ISO 1600:

Minolta 28mm F2 Prime Lens Yering Room 21
(Click Image to View Larger Size)

Toyota GTS386 at F6.3 and ISO 100:

Minolta 28mm F2 Prime Lens GTS386 22
(Click Image to View Larger Size)

There is a detailed review of the Minolta 28mm F2 lens by Ken Rockwell at the following link:

Ken Rockwell 28mm F2 Lens Review

 
 

Gallery of Images

The following Flickr Gallery is continually being updated with images we have been taking with Minolta lenses on the Sony A99II.

Click on the Collage image below to go to our full Flickr Photo Gallery of Minolta Lens images.

In this gallery, if you click onto an individual image and scroll down, the EXIF data can be viewed to see the Camera, Lens, Aperture, ISO, etc details.

Minolta Pics Collage

 
 

Additional Reading

Article about using Minolta Lenses on Sony A7 series full frame cameras:

Using Minolta Lenses on Sony A7 Series Cameras

For photographers on a budget, or people wanting the beautiful colour and appearance produced by Minolta lenses, the 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm Minolta Prime lenses from the 1980’s are an excellent option to have in your kit bag.

These Minolta lenses work equally well on Sony APS-C crop sensor cameras as they do on the full frame Sony A99II and A7 series cameras.

“PBP Photos By Passy” are on Flickr, Facebook and Instagram.

Follow us as we are always trying out plenty of interesting things that many other photographers are not bothering to do.

Enjoy,
Passy

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