Thread: Minolta Rokkor Survival Guide

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  1. #11  
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    To bridge the gap to standard length, let's continue with two small zooms, the 24-50mm 4.0 and the 35-70mm 3.5. Both are two-touch and parfocal – just the right thing for us. They even offer the third important feature for cine: constant aperture! A masterpiece of mechanical construction, the aperture is closing or opening slightly together with the zoom in use. If you find some play on the zoom ring (longitudinal) it's not a reason for concern. It should have none in rotation, though.

    If you couple FF gear with the zoom ring, they can deliver a beautiful, very soft push-in or creep-out. These are not todays super zooms with impressive range, but crappy quality like many zooms for the amateur market – these are professional. The wider one is fighting a bit at 24mm with slightly softer corners and some CA vs. it's outstanding 24mm prime counterpart (see above), it's also a bit softer in the corners than the 35 and 50mm primes, but it's not a bad lens at all.

    But the 35-70 is a gem, developed for Leica and sold for many years as their Vario-Elmar-R. It is as good as the primes in it's range, and these are very good primes if they are Rokkors. I'd say it's second only to the 35-70mm Zeiss Contax in optical quality, but by a narrow margin. OTOH, the Zeiss C/Y is one-touch. Ouch! (Just my opinion.) It's far cheaper too, don't worry if you get one with a zoom ring that feels a bit loose (longitudinally), that seems to be normal. Circular precision should still be fine. There is a macro version too. I own the one without (got three great macros, I'll describe later), but I've never heard that the one with macro is any worse.

    Well, did I say as good as the primes? While there are plenty of 50mm primes like for any other classic SLR, there are two gems I value higher than that zoom. One is the so-called "Bokeh Monster", the 58mm 1.2, a heavy piece of glass and metal. It is a favorite with Canon shooters, since it's relatively easy to convert this one to EF mount. Accordingly, it's hard to find and pretty expensive. Good resolution and creamy, very "Leica", but protect it from direct rays with a sunshade. Low-con wide open, but the resolution is there. The older ones with the knurled metal focus ring (instead of rubber) can have stuck aperture blades from oil, but this one is worth a clean. It is also mildly radioactive – nothing to worry about like the infamous Kodak arial lenses – but it can show some yellowing. A longer UV bath will cure this, but the older version is also more sensitive to flare (albeit a pretty flare in my eyes). So, try to get the newer version, it won't show any of these weaknesses and is just as good.

    If you don't want to shell out as much, the 58mm 1.4 is still cheap and nearly as good in resolution and bokeh; it seems to be common in the USA. Or try to find a "hidden gem" by looking for innocent offers of just a Minolta SLR camera with a "standard" lens – the 58mm 1.2 came as standard on some expensive models. I found my best one by having a closer look at the picture on Fleabay for the offer of a "Minolta 35mm film camera". Knowing that Minolta never built one, I had this closer look out of curiosity… So, maybe you are lucky too!

    The 50mm 1.4 PG Rokkor is the other extreme, sharp as a knife even WO, very low CA or distortion, but not as creamy in bokeh. This might be one of the sharpest lenses of it's time, tough competition even for the Zeiss C/Y 50mm 1.7 – well, a bit less contrasty wide open, but stopped down I sometimes wonder when looking at charts shot with this lens if I didn't mistake a scan for the photo. An incredible lens for reproduction of small detail.

    Well, while we are still at 50mm, there is one lens which is even sharper stopped down: the 50mm 3.5 Macro or the newer, smaller and lighter 50mm 4.0 Macro. It will focus to 23cm (the 50mm 1.4 has a MFD of 50cm), but with an extension tube made specifically for this lens you can get to 1:1 projection on the film plane for 35mm photographic full frame. Point it perpendicular to a magazine page with fine print and high-quality photos, light accordingly and move your scanner to the waste bin! But if you want a macro for nature and living beings, wait till I get to the 100s.

    To be continued…
    Regards,

    Uli

    My Red is called Vertov after a Russian avantgarde filmmaker, a pioneer in modern cinematography, a true revolutionary who later suffered under Stalin's bureaucracy.
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  2. #12  
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    Are you still with me? I don't see any questions ;-)

    Well, now we are getting to the portrait region. There are three different lines of 85mm Rokkor lenses, all very attractive, but in different ways. The oldest line – starting around 1970 – are the MC/MD 85mm 1.7 lenses. These lenses are beautiful for portrait with a very creamy bokeh, but they offer quite low contrast wide open. This could be intentional, since stopped down to f4 and beyond, they are getting really sharp for landscape – seem's not a bug, but a feature. You need to take care of flare, though. It's very similar in it's characteristics to the 58mm 1.2 mentioned above.

    This lens was later replaced by the smaller and lighter MD 85mm 2.0 – a very sharp lens, even WO, with better flare resistance and a bit harsher bokeh. You may see this as a companion to the PG 50mm.

    And then there is the 85mm 2.8 Varisoft I already mentioned, a construction patented by Minolta. I suppose Sony now owns the rights to this – one can only hope that they offer something similar again. It is the portrait lens per se, but it can be very sharp too if you leave the softness ring at "0". Don't get fooled by the harsher bokeh at that position, once you turn the ring to only 0.5, it gets creamy as can be – female talent will love this! Going further, you get very dreamy effects, something difficult to mimick in post or with filters – sharp detail with soft halos. Some old Russian lenses look a bit like this. You need to be lucky to find one in good condition, and it won't come cheap.

    100mm 2.5 is next, and another very sharp lens. The bokeh is not unpleasant, so this is another recommendation which can still be found for a good price. Don't bother to hunt down the rare 100mm 2.0 – even if it has a beautiful bokeh, it's the only very fragile construction in the Rokkor line with a focus tube just too thin to survive the test of time (and no other advantages). I've only seen it once, and that specimen was in a pityful condition.

    The other very good 100mm is the f3.5 Macro Rokkor. Not only good for Macro, but portrait too, since it has very pretty bokeh and is still sharp. MFD is 45cm, but you can use the extension adapter to get down to 1:1 on FF. Only two disadvantages: flares and is really heavy (but built like a tank). Focus throw is nearly 360 degrees! The 100mm Macro 4.0 is supposed to be more flare resistant and lighter, but I don't own it. This length is much nicer for nature and small animals, since you can keep a reasonable distance. BTW, many Rokkors have a very good focus throw for a still lens, the 58mm for example has more than 180 degrees, the 85mm 2.0 too and the 100mm 2.5 has about 280 – all very smooth even after 40 years!

    While we are at macros, I'd like to mention one of the lenses I love dearly, even if it's neither Rokkor nor Zeiss or Russian: the Tamron SP 90mm 2.5 Macro. Beautiful bokeh, very nice for portrait too and still cheap.

    See you next time!
    Regards,

    Uli

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  3. #13  
    Senior Member Nick Morrison's Avatar
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    Uli, this is phenomenal. Yeah the Rokkor 50 1.4 is very well known. Don't they have a 50 1.2, too?

    My dad is a huge fan of the 85 1.7, btw. He took most of my childhood pics with that lens. A lot of them with that pretty lens flare you speak of. He's not huge on the F2, I suspect for some of the reasons you listed. Too sharp, too good. He likes the character of the 1.7 much more.

    That Varisoft lens is a trip. Always wanted to see that in person.

    PS - My dad is a huge fan of the Rokkor Macros too! You have his vote!
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  4. #14  
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    The 50mm 1.2 MD doesn't have the magic of the older 58mm, which is so nice to skin in CUs. Since everybody seems to be hunting down the fastest lenses, the 50mm PG 1.4 is much cheaper and I don't really care for the half stop (actually more like a third).

    If you like to see a Varisoft in action, here are some Flickr shots by an Asian photographer: http://www.flickr.com/photos/smwhang...253793/detail/

    Such a beauty in backlight, but one should use the softness in homeopathic doses, I rarely touch 1 (values go up to three). Some of the plum blossoms on Flickr are probably taken at around 2 or more.

    Mine looks battle-tested from the outside, so collectors didn't go for it, but it works flawlessly.
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    Uli

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  5. #15  
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    Thank you for this excellent guide!
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  6. #16  
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    Let's finish at the long end.

    The Rokkor 135mm 2.8 is a lens I value very much. The interesting fact about this length is that the simplest construction is the best: try to find the version with 4 separate lenses (aka 4/4), there is one old MC with a 7/5 and one in 6/5 construction, a Celtic in 5/4 and a few MD versions with 5/5 too. They are hard to tell apart, you need the precise weight and length to know which one it is (see the Minolta index in my first post). This is a very sharp lens without vignetting even WO, and you can still find it for peanuts. The other 2.8 versions are not bad either, but the 4/4 version comes very close to the Leica Elmarit-R 135mm 2.8! The 135 2.0 OTOH is very rare, expensive and heavy. The 2.0 needs a larger filter than the rest (72mm) and it is pretty soft and vignettes WO, even at 2.8 it's not as good as the cheaper one. If you don't desperately need the fast lens, save your money. The 2.8 has over 270 degrees of focus throw and a MFD of 1.5m. Oh, BTW, it carries it's own retractable sunshade.

    So you may have some money left to spend on the 200mm 4.0 ;-)
    Another great lens which is not too heavy and not too expensive, fully useable WO (if you still call this wide open). MFD is 2.5m, focus throw is over 270 degrees again and it has it's integrated sunshade too. It has a faster sibling, the 200mm 2.8, but that's hard to find and much heavier. Surprisingly not as expensive as the 135mm 2.0 and pretty good optically – I saw one at the bay in the US today going for 250 bucks.

    Both of these teles have a nice bokeh and work very well with Minoltas 2x tele-extender S-300 (the S version is recommended up to 200mm). Yes, we all know that such a converter is always a compromise. Unfortunately, all 300mm lenses by Minolta are not as great as the 135 and 200. The 400mm 5.6 APO is supposed to be great, but I don't have it. The only longer one I own is a specialty lens again: the 500mm f8 RF Rokkor – a mirror lens. You know mirror lenses, do you? Well, they have less contrast, a fixed aperture and this funky "donut" bokeh. But my 500mm is shorter than a conventional 200mm, and the full moon doesn't fit into this telescope if I shoot it at 2K ;-) Focus throw is about 160 degrees, MFD is as far as 4m and filters are going into the rear end.

    So, it can be good fun (for wildlife too) – if you have the right tripod and avoid backgrounds with small, contrasty detail. You can still find it under 200 U$ with some patience, and it's one of the best mirror lenses you can get. The very compact 250mm 5.6 RF mirror lens OTOH is going for insane prices, I suppose all the paparazzi are hunting these unsuspicious tele lenses, since they are not much bigger than a 50mm.

    If you buy any RF lens (Minolta made an expensive 800mm f8, a 1000mm f6.3 prototype and even a 1,600mm f11 in very low numbers), make sure you get all the filters and a front cover, they are hard to find if missing. BTW, you'll need a transparent filter in that mount if you don't use ND, since the glass is part of the optical formula. Some more info on mirror lenses is here: http://www.minoltaflashback.com/rf_lens.html

    Well, that concludes it, I don't own any of the longer conventional tele lenses neither a tele zoom. The latter are all one touch, which I don't like for cinematography. But the 70-210 f4, nicknamed "beercan" for it's size, is supposed to be some fine glass too. If you have any further questions about the lenses I know, feel free to ask.
    Regards,

    Uli

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  7. #17  
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    Very informative and cohesive write-up Uli. Still working on perfect my Contax set until I dive into something else, but I feel like I may hunt down a few Minolta's to see how it renders differently than to the Zeiss's.

    Cheers.
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  8. #18  
    Senior Member Tom Greenberg's Avatar
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    A ton of awesome information here, Uli. A nice easy-to-read overview with a lot of hidden gems of info! Like Shervin, I still have some Contax to buy, but the relatively low prices of the Minolta's are very appealing. Any thoughts on adapters or lens mount options for using them on R1 or Epic/Scarlet? I use the A-mount, and there is no MC/MD adapter available from Allstar, but I wonder if I adapted them to Nikon F, if that might work?
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  9. #19  
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    Well, maybe we need to bug Allstar or ciecio7 about making one, but for now, cross-adapting is a solution: there are adapters from Minolta SR (aka MC/MD) to Leica-M…

    BTW, this was a way to say "thanks" to Nick – I bought my last missing Zeiss C/Y today.

    They are very different, the Rokkors and the Zeiss!
    Regards,

    Uli

    My Red is called Vertov after a Russian avantgarde filmmaker, a pioneer in modern cinematography, a true revolutionary who later suffered under Stalin's bureaucracy.
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  10. #20  
    Senior Member Tom Greenberg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Uli Plank View Post
    Well, maybe we need to bug Allstar or ciecio7 about making one
    I've written to Allstar about it...no answer yet.

    Quote Originally Posted by Uli Plank View Post
    BTW, this was a way to say "thanks" to Nick – I bought my last missing Zeiss C/Y today.
    How do you know it's the "last"? There are always so many to get, lol.
    Last edited by Tom Greenberg; 01-06-2013 at 04:13 PM.
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