Old Timers

Bare with me now.  I promise there are photos after all this preamble.  I’m going to try to keep the camera talk to a dull roar on this post even though it is principally about lenses.  Over the last 6 weeks, I’ve had a fever…  a fever that has but one cure… more old Minolta lenses!  Prior to this sickness, I had been using the newest Zeiss lenses that are purpose-made for the Sony full-frame mirror-less cameras like the A7, A7R, A7S, and the new A7 Mk II.  Specifically, I was using the Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 and Zeiss 55mm f/1.8.  These are fine lenses commanding a respectable price of $1,200 and $1,000 respectively.  I was curious though to find out if they’re as good as some of the older lenses made by Minolta back in the film days.  You might be tempted to think that with the rate of technological advancements in photography over the past 20 years that this might be a dumb question.  Fair enough but consider that most advancements have been made more in the tool we use to capture the light coming through the lens more than the lens itself.  Digital cameras have revolutionized photography to the point of even exceeding the old analog process in some areas (carefully worded: “some areas”).   The science of optics, however, has moved forward at a more glacial pace.  Lens design, materials, and glass-coatings have all experienced some manner of change over the years but when you look at them from a basic perspective, you can go back 60 years or more and find very strong similarities.  Thus my curiosity with the old lenses.  Can they be as good as a modern lens when they’re attached to the latest cameras?

I went to my local camera stores and purchased the following lenses to experiment with:

1985 Minolta 70-210mm f/4 – Price paid $100

1986 Minolta 100mm f/2.8 Macro (1:1 reproduction ratio) – Price paid $275

1985 Minolta 50mm f/1.7 – Price paid $50

1985 Minolta 28mm f/2.8 – Price paid $95

In addition to the lenses, I had to buy an adapter that would allow me to mount the lenses to my Sony A7; they’re different style connections.  I paid $13 for this.  The adapter I bought is just a dumb piece of metal.  That means manual focus of the lens and manual control of the lens’ aperture (f-stop).  At first I thought that the manual focus bit would be a pain in the butt and result in missed shots and lots of frustration.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The Sony A7 was blessed with an awesome feature called Focus Peaking.  What this does is show you in the viewfinder what is in focus by highlighting those areas with a scattering of red dots.  If you see red scatter in and around the thing you’re focusing on, you know you’ve got it.  The electronic viewfinder (EVF) of the Sony A7 is quite clear and high enough resolution to make this very easy to see.  You can even set one of the programmable buttons on the camera body to zoom in to 100% image size in area of your choosing if you’re doing some super fine focus adjustments like in Macro Photography.  Manual focus on these cameras is simple.  In fact, it’s so simple that I now prefer it over autofocus.  With autofocus, even with my big Nikons, sometimes it just selects the wrong feature to focus on and ruins the shot (camera set to center focus spot – focus then compose).  I’m very picky about what’s in focus especially when you have a fast lens which have very shallow depth-of-field when used wide open; so fine that you could have eye lashes in focus while the eye is not.  I’ve digressed…   Manual focusing these Minolta lenses has been a dream!

What I want to do now is give the writing a rest and just show you photos made with each of these lenses over the past few weeks.  In the caption beneath each image I’ll list which lens was used for that shot.

Sony A7 w/ Minolta 50mm f/1.7 | f/? 1/320th | ISO 400
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 50mm f/1.7 | f/? 1/320th | ISO 400

 

Sony A7 w/ Minolta 70-210mm f/4 | f/4 1/400th | ISO 500
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 70-210mm f/4 | f/4 1/400th | ISO 500
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 28mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/60th | ISO 100
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 28mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/60th | ISO 100
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/400th | ISO 320
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/400th | ISO 320
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 50mm f/1.7 | f/? 1/320th | ISO 400
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 50mm f/1.7 | f/? 1/320th | ISO 400
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 70-210mm f/4 | f/4 1/250th | ISO 200
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 70-210mm f/4 | f/4 1/250th | ISO 200
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 50mm f/1.7 | f/? 160th | ISO 100 | Studio strobe used for lighting
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 50mm f/1.7 | f/? 160th | ISO 100 | Studio strobe used for lighting
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 70-210mm f/4 | f/4 1/160th | ISO 4000
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 70-210mm f/4 | f/4 1/160th | ISO 4000
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 70-210mm f/4 | f/? 1/500th | ISO 3200
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 70-210mm f/4 | f/? 1/500th | ISO 3200
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 28mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/200th | ISO 250
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 28mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/200th | ISO 250
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 50mm f/1.7 | f/? 1/250th | ISO 100
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 50mm f/1.7 | f/? 1/250th | ISO 100
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/100th | ISO 100
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/100th | ISO 100
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 70-210mm f/4 | f/? 1/125th | ISO 640
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 70-210mm f/4 | f/? 1/125th | ISO 640
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 50mm f/1.7 | f/? 1/640th | ISO 100
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 50mm f/1.7 | f/? 1/640th | ISO 100

This photo below I did process it for effect.  I found this plastic horse in the woods and thought it would make an interesting subject.

Sony A7 w/ Minolta 70-210mm f/4 | f/4 1/10th | ISO 100
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 70-210mm f/4 | f/4 1/10th | ISO 100
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 70-210mm f/4 | f/4 1/400th | ISO 100
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 70-210mm f/4 | f/4 1/400th | ISO 100
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/1600th | ISO 100
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/1600th | ISO 100
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 28mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/400th | ISO 125
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 28mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/400th | ISO 125
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/100th | ISO 500
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/100th | ISO 500
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/50th | ISO 50
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/50th | ISO 50
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 28mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/400th | ISO 400
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 28mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/400th | ISO 400
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/250th | ISO 1000
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/250th | ISO 1000
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/400th | ISO 800
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/400th | ISO 800
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/250th | ISO 400
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/250th | ISO 400
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 28mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/200th | ISO 320
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 28mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/200th | ISO 320
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/200th | ISO 100
Sony A7 w/ Minolta 100mm f/2.8 | f/? 1/200th | ISO 100

Not bad for “outdated” lenses eh?  Since shooting manually with these lenses, I’ve found it requires a little more attention to the process of getting the shot.  This results in more attention being paid to the image itself; composition, lighting, and perspective all get a little more consideration too because I’m taking an extra moment to think about what I’m doing.  I like this a lot!  The past few weeks spent shooting with this collection of  Minoltas has rekindled my enjoyment of photography in a way I haven’t experienced in years.  I have recently sold my Zeiss lenses and committed myself to using these Old Timers for the foreseeable future.  Hopefully this will mean more photos and more posts through which I can share them with you.

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11 thoughts on “Old Timers

  1. Hi Diomar,
    Good to hear from you my friend! I hope all is well with you you and your family.
    In answer to your question, that duck is called a Wood Duck or Carolina Duck. It is one of North America’s most colorful water birds. Even my photograph of the bird doesn’t do justice to the paint job God gave him.

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  2. Awesome pictures, Tom- simply awesome. I love all your photos- but I particularly love seeing the pic’s of your amazing family.
    Nobody can say those Minolta lenses aren’t working for you- amazing results! I have one for my Oly M4/3… it’s a very good lens. 50mm/f 1/4 IIRC. You give me cause to want to break it out and try it again, I am so looking forward to being able to photograph here in Maine… so much beauty everywhere you look.
    Of course, your work sets an unequalled standard that the average person such as I will never be able to equal. Your photography is simply stunning, and of the highest caliber. I so enjoy seeing your work! And your technical details are NOT boring!

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  3. Thank you for this article. I am really interested by the Minolta 70-210 and don’t mind manual focus or aperture setting, however from what I understand this lens doesn’t have an aperture ring, so how do you set the aperture with the cheap adapters? (Can’t afford the Sony la-ea4). Thank you in advance.

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  4. Hi Astrid,

    I’m glad to help with that question. The simple metal adapter has on it a ring which you turn to close or open the aperture of the A-mount lens. It has a little catch inside it that engages the aperture tab sticking out of the back of the lens. This is the same tab an auto aperture camera would interface with stop down a lens.
    This metal adapter we use with our mirrorless Sony does not have any markings on it to indicate the aperture setting of the lens as you turn it. It’s simply labeled, “Open – Close”. I’ve not found this to be an issue. I stop down a lens for only three reasons: I need more depth of focus, I need less light coming in, or I’m setting it for the best sharpness. All three of those can be witnessed in real-time via the LCD screen or – even better – the Electronic Viewfinder.
    I hope this information helps you out. So let me know if you have any further questions.

    Cheers,

    Tom Leonard

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  5. Thank you so much for your swift and helpful answer. The adapters I am looking at indeed have a “lock-open” ring but the description of the item states that “There is no aperture ring on this adapter”, so I am a bit confused. Does your adapter have any kind of brand name? The ones I’m looking at are K&F Concept, Beschoi, Fotodiox. Thanks again.

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  6. I believe mine is a Fotasy. I’ve really grown to like the quality of K&F Concept brand as well. My SR mount Minoltas I use with K&F. As long as you can see an open-close ring in the photo, you’re good.

    Tom

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