A $50 Mystery

Tele Rokkor-QD 300mm f/5.6
Tele Rokkor-QD 300mm f/5.6

A few weeks ago, I was at a local camera shop to dig through their cache of old film lenses.  In the back of a display case I saw the outline of an unfamiliar looking lens with a metal, old-style Minolta slip-on lens cap over it.  I asked the man helping me if he would mind pulling it out so we could have a look at it.  We both figured it was just an odd third-party lens with a Minolta cap but it turned out to be a genuine Minolta!  The front of the lens is labelled, ‘Tele Rokkor – QD 1:5.6 f=30 cm’.  That translates into this being a 300mm lens with an aperture of f/5.6 and it is composed of 4 elements in 4 groups.  The ‘QD’ in the label is Minolta code for the lens’ optical design (4 elements in 4 groups).  The camera shop had no information on the lens and could not find any references for pricing the lens.  They let me have it for $50.  The lens looks like it was made last week.  No marks, no dust, no scratches – it’s nearly flawless!  From what I can tell, the front element has no coatings.  Even if I find the lens to be terrible, it’s still neat looking and would make an interesting addition to my growing collection of Rokkor lenses. I’m going to interrupt myself right here so that I can assure those readers who may be less-than-interested in lens mumbo jumbo that after the following section, I have included some interesting images I managed to squeeze out of this lens.  Bear with me now.  If you start to feel sleepy, I encourage you to get up and do some push-ups or something to help you stay awake through the next few paragraphs.

Tele Rokkor-QD 300mm f/5.6
Tele Rokkor-QD 300mm f/5.6

Here is a shot of the aperture blades inside the lens.  12 Blade aperture!  Yet another departure from what I’m used to seeing in the Rokkors.  They’re in perfect condition and operate like brand new.  It’s interesting to note that they’re not blacked out like you would see in a more modern lens.  I’m not sure the effect of shiny metal aperture blades reflecting light back onto the front element.  You’d think that would kill the contrast.

Aperture blade inside the Tele Rokkor-QD 300mm f/5.6
Aperture blade inside the Tele Rokkor-QD 300mm f/5.6

The lens’ mount makes up to the MD/MC adapter I bought for use with my other manual Rokkor lenses.  This is definitely going for a ride on the A7R body.

Lens Mount of the Tele Rokkor-QD 300mm f/5.6
Lens Mount of the Tele Rokkor-QD 300mm f/5.6

This lens has an Aperture Preset Ring on it, a feature I’d read about but never actually seen.

Preset Aperture Ring on the Tele Rokkor-QD 300mm f/5.6
Preset Aperture Ring on the Tele Rokkor-QD 300mm f/5.6

This would be a good time to do a few of those push-ups I mentioned earlier.  It’s about to get boring for the next 200 words. For those interested in what a Preset Aperture Ring does: Because this lens pre-dates auto aperture functionality with the camera body, setting the aperture on the lens will actually stop it down as you turn it.  Lenses from all following generations feature whats called ‘Auto Aperture’ that keeps the aperture open, regardless of what you set it to, until the shutter button is pressed.  Pressing the shutter release on the camera trips the aperture stop pin on those lenses to allow the blades of the aperture to close to the setting you had set prior.  This function is useful because it allows you to set even a tiny aperture while not seeing any loss of light while you’re still composing and focusing your shot.  If you had set an aperture of say f/22 and did not have some means to keep the aperture open, your viewfinder would be very dark, making it near impossible to focus on your subject.  Prior to auto apertures, some lenses – like this one – had two rings for aperture.  One is your clicked aperture ring that you use to set the aperture for exposure, and the other ring is de-clicked, allowing you to quickly and smoothly open the aperture back up to wide open while you’re preparing your shot.  Once you’re ready to trip the shutter, you simply turn the Preset Ring back closed until it stops against the aperture set ring’s current setting.  This allows you to put your aperture back to where you had determined for the exposure, without taking your eye away from the viewfinder.  If the aperture ring was set to f/11, then the Preset Aperture ring would turn and stop the aperture at an opening of f/11.  Make sense? Now that we’ve wiped the drool from our chins, lets move on to more interesting stuff. I’ve spent hours searching the web for any information on this lens.  A few forums briefly mention it but no one has shared any experience using it.  A scan of an old camera manual mentioned the lens as an option.  I also found a Minolta lens timeline chart that shows that this lens was manufactured in 1965. Having searched the interwebs for anyone else with a review and samples of this lens and finding none, I will now plant my flag and boldly claim that OutFor30 is the first website to do so.  Hooray for original content! So with most of the mystery of this lens cleared up, it’s time to see what this 50 year old lens can do on a modern camera.  Is there a good reason why no one has ever posted to the internet a proper evaluation of this lens?  Let’s find out! This was shot from the minimum focus distance of about 15 feet.  The leaves of this Bradford Pear Tree were backlit by the sun.  Pretty strong chromatic aberrations could be seen along the edge of highlights; nothing Photoshop couldn’t fix.

Sony A7R w/ Tele Rokkor-QD 1:5.6 30 cm
Sony A7R w/ Tele Rokkor-QD 1:5.6 30 cm

300mm is an excellent focal length for compressing distance between objects.  Here it rendered this stand of dead trees into what looks like a barcode.

Sony A7R w/ Tele Rokkor-QD 1:5.6 30 cm
Sony A7R w/ Tele Rokkor-QD 1:5.6 30 cm

With 9 kids, I’m never short of a willing model.  Here you can really see the excellent bokeh of the lens.  That 12-blade aperture really rounds out the out-of-focus highlights.  The color is quite good and details are well resolved.  I shot this handheld at a shutter speed of 1/500 second at f/5.6, ISO 500.

Sony A7R w/ Tele Rokkor-QD 1:5.6 30 cm
Sony A7R w/ Tele Rokkor-QD 1:5.6 30 cm

Here is a 100% view of the above photo.  I chose to leave the chromatic aberrations un-corrected so you could see what they look like.  You can see in the highlight of the leading eye, a red/magenta edge.  The distant eye is slightly out of focus and displays a cyan edge.  Not too bad and it’s easy enough in Photoshop RAW to remove it.

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 12.25.52 PM
100% crop

The max aperture of f/5.6 makes for a bit of a bear trying to get a sharp handheld shot in the low light of this densely wooded trail.  I prefocused on the trees midway in frame and waited for the runner to fall within that zone.

Sony A7R w/ Tele Rokkor-QD 1:5.6 30 cm
Sony A7R w/ Tele Rokkor-QD 1:5.6 30 cm

And here we have Floydapuss Maximus posing for the camera.  Floyd’s eyes and facial fuzz turned out sharp and contrasty, while the background rendered buttery smooth.

Sony A7R w/ Tele Rokkor-QD 1:5.6 30 cm
Sony A7R w/ Tele Rokkor-QD 1:5.6 30 cm

The sun cut through the trees overhead to highlight this patch of greenery.  I had to push the ISO quite a bit to get a shutter speed fast enough to stop my movement, but it still turned out quite clean.

Sony A7R w/ Tele Rokkor-QD 1:5.6 30 cm
Sony A7R w/ Tele Rokkor-QD 1:5.6 30 cm

I have to say that I’m quite pleased with this lens.  It’s very light, super well made, and rare.  The images I’ve gotten from it thus far prove that it certainly is useable.  For the price I paid, I don’t think I could have done better.  Fifty bucks well spent and another addition to my collection of Minolta’s interesting lenses.

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5 thoughts on “A $50 Mystery

  1. Awesome, Tom…. you may have found yourself a hobby in itself- collecting old Minolta lenses! Lenses of that era- with the famous “Made in Japan” quality are beautifully made, a pleasant contrast to the mostly plastic stuff of today. You’ve obviously learned to work with their limitations- manual focus, etc…. and cranking out some beautiful pictures with them. Camera gear of that timeframe was beautifully made. The kind of quality you have to get in premium lines to even come close.
    I love the portrait of your daughter… could be a great portrait lens!

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  2. Nice write-up on the preset feature. I recommend also trying the Rokkor 135mm f4 TC. Three elements in three groups! A true Cooke triplet, also with 12-bladed aperture.

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  3. Robert,
    Thanks for your comments. Based upon your recommendation, I’ve begun researching that 135mm TC lens. I found one for sale in South Africa. Might just pull the trigger on it. If nothing else, it is rare and a beautiful lens that would display well in my lens case. Thanks for the tip!

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  4. Hi, just picked up a Rokkor HF 30cm (300mm obviously). What a beast over 1 kg.

    If you haven’t picked up a 135mm TC yet, I believe that I have an extra one that I don’t use.
    Let met know.

    -Robert

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