On this last trip to the field, I had a few moments to look for a lens I’ve long held an interest in: the Minolta MD Zoom Rokkor 50-135mm f/3.5. Very little information about this lens can be found on the web so I set out to discover this for myself. My curiosity with this lens stems from the consistently superb performance of the MD Minolta 35-70mm f/3.5 and the possibility of this 50-135mm lens being on par with it. If it proves to be as good as I hope, these two lenses would make for the perfect walk around set.
I found on eBay a great copy of the lens from Japan for less than $80. I couldn’t find anyone selling the lens with the matching hood so I had to order one separately from a seller in Germany. Surprisingly, both the lens and hood arrived to my house on the same day!
*The images of the lens I shot with the Olympus OM F.Zuiko 85mm f/2.
While it’s definitely not their prettiest lens (see Minolta Chiyoko Super Rokkor), it is a clean design and operating it is very simple: Grab the waffle grip and push/pull it to change the focal length and rotate it to adjust focus. All metal construction and velvet smooth operation, it is the typical high quality I’ve grown accustomed to from Minolta’s SR-mount lenses.
This lens has a 6-bladed aperture with a range from f/3.5 – f/22. Minimum focus distance (MFD) is marked for ~ 5 ft but I can only achieve that at 135mm focal length. When the lens is set to 50mm it’s closer to 6ft. I do wish the MFD was closer to 2-3 ft as it would allow for decent close-ups.
Shot at the widest focal length of 50mm, that was as close as I could get to this bundle of weed-like fluffy things. I wanted to share this rather plain image for two reasons: to show the MFD and second and to illustrate a very odd rendering of the out-of-focus area at 50mm with the aperture wide open at f/3.5. That bokeh, especially at 100% view of the original file, looks almost like a daub painting. The spherical look of the background is not an effect of the lens rather it is how the trees grow over this trail at the back of our property. I do see where this strange look could be used to good effect in the right scene but I’m not so sure I would want that in a walkabout lens, especially at a heavily used 50mm focal length.
At the same 50mm focal length with the aperture stopped down to f/8 it renders things perfectly normal. I’ll add too that it’s darn sharp at f/8 and for that matter it’s just as sharp at f/5.6. There is, however, a noticeable loss of contrast and sharpness when this lens is set to its widest aperture of f/3.5. That isn’t to say it’s bad, just not excellent and certainly nowhere near what I’ve grown accustomed to with the MD Minolta 35-70mm with its wide-open, razor sharpness.
This shot I set the lens to 135mm, f/5.6, with the focus set as close as I could get to those big water drops on this banana leaf.
For this shot I used a focal length of around 90mm with the aperture set wide-open. I did have to bring back some contrast in Photoshop which recovered well what was lost due to shooting into a bright sky at f/3.5. Does it have the typical Minolta color? Yep, it has it. That is one area this lens does not struggle.
135mm focal length at f/5.6. The background rendered beautifully, and foreground sharpness is excellent…
135mm, f/5.6, minimum focus distance.
135mm, f/3.5, minimum focus distance.
100mm, f/8. This lens does produce a nice cinematic flare.
135mm, f/3.5. A few days ago we put to use some of the bamboo we cut down a few months ago, making bows and arrows for the kids. It took some practice to figure out how to split and shape the bamboo to get good string tension that wouldn’t cause splitting but with a little trial and error we did manage to get it working. Taper, taper, taper is all I can say about that.
~90mm, f/8. With the aperture stopped down a bit, I got a nice star shape where the sun peaked through the bamboo leaves.
All things considered, I would give this 50-135mm lens a grade of 80 out of 100.
- It’s not very good at f/3.5 when the RAW file is viewed at 100%.
- Focus shifts when zooming and it can be difficult to maintain the same focal length while adjusting focus so you wind up chasing one or the other which adds at least a full second to the time it takes to get things nailed down before hitting the shutter release.
- Very different look to the out-of-focus background at 50mm, f/3.5 – could be good in some cases but most of the time I would call it a distraction.
- Well built
- Internal movement – the lens doesn’t change length and that means it won’t be sucking in a bunch of dust
- Very inexpensive for a decent constant aperture zoom lens
- Excellent Minolta color
- Sharp as a tack at all focal lengths when clicked down to f/5.6
- Minimal distortion at all focal lengths
- Corner sharpness is great from f/5.6 and on
- Really nice look from 80mm – 135mm
So, is this a companion to the excellent MD Minolta 35-70mm f/3.5 lens? In a pinch I would say yes but, practically speaking, I don’t think this one will make it to the travel bag. What is gained by this lens in terms of reach beyond the 35-70mm range, I would rather have my much smaller, lighter, cheaper and better-in-every-way Minolta MD 135mm f/3.5 (~$25-$40). The image below shows the size comparison. This isn’t make you think that the 50-135mm is a big lens, rather it is to illustrate just how small and pocketable is the MD 135mm lens.
I don’t know how different I am from anyone else in this but I tend to use the extreme ends of a zoom lens more than the middle bits. That being the case, I don’t think I’d use the 50-135mm lens at 50mm if I have my 35-70mm with me. That leaves me swapping lenses only when I need the long end of the 50-135mm zoom. In that case, I’d rather have my tiny MD 135mm f/3.5 for that reach than this 50-135mm zoom. If you’re more into zooms than fixed lenses, I would say the 50-135mm is certainly worthy of consideration where a tighter budget is concerned.
I’ll leave you with this: I won’t “not recommend” this lens but I don’t strongly recommend it either. How’s that for objectivity? 🙂