Some personal opinions on Minolta MF lenses


I've owned and used a lot of Minolta MF equipment, both my own and my friend's lenses, and here are short comments on some lenses. These are my own opinions, based on my experiences when examing slides with a 22x and 7x loupe on a light table. I've used mostly  Kodachrome 25 and 64 and Fuji Provia 100F. I don't bother taking actual test shots (excepts in some special cases), but compare the results I've obtained in the field. Your opinion may vary, and don't take my opinion as a single truth - there are differencies between lens samples and the quality each of us determines as good. There is a separate review page from those lenses having a link in their name. About the system I use to classify different Minolta MF lens vintages, see here.
 

Wideangles
Filter thread;
Special notes
MD W. Rokkor 24mm f2.8 55mm; 
floating
elements; early
MD Rokkor
Excellent wideangle with floating element design (CRC in Nikon nomenclature). Rotating front makes using a polarizer a bit awkward, and forces to use a round hood - which is almost useless. Good optical quality, better than AF Nikkor 24mm f2.8D. One of the Minolta lenses rumoured having been sold under Leica name.
MC W. Rokkor 28mm f3.5 55mm; typical
MC Rokkor
A bargain, pretty good optical quality for the money, suffers flare (old coatings) and distortions. Good colour rendition. One of the lenses that were available in the beginning of the MC era, but were dropped quite soon in the favor of the f2.8 version.
MD 28mm f2.8 49mm; "plain"
MD lens
Also a bargain, less flare and distortions than the previous lens, but not anything special - clearly not comparable to 24mm. There may have been several optical versions of this popular lens between the typical MC version, which is the oldiest I am aware of, and this "plain" MD lens.
Tamron 28mm f2.8 (or 2.5?) 52mm (?)
an old lens
Price close to zero, and you get what you pay for - however, on a tight budget, better than nothing! Used this lens in the beginning of the 1980's, and it was already then an old model.
MC W. Rokkor 35mm f1.8 HH 55mm; typical
MC Rokkor
Big and heavy, some flare and soft corners wide open, otherwise an excellent lens. I use it mainly to photograph people indoors, or groups outdoors, but have also used it a lot for nature photography.
MD W. Rokkor 35mm f1.8 49mm; late
MD Rokkor
A lot lighter and IMHO optically better than the previous lens, although I have read opposite opinions as well. No question it has more plastic design. Only tested the lens shortly.

Normal lenses
MD Rokkor 45mm f2 49mm; late
MD Rokkor
Great performance in a small package, a bit long minimum focusing distance. Usually a bargain.
50mm f1.7 49 or 55mm;
various vintages
Greater performance in almost as small package (the 49mm thread version - the MC version is considerably larger). IIMHO best buy for a normal lens. Much flatter field in close focusing than f1.4. Can be found as a bargain! Several versions available.
MC and MD Rokkor
50mm f1.4
49 or 55mm;
various vintages
Also a good performer, the MC version is flare prone due to less advanced coatings, not for close-up photography. MD Rokkor -versions are better than my AF-Nikkor 50mm f1.4. Not such a bargain as the f1.7 -version.
MC Rokkor 58mm f1.4 PF 55mm
Metal focusing
ring, an early
MC Rokkor
Old, fast normal lens, dating back to the introduction of the Sr-T 101 in the 1960's. Available only as an early MC version - not with rubberized focusing ring. Not-so-good contrast, flare prone, heavy curvature of the field at close focusing. Good for portraits. 

If the above does not sound good, it is because the competition is hard. This lens is fully useable and beats most plastic zooms of today hands down.


Tele lenses
MC Rokkor 85mm f1.7 55mm; late
MC Rokkor
I used to believe there was only one optical version of this lens, but it has shown up there were two - the MD Rokkor version and some of the last MC's have a bit different optical structure. A terrific performer at f4 and smaller apertures, easy to focus and use. Flare prone, use the metal hood that comes with the lens.
MC Tele Rokkor 135mm f2.8 PF 55mm: 
fixed hood
Stop-down
lever; typical
MC Rokkor
The oldest optical structure (6 elements in five groups) in this focal length and speed. Heavy, extremely smooth operation, has its own stop-down lever. Flare prone, not very sharp, especially in close focus - not for close-up work. 
MD Tele Rokkor 135mm f2.8 55mm,
fixed hood; late
MD Rokkor
The newest 135mm f2.8 type with 5 elements in 5 groups. Much lighter than the oldest one, also sharper. The same as "plain" MD version. The diameter of the focusing ring is smaller than the aperture ring's diameter, which helps to identify this version from the 4/4 version, that existed between the old, 6/5 version, reviewed above, and this. Plastic aperture ring, lens barrel more like aluminium or steel than brass.
MC Tele Rokkor-X 200mm f3.5 62mm,
fixed hood;
late MC
Rokkor
Big, heavy, quite sharp, and a bit flare-prone, the original fast medium telephoto that was available in all MC versions but did not carry into the MD Rokkor era. Great mechanical quality. I cannot understand why the MF Nikkors are considered so remarkable in this respect? Maybe the Nikon users haven't touched these Rokkors.
MD Tele Rokkor 300mm f4.5 IF 72mm, fixed
hood, internal
focusing; early
MD Rokkor
Best lightweight tele for Minolta MF, highly recommended as the first long lens. Drawbacks: Lacking tripod collar (requires some third-party long lens support for tripod work, especially if used with TC). Some light falloff visible at full aperture. If you have this lens, get the X-700 with MD-1 and a shoulder support. If you intend to use this lens a lot from tripod, the MC Tele Rokkor 300mm f4.5 with tripod collar may be a better choise - but it lacks the IF!
MD Tele Rokkor 400mm f5.6 APO 72mm
fixed hood
tripod collar;
Early MD
Rokkor
Great optics, good 2x tc, slow (especially with tc) and pain to operate due to the lack of internal focusing. Mechanical workmanship is superb. For wildlife in decent light. For the same money, the 300/2.8 IF + 2x from a third-party manufacturer is more useful.
Tamron SP 300mm f2.8 LD IF (green) 112/43mm
tripod collar
internal
focusing
Good optics and handling for this size of lens. Works with matched 2x tc. My nr. 1 choise for wildlife or sports photographer using Minolta mf system. Also handy, because you can keep the lens if moving to another camera system. The adapter system is sometimes pain to use, especially when inserting the 2x TC between the lens and the adapter.

Macro lenses
(The links refer to my macro lens page - no separate reviews here).
MD 50mm f3.5 Macro 55mm; "plain"
MD lens
Great macro lens, goes 1:2 alone and 1:1 with 25mm extension tube. Hard to beat this lens in terms of optical quality.
MC 100mm f3.5 Macro Rokkor QE 55mm; typical
MC Rokkor
Even greater macro lens, in terms of size, weight and working distance. Needs the 50mm extension tube to get 1:1. The older models have tripod screw (but not a rotating collar) in their life-size adapter, but newer versions lack this essential phenomenon. The newest MD lenses are also f4, not f3.5,  indicating an optical change.
Tamron SP 90mm f2.5 Macro (Model 52BB) 55mm A good macro lens if not quite up to Rokkors. My choise for nature photography due to better handling and lighter weight than the 100mm Rokkor. Requires a strong skylight filter (1B) to match Rokkor colour rendition. Goes to 1:2 and works better with its own TC in 1:1 than when using a long extension tube.
Rokkor 135mm f4 TC Lens head; dates
back to pre-MC era
A toy from the history, not for practical photography. A lens head without focusing helicoid, so you need to use it with bellows. Can be focused from infinity to almost 1:1 with Auto Bellows 1. Great working distance. Manual (pre-set) diaphgram, 39mm Leica-thread, so it requires an adapter.

Zoom lenses
MD Zoom Rokkor-X 35-70mm f3.5 55mm; early
MD Rokkor
There are several versions of the 35-70mm lens. This is the first one, and has a solid metal barrel with two-ring design. Also a lens rumoured having been produced under Leica name. No macro focusing. A reasonably good optical performance, not a lot less than the famous 35-70mm f4 Macro lens, with better mechanical construction. Avoid the variable-aperture version of this zoom. Rotating front makes use of polarizer difficult.
MD Zoom 70-210mm f4 55mm; "plain"
MD lens
A legendary Minolta lens both as MD and AF version, and one of the rumoured Leica-collaboration lenses. A good push-pull design with quite solid feeling for a "plain" MD lens. Rotating front. Highly recommended by several users.
Tamron 35-135mm f3.5-4.5 58mm? A heavy and well-made lens with macro setting, not so wonderful optically but useable. Rotating front.

Minolta MF lens evolution

Minolta lenses have evolved slowly, and many changes are made between the version upgrades, so it is always not so easy to tell which lens is in question. I have found the following classification to help me. It does not fit to some lens types like reflex lenses(RF-Rokkors) or the 35mm f2.8 Shift-CA, which are not meter coupled, but they are placed in appropriate places as examples. The key character changes in each group are shown in red. The Rokkor lenses have always been coated, Minolta does not identify different stages in coatings (It is called Minolta achromatic coating all the time), but it is developed during the years so that a newer lens usually has better coatings. Some lenses have had no or only a few changes in their optical structure through their history (except the coatings), some (like the 135/2.8) have had several optical structures.

The Rokkor-X designation is simply a way to identify a lens originally sold for the US markets from the rest of the world - there is no other differencies between Rokkor and Rokkor-X, although some lens versions may have existed only as Rokkor or Rokkor-X. Also, some lenses have travelled over the oceans since their original purchase, so some Rokkor-X models appear in Europe (I have had two of them in Finland) as well as some non-X Rokkors in the US. I think the earliest Rokkors sold in the USA were not labeled as Rokkor-X at all. Anyway, there is no reason to look after a Rokkor over a Rokkor-X or other way, although there have been some rumours about differencies in the quality between the X- and non-X Rokkors. Being the same version of the lens there are no differencies I had heard of.

The Minolta manual bayonet is actually called the Minolta SR mount, and it has been unchanged since the very first Minolta 35mm SLR, the SR-2. You can use any mf Minolta lens in any Minolta body with a very few restrictions - these are the ones I'm aware:

1) The MC coupled lenses won't work in the shutter priority mode of the XD cameras: Although the exposure may be correct (due to the final check system of the shutter speed - see here for more information), there is a high risk of wrong exposure. The viewfinder information cannot work. An MC lens will also cause the green "P" flash in the viewfinder of the X-700 if used in the Program mode just like when using an MD lens not set at the minimum aperture, but the final check-operation of the camera will usually give correct exposure. In manual and aperture priority automatic exposure modes the MC lenses will work perfectly in these cameras as well as all the rest models.

2) There are a few old lenses with limitations in the use: Some old pre-MC lenses have different diaphgram pin, that won't fit into later bodies, and then there is the old 21mm f4 wideangle that requires MLU and separate viewfinder - its rear element protrudes into the mirror box, and using it without MLU will cause damage to the mirror. Other way around, some SR-7 bodies have a screw that interferes with MD tab of MD-coupled lenses - never seen this myself but heard it on thhe mailing lists.

3) I don't know if the X-600 focusing aid will work without the extra pin, present only in the "plain" MD series lenses.

4) You can use the Auto Rokkors and other equipments and lenses, that have automatic diaphgram but not meter coupling lug, (like the 35mm f2.8 Shift C/A and Auto Bellows) in cameras, that cannot do stopped-down metering, namely the XG-series models, but the metering won't work.

For you familiar with Nikon lens evolution, here is a short comparision: The MC lenses (introduced with the famous Sr-T 101 at 1966) have the meter coupling like Nikon AI - Minolta never had a non-automatically indexing meter coupling system. The MD lenses are useable with shutter priority, like the AIS lenses, and Celtic lenses are a similar cheaper alternative of Rokkors as the Nikon E lenses were for Nikkors. Unlike E-lenses, which are always AIS in nature, Minolta Celtic lenses can be either MC or MD.

The introduction years are a bit uncertain, they have varied around the world and there are differencies between the sources.
 

Type Identifying characters Examples and description
Pre-MC No meter coupling
Pre-set, manual or auto diaphgram
Metal focusing ring
Silver, metal aperture ring
Silver bayonet mount
All-metal structure
Two-letter code identifying structure
Stop-down lever in some lenses
Yellow colour of the lens elements
Tele-Rokkor 135mm f4 TC
Auto-Rokkors

Don't buy unless you know what you are doing. Most of these will work with newer Minoltas, but they require stop-down metering, and some very early lenses have diaphgram control pin that won't fit in the modern cameras. For the SR series bodies only.

The first Minolta SLR with SR mount was the SR-2 in 1958, but some lenses date back to rangefinder era before that.

Early (original)
MC Rokkor
MC coupling pin in the aperture ring
Auto diaphgram (if possible)
Metal focusing ring
Silver, metal aperture ring
Silver bayonet mount
All-metal structure
Two-letter code identifying structure
Stop-down lever in some lenses
Yellow colour of the lens elements
MC Rokkor 58mm f1.4 PF
MC W. Rokkor 28mm f3.5 ??
MC Rokkor 85mm f1.7 ??
MC Tele Rokkor 135mm f2.8 PF (6 elements in 5 groups-version)

Generally a pre-MC lens with meter coupling. Made for the all-metal SR-T series, and feel rough and heavy on XD, XG and X-series bodies, although they can be used in manual and aperture priority without problems.

Introduction with the Sr-T 101 in 1966.

Typical MC Rokkor MC coupling pin in the aperture ring
Auto diaphgram (if possible - not in mirrors etc.)
Rubber focusing ring
Black, metal aperture ring
Silver bayonet mount
All-metal structure
Two-letter code identifying structure
Stop-down lever in some lenses
Yellow colour of the lens elements
MC W. Rokkor 35mm f1.8 HH
MC Rokkor 85mm f1.7 ??
MC Tele Rokkor 135mm f2.8 PF (6/5 -version)
Black 800mm f8 RF Rokkor

Heavy and bulky compared to many newer designs, these lenses fit best to Sr-T and XE cameras. Some of the best mechanical constructions!

Not sure about year of introduction, about at the time of the XM/XK/X-1 introduction in 1971?

Late MC Rokkor MC coupling pin in the aperture ring
Auto diaphgram (if possible)
Rubber focusing ring
Black, metal aperture ring
Silver bayonet mount
All-metal structure
Two-letter code dropped
Stop-down lever dropped (if it were present)
Yellow colour of the lens elements
MC Rokkor 85mm f1.7
MC Tele Rokkor 135mm f2.8 (4/4 - version in MC mount)

These lenses are usually found as typical MC and early MD versions, too. Many people, including me, consider these, together with the early MD Rokkors, as best combination of optical and mechanical quality. They fit well to most MF Minoltas except the lightest X-series cameras, although they can be used in them as well. Usually all you gain in the optical quality by buying a newer version is a better multicoating, and sometimes a smaller filter size, if you like the 49mm size.

No spesific year of introduction

Early MD Rokkor MC and MD coupling pins in the aperture ring
Auto diaphgram (if possible)
Rubber focusing ring
Black, metal aperture ring
Steel bayonet mount flanges with black "bottom" of the lens
All-metal structure
Reddish colour of the lens elements
MD Rokkor 85mm f1.7
MD Tele Rokkor 135mm f2.8 (4/4 -version in MD mount)
MD Tele Rokkor 300mm f4.5 IF
35mm f2.8 Shift C/A
500/8 and 250/5.6 RF Rokkors

These lenses are basically MC lenses with MD coupling pin and linear diaphgram stop-down action. If you own an XD camera, these are the lenses you should be looking for.

Introduced with XD series in 1977

Late MD Rokkor MC and MD coupling pins in the aperture ring
Auto diaphgram (if possible)
Rubber focusing ring
Steel bayonet mount flanges with black "bottom" of the lens
Plastic aperture ring
49mm filter thread in some lenses
Smaller and lighter than older versions
Reddish colour of the lens elements
MD W. Rokkor 35mm f1.8
MD Rokkor 50mm f1.4 (49mm thread)
MD Tele Rokkor 135mm f2.8 (5/4 -version)

These lenses are generally lighter and more plastic than the earlier versions. Also aluminium is used in the lens barrels instead of brass. Many of these were converted to "plain" MD lenses. They are designed for the XD and XG series cameras but can be used in all Minolta MF cameras, although the feeling may be a bit light in the early models.

No spesific year of introduction, but the first ones appeared soon after the XD.

"Plain" MD "Rokkor"-brand name dropped
MC and MD coupling pins in the aperture ring
Extra ("Mysterious") pin in the lens bottom sticking towards the camera (used by the X-600 only)
Auto diaphgram (if possible)
Rubber focusing ring
Plastic aperture ring with minimum aperture lock
Steel bayonet mount flanges with black, flat "bottom" of the lens
A groove outside the filter threads for snap-on hood in those lenses without a fixed hood
Reddish colour of the lens elements
MD 28mm f2.8
MD 135mm f2.8
MD 70-210mm f4
White RF Rokkors

The most plasticky models produced. Later, when production moved from Japan to China and the available range of the lenses dropped to a few models, the quality seems to have faded even more. Generally, the early MD lenses are optically pretty good, some maybe even better than their earlier counterparts. These lenses fit well to X-series cameras, which they are intended for, but feel poor on the all-iron Sr-T and XE bodies.

Introduced with the X-700 in 1981.

Minolta Celtic Name "Celtic" in the lens, different look. Celtic is a cheaper lens line of Minolta, like the better known Nikon E. They can be either MC or MD (usually they are called MC Celtic or MD Celtic). Differencies to Rokkors are cheaper materials, less advanced coatings and simplier structures - but like the Nikon E-lenses, these can be optically excellent ones, and dirt cheap at the used markets.

The Celtic lineup was never very large, covering only the most common focal lengths.

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Tele lenses of 300mm length of longer for manual focusing Minolta
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