Up to now only Sony is offering mirrorless cameras with full-frame sensors and the full-frame lens range is covering the focal length up to 200 mm and even bigger focal lengths when using adapted lenses. Sony has the very nice FE 70-200 G OSS in the telezoom line-up, but not everybody is willing to spend 1.349,00 Euro (RRP) for a lens with this focusing range (Sony FE 70-200 F4 G OSS on eBay.com). There are plenty alternatives in the area of adapted lenses but there is no alternative to the Minolta MD 70-210 F4 with one-touch zoom when it comes to the price. Let me present this lens in details.
The Minolta MD Zoom 70-210mm F4 (Minolta MD 70-210 F4 on eBay.com) is very comfortable to use due to its one-touch zoom. It was manufactured in 1983 and its optical built consists of 12 elements in 9 groups. The diameter is 72 mm, the length is 153 mm without and 185 mm with mounted E-Mount adapter with a weight of 635 gramms. The Sony FE 70-200 mm F4 G OSS weights 840 gramms without tripod mounting collar. The diameter is 80 mm and the length is 175 mm. It offers a SSM autofocus and interal optical stabilisation.
Changing the focal length using the one-touch zoom on the Minolta MD 70-210 F4 does not extend the length of the lens, only focussing around the mimimum distance extends the lens by a maximum of 17 mm. The minimum focusing distance is 1,1 m with the MD 70-210 and 1 m with the FE 70-200; both have a constant maximum aperture of f/4. Apart from AF and OSS there are very little difference when it comes to specifications; in reference to the price there is a world of difference: The MD 70-210 can be found at around 65,00 € plus used Novoflex-Adapter (70,00 €), the FE 70-200 G OSS was sold for 1.349,00 €, which is a factor of 10.
Attached to Sony alpha 7
Holding the combination Sony alpha 7 and Minolta MD 70-210 F4 in hand with closed eyes reminds of the time shooting with 35mm film when I had the same lens on the Minolta XD-7 which was 20 years ago and it drives me nuts when I imagine what MC- and MD-lenses I sold (literally gave away for nothing) at the time I moved to digital SLR. All good comes back I tend to say. All in all, this pair of equipment is creating a good feeling when correctly holding the camera and lens. The wide, checkered area to hold the one-touch zoom and focus ring communicates a significant haptics and the necessary grip to hold body and lens only in the left hand at 210 mm. At 70mm with the one-touch zoom in the front position the entire system gets a bit top-heavy but is still not inconvenient. Just when changing the grip from one-touch zoom to the aperture ring the system gets top-heavy when holding it with the right hand at the body only, which is not really different when the Sony FE 70-200 mm F4 G OSS is mounted. Anyway, both lens are very similar referring the size:
Let’s have a look at the Minolta MD 70-210 mm F4 first. The test images at focal length of 70, 100, 150 and 210 mm using aperture F4 have been made so that I can judge the imaging performace of this lens when I was about to buy it and the seller has let the lens for a closer look. I am very satisfied with the imaging performance of this „aged“ lens on the Sony alpha 7, especially when taking the price of 65,00 € into consideration. In fact, the image quality gets even better when tweaking sharpness and compensation lens errors in Lightroom which I would like to show with these example images at 70 and 210 mm. There is one weakness to this lens: the right upper area is falling off starting at 150mm up to 210 mm which can’t be compensated neither by precise manual focussing nor by post-processing. The following crops taken out of the image center are 1800 x 1200 pixels out of the RAW images, one without post-processing and the other with post-processing in Lightroom (Sharpness 60, Radius 0,9 and remove CA) at 70, 100, 150 and 210 mm and open aperture F4:
Let’s get to the direct comparision of Minolta MD 70-210 mm F4 with Sony FE 70-200 G OSS. All images including those taken with the FE 70-200 G OSS are shot with deactivated lens compensation and manual focussing in RAW. The images have been exported from Lightroom without any changes applied. Additionally, the OSS was deactived on the FE 70-200 G OSS to create comparable results. The resulting images have been reduced to 1200×800 pices using IrfanView batch processing.
Colours, contrasts and sharpness
The Minolta MD 70-210 mm F4 renders slightly stronger colours and contrasts with the same aperture and exposure (1/640 of a second):
The sharpness of the Minolta MD could be a bit better in the upper left corner:
Regarding the bokeh, there are no nameable difference. I personally prefer the Bokey of the Minolta MD 70-210 at wide open aperture.
The distortion at 70mm is verly low up to not remarkable for both lenses, which is confirmed by DXO Mark, at least for the Sony FE 70-200 mm F4 G OSS.
These are the matching images taken with both lenses and disabled lens compensation:
Aberration at backlight
The next two pictures get me hard-pressed to explain and leave one question to be answered: „Why is there a difference of exposure of one aperture for an image with the same frame depicted?“. Looking at number of the pictures one can see that I tried to find an answer to this questions right there when taking the picture, may it be a mistake of the photographer or in camera settings, but all pictures showed a difference in exposure of one aperture, except one image where somebody walked through the frame and extended the exposure time to 1/3200 sec. Anybody having an idea?
The next two pictures do not show these behaviour, but they do show – like the two pictures above – a slight tendency of the Minolta MD 70-210 F4 in creating a light fall off in the corners.
When peeking into the picture it shows that the Minolta MD 70-210 F4 creates some amount of CA which can’t be found in the image taken with the Sony FE 70-200 G OSS (lens compensation deactivated):
This CA can easily be corrected with two mouse clicks in Lightroom as shown below. Taking pictures in jpg out of cam does not save time using this lens, because the images have to go through post-processing in these light conditions:
Neither the Sony alpha 7 nor the Sony alpha 6000 have sensor shift stabilisation which sets the photographer at least 10 to 15 years back in camera development when using the combination of Sony alpha 7 and Minolta MD 70-210 F4. This is different when using the Sony alpha 7 II because it has the integrated sensor shift stabilisation but requires a permanent adaptation of focal length setting for the stabilisation when using a legacy zoom lens which is not really feasible. It remains to be checked wether a manual setting of e.g. 135mm for the sensor shift stabilisation would be an adequate value working for the focal length range from 70 – 210 mm.
Ignoring the EVF, the Minolta MD 70-210 F4 mount on the Sony alpha 7 feels like good old times like on the Minolta XD-7. Like in past exposure times below 1/200 sec. are a challenge with a focal length of 200 mm when not using a tripod. Still this can be handled when respecting the old rule of thumb that the exposure time should not be above the reciprocal value of the focal length used. These are the situations where the FE 70-200 mm F4 G OSS with activated optical stabilisation shows its capabilities on the Sony alpha 7 Mark I.
Of course, this is not important for the day-to-day use, but it was not easy to frame the same picture on the first try using the Minolta MD 70-210 mm F4 by applying the focal length chosen on the FE 70-200 G OSS , because the focal length indicators on the one-touch zoom tube are rather rough bench marks in comparison to the FE 70-200 G OSS. Well, no worry because framing the picture is happing in the viewfinder. Another thing not really important for the usage of the lens is the fact, that exposure metering tends to underexpose up to one aperture depending on the light situation – no idea why. This can be easily corrected using exposure compensation when looking into the viewfinder.
The Minolta MD 70-210 mm F4 is an optically satisfying and understated lens for those who may do without autofocus, optical stabilisation and does not need a fast focussing lens supporting AF-tracking for sports. For Sony alpha 7 II owners, this lens is a no brainer! The one-touch zoom combined with the focus ring is very comfortable and easy to use. Of course, features like stabilisation, focus limitation and lens compensation is missing, but lens compensation can easily be done during RAW-processing in Lightroom.
There is a little downer to it: the missing tripod mounting collar, which can be added by third party manufacturer accessories like the tripod mounting collar by Novoflex which fits onto the Novoflex MD-NEX lens adapter.
All pictures (JPG and RAW) used in this article are available for download: Click!