Minolta 70-210 f/4 (beercan) review

compared to:
Sigma 28-105 f/2.8
KM 18-70 DT (kit lens)
Minolta 70-210 f/4 (Beercan)
Minolta 50mm f/1.7

positive:
* Compact, weighs “just right.”
* Common 55mm filter threads.
* Classic Minolta early AF build.
* Excellent picture quality for the price.

negative:
* Not wide enough on APS-C (no real fault of the design, though).
* Not lightweight.
* Rotating front element.
* Zoom not as smooth as the beercan.
* Macro mode not very useful.
* Mediocre AF performance.
* Useless lens hood.

Back in the film days, this lens was the “next step” up from the 35-70 f/4 zoom. It’s a nice companion to the beercan, both in price/performance and feel. It’s not a perfect lens, but it’s head and shoulders, IQ wise, from the junk Minolta would use as consumer kit lenses later in life.

* BUILD QUALITY AND FEEL

I bought this lens from Henry’s via eBay. It looks to be restored slightly (cleaned up). There was no fungus or other ilk, and the body is nice and clean. It certainly doesn’t look like a 15 year old lens use-wise, though style-wise it is definitely old.

Just like the beercan, it feels built like a tank. Metal housing, metal geartrain, and a compact build make this a dense, substantial lens. In combination with the 5D, it gives it a kind of heft you don’t get with most cameras.

The general handling of the lens is good, with decent balance. The zoom ring is rather narrow (which was fixed in the RS version) and isn’t completely smooth, but this may be 15 years for the lubricant (if it works like the 28-13) to wear out. The focusing ring, like most early Minolta AF lenses, is narrow and hard to grip. The supplied lens hood is also completely useless. Two of these problems are fixed with a nice third party rubber lens hood, as turning the grip of a lens hood to focus works very well on this lens. You could also use a clip-on hood from lenses like the 100-200 or even the beercan, but they vignette around 28mm. A folding rubber lens hood is the best choice.

* FOCUSING AND ZOOMING

The AF of this lens isn’t great. It’s not slow, but it can be wonky in low light situations. This is fixed by using a flash with an AF illuminator. Outdoors in bright light, the AF is snappy, but not prime fast. Acceptable.

The zoom ring on my copy is a bit hitchy. It feels smooth until you start hitting focal lengths under 50mm. There’s a definite “push” going from 35 to 28. This is probably just in the design of the lens; it’s not the same zoom mechanism as a Beercan or 28-135, so there’ll be some give. Used in conjunction with 5D, the lens feels like a nice extension of the camera.

* IMAGE QUALITY

This is where the lens shines and makes few compromises. Equipped with a proper lens hood, this lens is shielded from its natural enemy (flare) and produces sharp, stunning images. The colors have the typical Minolta cast (which some may like), and the out of focus backgrounds have a Beercan-like quality. It’s really hard to knock this lens down on pixel-peeping. The main flaw is flare susceptibility (again, which is helped many times by a proper rubber lens hood) which ruins otherwise acceptable contrast and the fact that 28mm exhibits some barrel distortion. Taking a picture of a flag at 28mm on a golf course where the flag nearly fills the frame creates definite bending. The 28mm prime would definitely outperform this lens as far as distortion goes, but this lens could compete as far as sharpness.

I find this to be a great lens to work well with a flash. Pity there wasn’t a D version.

If you can get the RS version instead of this older version, I’d probably reccomend it, the AF performance is better and the zoom/focus grips are much better. IQ wise, though? They’re probably extremely similar.

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