Minolta AF 35-70mm F/4 Review - Photo Jottings

Minolta AF 35-70mm F/4 Review

Here’s a brief look at the Minolta AF 35-70mm F/4  zoom lens.  Scroll down for the main review.

Minolta AF 35-70mm F/4
Box contents
Front and rear caps, hood, and users manual.
$149, I’m guessing here.  It was $419 for the kit, which included this lens and the Maxxum 7000 body in 1985.
Build quality
Additional information
A very good bargain on eBay, with prices for “like new” models going for $50-$80 as of 9/08
Specifications below
Optical configuration
6 elements in 6 groups
Angle of view
63°-34° full frame, 42°-23° APS-C.
7 blades, straight
Full frame and APS-C
Yes, full frame and APS-C.   APS-C equivalent, 52.5-105mm
Depth of field and focus scales?
Distance window, and IR marks at 70mm, 50mm, and 35mm.
Minimum focus, image plane to subject
38″ (965mm), or 12.25″  (311mm) with macro switch
Minimum focus, end of lens barrel to subject
7.75″  (197mm) with macro switch
Hard stop at infinity focus?
Length changes when focusing?
Focus ring turns in AF?
Filter size
Filter ring rotates?
Distance encoder?
Max magnification
0.07x, or 0.25x with macro switch
Min. F/stop
Sony teleconverter compatible?
Length changes when zooming?
Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)
2.7″ x 2.1″   69mm x 53mm
Maximum  extended length (my measurements)
2.95″  (75mm)
Weight bare (my scale)
9.0oz  (254g)  9.7oz (274g) with caps
Requisite product shots.
Box contents with no box, a short little feller, even with the hood.
Front element.
Side view, maximum length (35mm) including focus extention
Backside mount.
The Sony A700 and A900 were used or this review.  For full frame results, go to the bottom of the page.  For a better understanding of my review methods and terminology, go here.
To view the original owner’s manual, go here.
The Minolta AF 35-70mm F/4 was extremely popular with Maxxum film camera users, and sold like hotcakes in the mid-to-late 1980s.  This particular lens was purchased in 1985, along with the Maxxum 7000 film camera.  It was a “kit” lens.  Made in Japan.  Many people claim this was one of the very first lenses that used a “hybrid” aspherical element, meaning plastic and glass permanently bonded together, instead of an all glass aspherical element, which was very expensive back in the day.
This wide telephoto zoom is very short and light, even when extended out.  It also extends fully at the wide end, 35mm which is a bit unusual, most lenses are just the opposite.  It has a constant fast aperture of F/4.  Currently, Sony has no equivalent lens.  The color is satin black, shinier than the Sony black.  The zoom ring tension is about right to slightly stiff in my opinion.  It has a focus distance window along with three red infra-red focus index marks at 70mm, 50mm, and 35mm, you don’t see this much anymore.  The EXIF data matches up with the focal length marks, which come at 35mm, 50mm, and 70mm.  Increments are 5mm apart in the data, but 65mm is missing, that’s the way it is.  I can’t find any info about “ED” elements or special coatings used.  The lens is multi-coated and has the typical older-style magenta cast.
Auto-focusing is quick and accurate.  When you turn the camera on after mounting the lens you hear a “slap” which is the camera focus motor tugging through screws at the lens to ensure a proper coupling.  Manual focusing takes just over 1/4 turn from Close-in to infinity, with almost no slop.  The filter ring extends and rotates as you focus, (not to be confused with the focus ring) which is at the end of the lens barrel, so watch your grads and polarizers, and to make matters a little more difficult, the focus ring is very narrow and slightly stepped down from the lens barrel, making it hard to grab.  You really shouldn’t be using manual focus anyways, it’s not necessary with this lens.
The Minolta AF 35-70mm F/4 has a macro switch.  It’s located on the left side of the barrel, (see images above). You simply slide the tab forward as you turn the zoom clockwise, then release.  It has an arrow pointing in the proper direction in case you get all flustered.  It’s now locked in macro range, with a maximum magnification of 0.25x, a nice reproduction size for this type of lens.  This lens will not auto-focus in the macro range by design.  I don’t know why.
Lens flare/ghosting.  Poor.  The sample below was taken with the sun not even close to the image.  The hood doesn’t do any good in this situation, use your hand for good control.  Ghosting on this lens at 35mm is among the worst of all the lenses I’ve tested, along with veiling glare at 70mm.
Color fringing.  Very good control here.  Wide open at F/4, you see very little throughout the image in extreme situations, stop down to F/5.6 and you have nothing to speak of.  Look at the 70mm crops below.
Bokeh.  Poor, see crops below.  Looks like concentric circles shooting target with bullseye.  One of the worst lenses I’ve tested, but that’s just my opinion.  The crops are a full 100%, so don’t get too worried over this, I never noticed it being poor even after I used it on my Maxxum 7000 for several years, and having had a few enlargements made.
Color.  Similar to Sony lenses.
Coma.  Very light between 35-50mm, F/4.
Close-up filter.  Works great, see review here.
Filter size is 49mm.  This size is used on the Sony/Minolta 28mm F/2.8, and the Minolta 50mm F/1.7, and other lenses of lesser note.
Filter use.  There’s no additional vignetting using regular filters on full frame or APS-C cameras.
Distortion.  See below.  Barrel at 35mm, but almost mild.   Distortion is flat at 40mm, then towards the long end it turns to mild pincushion.  Good control here.
Distortion examples
35mm, mild to moderate barrel distortion.
Mild pincushion at 70mm.

Random samples

Flare and ghosting, 35mm F/5.6
Light fall-off at 35mm F/4
Bokeh,  70mm F/5.6
Bokeh,  35mm F/4
Example of flare/ghosting above, where the sun isn’t very close to the image frame.  You can make out the purplish and green color blobs in the lower left part of the frame.  Poor control at 35mm with ghosting, and poor control of veiling glare at 70mm.  This problem can be solved by using your hand instead of the supplied hood to block stray light from outside the image.  Light fall-off (top right) on an APS-C camera shows nothing.  Shooting directly in to the sun (centered) is fine, no rings or blowouts.  Bokeh examples above, not good at all, but looks like cool shooting target.
Light fall-off.
Light fall-off or corner shading is super mild at F/4 from 35mm to 70mm, so don’t worry about this.  See crops below.  See real shot at 35mm and F/4 above.
           35mm F/4
             70mm F/4
Center and corner sharpness.
Below are crops from the image centers at 35mm.
              35mm F/4
           35mm F/5.6

Now the 35mm corner crops.

           35mm F/4
              35mm F/5.6
The 35mm center crops show very little improvement by stopping down, that’s good.  The 35mm corners do make a difference by stopping down just one stop, to F/5.6, and that’s all you need.  Very good performance here.
Below, look at the 70mm centers.
           70mm F/4
              70mm F/5.6

70mm corners

           70mm F/4
              70mm F/5.6
On to the 70mm centers, where the results are pretty much the same as the wide angle shots, sharp at F/4, then maybe a hair sharper one stop down, but only visible blown way up on a computer screen.  I see a tiny bit of veiling haze at F/4 at all focal lengths, but not enough to worry about.  The corners are helped by closing the aperture, only one stop, then everything is sharp.  Another stellar performance.  You can see the minor color fringing in the corner crops at 70mm, but it’s gone at F/5.6.

Let’s check out the macro capabilities of this lens.

Below, check out the sample and click the picture to see a 100% cropped portion of the full image, (300kb file).  The sample shot was taken with the Sony A 700 12.2MP camera.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 1″x 3/4″ or 25.4mm x 19mm.  Also, note the macro shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; in this case a rather short 7.75″ (197mm), measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.
The macro is pretty sharp and detailed with 0.25x magnification using the macro switch.   Note that auto-focusing is disabled when you switch to macro mode, that’s by design.  Also note the macro is sharpest at F/5.6, good job!
As close as you can get macro, at F/5.6.

Next up, the full frame results.

Full frame results using the Sony A900 below.

Check out the differences when using a film or full frame camera below.  I’m only pointing out the noticeable issues as compared to the APS-C bodies, so if I don’t show it here, the results are not significantly different enough to warrant posting an additional set of images in this section.

Light fall-off

         35mm F/4
          35mm F/5.6
october08/3570ffvig40.jpg october08/3570ffvig56.jpg
         70mm F/4
          70mm F/5.6

Light fall-off is a little strong and sharp wide open at 35mm.  At F/5.6 is isn’t noticeable in real shots.  The 70mm shots look good, even at F/4, as it blends evenly towards the center.

Full image from A900 below.


This full scene shows how the light fall-off from 35mm, F/4 appears in a regular picture, it looks strong with the high clouds included, but doesn’t harm the picture in my opinion.  As I’ve said before, you wouldn’t have to use F/4 in an outdoor, broad daylight scene anyhow!

35mm corner samples next.

october08/3570ffcnw40.jpg october08/3570ffcnw56.jpg

The corners at 35mm are soft using a full frame camera, and take an extra stop or so (as opposed to APS-C) to sharpen up, close to F/11.  Exposure differences are from light fall-off, both here and below.

70mm corners below.

october08/3570ffcntel40.jpg october08/3570ffcntel80.jpg

The 70mm corners aren’t too bad wide open, but do respond to stopping down.  I left out the F/5.6 shot because it was the same as F/4, without the light fall-off.  F/16 is best, but you’ll never see the difference between that and F/11 in real life.  It takes a couple of stops more to sharpen up as compared to the APS-C crops we saw earlier.

Distortion next.

Barrel distortion @35mm on A900
Pincushion distortion @ 70mm on A900

There is moderate to strong barrel distortion at 35mm, and moderate pincushion at 70mm.  Everything is flat at 40mm.

Coma results with full frame.

35mm F/4
35mm F/5.6
october08/3570ffcma40.jpg october08/3570ffcma56.jpg

This is coma on the A900.  At 35mm, it’s small, and not really noticeable in regular, low-light pictures with points of light near the corners.  At F/5.6 it’s gone.  Past 50mm, there isn’t anything to show, even wide open.  The 100% crops in this A900 section are from the extreme corners, and are a portion of the original image.  The complete image printed out as you might see it on your screen would measure 65″ (1.65m) wide using the A900!

This is a very good lens, even on a full frame camera.  How do I know?  I used it on my Maxxum 7000 film camera for several years as stated above.  I never noticed the bad bokeh, so big deal, another strike against digital photography and gigantic shots examined on a computer screen.  These lenses were sold by the truck-load in the mid-to late 1980s, and for good reason.
APS-C users; this lens is sharp at F/4 over the entire range, and barely gets sharper a stop down.  The corners are sharp by one stop down; real good performance here.  The only drawbacks are flare and ghosting, but you can simply watch your shots and block light with your hand, so I wouldn’t really consider this a problem.  Bokeh is bad, but again, I never noticed it as being bad even after I used it for years and made enlargements back in my film days.  This lens works very well on APS-C cameras, but the focal range is not very desirable in my opinion.  It has the equivalent in 35mm terms of 52.5-105mm.  I think I’d rather use the 18-70mm kit lens because it’s a lot wider, with a better zoom range.
Full frame users; Overall, this lens works well, and is very inexpensive, so if you bought your first full frame digital camera and don’t have any money left over for a decent zoom lens, this one will fill your needs perfectly.  If you do have some money left over, I’d probably pass on the Minolta 35-70mm F/4 and get the Sony or Minolta 24-105mm F/3.5-4.5, which performs similarly, and has a much better zoom range.
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