Minolta AF 35-105mm F3.5-4.5 N A-mount lens review by Miranda F

reviewer#36805 date: Mar-28-2017
sharpness: 2.5
color: 4
build: 3
distortion: 3
flare control: 3
overall: 3.1
tested on:
  • film camera:Film camera
  • APS-C: 6MP6 MP; 10MP10 MP; 12MP12 MP; 14MP14 MP; 16MP16 MP; 20MP20 MP; 24MP24 MP
  • full frame: 12MP12 MP; 24MP24 MP; 36MP36 MP; 42MP42 MP; 61MP61 MP
ownership:I own this lens
compared to:Minolta 50mm f1.7 (RS & original)
Minolta 24-105mm
Minolta 28-80
Minolta 28-85
Minolta 28-100
Minolta 35-70 (f4 & f3.5-4.5)
Minolta 75-300
Minolta 100-300 (original & APO)
Sony 18-55mm
Sony 30mm f2.8
Sony 35mm f1.8
Sony 50mm f1.8
Sony 55-200mm
Sony 55-300mm
Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6
Sigma & Tamron 28-200mm
Tamron 90mm f2.8
Vivitar 70-210
Various MF lenses
price paid:£10
Spherical aberration
Veiling at full aperture
Quite nice sunstars at f16.
comment:Okay, let’s get some things out of the way. Firstly, this review is based on my experiences with one copy of this lens, which I had to repair before I could use it (zoom contact fingers making poor electrical contact) and which has a scratch on the edge of the front element. Yours may be different.
Second, you may think I have got the pros and cons mixed up above, but I haven’t. Explanations follow.
This lens isn’t sharp. In fact it’s probably the least sharp lens I have. Everywhere is soft wide open and pretty blurry too; centres sharpen by f5.6 but the corners need f8 to look good. If you don’t like that, pick another lens. In fact, don’t even think of the 35-100mm as a serious walk-around zoom. It’s not wide enough for that job on APS-C and most FF users would want something much better.
No, think of this lens as a specialist soft-focus lens and it suddenly makes sense, so that is what I’m reviewing it as. Firstly, the bokeh is very soft which is good, and I think is probably due to lots of uncompensated spherical aberration from the simple lens construction. Now I’m not one of those people who takes lots of blurry photos with rough old lenses and drools about bokeh on internet chat rooms, but if I was, then I’d certainly be pleased with this lens.
At short focal lengths (say, 35-50mm) background OOF point light sources produce perfect circles with no onion-rings or bright edges like so many ultra-sharp lenses today. On APS-C, they often stay circles pretty close to the edges, much like the Minolta 50mm f1.7. And at the long end the circles (and much else) have smoothly blurred edges as well, like an STF lens.
However at 100mm and FF, they get squashed pretty quickly, and here the lens does much worse than the 24-105mm where they stay circles even at the long end. For best results, make sure the background is so OOF that circles aren't visible.
Viewed normally I find the central area is okay, even at full aperture. Don’t expect 100% crops to look sharp because they won’t, at any aperture. But at f8, the centre is just about sharp enough for good close-ups, bearing in mind that real subjects aren’t flat and always have some misfocussing anyway. At wider apertures even things fairly close to the focal plane blur nicely away from the in-focus centre, and at full aperture some veiling gives an old-fashioned hazy glow which you will probably either love or hate. On occasion it can add something special to a portrait, the kind of thing you’d spend ages trying to achieve in pp. If you don’t want it, reduce aperture one stop and it’s gone.
Viewed as a specialist soft-focus lens for portraits, pets and still-life, the focal–length range makes perfect sense in APS-C because it’s not a wide-angle lens and it’s completely useless for architecture and landscapes (unless you like blurry ones). Likewise, forget about the corners, even on FF. For the kind of use this lens is good at, you won’t want the corners sharp anyway. Yes, there’s some CA there but fortunately the corners are usually blurry enough to hide it. Ditto axial CA (bokeh fringing). There is little geometric distortion either.
I agree the MFD is longer than ideal, but then it isn’t a macro lens, and at 100mm the magnification is enough for flowers and things. My test shots of a computer monitor confirm the softness that normal pictures suggest, though this not so bad as some bad copies of other lenses I’ve tried. Shooting groups of daffodils, for example, it is quite easy to close in on an individual or small group while others blur away softly, and the result is noticeably more dreamy than most modern ultra-sharp lenses produce. It’s up to whether you like that or not. In a print I would, in colour slides, probably not.
If you don’t have a lens hood, the Hoya-style collapsible rubber ones are fine. But as one of the more recent Minolta lenses, the coatings are good and pictures with sun in shot are often okay.
If you’re looking for a cheap walk-around zoom, pick the late Minolta 28-100mm kit lens instead. That one is conveniently wider, sharper in the centre at all focal lengths and apertures and the corners clean up quite nicely by f8. It’s still light in weight and has a shorter MFD and better magnification. And it’s even cheaper and easier to replace if you drop it, scratch it, get it wet, or suffer sand-blasting on the beach.
So there you have it. Treat the newer 35-100mm lens as a normal zoom and you may think it’s rubbish. Look at it differently, and it could be a gem.
Edit: On FF it seems to work well too, and isn't quite so obviously soft. It just feels really odd to have such a small light and cheap lens on a big solid FF camera like the A900. Oh, well ...

rating summary

lens image
  • total reviews: 78
  • sharpness: 4.16
  • color: 4.67
  • build: 4.22
  • distortion: 4.29
  • flare control: 4.08
  • overall: 4.28
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