Minolta AF 70-210mm F4 (beercan) A-mount lens review by dfwatt

reviewer#12202 date: Mar-23-2015
sharpness: 4.5
color: 5
build: 5
distortion: 4
flare control: 3
overall: 4.3
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 MP24MP24 MP36MP36 MP42MP42 MP
ownership:I own this lens
compared to:70-300 G
70-200 2.8 Tamron
price paid:$200 for mint copy
positive:Pros:

1) Good sharpness wide-open and exceptional sharpness, particularly centrally, if you stop down 1 to 2 stops.
2) High quality zoom mechanism, and the lens exudes a premium feel. The expression "built like a tank" must have been invented to describe Minolta legacy lenses.
3) Pretty decent autofocus, particularly for older screw drive mechanism. Focus limiter on newer Sony bodies helps reduce hunting and improves rapid autofocus lock
4) Nothing short of phenomenal value for the money - very good copies can be had for $100-$150, while mint copies go for $200-$250. No modern lens approaches its performance for remotely this little money.
negative:Cons:

1) Vulnerability to chromatic aberration and particularly purple fringing which can be quite noticeable, particularly when the lens is shot wide open. No sense in glossing over this, it is the lens' biggest liability, and if you're going to shoot with it, you should expect it. Fortunately, this can be removed fairly effectively in post processing by any number of programs that have a profile for this lens (for example DxO optics Pro 10.2 and earlier versions of 10 have correction profiles). Stopping down improves this significantly.
2) Noisy, particularly compared to any newer USD/SSM lens. If you're planning on shooting movies with this lens, you're going to want to manual focus - unless you plan to do 'silent movies'.
3) Vulnerable to flare so you have to take extra caution to make sure that the sun is not either in the frame or just outside the frame. Significantly more flare than the best modern lenses
4) Somewhat heavy relative to modern F4 zooms (the price you pay for the 'bank vault' construction).
comment:This lens is legendary, and like a lot of legends, its reputation could be considered somewhat hyped and distorted by the inevitable nostalgia. Some photographers approaching this lens will be disappointed and have a low tolerance for its well documented quirks and vulnerabilities, while some will appreciate that they are indeed holding a beautifully crafted piece of photographic history.

Affectionately termed "the beer can", this lens gained its reputation both for creating very sharp images, even wide open, and for its very smooth bokeh and famous 'Minolta colors'. Regarding these attributes, its reputation is largely well deserved.

Despite some significant caveats, I'm giving this five stars. The lens is hardly perfect, and with significantly more chromatic aberration and particularly purple fringing when wide open than you would ever see in a modern zoom lens, particularly a premium one - far and away its biggest vulnerability. Indeed, it can be a purple fringing monster in some cases when shooting very bright objects wide open. However, stopping down reduces this fairly significantly, and the lens is incredibly sharp from F5.6 down to F8/11. 6.3 is really the sweet spot.

Its central sharpness might be as good as any modern lens, particularly if you're willing to stop down a bit to F5.6 - 6.3. Indeed, overall sharpness (both at the wide and at the far telephoto end) compares quite favorably with premium 70-200 2.8 lenses from Canon, Sony, and Nikon, but of course, given that it is an F4 lens, it is significantly lighter (although not particularly light for a constant f4 3x zoom lens). Those premium 2.8 lenses will be somewhat sharper at F4 than this lens, but this lens is not embarrassed at f4.

Buy one, just make sure that the aperture return is snappy, and that you can send it back if proves a poor or damaged copy.

A mint one is a piece of photographic history, and a delight to shoot with. For $200 (still many mint copies available for that little money), it would be hard to find an overall better value in digital photography lenses anywhere.

A great lens for any Sony A body, FF or APS-C.



rating summary

lens image
  • total reviews: 389
  • sharpness: 4.49
  • color: 4.79
  • build: 4.84
  • distortion: 4.56
  • flare control: 3.98
  • overall: 4.53
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