Minolta AF 85mm F1.4 A-mount lens review by ithinkso

reviewer#11970 date: Sep-2-2014
sharpness: 5
color: 5
build: 5
distortion: 5
flare control: 4
overall: 4.8
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
Minolta 100mm f2.8 macro
Vivitar (Cosina) 100mm f3.5 macro
price paid:£600GBP
Good balance on all camera bodies I've tried it on.
Colour rendition.
High image quality.
negative:Outrageous chromatic aberration and colour fringing in high contrast or harsh bright light situations.
Not easy to focus!
comment:This is exactly the kind of lens I have long wanted to have access to and use. All the talk of Bokeh and that 3D effect. I considered the Samyang, Sigma and even the Sony SAM. Forget about the Zeiss, I can't justify the spend.

In the end I went for this classic Minolta, having been aware of it's reputation since it's release in the late '80's. I am a Minolta fan after all. It's only taken me 30 years to catch up. Now the Sony 16-50mm f2.8 is retailing for £470GBP in the UK the 85mm f1.4 is officially the most expensive lens in my collection.

There was a review recently in Amateur Photographer magazine of the new panasonic 52.5 f1.2 Nocticron. Equivalent on that format to 85mm on a full frame (or 35mm) body. "Only a dull photographer would buy this lens to use it at f8" the reviewer says. Clearly the manufacturer does not agree with this assessment, as surely it would save a great deal on manufacturing and design cost to leave out the iris altogether and dispense with the unnecessary and "dull" apertures below the headline figure in order to concentrate on the wide open performance. It appears that a great deal of thought and effort was made on ensuring the Nocticron's performance at f8. It already has a reputation for razor like sharpness. It occurs to me that if you are going to fork out the necessary cash you will be expecting to get value for money and the versatility that a range of apertures allow with any lens. I expect my lenses to justify their cost by working for a living.

Having said that I think the reviewer has a point. Why pay a huge premium for what maybe less than half a stop of speed and not use it (witness the difference in price you'll expect to pay for the Minolta 50mm f1.7 and the f1.4)? I certainly had every intention to use the Minolta 85mm at f1.4. Having said that, I've noticed that in program mode, the camera will generally set the aperture at f2 or f2.8 on the A77, Dynax 7 and 7000i. Did Minolta intend for this lens to be used at f1.4?

I've had this lens for quite a while now but have delayed doing a review here. Quite simply it has taken me a long time to get to grips with the lens, which has shown up limitations in my technique. Also I wanted time to get a few roles of film exposed through it.

On APS-c. A77:

Oh the frustration! Face recognition AF is just not good enough at anything wider than f3.5, despite giving it a + 1 on the micro focus adjustment (which has helped). I could probably benefit from a more thorough testing with a proper test chart to get it spot on. On the positive side, the more moderate apertures cut out most of the problems with CA etc and give lovely, sharp but rather conventional if flattering results and the focal length still isolates the subject from it's background.

As other reviewers have mentioned, DOF at f1.4 is wafer thin. Auto focus on the A77 tends to focus on the tip of the nose and this means both eyes are out of focus completely. Again the micro adjustment has helped. I'm not surprised to hear the A77mk2 is introducing "eye recognition" AF. I certainly hope that works! For me it has meant dozens of wasted shots. The best solution is to have the AF selector set to auto and MF release option. AF gets you in the ball park and then you can make a quick MF adjustment. Still, at f1.4,1.7 and even f2, I'll often get one eye razor sharp and the other is completely out! Focus peaking on the A77 helps here, but often will not peak around the eye - more frustration!

In very bright light and high contrast situations the chromatic aberration and purple fringing can be diabolical! What I've noticed is, this is often because the shot, on closer inspection is fractionally out of focus. Careful focusing often mitigates the worst of the CA/fringing problems.

An aperture of f1.7 or f2 does make life a whole lot easier and still retains most of the short DOF characteristic I'm looking for. When I do get the focusing right the out of focus areas can be beautiful. One of the first few successful test shots I got had my very untidy dining room table in the background with all sorts of clutter on it. In the shot it looks like an oil painting by Vermeer or something!

On Full Frame Analogue (Thats 35mm film to those of us over 30). Dynax 7:

Nearly all my favourite shots taken with this lens were those I've taken on film. The full frame format gives you that 3D effect that you hear people talk about. This lens really is at home in this format. If only I still had my Kodak Carousel. Get a role of Agfa "Poundland" film ( for £1 of course), take some shots of your loved ones through the 85mm f1.4 & get it processed cheap. The 4x6 prints are little works of art. Just lovely. It still took a bit of practise to get the focussing right, but I tend to take my time and concentrate more when I'm using film.

On Full Frame Digital. A850:

I've had the A850 about a week. The 85 was the first lens I tried out on it.

Alleluia! What can I say? The focus system on the A850 must be better than the A77, either that or APS-c format just amplifies the short DOF problem. The results when viewed full screen on my apple cinema display literally took my breath away.

Summing up.

I won't for a minute suggest that an APS-c user should not bother with one of these (If you can get the damn thing in focus at least most of the time you obviously have better technique than I do!), but clearly the crop format is cutting out much of what gives this type of lens its special character. If you can't get a full frame digital, get a full frame analogue!

rating summary

lens image
  • total reviews: 57
  • sharpness: 4.75
  • color: 4.79
  • build: 4.88
  • distortion: 4.95
  • flare control: 4.42
  • overall: 4.76
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