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

reviewer#44486 date: Mar-27-2020
sharpness: 4.5
color: 5
build: 5
distortion: 5
flare control: 4
overall: 4.7
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:Sony - 85 F2.8 SAM
Minolta - AF 100 F2.8 Macro D
Minolta - AF 50 F1.4
Sigma - 90 f2.8 macro
Sigma - 70 f2.8 EX DG Macro
price paid:270 GBP
positive:f1.4
negative:Prone to dreadful CA wide open
comment:I just had to get this legendary lens, how could I not? Yet I am strangely disappointed.

The first point to make is that from f2.8 and smaller there is not obvious reason to buy the Minolta ahead of the Sony f2.8 SAM apart from the more solid build quality, the Sony is as sharp, focuses as well or better, uses 55mm filters and is less than half the price.

So the real reason to buy this lens is the f1.4 to f2.8 performance, which is more than a little frustrating. Wafer thin DOF is what it's about, which really means manual focus, even on my A99ii I cannot rely on AF to highlight just what I want rather than a few millimetres in front of or behind the subject (this lens has made me appreciate the wonders of the A99ii's DMF focusing mode).

Then you get the RAW image into the computer and the real weakness of the lens becomes apparent - chromatic aberrations, purple and green. It is not unusual to find it too much to handle. Of course, it is only a major issue in high contrast areas, which are not so common in portraits (this is, after all, THE portrait lens).

There is a lot to like about this lens, but is it up to the hype? I'm not so sure.

Shaprness: it's just not as sharp as the very best, perhaps worthy of a 5, but ...
Colour: Minolta, what more is there to say.
Build: Solid 1985 lens, focus ring could be wider, but its much better on this larger lens than the smaller 20/24/28/35/50s.
Distortion: What distortion?
Flare control: Its a 1985 lens with 1985 coatings, good for its time, but not comparable to a well made modern lens. I almost dropped the mark to 3 because of the CA issues.

Comparisons: I don't have a zoom that comes near in performance and only one other f1.4 lens, so comparisons are limited.
Sony 85mm f2.8 SAM - see above, a better deal if you can accept f2.8
Minolta 50mm f1.4 - an easier lens to use, but not quite the same wafer thin DOF, nevertheless a viable alternative, especially for portraits on APS. Obviously it's best to have both!
Sigma 70mm f2.8 macro - an overrated lens, built for a different purpose.
Sigma 90mm f2.8 - built like an early Minolta - such as the 85mm, it's viable lower cost alternative if you can accept the limitations of f2.8 and you get fine macro performance thrown in.
Minolta 100mm f2.8 D macro - a very fine lens indeed, if I were reducing my lens collection I would part with both 85s before the 100. Would I miss the 1.4's DOF? A bit, but the 100 macro has very narrow DOF at f2.8, is sharper, has the macro and takes very fine portraits.

All in all, I am ambivalent about this lens, but it does find its way on the the camera a lot. I also find myself scanning ebay for the D version, perhaps the CA is better controlled (wishful thinking I suspect), and the DOF preview button would be nice ...

rating summary

lens image
  • total reviews: 56
  • sharpness: 4.76
  • color: 4.80
  • build: 4.88
  • distortion: 4.96
  • flare control: 4.43
  • overall: 4.77
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