Minolta AF 85mm F1.4 G D A-mount lens review by ColiNiloK

reviewer#11729 date: Mar-17-2014
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 MP24MP24 MP36MP36 MP42MP42 MP
ownership:I own this lens
compared to:-Canon EF 85mm f1.2 L II USM
-Fujinon XF 56mm f1.2 R
-Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 MSC
-Pentax DA* 55mm f1.4 SDM
-Sigma 85mm f1.4 EX DG HSM
-Sony Carl Zeiss Plannar T* 85mm f1.4 ZA
price paid:1100 AUD (New)
positive:-Colours and rendering, classic Minolta
-Excellent build quality
-Reasonably fast and accurate AF
-Smaller and lighter than other full frame 85mm f1.4/1.2 lens in the class
-Excellent bokeh rendering
-Lens ergonomics
negative:-No weather and dust sealing
-Extends when AF
-No SSM means AF can be noisy and can be slower
-CA wide open until f2.8 in high contrast areas
-AF Can hunt and not as accurate and not as fast in dim indoor
-No AF-D support on A99
comment:The Minolta 85mm f1.4 G D lens is the last of the Minolta 85s until the arrival of the CZ 85 in the A mount, optically it should be the same as the earlier Minolta 85s but with newer coating and ADI flash support and new cosmetic design.

After many month of hunting, I have obtained a rare new copy of this lens with reasonable price and there are few reasons that I have decided to go for this lens rather than the CZ 85:

-Optically speaking, the Zeiss is slightly better in turns of sharpness, the difference is very small, say if the Zeiss scores 100/100 for sharpness the Minolta is 95/100 and this is from wide open to f4, as I rarely shoot 85mm lens at or below f4. Thus unless you pixel peep hard you won’t notice much if any difference

-Rendering wise, the Zeiss gives you much more micro contrast, it is cooler and gives a more cinematic feeling. The Minolta however is warmer, softer, and gentler when it comes to portraits, which is what the 85mm lens is used for. IMHO the Minolta is much better at giving a personal and flattering feeling than the Zeiss, while the Zeiss gives a more ‘documentary’ style. Both lenses have vivid colours, but the Minolta’s rendering is somewhat more classic while Zeiss more modern.

- Build and Ergonomics wise, the Zeiss is better with full metal construction, however the Minolta still have excellent build, both are not sealed for dust and water, and no SSM, thus not really much a difference for me here.

Overall, you are paying more for the Zeiss because if it’s name and better build, as a 85mm lens I find I like the rendering of the Minolta better.

Comparing to other brand’s full frame 85mm lens or 85mm equivalent lens, a plus for many A mount lenses are the focus hold button to lock AF while using AF-C and Hook-pinch style lens cap which other brands don’t offer( especially the focus hold button). Optically The Minolta is pretty much on par with the Canon 85 f1.2 L II lens wide open and until f2.8, the Sigma 85 is defiantly sharper wide open than both, however the Sigma’s colours and character just can’t compare to the both the Canon and Minolta. All 3 full frame 85s have CA wide open until f2.8 especially at wide open. The Minolta and Canon again are on par for bokeh, just at the Canon at f1.2 has slightly narrower DOF. Colours wise I found the Minolta has more interesting character than the Canon. The Canon renders skin tone with more red and Minolta slightly more orange, both renders skin tone with fair and beautiful tonality and gives excellent transition, but I found the Minolta gives better background colours.

Compared to crop 85mm equivalent lens, as much as it is seemingly comparing apples to oranges, however, it is interesting to observe the difference in turns of optical and rendering characters. Pentax’s 55mm f1.4 is the successor their legendary FA* 85mm f1.4 (Regarded as one of the most interesting portrait lens together with the Minolta 85 G D lens in all Japanese 85mm lenses during that time, the other 85 in those days are Nikon 85mm f1.4 D, Canon’s 85 f1.2 mk 1), thus does also have very interesting character, excellent bokeh and skin tone rendition, however, I found the Pentax is a little too soft at f1.4 and sometimes the colours can be too strong and leads to overall tonality of portraits a little funny, which requires more post work. Olympus’s 45mm Micro 4/3 lens is very sharp and gives very high micro contrast, it is more of a general purpose portrait lens, I found it is a technically good nice little near 85mm equivalent lens, just not as interesting in turns rendering and gives funny purple flares in strong backlit conditions.

The cons of the Minolta 85 is that since it isn’t newest lens, it’s anti-flaring ability isn’t the best and it is not sealed and extends when AF and the strong CA from wide open aperture. Being a super fast lens the strong CA is common and not very hard to remove in post. the AF can struggle in low light conditons as well in turns of speed and accuracy compared to newer lenses.

In general, this is a lens of true interesting characters and beautiful (some thinks it is Magical) rendering for portraits and many regarded this lens as one of the best 85mm around. It defiantly is, artistically speaking but it doesn’t take optical crowns, but that rarely is what photography is really about anyway.

Update: (April 2015):
Had a chance to play with the Fuji 56mm f1.2 R lens with XE2, one of the best 85mm equivalent lens I have used I must say, very sharp wide open, almost no CA, good vivid colours contrast and bokeh. Comparing to the Minolta 85mm f1.4 G D lens, this lens certainly has advantage in CA control, flare and Modern focusing system that doesn't extend the lens. It is a close call, but I still prefer the Minolta's more vintage and personal colours and drawing style, partly the Fuji is an APSC lens, but I have to say that Minolta understood colour and rendering better than almost anyone. The Fuji is actually very good in the colour department, it's natural yet vivid and contrasty, it is no doubt a truly excellent lens. It's bokeh and colours are better than the Olympus 45, and a fine match for the Pentax 55 in drawing style, but it is much sharper with less CA than the Pentax 55 wide open and I think I like it's skin tones better than the Pentax. The Fuji 56 wide open is about the same or maybe even sharper than the Canon 85mm f1.2 L and the Minolta 85 G D without as much CA. However the drawing is still a little shy of the Minolta and the Canon, especially if you after the shallow DOF those Fullframe sensor offers. Also because the Fuji only have 7 aperture blade, the bokeh balls on the Canon and Minolta are better, especially stopping down. I have to keep on emphasising one thing, optical perfection rarely equal to perfection in real world result. This is not a Fuji forum, but I'm very impressed, and I can see why so many people go for Fuji- their equivalent lenses are smaller, lighter, cheaper and also have excellent IQ compare to Fullframe DSLR counterparts, and for the Mirrorless land, Fuji has the consistency of make one of the best Mirrorless lenses. However, as for this head to head, the Minolta still wins, because ultimately the Fuji is not artistically better.

rating summary

lens image
  • total reviews: 42
  • sharpness: 4.89
  • color: 5.00
  • build: 4.86
  • distortion: 5.00
  • flare control: 4.62
  • overall: 4.87
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