Review: Minolta MD 50 mm f/2 (MD-III)


The MD 50 mm f/2 with 49 mm filter thread is the slowest non-macro standard prime produced by Minolta. The lens is less common than it’s slightly faster f/1.7 counterpart which served as a kit lens in the Minolta SR system for many decades. It’s also one of the most inexpensive SR lenses you can buy. But in this case, the price doesn’t tell you much about its qualities.

The lens is compact and pleasantly light, focus is very smooth and handling on a NEX-5T is excellent. Although it is constructed of many more plastic parts than preceding Minolta designs, tolerances are tight and the build quality is high. Due to great contrast wide open, focus peaking works perfectly at any aperture as long as light is sufficient. The latter cannot be said for many of the faster standard primes. The effective focal length of 76 mm on APS-C cameras renders the MD f/2 a nice “fire and forget” short tele prime for every day use.

For further details on the lens like weight and dimensions, have a look at its entry in the Minolta SR mount lens database.

 

Condition of my copy

Optics: Good. No scratches, minimal dust and a slight haze behind the first or second element from the front.

Mechanics: Excellent. Uniform and very smooth focus, aperture clean and fast.

Exterior: Excellent. Some marks on the mount, otherwise like new.

 

Optical performance on NEX-5N / 5T

Notice: There was a slight asymmetry in the test shots with the left side being slightly softer and showing astigmatism (horizontal lines are rendered sharper than vertical ones) and haze not present in the right half of the images. It is therefore likely that other copies of this lens show a better corner performance than the test shots suggest.

The lens shows good sharpness already open at f/2 with slight softness, minimal haze and some astigmatism in the corners (see notice above). Central sharpness increases to very good levels at f/2.8, but the corners stay softer. Stopping down to f/4 further increases sharpness to excellent levels in the center and good to very good in the corners. The latter improve once more when going to f/5.6, where the center stays unchanged (excellent). At f/8, the overall sharpness is reduced a tiny bit, either due to diffraction or from slight misfocusing. Diffraction becomes more evident at f/11, increases softness at f/16 and blurs the image at f/22.

There is hardly any evidence of lateral chromatic aberrations even at 200% magnification. An outstanding performance for an achromatic lens.

Vignetting is about 3/4 of a stop at f/2, very low at f/2.8 and disappears by f/4. The lens also exhibits a practically irrelevant pincushion distortion of less than 0.2%. The effective T-stop at f/2 is approximately T2.3 (-0.4 EV), which is not impressive.

Compared to the similarly priced MD 50 mm f/1.7, the 50 mm f/2 is a surprisingly potent opponent. It is visibly sharper in the center up to f/4, shows even less CAs and only slightly stronger vignetting. Corner performance is roughly equal in both lenses, as far as I can tell from the copies I have tested. The faster MD 50 mm f/1.4 is obviously ahead of the f/2 in terms of speed, but not in many other aspects: It shows minimally lower central sharpness up to f/5.6, small but visible CAs and more haze in the outer image region at large apertures. The f/1.4 demonstrates better corner performance, though, which might be due to weaker field curvature. Overall, the MD-III 50 mm f/2 is a refreshingly unproblematic, compact, light and sharp lens which can be had for the price of two Big Macs. You really can’t go wrong with this one!

 

Test charts

The following images are pixel-level crops from the test chart. They may appear scaled in your browser window. Click on them to view the crops in full size and cycle through them easily. For more info on the test setup, visit the details page.

 

Overview

Test chart overview

(Cropped areas marked in orange)

 

f/2.0

MD 50 mm f/2 @ f/2.0

 

f/2.8

MD 50 mm f/2 @ f/2.8

 

f/4.0

MD 50 mm f/2 @ f/4.0

 

f/5.6

MD 50 mm f/2 @ f/5.6

 

f/8.0

MD 50 mm f/2 @ f/8.0

 

f/11

MD 50 mm f/2 @ f/11

 

f/16

MD 50 mm f/2 @ f/16

 

f/22

MD 50 mm f/2 @ f/22

 


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5 thoughts on “Review: Minolta MD 50 mm f/2 (MD-III)

  • Reggie MacDonald Jr.

    I find this lens intriguing because the official collaboration between Leitz and Minolta started in April 1973 (http://forum.mflenses.com/the-leica-minolta-collaboration-t77452.html) and the first version, MC-X was released, followed by the MI in 1977, and this version the MDIII in 1981 (http://minolta.eazypix.de/lenses/) All 3 dates match key points in the history of the collaboration… The beginning, the following of the R3 which included Leica rebranding Minolta lenses, and finally in 81 when Leica turned to Minolta again to catch up

    Fact is Minolta revered Leica and their philosophy, held them as the gold standard and their challenge to succeed. Interesting that this little cared about lens comes when it did, maintaining the same formula – Summicron 1964/77

    If it is a clone created by Minolta, part of the collaboration, a direct trade of technology, does it matter? Minolta made every attempt to provide consistently pleasing lens results, color and contrast reliability. Whether or not who had a hand where is irrelevant, the intention here was clear by Minolta in what they intended. The MDIII is one of the last testaments to the venture before each went their own way.

    Call it a clone, call it anything, but use one and if your sample is good … you’ll keep it because the results will make you

    • Benjamin Post author

      Hi Reggie,

      yes, the collaboration of Leica and Minolta in the 70s brought us some interesting lenses. For example, Leica sold the Minolta 35-70 mm f/3.5 as Leica Vario Elmar R (1983). They also baught some more Minolta designs and I think Minolta sold at least one long Leica tele under their own brand.

      In case of the MD-III 50 mm f/2 and the 50 mm Summicron R, there’s some discussions on the net. Both are Planar designs and the 1964 Summicron R and MD-III Minolta share the same basic formula (6/5, the 1977 Summicron R seems to be 6/4). The lens cross-sections look similar at first glance, but the Summicron has a different element spacing than the Minolta. My gut feeling is, that this 50 mm f/2 is a genuine Minolta. It just seems odd to me that Minolta would buy a 15+ year old Leica design for such a “common” lens as a 50 mm. But I may be wrong, off course.

      Regards,
      Benjamin

      • AndrewZ

        I have both lenses and can safely say that the 50mm F2 is not a clone of the Leica summicron-r. The rear element is smaller on the Minolta and the Leica is sharper wide open with that Leica glow. The Minolta is still very nice though.

  • Christer Brandt

    “The MD 50 mm f/2 with 49 mm filter thread is the slowest non-macro standard prime produced by Minolta.”

    I think that the 35 mm f4 is “slower” 😉

    I have this lens and looking forward to testing int on my XE-5.

    Regard Christer

    • Benjamin Post author

      Hi Christer,

      yes, the 35 mm is slower. However, I don’t consider 35 mm to be a “standard lens” (or normal lens). For full format sensors / film cameras, focal lengths from 40 to 55 mm are usually considered to produce a “normal” FOV. There’s of course many slower prime lenses in the Minolta line-up, especially ultra-wides and teles (17 mm f/4, 200 mm f/5.6, 300 mm f/5.6, etc.).

      Regards,
      Benjamin