The Minolta MD Zoom 35-70 mm f/3.5 Macro is the faster alternative to the low-budget 35-70 mm f/3.5-4.8 kit zoom. There are three revisions of the f/3.5 and this copy belongs to the last one, which is the only version featuring a dedicated macro mode (reproduction ratio 1:4). While the first version features different optics, the second is said to have the same design as this lens.
The MD Zoom 35-70 mm is about the weight of an MC Rokkor-PG 50 f/1.4. The focus is very smooth and offers little resistance. The zoom moves very easily, too and does not feel premium. Handling on a NEX-5T is good and the zoom ring is a little easier to operate than on SR mount cameras, as the adapter to E mount gives more room to position your hand. Opposed to the first version of the f/3.5, this copy does not have a rubberized zoom grip, though. The 53 – 107 mm equivalent focal length comes in very handy in a number of situations.
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
Mechanics: Very good. Uniform and super smooth focus with little resistance. Swift zoom, aperture clean and fast.
Exterior: Very good. Minimal scratches in the finishing and on the mount, otherwise perfect.
Optical performance on NEX-5N / 5T
Notice: When shooting the test charts of this lens, I was hoping to pretty much copy the review from it’s older brother, the MD zoom 35-70 mm f/3.5 (non-macro) and be done with it. As it turns out, the two lenses seem to be identical in construction, but the performance of my two copies is not quite the same. While distortion and vignetting are indistinguishable, sharpness and CAs differ slightly: The non-macro copy is a tad sharper and shows more pronounced (but still small) CAs. Since the lenses should have identical optics, I tend to attribute these differences to the human factor and the 30 years of use and abuse they have seen.
35 mm (-> jump to test charts)
Sharpness at 35 mm is acceptable wide open. Stopping down to f/5.6 raises sharpness to good levels with consistent performance across the entire image. f/8 brings the sharpness score close to very good. At f/11, diffraction becomes visible. It is more pronounced at f/16 and considerably softens the image at f/22.
Tiny red and cyan CAs are visible at all apertures, which do not change in size when stopping down. An excellent performance, especially for a zoom.
At 35 mm, vignetting is hardly visible at f/3.5 and gone by f/5.6. The lens also shows a strong barrel distortion of -2.4% at 35 mm. The effective T-stop at f/3.5 is T3.7 (-0.2 EV) for all focal lengths, which is very good for a zoom.
50 mm (-> jump to test charts)
Sharpness at 50 mm f/3.5 is acceptable with minimal haze but consistent performance across the image. The haze is gone by f/5.6 and overall sharpness increases to good. Stopping down to f/8 raises sharpness minimally close to very good. Diffraction becomes visible at f/11, pronounced at f/16 and considerably softens the image at f/22.
CAs are invisible at 50 mm, except when zooming in to 200%. Certainly an excellent performance very close to modern apochromatic lenses.
At 50 mm, vignetting is about 1/3 of a stop at f/3.5 and gone by f/5.6. Further, the lens shows no visible distortion at all.
70 mm (-> jump to test charts)
At 70 mm f/3.5, sharpness is acceptable and a slight haze is visible. The latter clears by f/5.6 with overall sharpness rising close to good levels with consistent performance across the frame. Stopping down to f/8 gives a little more sharpness (-> good) and f/11 already shows a bit of diffraction. Softness starts to be noticeable at f/16 and f/22 is blurry as always.
The lens is practically free of CAs from f/3.5 to f/max. This is mind-blowing for a vintage piece of glass.
At 70 mm, vignetting is about 1/3 a stop at f/3.5 and disappears by f/5.6. Further, the lens shows a very small pincushion distortion of 0.3%.
Compared to the first version of this lens, the MD-II Zoom Rokkor 35-70 mm f/3.5, the third iteration performs slightly better in terms of corner sharpness at 35 mm with all other characteristics being identical. My copy of the third version, is actually a little less sharp than my copy of the second, although, as noted above, they should be identical in construction. But all three lenses are very close and show an excellent performance in pretty much every aspect. Resolution wise they outperform Sony’s SELP1650 kit lens at 35 mm and 50 mm. These Minoltas do have brilliant optics.
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.