Review: Minolta MD 85 mm f/2 (MD-III)


The MD 85 mm f/2 without “Rokkor” designation was Minolta’s last manual focus 85 mm. As the successor of a line of MC 85 mm f/1.7 lenses, the MD is significantly lighter and more compact. Although the optical scheme with 6 lenses in 5 groups is similar to the predecessors, the optics are not the same. The MD is also said to be one of the sharpest lenses Minolta ever produced.

The lens is quite compact and quite light at 286 g. Focus is smooth but not buttery and overall handling on a NEX-5T is excellent. Although there are some plastic parts like the aperture ring, the overall build quality is high. Focus peaking works fine at f/2 as long as light is sufficient and excellent from f/2.8 onward. The effective focal length of 130 mm on APS-C cameras renders the MD a nice and compact tele prime for every day use.

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

 

Condition of my copy

Optics: Very good. No haze, no scratches and only a small amount of fine dust inside.

Mechanics: Very good. Uniform and smooth focus with low to medium resistance, aperture clean and fast.

Exterior: Acceptable to good. Some scratches and nicks in the finish, slight wear on the external of the aperture ring.

 

Optical performance on NEX-5N / 5T

At f/2, the lens shows acceptable sharpness with some haze, minor purple fringing and pretty decent contrast. The performance is consistent across the whole frame. Sharpness increases to good / close to very good when stopping down to f/2.8 and the haze is nearly gone. At f/4, haze and fringing are gone and the image is pretty much spotless with very good sharpness across the frame. The shots at f/5.6 and f/8 are a tiny bit crisper than f/4 and show close to excellent sharpness. Diffraction becomes evident at f/11 and causes more and more softness at f/16 and f/22.

A minimal red and cyan glow is visible in the corners at f/2 and f/2.8. Starting at f/4, the aberrations sharpen up and form absolutely tiny red/cyan CAs, which are barely visible in the test images. This is an outstanding performance for an achromatic lens.

Vignetting is about half a stop at f/2 and gone by f/2.8. The lens exhibits no measurable distortion whatsoever. The effective T-stop at f/2 is approximately T2.4 (-0.5 EV), which is not impressive. Field curvature is not detectable.

In conclusion, the MD-III 85 mm f/2 is an excellent performer in nearly all areas. Extremely little lateral CA, no distortion, good contrast and for all practical purposes, there probably won’t be any visible difference in sharpness between f/4 and f/11. Is it the highest resolving lens Minolta ever produced? Well, my copy certainly isn’t – the fact that the lens doesn’t show signs of diffraction until f/11 makes this quite clear. And I doubt another copy would be significantly better. But thanks to good overall and great micro-contrast, the MD-III 85 mm still renders a very, very sharp image. Judging the perceived sharpness, it is up there with the best Minoltas of the manual focus era and certainly surpasses the MD Varisoft Rokkor 85 mm f/2.8. Its single true weakness, however, cannot be seen in the test charts: The lens shows quite prominent purple fringing in high-contrast areas and backlit situations at f/2, f/2.8 and even stopped down to f/4.

Overall, this is a short tele I can recommend. But when using the lens, you should have an eye out for fringing and it probably won’t hurt to stop down to f/4 if sharpness is absolutely critical.

 

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-III 85 mm f/2.0 @ f/2.0

 

f/2.8

MD-III 85 mm f/2.0 @ f/2.8

 

f/4.0

MD-III 85 mm f/2.0 @ f/4.0

 

f/5.6

MD-III 85 mm f/2.0 @ f/5.6

 

f/8.0

MD-III 85 mm f/2.0 @ f/8.0

 

f/11

MD-III 85 mm f/2.0 @ f/11

 

f/16

MD-III 85 mm f/2.0 @ f/16

 

f/22

MD-III 85 mm f/2.0 @ f/22

 

Field curvature at f/2.0

Field curvature: MD-III 85 mm f/2.0 @ f/2.0

 

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