Unboxing a Legend

I received my “new” lens on Saturday. I was looking at many lenses to replace the 70-300G Lens I sold a couple weeks ago. I liked the 70-300G in terms of IQ. It was solid wide open and at the extreme ends. It was really fast to acquire. And I didn’t use it enough to justify what I didn’t like. I didn’t like how it extended. I didn’t like the filter size (62mm) or the aperture range (f/4.5-5.6) and it just didn’t feel like it belonged in my bag. For the short time I had the lens it made magic, though and I have no regrets. The lens was no crook.

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SLT-A99V, 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 SSM G @ 300mm, f/7.1, ISO 200, 1/640s
original cropped to 1090×1635 (I cut out a bunch of the shot).

I’ve expressed before, I prefer primes. Before Saturday I had 2 main lenses. My bread and butter 85mm f/1.4 ZA and my newer, faster, wider 24mm f/2 ZA SSM I am still getting used to but have appreciated when I need it. I have one other lens I don’t break out often, especially since the sun is out less in the winter, a Sigma 600mm f/8 mirror lens. I use the mirror lens almost exclusively for shooting the moon. I plan on using the mirror lens more in 2013 as the days get longer.

While the two main Zeiss primes cover 85-90% of my applications, I did miss some of the length provided by the 70-300G. Of the 3191 Full Frame (A900/A99) shots I took with the 70-300G, 1158 were at 300mm. More than a third. The next three most utilized focal lengths were 210mm, 200mm and 180mm. Of the 1558 A77 APS-C shots, 438 were at 300mm, 247 were at 70mm and the next closest was 180mm with 99. So 450mm, 105mm, and 270mm at 35mm equivalent. Digging further, a vast majority of the 300mm length shots were at sporting or sport-like events (my son’s soccer, my daughter’s ballet, 2 NASCAR Races, 1 NFL game), the rest were poor-man’s macro, or close up shots of plants and animals in my yard or my Aunt’s yard in Arizona. The shot below is an example of poor-man’s macro.

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SLT-A77V, 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 SSM G @ 300mm f/5.6, ISO 400, 1/40s

While I was looking at a number of lenses, I had settled my mind on one of two. The Sony or Minolta 135mm f/2.8 [T4.5] STF manual focus lens or the Minolta 200mm f/2.8 High Speed APO G lens. Both have 72mm filter sizes matching my Zeiss primes. One is a specialty lens, unique to the A-mount; the 135 STF. One is a lens which has stood tall in the test of time, with the regular speed 200mm f/2.8 being introduced in 1986 and the high speed version being released in 1988.

I looked into the Lightroom files for 135mm and 200mm respectively and looked at what I was shooting at those lengths on with my 70-300G as well as taking other factors into consideration. 135mm would be very close to what my bread and butter used to be on the A77 with my 85mm lens. The 35mm equivalent of 127.5mm. So with fractionally longer length than a length I am used to, the 135mm made sense. And the high-ISO capability of the A99 would keep the higher T-number at bay while focus peaking would make the manual focus tolerable. Below is a shot taken at 135mm with the 70-300G. It needs a bit of post-processing but the length was good for candid portraits from about 15 feet.

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SLT-A99V, 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 SSM G @ 135mm, f/8, ISO 400, 1/320s

I try to imagine shots like the one above at f/2.8 but with T-shop at 6.7, basically nothing visible in the background. It sounds pretty cool to me.

200mm is quite a bit longer than 85mm but shorter than the max of 300mm. 200mm would be better for sporting events, OK for portraits, and the automatic focus would be a bonus as well. I had a good mix of portraits and sports at 200mm including the shot below.

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SLT-A99V, 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 SSM G @ 200mm, f/5.6, ISO 3200, 1/500s

I liked this shot as it shows the dancer’s athleticism without sacrificing his body lines. I try to imagine flexibility to go down to f/2.8, especially with the depth of field shallowing a bit, yet being wide enough at a distance to capture what I want to. And I imagine I could have dropped the ISO down to 1600 or even 800. Luckily the A99 does 3200 just fine!

The Verdict

I went with the Minolta 200mm f/2.8 High Speed APO G lens. I could not find a used 135 STF in the time I was looking, however I went after a good copy of the 200mm lens.

My first impression when receiving the lens was I was amazed at how small it was compared to the pictures online. You see a white lens and you’re thinking it is huge. The 200mm is not huge, its barrel is actually quite skinny. The first shot below has my 85mm f/1.4 on the left, fully extended and the 200mm f/2.8 on the right with the built-in hood collapsed. There is less than 2 inches difference between the two.

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Notice the barrel thickness is much smaller on the 200mm than the outer barrel of the 85mm, but about the same diameter as the inner barrel of the 85mm lens.

The next shot has the 85mm closed with the hood on next to the 200mm with the hood extended. Only about an inch and a half difference. Less if the rubber hood protector weren’t missing from the 85mm and if the 85mm were extended.

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The final telling part is this comparison, the giant hunks of glass on the front element. I would say they are nearly the same, with the 200mm lens having a slight edge. Regardless, they both have identical 72mm filter sizes, which makes me very happy.

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I am a victim of the weather, work and other circumstances preventing me from using the lens until this evening, however I think lens back-focuses just a hair, which I can fix.

Here are a couple of shots I took in troubleshooting.

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/3.2, 1/30s, ISO 400

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SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G @ f/2.8, 1/100s, ISO 400

I like what I see so far, and I need to get used to the lens and figure out what it can and can’t do. The biggest thing that blows my mind, however, is the bottom of the bayonet says © Minolta 1989. The lens is 23 years old and it works like it was made yesterday!!

So far, I can tell it will focus sharp once I get the Micro Adjustment fixed as the shots I used focus peaking to frame were sharp, even wide open. It also seems to reproduce color well. The lens is about as loud as the 85mm lens, but seems to acquire faster. We’ll see as I will put it to the test tonight into tomorrow.

I plan on posting a review soon. Hopefully I can fulfill those plans.

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6 comments on “Unboxing a Legend

  1. cbsva says:

    Happy new year and congratulations! A very good decision! Several years ago this lens was rated as one of the ten best lenses ever made.

    I have the first edition (not high speed AF) of this lens, I would change it only for the high speed variant, but I don’t know, if there is so much difference between them.
    This lens can give you astonishing results, even when you “misuse” it as a macro lens with distance rings. You may have a look into my account at a german nature photography page: http://www.natur-portrait.de/profil-259-cbsva.html As you can see there, I am always experimenting. The red poppy was made with this lens at a distance of about 2 feet using two distance rings (36 and 12mm)…”poor man’s macro”…;-)

    Cheers,
    Christian

  2. Hi! Here you can see a photo taken with Minolta 200mm + 1,4x Teleconverter.
    http://s3city.com/2012/12/10/of-the-russian-federation/

  3. […] 135 STF. Remember when I said I wanted a 135 STF but I opted to get the 200mm f/2.8 APO lens instead?  I got a 135 STF. It is worth every penny I paid, even at the heavily discounted price I paid […]

  4. […] f/4.5-5.6), the “Baby Beercan” (35-70 f/4), and the “Secret Handshake” (28-135 f/4-4.5). Anyway, I was surprised about how small the 200mm f/2.8 High Speed APO G was. The lens arrived yesterday and I pulled it out of the […]

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