Minolta 135mm f/2 MD
The rare 135mm f/2 MD dwarfs the XD-s upon which it is mounted. Anyone who says Minolta didn't make glass for professionals will be silenced when they see this magnificent lens..

In October 1981 Minolta released the magnificent 135mm f/2 MD lens. While the company had previously manufactured numerous different designs in the f/3.5 and f/2.8 apertures, this was the first f/2 version manufactured, and it was certainly a step apart from its predecessors. With a massive 72mm filter thread the lens looks like someone has taken a 200mm f/2.8 and squashed it down! At 725g it is actually even heavier than the 200mm f/2.8 (700g) and the 300mm f/4.5 (705g). That is a LOT of glass.

Looking through the viewfinder on this lens is an amazing experience. The compression achieved from the 135mm focal length is considerably greater than the 85mm, and the f/2 aperture results in incredible seperation from the background. This is without a doubt Minolta's premier choice for head and shoulder portraiture.

The lens has the added bonus of a close minimum focus distance of 1.3 metres, shortest of all the Minolta 135mm lenses, enabling use of the lens in close quarters. While it does not get to macro range, it makes it very workable in the studio. The focus throw on the lens is extremely long, almost like a macro lens, which can result in slow transition from close focus to infinity, however the f/2 aperture and the long throw result in incredible focus accuracy.

Given the 135mm f/2 MD was introduced only late in the Minolta manual focus era, and was an expensive lens, there are not many available today. The price in 1982 from B&H Photo (a major New York photography store and discounter) was US$276, almost three times the price of the f/2.8 version at US$102. With inflation, this price equates to approximately US$510 in today's money. I suppose that makes the 135mm f/2 a bargain at it's normal ebay sale price of between US$350-$400 for an example in good condition!

Well perhaps it isn't a bargain, but let's have a look and see what you get for your money when you invest in a 135mm f/2 MD. The following tests were conducted with Fuji Astia 100F slide film. Astia is a very fine grained film (RMS Granularity 7) and can resolve up to 140 lpmm at contrast of 1000:1 to 60 lpmm at contrast of 1.6:1. Slides have been scanned at 5400 dpi with no ICE or GEM applied. The individual scans have had levels adjustment and moderate unsharp masking applied to the full-size scans (200, 0.3, 0).

It is noted that each of these crops measures approximately 0.9mm on the original negative, which on an 8 x 10 inch enlargement would equate to approximately a third of an inch square (approximately 7mm square).

The full size image from which the crops were taken. Cropped areas are indicated by the red squares, and each represents approximately 0.9mm square on the final negative.
Performance at f/2

Performance at f/2 is surprisingly good for a fast telephoto wide open, with some falloff in resolution at the corner of the frame. Sharpness is affected slightly by slightly lower contrast than at other apertures, and there is noticable falloff at the sides and corners of the image, albeit not so much as to affect the useability of the lens wide open.

In summary, the lens performs very well wide open, and is fully usable at this aperture for general photography and portraiture.

Performance at f/2.8

At f/2.8 contrast has improved markedly, together with resolution across the entire image. Additionally, the falloff evident at f/2 appears to be completely gone. Corner performance still falls somewhat behind that recorded at the centre and side of the image, but overall the result is very impressive.

Performance at f/4
Performance at f/4 shows further improvement in resolution at both the centre and at the extremes of the frame. Contrast appears marginally better than at f/2.8. Some evidence of chromatic aberration is apparent, but minimal.
Performance at f/5.6
Performance at f/5.6 shows a jump in corner resolution, taking performance to very good across the entire frame. This is a very impressive result for a lens designed as a fast telephoto, with all the sacrifices that designers normally have to make to achieve that speed.
Performance at f/8
Performance at f/8 shows outstanding resolution, albeit still with minor chromatic aberration.

Based upon the results above we can see that the 135mm f/2 provides excellent performance at all apertures. Minor falloff and lower contrast evident wide open is virtually eliminated when stopped down one stop, and resolution at the centre and sides of the frame is excellent by f/2.8, with the corners achieving similar performance by f/5.6.

However, resolution is only one aspect of performance, let's see how the 135mm f/2 stacks up in other areas. For that analysis, click on the link below to page two of this review.

To page two of this review
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