The Minolta MC Macro Rokkor QF 50mm F/3.5 is a truly versatile lens. It provides one of the easiest and most affordable ways to get into macro photography because it allows the user to shoot both easy macro photos and everyday standard photos with just one lens.
It’s made to work with Minolta’s old film cameras, which use the brands SR mount (commonly known as MC/MD mount), but it can just as easily be adapted to modern mirrorless digitals, such as Sony’s A series, Fuji’s X series, Canon’s EOS mirrorless cameras, and Nikon’s Z series via simple and inexpensive adapters.
All of those positives noted, there are some negatives. Image quality isn’t perfect at all apertures and in all situations. And it’s an old lens, so that means manual focus only. But after spending a few months using the lens, I think its assets outweigh its liabilities.
What is Minolta’s MC Macro Rokkor 50mm
People who know of Minolta’s Rokkor lenses expect nothing but the best in terms of construction and materials, and this lens doesn’t disappoint. It’s solid, dense, and impressive. The aperture ring is knurled aluminum and contrasts beautifully with the black, alloy lens barrel to which it’s mounted, while the machined focus ring boasts complex chamfers, knurls, and scallops that are all both ornamental and functionally relevant.
Actuating these rings shows just how deep the quality runs, as both are pure bliss to use. The aperture ring clicks into its detents with mechanical precision and the focus ring spins with a weighted fluidity that’s virtually perfect. This lens, like most of the MC Rokkors, is a shooter’s lens from a bygone era of affordable, quality craftsmanship.
The lens offers a six-bladed automatic iris with barrel-mounted stop down lever, apertures from f/3.5 to f/22, six lens elements in four groups, and single-coating for decent optical fidelity. It should be mentioned that the coating on this lens isn’t the best in the world, and flares and ghosts are common when shot in challenging light. In addition, direct sunlight shots will greatly lower contrast across the frame. That said, the lens’ front element sits so deeply within the recess of the lens that I really have to try to make these aberrations happen.
The lens is fairly compact, especially for a macro lens. Weighing only 330g, it’s not much heavier than many comparable 50mm standard lenses, and when retracted to infinity focus it’s not much longer than those other lenses either.
But hold on. I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I should probably clarify something. I’ve been calling this lens a macro lens, and it is, but there’s a caveat.
When originally sold back in the days of yore, this lens was accompanied by a 1:1 adapter. This adapter fit between the lens and the body of the camera and enabled the lens to reach life-size ratios of 1:1. Without fitment of this adapter the lens can still function perfectly, though it will only reach a reproduction ratio of 1:2, or 1/2 life size. That’s still pretty close, but it’s not true macro.
The take-away here is that if you’re hunting for your own Minolta MC Macro Rokkor QF 50mm F/3.5, it’s best to look for a version that comes with the original adapter. By finding a version that comes with the original adapter you’ll be ensuring that you’ll be able to reach maximum magnification while still retaining the ability to remove the adapter and have a portable, compact macro that’s still capable of getting very close.
If you’re not totally obsessed with macro photography and feel that this lens alone will get you close enough without the adapter, by all means purchase one as a standalone unit. I just want to be as clear as possible so you know what you’re in for. For reference, all of the sample shots taken here were taken without the adapter.
It should also be mentioned that there’s a 4:1 adapter that mounts the lens backwards to the camera body.
Out in the field the lens performs beautifully with just a few small issues, the worst of which is the heavy vignetting seen when shot wide open. It’s fairly pronounced, and while this can be mostly solved in post-processing with digital photography, it warrants mentioning. The lens stops down from f/3.5 to 5.6 in a single increment and the correction of light fall-off is almost instantaneous. By f/8 corners are as bright as they’re ever going to get.
Sharpness wide open is also a weak point, though I’m being finicky, since the center of the frame is pretty crisp, with sponginess being found only at the corners of the frame. Similar to the behavior of the lens regarding wide-open vignetting, stop it down just a single stop and things are almost completely resolved. At f/8 images are at their maximum sharpness with resolution staying incredible until it falls off somewhere around f/16. For almost everyone, this lens will certainly be sharp enough.
Using the lens as a standard 50mm yields a capable yet flawed experience. With its maximum aperture of f/3.5, low-light performance and bokeh will naturally be a little lackluster. When shooting close subjects wide open it’s possible to get some reasonably attractive blended areas in the frame, and bokeh highlights look about as good as any I’ve seen from a lens of this speed. There’s nothing wrong with it, but no one should buy this lens with the expectation of making glorious bokeh-balls. For that you’ll need a truly fast prime.
But even with the lackluster low-light performance, somewhat impotent subject isolation, and less-than stunning bokeh, this lens performs pretty well as a standard lens. If you’re not obsessed with bokeh or need a super-fast aperture for night-time street photography, this thing will do the job. While the extremely long focus throw of 320 degrees may make missing your shot a sadly common occurrence in pressure situations, for slow, casual shooting as a standard 50mm, it will mostly work.
Take it out for a stroll in the park. Shoot some trees, shoot some rocks, shoot some other things that don’t move very fast, and just enjoy the lens. The added bonus being that when you see an earwig you can take a disgustingly close-up shot of its wretched pincers. That’s a bonus.
Using the lens for video work is a pleasure due to its exceedingly buttery focus ring. The precision and feel of the focus is just masterful, with accurate, pin-point focus effortlessly achieved. Shot wide open we get beautifully blended backgrounds, and stopped down to f/8 we’re treated to the versatility provided by the lens’ reasonable depth-of-field capabilities.
Where the Minolta Macro Rokkor QF 50mm f/3.5 truly shines is in its practical approach to macro photography. The relatively short focal length allows greater depth-of-field compared with some of the more specialized lenses, such as Minolta’s other macro, the 100mm f/3.5. This means that it’s easier to get more of the subject in focus, which is pretty important when shooting such minuscule subjects.
The previously mentioned ability to use the lens as a standard 50mm adds to its overall practicality. Add to this functional prudence the fact that this lens usually costs under $50 and it’s clear to see this is one of the best lenses for anyone looking for a versatile prime, especially the interested macro shooter.
Whether you’re shooting an old Minolta film camera or a modern mirrorless camera, this macro lens is a nearly unbeatable mix of performance and value. Its build quality is excellent, its performance is strong, and it costs next to nothing.
It’s a great choice for anyone interested in macro photography, high quality products, and working within a budget. With the available 1:1 adapter and 4:1 adapter, it’s also a dedicated macro lens that can expand with the user’s experience and needs.
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