Minolta MD W. Rokkor-X 24mm F/2.8 Ultra Wide Lens Review

Minolta MD W. Rokkor-X 24mm F/2.8 Ultra Wide Lens Review

1600 900 James Tocchio

I’ve spent the past few weeks with a legacy lens that offers a near-perfect blend of optical ability, build quality, and price. It’s Minolta’s MD W. Rokkor 24mm F/2.8, and it might just be the best value in legacy wides today. With prices hovering right around $200 and instances of perfect examples selling below $100 at auction, this lens is a truly exceptional value proposition. What’s even better than the price are the images it can make.

For those who may be totally new to the wide-angle conversation, check out this piece we published detailing why you need to be shooting wide. And for those who may not know what a wide-angle lens is, lets get you up to speed real quick.

A wide-angle lens is any lens with a focal length smaller than the long side of any given film plane or sensor. Since focal length is relative to the size of a camera’s film or sensor, what constitutes a wide-angle lens will vary according to camera type. But since many photo geeks and new shooters will recognize the 35mm format used by classic film cameras and newer digital cameras as a point of reference, we’ll use this format to illustrate.

Following our definition above and assuming we’re using a 35mm film or full-frame digital camera, which has an image area of 36 x 24mm, a wide-angle lens will be any lens that has a focal length of 36mm or less. Going wider still, an ultra wide-angle lens is any lens with a focal length that’s shorter than the short side of a film plane or sensor. Again assuming a 35mm or full-frame film or sensor, an ultra wide-angle lens is any lens with a focal length shorter than 24mm. The shorter the focal length in millimeters, the wider the lens will be, and the larger field of view one will be able to achieve.

Speaking specifically to our Rokkor, the 24mm focal length puts this lens on the line separating wides and ultra-wides, making it something of a “goldilocks” choice. It’s restrained enough that we get all the benefits of an ultra-wide without the caricature-ish hyperbole that ultra-wides sometimes bring. Again, a nice balance.

The 24mm F/2.8 came in a number of variations over the course of its production, but only one iteration is appreciably different from the rest. Still, that doesn’t stop people from nitpicking, so get ready for a handful of paragraphs that address those nits and the reasons they’re (foolishly) picked.

Original MC models and MD models are optically identical (9 elements in 7 groups) and practically identical in terms of construction. These models are easily identified by their 55mm diameter filter threads, and their build quality is phenomenal. Full metal construction (with plastic aperture rings), delectably tight focus action, mechanically precise aperture actuation, and excellent durability all combine to mark this lens as a truly noteworthy piece of engineering.

The later version is distinguished by its 49mm diameter filter threads, and is popularly regarded as slightly inferior to the earlier models in build. This isn’t really the case, and we won’t see any difference in image quality between the two lenses. If you prefer the more compact 49mm filter lenses, don’t let random forum posts dissuade you from seeking out the lens.

There’s also no meaningful difference between lenses bearing the “Rokkor” and “Rokkor-X” nomenclature, as some people say. This is just branding for different markets. Japanese companies of the ’60s and ’70s assumed that breaking into the American market demanded products have Xs and Zs in the name, so lenses destined for America received the extra letter embellishment while other lenses did not. That X doesn’t mean anything special.

I should also mention some other little foibles that excruciatingly fussy photo geeks typically bemoan regarding Minolta lenses. For one, the MC version lacks the dynamically-balanced aperture blades found in the MD version. This is important to know for people who want their aperture blades to be balanced dynamically, I suppose, even if no one actually knows why or how or to what end an aperture blade should dynamically be balanced. If you can’t stand non-dynamically-balanced blades (wretched things), search for the MD version and take comfort in knowing your blades are indeed balanced. Dynamically.

Another thing people complain about is the infamous “rotating filter thread,” which is a simple byproduct of the filter threads being built into the focus ring. As one turns the focus rings, so too turn the filter threads and any filters attached. This can be a massive problem for people who have never had anything remotely bad (or even slightly inconvenient) happen in their lives. But don’t worry- the rest of us normal people won’t even notice, or will quietly readjust our polarizing filters the required seventy degrees.

And now that we’ve talked a lot about a bunch of stuff that really matters very little, what’s it like to shoot this lens?

Minolta 24mm 2.8 (3 of 15)

As mentioned, this lens allows us to make images that simply can’t be made with any other focal length. Most notably the borderline ultra wide-angle lets us push away the background and emphasize space and distance. This is excellent in landscape and city-scape shots where we want to showcase the incredible vistas made by both nature and man. Modern architecture is rendered beautifully on account of this lens’ excellent optical formula, which almost completely mitigates distortion. Straight lines are actually straight, even at the extremes of the frame. While vertical objects tend to fall away (as with all tilt- and shift-less lenses), horizontal lines suffer none of the squiggly stuff.

This is mostly thanks to the lens’ floating elements, which in addition to across-the-range distortion control, provide incredible close-focusing ability. Capable of resolving as close as one foot, the 24/2.8 allows us to really exaggerate close-up subjects and emphasize a feeling of being up in the action. Obviously subjects this close will suffer the elongation that comes with a wide-angle lens being shot at the extreme of its focus distance, an effect that’s often used intentionally.

Sharpness is quite excellent in the center of the frame at any aperture, and very good in the corners wide open. Shooting at F/2.8 there’s some real softening at the very edges of the frame, but it’s not too bad considering we’re shooting such a wide lens. When we stop the lens down even one stop the sharpness becomes nearly uniform throughout, and once stopped down to F/5.6 and beyond, sharpness is pretty perfect.

There’s pretty moderate light fall-off when shooting wide open, but this too corrects rapidly and completely when we stop the lens down. Chromatic aberration (color-fringing) is only evident in areas of the frame that show the most extreme contrast. Flares and ghosts are handled well enough in real-world shooting, though these will present when you really subject that front element to some serious sunlight.

No one buys a wide-angle or ultra wide-angle lens for its bokeh, but when a wide lens can make smooth blur we count it as a bonus. When focusing very closely, this lens can do that. While it’s not the best bokeh around, it’s decent. We’re seeing some rough edges and a bit of unpleasant blending, but it’s not too bad. Highlight bokeh is pretty geometric on account of the lens’ six-bladed aperture.

The relatively fast maximum aperture of F/2.8 allows for adequate performance in low-light situations. Especially on a modern digital camera, and on account of the recent rapid advancement in ISO capability, it’s a lens that will do whatever you ask of it at any time of day or night. On film, we’re a bit more limited, but even here we’re seeing the benefits of modern film. Load some Portra 800 or high speed Ilford and there’s little to limit this lens’ versatility.

More important than sharpness, bokeh, or anything else really, the lens is simply fun to use. It has a balance of performance, size, weight, and quality that makes one happy to mount it to their camera and shoot it all day. And while this can be said about any ultra-wide lens, Minolta’s 24mm lets us see the world in a way that makes even the most mundane subjects interesting. When our vision passes through an ultra-wide lens, there’s no telling what kind of images we’ll be able to make. And when that ultra-wide lens is as exceptional as this one, things are even sweeter.

This is the kind of lens that will, more often than not, find its way onto your camera. Even if you’ve no intention of shooting a wide-angle lens you might find yourself suddenly wondering what the scene would look like at 24mm. And two hours later you’ll still be shooting the 24. It’s just that fun.

It’s also a lens that makes us rethink a lot of what we know about photography. Composing shots with this lens is a totally different experience compared with the more common street standard 50mm. Shots that we’d normally take without a second’s thought require us to reinterpret our vision, or select subjects we’d not normally choose, or shoot them in a way that’s just a bit foreign to us. This sort of exercise is invigorating in a way that many photographers need. Falling into a rut is dangerous to our craft, and shooting a focal length we’ve not yet tried is usually a good way to jolt us out of that rut.

Compatibility is nearly universal in today’s environment. Originally designed for use on Minolta’s 35mm film SLRs, users of those classic cameras will have no worries mounting the 24, and shooters using today’s countless mirror-less and DSLR machines needn’t fret either. A number of inexpensive adapters exist that allow effortless mounting of Minolta’s legacy glass to full-frame and crop-sensor cameras alike. Just choose a glass-less adapter for best image quality, and get shooting.

If you’re a classic Minolta film shooter, a digital-only mirror-less fan, this is a wide-angle lens that shouldn’t be missed. At current prices, it’s a steal, and even if the price were to rise over the next few years it’s still an excellent example of legacy value in the modern age. Superb image quality, impeccable build, and a low price compared to modern ultra-wides; what more could you ask for?

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Hi,

    I own the MC version of this lens and like it very much. I also read your review of the 28mm M-Rokkor which had piqued my interest. I own the 90mm and 40mm M’Rokkors recently which I use on my X-Pro1. They produce lovely results, but have got me thinking about whether to complete the set at the expense of the 24mm. Which of the 24mm and the M-Rokkor 28mm did you like the best (if you can say that)? I’m looking at a 28mm without the white dots by the way, I’m guessing that if it hasn’t developed them by now then its likely ok…

    • I think the 24mm is a bit more manageable on a new mirror-less camera due to its size. The M Rokkor is just a bit too small for comfort in my opinion. I also prefer focusing with a more traditional barrel as opposed to the M’s focus tab.

      Optically they will be produce similar image quality. But of course the 24 is wider.

      And yes if the 28 has not developed the spotting it is very unlikely that it ever will.

      Hope this helps.

  • Thanks for getting back to me 🙂

    Interesting what you day and I know what you mean re. the focusing tab, the tab itself doesn’t bother me too much but rather the short focus throw. Is great and not-so-great in equal measure. Brilliant for speed but is harder to nail the precise focus for optimum sharpness (which can occassionaly be beneficial in some cases, tack sharpness does not a great photo make!).

    I do like the rendering of the M-Rokkors, the colours definitely have a different balance to the MC Rokkors which I really like (the MC colours are also nice). I think it’s the collecting and/or lens obsession bug that has bitten me as I’m happy with my MC 24mm so I think I should resist! The 40mm (basically Leica Summicron) and 90mm (Leica Elmar) M-Rokkor’s are great if you ever get a chance to use them. I got the 90 in almost new condition for an absolute song and it’s wonderful to have such a compact tele-photo, the build quality is a joy to behold also and it’s back to barrel focusing so no more tab.

    • Happy to help. I have the full M Rokkor set and am in the middle of shooting both the 40 and 90 for an article. I hope you come back to check those out when they go live. 🙂

  • I will indeed. When the light is right for they produce some amazing pictures (especially the 40). As I said nailing perfect focus is a little tricky for me but a faster, bigger and better EVF could help that a lot, the one in the X-Pro1 is ok but not the best. The tiny size of the 40 on the x-pro with the thin adaptor really is nice compared to the big hunk of the MC Rokkor 50mm 1.4.

    Look forward to reading the article!

  • I love your take on the Minolta 24mm 2.8 and I can’t wait to read your other Minolta articles. (The helios one looks pretty cool too.) What a beauty and with whole mirror-less revolution all the pieces are back in place to leverage the best of both worlds. I feel that the 24mm is very expressive lens both in terms of color (“Minolta Colors”) and breadth/width. Check out Flickr’s ChanceHill (Doctor Live) in Minolta Colors for a great example of this “expressiveness” (look for a picture of an old ranching tough). It’s true that there’s surprisingly not a lot of distortion for being so wide as she somehow knows how to keep her “side mirrors tucked in.” The 24 can also have a great stiff focus and solid feel that makes a pleasure to use. The 28mm f2 is badass lens — I think a little bit ahead of it’s time — being even more “refined” than the 24 but still pretty wide — great on a APS-C. It’s hard to say which wide angle, the 24 or the 28, is the best but I would say the 28mm f2 — just for overall IQ and low light reach. The 28mm f2.8 is cheaper, though, and if available light is not an issue, then there is nothing wrong with 2.8 (just like the 50mm 1.7 vs the 50mm 1.4 — sometimes I would prefer the 1.7 if it’s really sunny out). If I need more coverage of the subject, then the 24mm is the secret weapon.

    A note about MD adapters: the FotodioX seems to work the best, snug and reasonable price; I also have a Metabones glass-less adapter which has slippery fingers and makes me too nervous about fumbling. The speedbooster version works a little better in terms of grip and seems to have the best glass. I haven’t tried the NovoFlex.

  • If I remember correctly this same lenses was produced for Leica R among several R lenses made by Minolta for Leica. For some elements, this lenses used unique optical glass produced by Minolta at their own optical glass factory. I owned this lens and used it in film days with set, XE, XD and X bodies. Wondetfull lens.

    • FACTUALLY UNSUPPORTED – Glass certainly has magical qualities that will effect rendering…. Glass Foundry’s search the globe for quality, Glass Foundry’s own facilities across the globe (AG SCHOTT) if a Japanese company discovered glass they prefered they could conceivably obtain it from a German company who obtained the resources from several points in this world. German craftsmanship regarding lens grinding carries over as if German’s are the shizz and all else are second or worse in everything lenses…First of all who actually created the design for this lens? Internally it was manufactured and assembled in Japan and some were sent to Germany to have the mount and outer case (they call frame) installed….of course labeling it Leica Elmarit-R. There was a collaboration and partnership then just like there is with Panasonic today. When you add a company like Leica or Zeiss the only constant I see with no facts necessary to support it is: consistent quality with the highest level of rendering possible. Did Leitz create the 9/7, was it jointly created, or did Minolta just have it and Leica bought it in a pinch? Funny thing is? No doubt in anyone’s mind I’ve ever known, that the related lenses from Minolta involved in the Leica R4 R3 era sure do render better and most of them focus a lot closer then previous Minolta glass…..for some reason?

  • Hey, what would be your opinion on the minolta md 24mm f2.8 VS canon fd 24mm f2.8 ssc on a fuji system?

    • James – Founder/Editor February 8, 2017 at 3:15 pm

      Very similar performance. If you have both adapters I would just choose the one that you can get for the least cash.

  • I just scored a 24mm f2.8, for the unbelievable price of $40.00 cad. It is pristine. I am sooooo happy! Have to get out to test drive my abilities with this lens (on A7). First impressions just blow me away with colour and sharpness. Prices for all older Minolta glass are rising very quickly in my nieghbourhood. (Toronto area). Thank You for all the information/knowledge you send out to all of us.

  • Thanks for this article, I actually got here because just yesterday I dot one, the same one you pictured here . I just will use int on a6k Sony line what will make it a 35 but still a 25 with my sped booster/focal reducer, so kind of 2 in one lens. Planning to do street photography in my next trip to Austria! 🙂 .

  • Hi, I have a Nikon D7200 and I´m looking for a 24mm. Does this lense works properly on this Nikon?

    • I’m guessing it wouldn’t because of the different mounts, though maybe you could use an adapter? However, a lens that definitely will work is the 24mm Nikkor f/2.8 AIS. I highly recommend this one. I got it to use on my FM2n and it’s become my favorite lens.

  • Oddly enough as I read this article I’m getting ready to sell my copy, not because I don’t like it but because I have way too many cameras. I own a fairly big system of Nikon cameras and lenses (including a 24mm), so I don’t really need my Minolta XD11 and its lenses.

    I totally agree with you about the 24mm focal length! It’s subjective, but for me it’s a sweet spot; wide enough to get a lot in the frame but not so wide as to be too distorted. I’m still mastering composing with a 24mm but in some circumstances (usually landscapes) I get shots that don’t obviously look like they were shot with a wide angle. The lens I currently use is a 24mm Nikkor f/2.8 AIS. It’s not as cheap as the Rokkor, but well worth it.

  • Thanks for the reminder! I got this lens about 11-12 years ago for $25. It’s an excellent+-mint copy, it still has the golden ‘Passed’ sticker on it today.

    I mistakenly bought a Minolta MD 50mm/f3.5 Macro – also an excellent+ to mint copy, clean as a whistle – off ebay for $65 in 2005. I didn’t realize at the time that it wouldn’t fit my new Konica-Minolta Maxxum %D A-mount lens. But since the fault was mine, I just kept it, not knowing what to do with it. Some months or a year or so later, I decided to make lemons out of lemonade, and found a fantastic copy of an XD-11 along with this pristine 24mm, as well as a 75-200mm/f4.5. If I remember right, the zoom was in the same used camera store as the 24mm for about the same price. Somewhere along the way I picked up the 50mm/f1.7. The camera, auto-winder and 4 lenses cost less than $250 total.

    I don’t use them as much as I should. This article just inspired me to get out of the house.

  • So now I’m all over eBay and Etsy looking for an MD W. Rokkor-X (becuase i like X’s) 24mm F2.8 lnes. Arrgh!!!

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio