Minolta MD 50mm f/3.5 Macro Lens Review

By Nathaniel Stephan
Last Updated: April 21, 2019
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Minolta MD 50mm-f/3.5 Macro Lens Review

Over more than 2 decades, Minolta made 7 versions of their 50mm macro lens for the SR mount. The Minolta MD was the last version made, starting production in 1981.

Lens Background

For this version the "Rokkor" branding, signifying high quality, was dropped. The lens doesn't perform as well as other vintage macro lenses priced around $50.

You can't go wrong for $20 or less. If you want a 50mm macro with a Minolta SR mount, find one of the Rokkor versions.

The lens feels surprisingly light and cheap. I get the impression that this lens was designed to cut costs.

My focus ring is also starting to get tight from the helicoid grease drying up. This is a common problem among vintage macro lenses I have used.

Stopped down to f/5.6, the corner aren't sharp. Other macro lenses I have used have been better at f/5.6, with the Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 being the standout lens. The sharpest aperture is f/8, but even then, other vintage lenses are sharper.

This is not a lens I would recommend buying unless it is cheap enough to sell on eBay for a profit. If you want a Minolta lens, buy an earlier Rokkor version.

Lens Specifications

ManufactureMinolta
Made inJapan
Year Released1981
Original Price$???.??
Serial Number Range635xxxx-818xxxx
Elements Groups6 ele. 4 gr.
Focal Length50mm
Aperturef/3.5-22
# Aperture Blades6
Aperture ControlManual, Auto & Meter Coupled
Focus TypeManual, Double Helicoid
Hard Infinity StopYes
Magnification1:2, 1:1 w/ extension tube
Minimum Focus Distance23cm (9”) / 20cm (8”)
Working Distance10.2cm (4"), 5.1cm (2")
Filter Threads55mm
Weight200g, 305g w/ extension tube
Dimensions⌀64 x 55.5mm (2-1/2" x 2-3/16")

Accessories

Life-Size Adapter Extension Tube

Minolta Life-Size Adapter for 1:1 Magnification

The most notable accessory is the Life-Size adapter. This was the name given to a 25mm extension tube.

The name only appears in the owner's manual. Engraving on the extension tube reads "for MD MACRO 50mm 1:35 MINOLTA JAPAN" in white and "1:2 -- 1:1" in blue.

There is no MD lug on the Life-Size adapter. A MC lug provide a link from the lens to the camera. The tube also has a diaphragm-control pin that keeps the auto aperture functionality.

The lens alone can only do 1:2 magnification. 25mm of extension is required to reach 1:1 magnification. If you want to use this lens adapted to a mirrorless camera you can use a extension tube for your system before the adapter.

Extension Tube Set II

The owner's manual has a list of accessories for the Minolta system that includes the Extension Tube Set II and MC Auto Extension Tubes.

These two sets contain tubes that are 14mm, 21mm, and 28mm in length.

Any of those alone or in combination will increase the magnification of the lens. The scale on the barrel won't be useful, but there are better ways to calculate the magnification.

Lens Versions

  1. Macro Rokkor-QF (1961)
  2. MC Macro Rokkor-QF (1967)
  3. MC Macro Rokkor-X QF (1973)
  4. MC Macro Minolta Celtic (1974)
  5. MC Macro Rokkor-X (1976)
  6. MD Macro Rokkor-X (1977)
  7. MD Macro (1981)

Sources

I was able to purchase a lens with the original owner's manual. Unfortunately, the manual is copyrighted so I cannot provide a scanned version.

Minolta SR Lens Index

RED Bailey’s Minolta Collection

Build Quality, Design, and Sample Variation

Rokkor lenses have a better build quality. There is almost no weight at the front of the lens. The front aluminum extension is thin. I almost thought it was plastic. My concern is the lens is light because of cost cutting.

There is a magnification scale on the barrel of the lens. The scale begins to show as the front extension is increased. It is a glued on piece of plastic made to look like the lens was engraved.

The front of the focus ring has an exposure compensation scale. White text shows the magnification/compensation of the lens only. Blue shows the values when the lens is used with the Life-Size adapter.

The focus ring on my copy is slightly harder to turn than I was expecting. My guess is that the grease in the helicoid is beginning to dry up.

This is a common problem with many vintage lenses. The lens does not appear to have been mistreated and remains in excellent cosmetic condition.

Side of the Macro Lens showing Aperture Ring, Focus Ring, and Focus Distance Scale.

Testing setup

On camera testing was done with a Sony A7 and Fotasy MD to E-mount adapter. For more detail there is a page with my complete Sony A7 Adapted Lens Settings.

Magnification higher than 1:1 was done on a Nikon PB-4 bellows with Nikon D750. The lens was reversed with a Nikon BR-2A reversing ring and 52mm to 55mm step-up ring.

RAW files were exported from darktable with the default sharpen and base curve applied.

Usage & Working Distance

At 1:1 there is about 2 inches of working distance from the front of the lens to the subject. I prefer 90mm-105mm macro lenses for taking pictures at 1:1.

Standard focal length macro lenses are great for close up work. Things like reproduction, product, and table top photography.

The short working distance makes it possible to take vertical shots without needing a ladder.

For items on a table top, the camera can be positioned within arms reach of the subject. The macro ability can be taken advantage of without having to change lenses.

Lens Extended to 1:2 showing the Magnification Scale

Test Shot Sharpness Comparison

  • f/3.5 I would not consider the image sharp. The center isn't terrible, but the falloff towards the corners is bad. I would never plan to use this aperture.
  • f/5.6 shows a improvement in center sharpness. The corners still bad. Almost every other macro lens I've tested has better corner sharpness at f/5.6.
  • f/8 provides another set up in terms of sharpness. The edges of the image look good with the exception of the edges of the corners. This is likely the sharpest aperture.
  • f/11 Diffraction starts to set in and I don't see any improvement in the corners. I might use this aperture for the increased depth of field.
  • f/16 and f/22 fall into the apertures I would never plan to use.
Sample Image Corner Crop at f/3.5
100% Corner Crop at f/3.5.
Test Image Corner Crop at f/8.
100% Corner Crop at f/8.

1:1 Magnification

Life Size 1:1 Magnification Center Crop Sample
100% Crop of 1:1 Magnification at f/8.

Other Test Shots

The lens is well corrected. I did notice any significant amounts of field curvature. The lens has a flat field of view.

None of the test shots produced any chromatic aberration. All those things are what should be expected from a macro lens.

Bokeh, vignetting, and glare I did not bother to test. The disappointing sharpness put me off from further testing of the lens.

Reversed Magnification

Despite trying different amounts of extension and apertures, all the images were soft. There was several inches of working distance.

The 4x Amscope objective produces sharper images at a cost of $18. There are better options available. I have no intentions of ever reverse mounting this lens.

Reversed Lens Crop
Lens Reversed, 100% Crop

Used prices on eBay

Prices were checked on October 15, 2018. With some patience, copies of the lens can be found on eBay for as low as $40.

At that price there maybe some cosmetic issues or missing caps. If you don't have replacement caps, they are easily found for a couple bucks.

Lenses in the $80 range are in excellent condition with the Life-Size adapter and lens caps.

The price of the lens on eBay will depend on what's available. Check the current prices on eBay.

Sometimes lenses can be found on Amazon. You'll have to check Amazon to see if any are available.

They are going to be sold by third party sellers and not Amazon. Make sure the sellers are correctly listing the lens they are selling before purchasing.

Comparable Lenses

Conclusion

Checking my Competive Camera Corp catalogue from 1985, the MD version of the macro lens was not listed for sale. Instead an older Rokkor-X version was available.

I'm not surprised because I expect Rokkor versions to perform better. I would not recommend seeking out the MD or Celtic versions of the lens.

Do you just want a lens to use on a mirrorless camera? Save money by shopping around. There are piles of macro lenses out there.

The Olympus OM 50mm f/3.5, 55mm Micro Nikkors, and the many rebrandings of the Komine 55mm f/2.8 are all good macro lenses to look for. For around $50, you'll be happier with any of those lenses than the Minolta MD.

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