Review: Minolta AF APO Tele 200mm 1:2.8

dsc09815The Minolta AF 2.8/200 has the reputation to be one of the best if not the best lens Minolta ever made. In this review I check if it still can keep up with the Sony a7II 30 years after it’s introduction.

Sample Images

Just click on any image to get to the full resolution version.

minolta_af_200mmf2p8_a7-20

minolta_af_200mmf2p8_a7-7

minolta_af_200mmf2p8_a7

 Specifications

    • Diameter: 86 mm
    • Length: 134  mm
    • Weight: 790 g
    • Filter Diameter: 72 mm
    • Number of Aperture Blades: 9
    • Elements/Groups: 8/7
    • Close Focusing Distance / reproduction ration: 1.5 m / 1:6.2
    • Mount: Minolta/Sony A

This lens was kindly borrowed to us from our reader David.

The Minolta AF 2.8/200 usually sells for around $550 used at ebay.com (affiliate link). 
In Germany you can buy it used for around 700 at ebay.de (affiliate link). 

Versions

There were three, optically identical, versions of this lens.

  1. The first version you see in my images, released in 1986.
  2. The second HS version which offered faster AF and a focus stop button, released in 1988. This version has “High Speed AF APO 200mm” written on the lens shade.
  3. For some time the first version could be updated with the faster gears of the second version, AF speed of updated lenses will be the same as with the second version but it lacks the AF-stop button.

minolta_af_200mmf2p8_apo-7

Build Quality and mechanical design

The Minolta AF 2.8/200 is a very cleverly designed lens. It feels very solid because it has an all-metal housing and everything fit’s tightly.

The focusing ring is turned by the camera if you use AF, to focus manuall you need to switch the camera to manual focus and I would recommend to dedicate a button to the AF/MF switch.

 

It also has a variable focus limiter and you can limit the AF to either 1.5m to any distance you like or from any distance you choose to infinity. I have never before seen such a design but after you have figured out how it works it works well.

Size, Weight and Handling

For a 200mm lens the Minolta actually isn’t very large but still it is a big lens and you should support it with your left hand.

This is an AF lens and because of that the focusing ring turns only about 120 degrees from 1.5 m to infinity, it has very little resistance and a small amount of play but it is quite grippy. With some practice I managed to get consistent results focusing the lens manually but it wasn’t a very pleasant experience.

An interesting feature of the Minolta AF 2.8/200 is that you can slide a small tube over the AF ring so you don’t accidentally get you fingers in it.

The Minolta uses an IF-design so it doesn’t extend when focused closer.

minolta_af_200mmf2p8_apo-6

You control the aperture trough the camera and the aperture is only closed the moment you hit the shutter which causes a small delay if you stop the Minolta down. On the second generation of Alphas the image stabilizer is automatically set to 200mm which saves you some time compared to manual lenses.

Auto Focus

The Minolta AF 200mm 1:2.8 APO employs a screw drive AF system, so in order to get AF on the Sony a7 series you need to use an LA-EA4 adapter.

AF with the LA-EA4 is very fast (and a bit noisy). My results were not very consistent though. Sometimes it worked very precisely and other times focus was off by quite a bit. I didn’t investigate this too far and just used manual focusing.

Lens Hood

The Minolta AF 200mm 1:2.8 has a very handy, integrated lens hood which is solid, effective and not annoying to handle.

Filters

The 72 mm filter thread is made from metal.

The front of the lens does not rotate so polarizers are easy to use.

Image Quality

Vignetting

At f/2.8  vignetting is moderate at about 1.3 stops, and barely noticeable (below 0.5 stops) from f/4.

vignetting

Flare Resistance

The flare resistance is good but not flawless. Usually you are fine but it won’t stand up to direct sunlight.

minolta_af_200mmf2p8_a7-15

Distortion

Only the slightest amount.

minolta_af_200mmf2p8_a7-30

Chromatic Aberrations

Lateral CA is correction is good but not perfect.

laca
100% crop from the corner

Axial CA is well corrected for a 200mm lens but the correction isn’t perfect.

minolta_af_200mmf2p8_a7-22

loca
100% crop | Sony a7II

Because of the APO name I would have expected a bit more but it is still a good performance for a 2.8/200. Have a look at Bastian’s 200mm comparison to see how a truly apochromatic lens performs.

Bokeh

I found the Minolta’s bokeh to always be very smoothminolta_af_200mmf2p8_a7-13

minolta_af_200mmf2p8_a7-12

minolta_af_200mmf2p8_a7-24

Since the Minolta has straight aperture blades out-of-focus highlights are a bit edgy stopped down.

minolta_af_200mmf2p8_a7

Sunstars

Not a strength of the Minolta.

minolta_af_200mmf2p8_a7-23

Sharpness

minolta_af_200mmf2p8_apo

The full aperture series can be found in my flickr Zeiss Makro-Planar 2/100 album.

My testing conditions weren’t ideal because of the heat but the results are consistent with Bastian’s comparison and Photodo’s MTF curve none the less.

f/2.8: Very sharp across the frame, corners are nearly as sharp as the center.

f/4: Excellent in the center, corners improve a little.

f/5.6, f/8: Excellent across the frame

f/11: A little less sharp due to diffraction.

The Minolta AF 200mm f/2.8 turns in a remarkable performance here.

Applications

The Minolta lends itself to a wide range of applications.

I used it quite a bit for landscape photography. If you nail focus results are great but focusing can be a challenge and I had quite a few images with less than ideal focus which I would have nailed with a good manual lens.

minolta_af_200mmf2p8_a7-21

For portraits you can isolate a person’s upper body completely from the background or even isolate the whole person from it’s surroundings. Because the bokeh is great and it’s sharp across the frame you aren’t limited in your composition but you should allow some time for the focusing.

minolta_af_200mm_f2p8_apo

At least on the Sony a7 series I wouldn’d recommend this lens for sport photography because the LA-EA4’s focus points are all very central and when I tried to track a somewhat distant flying gull it failed me most of the time. I really hope that Sony will release a LA-EA 6 adapter with the much better AF module from the a77II/ a99II which would turn the Minolta 2.8/200 into an even more versatile lens.

minolta_af_200mmf2p8_a7-5
Didn’t manage to catch that one in the air

I think the Minolta can work very well in a kit with a 24mm, 50mm and 100mm lens and I would choose it over a 4/70-200 most of the time.

Alternatives

Canon EF 2.8/200 L USM: I think performance wise the Minolta is a bit better but the Canon will offer quieter and smoother AF and a more pleasant manual focus experience because of it’s USM drive.

Mamiya 2.8/200 APO: Being a medium format lens the Mamiya is quite a lot heavier and it has a minimum focusing distance of 2.5m but I suspect that it’s CA correction is superior.

Nikon Ai-S 180mm 1:2.8 ED: The Nikon is much more affordable and a pleasant to handle MF lens and it’s performance in the center is similar but it can’t keep up in the corners and has a longer short focusing distance.

Conclusion

pros

  • Excellent sharpness
  • Very pleasant bokeh
  • Build quality
average

  • Price
  • Size and Weight
cons

  • Unpleasant manual focusing
  • Unrealiable AF (with the LA-EA 4)

Optically the Minolta’s performance is stunning, even by today‘s standards. It is very sharp from f/2.8 even in the corners and only gains a little as you stop down. Bokeh is very smooth. CA are corrected well but certainly not perfectly.

Of course there is a catch, the Minolta AF 2.8/200 APO it is the focusing experience. AF with the LA-EA4 is fast but not very reliable and manual focus suffers from the short focus throw and very little resistance as well as the play of the focusing ring. I could work around it most of the time but not always.

Apart from the focusing handling is great, the lens is built to very high standards and cleverly engineered, I wished all tele lenses had such clever lens hood. It isn’t small but well balanced and it still fits in most camera bags easily.

The Minolta is no bargain but not expensive either, especially if you consider the wide range of applications.

All in all, I enjoyed using the Minolta AF 200mm 1:2.8 APO a lot and the great optics made me forget about the focusing issues (most of the time).

The Minolta AF 2.8/200 usually sells for around $550 used at ebay.com (affiliate link). 
In Germany you can buy it used for around 700 at ebay.de (affiliate link). 

If this review was helpful to you, please consider using one of my affiliate links. Thanks 🙂

Minolta AF 2.8/200 Sample Images

All images are processed in Lightroom from Raw. Many more full resolution samples in my flickr Minolta AF 2.8/200 APO album.

 minolta_af_200mmf2p8_a7-9

 minolta_af_200mmf2p8_a7-11

minolta_af_200mmf2p8_a7-19

minolta_af_200mmf2p8_a7-4

minolta_af_200mmf2p8_a7-2 

Other Articles

The following two tabs change content below.
I like to be outside with my camera and I am also a gear head with a love for manual lenses.

24 thoughts on “Review: Minolta AF APO Tele 200mm 1:2.8”

  1. I just got this lens in my hands to try it out when I thought, lets check if you guys tested this lens already. And there it is! Thanks!

  2. Nice review.
    But any idea about coma ?
    And a lot of people are talking about the f3.5 because it’s good performance for astrophotography.
    Is this just for it’s lack of any coma or for something more ?
    Friendly greetings

    1. Alan: If the AF issue was consistent then yes. I find that it helps a little but the LA-EA4 completely bombs or just slightly misses contrasty targets anyway quite often. I doubt it’s this copy of the lens or adapter: http://www.exposedmoment.com/2014/05/battle-of-200mm-on-a7-minolta-apo-high.html

      Another problem is as Phillip mentions that the AF points are clumped in the middle as the AF module is the SLT A55’s or something akin to it.

      Still, when it hits (or you manually focus it and hit) the results can be stellar, as this talented reviewer has shown. It’s good to have a couple of own experiences and doubts verified so cheers for this review.

      Also, if someone is on the fence about sending a lens to these gentlemen for testing I’ll say that no lenses or adapters were harmed in the production of this review : )

      1. I can confirm this – bought the lens a while back for portraits with LA-EA4, but AF on the eye was quite random and could not be improved by microadjustment.
        Had to send it back, quite a shame as everything else was perfect.

  3. Thanks for the review. I’ve had the Minolta 200 on my a900 since 2009 and your shots confirm the performance of mine.

    I do find the resolution to be good, but do find the contrast, in typical Minolta style to be not outstanding, especially compared to the 135za.

  4. Great article as usual! I wanted to ask you about the weight of the lense. I have realised those objectives are very heavy and by using a tripod I am afraid the ring of the a7 might suffer of the leverage effect…..any comment on that?thanks!

  5. I’ve heard and read about this model but bought a Minolta 80-200/2.8 APO HS today which was a stable mate of this prime. Like this 200, I am looking forward to a pleasant experience with it.

  6. Hi, I have been folowing your site for quite some time , I enjoy it a lot.

    I have a A7 ,the sony adapter( 4) and i have a minolta beercan 70-210 and a minolta 400mm f5.6, with the sony a6000 they worked fine but with the A7 they work but when my finger is not on the shutter button they keep on trying to find focus.(?). Can you explain me why this happens( if you know of course) and how to solve it. Thank you and keep on the good work!

  7. HI,

    I read your very interesting report on the 200 APO. Too bad you did not process the 2.8 Macro which I will use for the slides ….
    I was a fan of Minolta … formerly with the X700 and a MD Rokkor F 50 2.0, it was with this device that I took the slides. I tried the MD 50 2.0 on the Sony Alfa with an MD ring > NEX and extension tubes. It works but everything is manual …. So I buy second hand AF 50 2.8 Macro for 90 euros in Japan.

    I suppose this is a good and very sharp one

  8. to use this lens on manual with an A7s will i still need an adapter ?any problems using this for astro work ?

  9. With the Minolta “White G´s” – 200mm and 80-200 HS and etc., you have an example where the performance with with my A77II and A99/A99II is absolute superior to the A6000/A7 with series with LA-EA4, when it comes to AF/accuracy – close to every single shot is razor sharp!
    On my A6000, i have the same experience as you, AF/sharp-wise!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *