Test: $20 Minolta MC 1.7/55 vs $1000 Zeiss 1.8/55

55erIn this comparison I want to compare two very different lenses.

The Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 55mm 1:1.7 was introduced in 1968 and it was always an affordable lens. Today it usually sells for around $20 at ebay.com (affiliate link).
I like it because it has very nice bokeh, the nice focusing feel and the small size. I is not one of my sharpest manual lenses, the Canon FD 1.4/50 for example is noticeably sharper but it has very nice character, not far away from the much heavier and more expensive Minolta MC 1.2/58.

The Sony FE 1.8/55 ZA was introduced 45 years later in 2013 and it costs around $1000 or 50 times as much as the Minolta. It has received very positive reviews and is considered to be one of the best normal lenses available today.

The question I try to answer with this test is: How different are the results I can expect from the lenses? I will look at smaller images optimized for the web but also at 100% crops to judge print quality.

All images are developed from raw and I used a tripod unless I mention otherwise. Please click on them to see them in full size (1500px wide).

Scene 1: Bokeh and Sharpness in the center wide open

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The same settings applied to the image taken with the Minolta 1.7/55

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Obviously the Minolta has less contrast. So I increased contrast in Lightroom to match the result of the FE55:

DSC09270-2

 

Viewing the images at 100% it is obvious that the Zeiss has more micro contrast:

schaerfe

 

But with some additional post processing the difference becomes much smaller because the Minolta can resolve the fine detail and contrast can be added in post. This comes at the expanse of some additional noise:

schaerfe_gfeschaerftt

So what can we take away from this first scene?
The Zeiss has smoother bokeh but it also shows some onion rings because it has aspheric elements.
With some processing smaller prints and images for the web will be very sharp with both lenses. But even bigger prints will only be a little sharper with the Zeiss.

Scene two: Off center sharpness wide open

FE 1.8/55 | f/1.8
FE 1.8/55 | f/1.8

We already know that the Minolta is less contrasty so I won’t show the image, but what about off center sharpness?

schaerfe

 

ouch! The Zeiss is a lot sharper than the Minolta and unlike in the center of the image I can do nothing to change that because resolution isn’t there.

Scene three: Light transmission, vignetting and comaMinolta 1.7/55 | f/1.7

Minolta 1.7/55 | f/1.7

FE 1.8/55 | f/1.8
FE 1.8/55 | f/1.8

The Minolta transmits more light and vignettes a bit less that the Zeiss.

sterne_zentrumSharpness in the center is better with the Zeiss but not by that much.sterne_komaThe Minolta has quite obvious coma, the Zeiss very little.

Scene 4: LoCA

For this test I matched the output, different processing

DSC09281
Minolta MC 1.7/55 | f/1.7
DSC09280
FE 1.8/55 | f/1.8

This one surprised my a bit, the Minolta is better corrected here. I also saw this with the FE 2/28 which had more LoCA than my old Minolta and Zeiss lenses.

Scene 5a: Flare Resistance

DSC09319
Minolta MC 1.7/55 | f/1.7
DSC09318
Sony FE 1.8/55 | f/1.8

Not unexpected but the Zeiss performs great while the Minolta loses a lot of contrast and shows a big flare. But keep in mind that this is a worst case scenario. You can get nice results with the Minolta, even when shooting into the sun.

Here is another scene:

DSC09513
Minolta MC 1.7/55 | f/2.8 | handheld
DSC09512
Sony FE 1.8/55 | f/2.8 | handheld

 

While the Zeiss shows remarkably little flare I like the Minolta image better, the human eye isn’t free from such defects either and the Minolta image feels more natural to me.

Scene 6: Sharpness at f/8

DSC09307
Sony FE 1.8/55 | f/8
DSC09313
Minolta MC 1.7/55 | f/8

I find it very hard to see any difference at all between the two images, colors are a little different (nicer on the Minolta if you ask me).

f8_2bIn the center I see no difference in sharpness at 100%.

f8_2But also in the corners both lenses are very sharp with no relevant difference.

Handling

As you can see in the image the Minolta is a bit smaller but not by much if you include the Novoflex adapter and weight is not that different as well. So both lenses are well balanced on the a7.

The Minolta has an aperture ring which makes stooping down from f/1.7 to f/8 a bit easier than on the Zeiss were this takes a lot of scrolling.

In my opinion manual focusing works much better with the Minolta, it has a very smooth focusing ring which is a joy to use. The FE55 in contrast is focused by wire so the focusing ring is not coupled mechanically to the focusing mechanism but  electronically. Focusing feels sluggish and it takes me more time to focus.

I am much more skilled in using manual focus than AF so I find it hard to comment on the AF performance of the Zeiss. It is reasonably fast when it’s brighter and slows down noticeably when it’s darker. I get more consistent results when I use manual focus with a manual lens but I am not an unbiased judge here because I prefer manual lenses in general.

Conclusion

I think you can read the results in different ways.

The Zeiss is, in a technical sense, better in most aspects and the difference is very obvious  when it comes to sharpness outside of the center at f/1.8 or flare resistance. AF will be a very important argument for most people as well. So when you rely on either of these the Zeiss will be the obvious choice for you.

I, on the other hand, don’t see much of an advantage for the Zeiss in my typical photography. The images I print bigger are rarely photographed at f/1.7 but at apertures were both lenses perform very similar. And for smaller prints and web images you won’t see that the Zeiss is sharper  t f/1.8. And I find the Minolta more pleasant to use because it has a real focusing ring. But of course there are situations were I feel limited by the Minolta.

So depending on the photographers needs the Zeiss can be anything from a whole lot better to a little better.

You can buy the Minolta MC 1.7/55 at ebay.com (affiliate link) for around $20 and support my blog that way.

In-depth review of the Minolta MC 1.7/55 and Sony FE 1.8/55

Other Articles

An introduction to manual lenses on the a7

Minolta Lenses on the Sony a7 – ratings, impressions and sample images

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I like to be outside with my camera and I am also a gear head with a love for manual lenses.

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40 thoughts on “Test: $20 Minolta MC 1.7/55 vs $1000 Zeiss 1.8/55”

  1. Thank you for this comparison!
    While digging through old boxes at my parent’s house I came across a Minolta 58mm F/1.4 that I am very excited to slip on my A7.
    This review made me all the more excited!
    Stefan

    1. Tim,

      I can’t comment directly on the (manual focus) MD 35-70. I did a simple test of a variety of lenses at 50mm at f/8 on my a7r that included the autofocus 35-70 f/4 that some people have spoken highly of. I found that the AF 35-70 f/4 had a strangely shallow DoF compared to the primes, and that the bokeh was relatively harsh. I’m not an expert on optics (and I don’t quite understand how DoF can be different at the same focal length and the same aperture), but the AF 35-70 was a lot less graceful than the other lenses. You should run your own tests to compare the two.

      1. Is is not well known, but yes many lens properties depend also on the optical schema.
        We have to remember the rules about DoF are very basic, not accurate, so they are misleading.
        Avoid these approximations, it is better to try and test the lens.

  2. Really great comparison, Phillip.

    So many people rushing to buy the latest and greatest, and the humble Minolta f/1.7 (by far one of the less sharp legacy lenses I own, even if one of my absolute favorite for the rendering) stands its ground against the new 50mm king!

    If I may give you a suggestion, you should try a Minolta MD 50/1.2 against the Zeiss if you manage to find one.

    Once you put the camera on a tripod, or if shooting handheld if you manage not to even breathe (it’s like shooting with a gun to a 50m far target…), the lens is tack sharp in the shallow focus point even at f/1.2 on the A7r.

    Keep up the great work 🙂

      1. I did a similar test vs my Canon FD 50mm 1.4 ( sharpest of 3 copies I got and sharper than Rokkor, Pentax and Hexanon I had before) and the main thing for me was performance at 1.8 of course.
        While the Canon at 1.8 its pretty good (specially on close objects) on the Center, move away from the Cener a little and the FE 55 is years ahead of it. Of course by F5.6 the image looks a lot closer overall but that is expected from what is still a high quality piece of glass.
        Of course the FE bokeh is just sublime no matter what is behind you creating the so called “3d pop”. Now, is it going to be worth the extra $$$$ over a Canon FD ? mmmm not sure if for most people it really is worth the extra to be honest. The FD can create some oustanding images on its own. For me it was an easy decision as my FE 55mm cost me $15 after all was said and done which is amazing. 😀
        Still, I will be getting the Mitakon 50mm .95 to compare soon and make a final decision on which lens will be my 50 for good.
        As a manual shooter 90% of my lenses, having one AF is pretty nice for a change. I can walk around and shoot without stopping much to capture some candid moments. I am learning about the different AF options which I didnt know about now as I was a bit furstrated at first not having all the control as in MF.
        Regards

  3. Thanks for the review of these 2 lenses. I have been dying to see the comparison between the Zeiss and another 55/50mm. What would you recommend this Minolta or the FD 50mm 1.4?

  4. Salut
    Édifiant!
    Je vous suggère de refaire les tests en montant un pare-soleil sur le Rokkor et de la mousse anti-reflets dans la bague, je pense que nombre de differences seraient gommées.
    Merci pour ces essais.

      1. He said to try the same test with a lens hood on the minolta and some anti reflection adhesive inside the adapter. That is should remove most of the problem

  5. Great article and comparison Phillip. I love the 55mm 1.7 and more so may be because of its cheap price (relative to say the 58mm 1.2) as it always delivers beautifully. It is also probably my favourite Minolta to use on the camera due to the weight and focusing ring (which you mention) which is a joy to use and the “old school” look to it. I would also mention the MC Rokkor PG 50mm 1.4 which I think is super sharp (probably sharper than both the 55mm / 58mm) and has nice bokeh (but not as nice as the 58mm). The trade off is its bit heavier (and more expensive) than the 55mm 1.7.

  6. Amazing review!
    I am currently looking to either buy the a7r ii or the a7s ii. My question is, when using the manual aperture ring on the lens, how does the camera know what aperture you’re shooting at? Do you have to adjust it on the camera each time you change it on the lens?

    Greatly appreciated!

  7. Interesting. In your mind, what are good 35mm options for the a7rII? Seems like, especially for the price, the FE 2.8 35mm isn’t so impressive. I’m almost wondering on the Loxia or even Ultron 35mm 1.7. Have you tried the FE 35mm 1.4 yet? The size is apparent, but in the brief time I used it, I didn’t find it all that objectionable.

  8. Great and thorough comparison article – thank you! May I ask how you managed to get the metadata from the Minolta into your files? I haven’t adapted a Minolta lens before – is your adapter ‘smart’ or do you have a way of manually inputting the settings data into your file in Lr?

  9. This was a remarkable comparo, Philip. Thank you. Your points are so well made. I just dropped on a Fotasy MD-A7II converter, connecting my old MD 50 1.7 to an A7R2. It is a somewhat flimsy version, loose to the point of affecting focus, but I just just came in from shooting for a half hour and was so satisfied by 1) how good the images were, 2) how easy it is to shoot, and 3) how good and light it feels in my hands. I’ll process them now – and sure there are kinks and certainly flares, but there’s an authenticity and a smooth and pleasing bokeh. Also, as you’ve pointed out on many lens, 2.8 far exceeds 1.7 performance (it literally goes from 1.7 to 2.8 in a click). With that little Minolta lens on the A7R2, it just feels like home… like my old X570 Minolta. Great weekend to you!

  10. Great review Phillip.
    Your blog provides golden informations for Photographer who loves to experiment new combos between vintage glasses and new modern camera bodies.
    I own a Minolta MC rokkor PF 50mm F 1.7, slightly different from the lens you have tested, and I have to admit (with my big surprise) that is one of the best 50mm I have ever tried. On camera raw you dont need to retouch not even a parameter.
    Thanks for the service you provide …..

  11. Vielen Dank, toller Vergleich!
    Sehr schön mit den Photos, so dass man sich selbst ein Bild machen kann!
    Habe mir soeben die Minolta gekauft. Ich bin sehr gespannt!!!
    Viele Grüße
    Axel

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