Review: Minolta AF 200mm f/2.8 Apo G

1. Introduction

This lens is part of the Minolta AF G – Series that are Minolta’s high performance class optics designed to give the highest optical quality. So let us see if the engineers at Minolta have done their job.

The 200/2.8 lens is my favourite travel lens. The 2.8 aperture makes it good to use in low light and the 200mm focal length allows for handholding the lens in most situations. I have used this lens on several trips to Africa and Asia. 

A summary of my thoughts on the lens follows.  Remember, this is a subjective review and your opinions might be different. This review is based on my experience with one lens only and sample variations might occur. But anyway I hope you find it useful.

 

2. Different versions

First of all you should be aware of the following. There are two different versions of this lens. The first was released in 1986 and the second in 1988. Optically the two versions are the same, but the redesigned ’88 version, called the G version, features a faster focusing gear and a new IC ROM to enable faster focusing with the i, xi and si series cameras. External changes include one AF lock/lens function buttons and “High Speed AF Apo 200mm” decal on lens shade. There was possible to have the old version upgraded so that it is equal to the G version except for the focus hold button but I am not sure if Minolta still does this. 

The three possible versions of the 200mm/2.8 are: 
    o The first Apo version: slow auto focus, no AF stop button 
    o The upgraded Apo version: fast auto focus, no AF stop button. 
    o The second G – Series version: fast auto focus, AF stop button 
       and ‘High Speed AF Apo 200mm' decal.


The difference between the original version and the G version according to Minolta: 
The G versions have a different IC rom and gear that speed up the AF with 33%. It also has one focus hold button located on the barrel. There are some physical differences between the versions (e.g. the focus hold buttons). Glass is the same. "G" is an attempt at marketing. It is possible to have the original version upgraded (this has been done since the G version was introduced in 1988). The lens will get the new IC and gear but not the focus hold buttons. Minolta may not have the parts to do this anymore. Also, I understand that parts for the original are starting to get scarce and service for it may not be possible in the near future. The price for the upgrade is about $300. 

The lens featured in this review is the second version with the focus hold button.

3. Teleconverters

Performance with converters: 
If used with the old converter, upgraded or new lenses will focus faster. If an old lens is used with new, type II converter, it focuses slowest. 

Differences between the original Minolta tele converters and the Mk II version: 
The old converter models focus 30% faster than the converter model IIs. This is because the high-speed lenses with converters focused too fast for the pre-i series cameras. So Minolta slowed down the teleconverters. The old 1.4x converter has a 1:1 gear ratio, the Mark II a 1:2 reduction (for the 2x converters the numbers are 1:2 and 1:4 reduction ratio). Both work with old and new lenses, however Mark II plus slow lens gives very slow AF and old TC with fast lens sometimes overshoots or hunts. Optically the different converters are the same. The original converters can no longer be serviced, Minolta USA recommend not purchasing them for any application. That said, the new and upgraded lenses focused faster with the original converter. Original lenses not upgraded focused slowest with the Type II converters. Minolta Japan has not concerned itself as it only deals with current matters. Minolta USA no longer has old style converters around so they can't test one way or another. As they can no longer service the older items, they no longer consider them an issue. NB!! All the above information is obtained directly from or confirmed by Minolta USA. 

4. Lens data

  • Focal Length: 200mm
  • Filter diameter: 72mm
  • Hood Mount: Retractable sliding hood.
  • Dimensions: 86mm x 134mm (diameter x length)
  • Weight: 790g
  • Aperture:
    • Largest: f/2.8
    • Smallest: f/32
    • Diaphragm Blades: 9 curved aperture blades.
  • Focusing:
    • Method: Internal focusing.
    • Minimum distance: 1.5m
    • Maximum magnification: 0.16X
    • Focus range limiter and one focus hold button
  • Optics:
    • Construction:  8 elements (2 AD glass elements)
                             7 groups
    • Angle of view: 12° 
With the 200mm focal length and converters you can draw distant details into the picture.
Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Minolta Dynax 9 with Minolta 200mm f/2.8 Apo G lens with Minolta 1.4x Apo II Teleconverter.
Fuji Sensia 100 (Photo © Marcus Karlsen)

5. Appearance and Handling

This lens is one of the smallest and lightest 200mm f/2.8 auto focus lenses on the market. Weighing only 790g and with a diameter of 86mm and length of 134mm it easily fits into a small camera bag making it the ideal travel lens. I have used the lens together with the Minolta AF 28-70mm f/2.8 G lens, the Minolta AF 1.4 teleconverter II Apo and the Minolta Dynax 9 on several trips. This combination offers excellent optical performance and fits into a small camera bag like the Tamrac Explorer II.

The design of the lens dates back to 1988 and consists of 8 elements in 7 groups, including 2 expensive AD glass elements to give the lens a tight control on the chromatic aberrations. This assures high quality and less trouble with colour fringing. The filter thread size is 72 mm and a 72mm clear protective filter comes with the lens together with a soft case. I always use the filter to protect the front element. The soft case however quickly found a place in the closet and has stayed there ever since. The customary golden ring, designating a G construction, is placed at the front end and a tiny read-out window for the distance scale with depth-of-field indications is placed next to the AF-lock button. The lens barrel itself has a smooth white paint finish, which looks nice but unfortunately does not withstand wear that good. The lens itself is very well built with a metal barrel and mount.


The large f/2.8 maximum aperture is useful when shooting in low light situations.
Prayers at the That Luang Festival, Vientiane, Laos.

Minolta Dynax 9 with Minolta 200mm f/2.8 Apo G lens 
1/6 @ f/2.8, Fuji Sensia 100
Gitzo G1228 CF tripod
(Photo © Marcus Karlsen)

The hood is permanently attached to the lens. When you are not using the lens, just turn the hood a little and it will loosen and slide down the lens barrel making the lens easier to store. The hood is shorter than on similar lenses from other manufacturers but it works fine on this lens. The design makes the size of the lens small and it is easy and fast to pull out and fasten the hood. I really like the design of the hood on this lens and it is one of key features in making it the perfect travel lens. The inside of the hood is covered with black velvet to eliminate reflections and the front has a rubber edge for protection.

The focusing ring is slightly recessed in the barrel with a metal cover that you can slide over it. This prevents you from interfering with its movement in auto focus mode when the focusing ring turns. The focusing ring is a little thin when using the lens in manual focus but it is not a big problem. The near focusing range of the lens is 1.5m. The lens also has a step less focus range limiter. By loosening a small knob on the lens you can turn the focus limiter left or right and thus limit the focus range on the far or near side. To allow the lens to use the entire focus range again, just loosen the knob and the focusing barrel can move freely through the entire range. I must admit I have never used the focus range limiter on this lens, however on the longer lenses it is very useful for making the auto focus faster.

The lens focuses by moving the lens elements by a shaft. A motor in the camera drives the shaft, making the focusing speed dependent on which camera model the lens is coupled with. I have tried the lens on the Minolta Dynax 700si and the Minolta Dynax 9. On the Dynax 9 the auto focus is very fast, on the 700si it is a little slower. Some hunting occurs but not so much that it is a problem. The lens is also compatible with Minoltas own teleconverters as well as all third party converters with Minolta A mount. With the Minolta AF 1.4x teleconverter II Apo the auto focus is a little slower because of the reduction gearing in the TC and light loss but it is still good. With the AF 2.0x teleconverter Apo the auto focus is slow and hunting in low light. This makes it better to switch to manual focus when using the 2x converter if the light level is low.

In total I find the focusing speed of the lens very good and on the Dynax 9 the lens focuses just as fast as the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS L USM on the Canon EOS 10D despite what some people might say. However even though I have never missed a shoot because of the auto focus performance on this lens I still would prefer SSM focusing because of lower noise and less hunting. And maybe the focusing with a 2.0x converter would be better.

The lens does not have a tripod collar, which has not been a big problem for me as I mostly use it handheld. If you have a sturdy tripod and a good tripod head I find that a tripod collar is not necessary when using only the lens. However if you attach a converter the camera becomes very front heavy and a tripod collar would certainly be preferable. But in total I don’t see this as a big problem.

6. Optical Performance

Different wavelengths of light come into focus at different planes. This effect is know as Chromatic aberration and can cause a "rainbow" halo around points of light and reduced sharpness. "Standard" achromatic telephotos are corrected to bring the red and blue components into focus at the film plane. The Anomalous Dispersion (AD) glass, used in the first two elements of the lens, virtually eliminates the effects of lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberration, providing increased sharpness and extremely accurate colour rendition.

I have tried to summarize my findings when shooting a resolution chart with the lens to test its optical quality in the tables below. The ratings are as follows:

     *      Very poor 
    **     Poor 
   ***    Ok 
  ****   Good 
 *****  Very Good 


200mm f/2.8 Apo G

f-stop

Sharpness centre

Sharpness middle

Sharpness corner

Contrast

Distortion

Vignetting

Colour

2.8

*****

****

****

*****

no

no

neutral

4

*****

*****

*****

*****

no

no

neutral

5.6

*****

*****

*****

*****

no

no

neutral

8

*****

*****

*****

*****

no

no

neutral

16

*****

*****

*****

*****

no

no

neutral


200mm f/2.8 Apo G with 1.4x Apo II Tele converter

f-stop

Sharpness centre

Sharpness middle

Sharpness corner

Contrast

Distortion

Vignetting

Colour

4

*****

****

****

*****

no

no

neutral

5.6

*****

*****

*****

*****

no

no

neutral

8

*****

*****

*****

*****

no

no

neutral

16

*****

*****

*****

*****

no

no

neutral


200mm f/2.8 Apo G with 2.0x Apo Tele converter

f-stop

Sharpness centre

Sharpness middle

Sharpness corner

Contrast

Distortion

Vignetting

Colour

5.6

****

***

***

***

no

no

neutral

8

*****

*****

*****

*****

no

no

neutral

16

*****

*****

*****

****

no

no

neutral


Overall the AF 200mm f/2.8 Apo G lens delivers an excellent image quality.

Illumination was even across the entire frame at f/2.8, so corner light fall-off was absolutely negligible. Geometric distortion is non-existent.

The graph below is the Minolta MTF graphs for the lens.

The graph 
The graph shows MTF in percent for the two line frequencies of 10 lp/mm and 30 lp/mm, from the centre of the image (shown at left) all the way to the corner (shown at right). The bold lines represent sagital MTF (lp/mm aligned like the spokes in a wheel). The thin lines represent tangential MTF (lp/mm arranged like the rim of a wheel, at right angles to sagital lines). On the scale at the bottom 0 represents the centre of the image (on axis), 3 represents 3 mm from the centre, and 21 represents 21 mm from the centre, or the very corner of a 35 mm-film image. Separate lines show results at f8 and full aperture. This is Minoltas own MTF graph for this lens.

7. When the image is out of focus

The word bokeh is of Japanese origin and relates to the fashion in which the out-of-focus areas of the image are rendered. A sharply focused subject set against a pleasingly silky smooth background characterizes a good bokeh. The transition from in-focus to out-of-focus should occur gradually. A large number of aperture blades give a more circular opening when the lens is stopped down, but this in itself is not sufficient to give a good bokeh. Another feature of the lens that affects Bokeh is the degree of spherical aberration correction. Spherical aberration is when the rays of light from the middle and from the outside edges of a lens do not focus to exactly the same point.

The 200mm f/2.8 Apo G have a very pleasing image rendition, in fact, the images show an attractive bokeh up with the very best of lenses.


The out of focus background are nicely blurred with smooth transactions between the highlights and the darker areas.

Red Colobus Monkey, Jozani Forest, Zanzibar, Tanzania.
Minolta Dynax 9 with Minolta 200mm f/2.8 Apo G lens.
(Photo © Marcus Karlsen)

8. Flare and ghosting

Since light reflects off glass surfaces, lens flare usually increases with the number of glass elements in the lens. The problem is compounded with backlit subjects. 

With the 200mm f/2.8 Apo G lens flare and ghosting has not been a problem.

9. Summary and Conclusions

This lens may be expensive but it certainly offers the results you've paid for. It is already a legendary Minolta lens, offering excellent optical performance that does its job in a truly professional manner. In my opinion one of the finest lenses on the market and a very good reason for choosing a Minolta system as no other manufacturers offer this performance in such a small package. The perfect travel lens.

Pros 
   o Excellent optical performance, even with dedicated converters 
   o Very good bokeh 
   o Very small and lightweight for this kind of lens
   o Good auto focus    
   o Image stabilizer with the Dynax 7 Digital (built into the camera body)

Cons 
   o Auto focus is a little noisy.
   o No tripod collar
   o No image stabilizer with film body (with the Dynax 7 Digital stabilization is in the camera body)

If Minolta would include SSM focusing and a detachable tripod collar on this lens without reducing the optical quality or changing the size it would be unbeatable.

With the new Dynax 7 Digital with in body Anti Shake this lens become an amazing 300/2.8 equivalent with image stabilization weighing only 790g.

10. Magazine lens tests

  • German magazine Color Foto test results 
    22 out of 30 on sharpness
    28 out of 30 on contrast
    20 out of 20 on centering
    10 out of 10 on distortion
    8 out of 10 on vignetting
    That makes it 88 out of 100 total and that is the best score of the Minolta tele lenses. It is 3 points more than the Nikon AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 D IF ED and 1 point less than the Canon EF 200mm f/2.8 L USM II.
  • German magazine Color Foto test results of the 200mm f/2.8 Apo G with the AF 2x Teleconverter Apo
    16 out of 30 on sharpness
    23 out of 30 on contrast
    15 out of 20 on centering
    10 out of 10 on distortion
    9 out of 10 on vignetting
    That makes it 73 out of 100 total and that is 5 points more than the Nikon AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 D IF ED with the Nikon TC-201 and 1 point less than the Canon EF 200mm f/2.8 L USM II with the Canon EF Extender 2x.
  • French magazine Chasseur d’Image.
    4 out of 5 in optical quality 
    3 out of 5 in value for money 
    4 out of 5 in general impression 
  • French magazine Chasseur d'Images test results on the Dynax/Maxxum 5D
    Vignetting 4/5
    Chromatic abberation 5/5
    Distortion 5/5
    Sharpness 3/5
    Total score 4/5
  • Photodo test result
    Grade: 4,1
         Average Weighted MTF: 0,83 
         Effective focal length: 193 mm
         Weighted MTF for 200 mm: f2,8 0,80, f4 0,80, f8 0,84
         Weighted MTF 10 lp/mm: 0,91
         Weighted MTF 20 lp/mm: 0,79
         Weighted MTF 40 lp/mm: 0,58
         Distortion: 1,42%

 

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You can find reviews of some of my other lenses here...

 

 

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