travel & nature photography
With telephoto lenses, depth of field is narrow, the long focal lengths make hand-holding tricky, and you're often shooting subjects that don't stand still. This means that fast and precise focusing is critical, bad bokeh has a really unpleasant effect on most pictures, and you'll be shooting your lens wide-open with Super Steady Shot turned on to minimize camera shake.
The AF 300mm f2.8 Apo G (D) SSM lens was released in March 2003. There are several different versions of the 300mm f/2.8 lens from Minolta and Sony.
On the left is the 300mm f/2.8 Apo G (D) SSM attached to the Dynax 9 and on the right the older 300mm f/2.8 Apo G (N) attached to the Dynax 700si. The size of the 300mm f/2.8 Apo G (D) SSM lens is about the same as the older 300mm f/2.8 Apo G (N) lens, however the lens hood is considerable longer as can be seen on the picture.
Length of lens with hood attached:
SSM lens: 37,0 cm
Apo lens : 28,5 cm
Max. diameter of lens with hood attached:
SSM lens: 13,6 cm
Apo lens : 12,8 cm
The SSM lenses will only autofocus when coupled with the Sony teleconverters or with Minolta AF 1.4x Tele Converter Apo (D) and Minolta AF 2.0x Tele Converter Apo (D). The only difference between the Minolta (D) converters and the Minolta Tele Converter II Apo's are that the new ones have eight lens contacts versus the older ones five. The Sony converters are the same as the Minolta Apo (D) converters, except that they might have a slightly different coating on the lens elements.
This lens was released in March 2003 and was the last Minolta lens in the G - Series (together with the 70-200mm f/2.8 Apo G (D) SSM). When you first see this lens it gives you an impression of solid quality. The lens is constructed using magnesium alloy internally to hold the optical components, and externally to protect the lens barrel. This keeps the weight of the lens down to a minimum. Even though the weight of the lens, when you include the collar, is the same as the old one it somehow feels lighter. The lens is also much better sealed from sand and dust than the older one (though it is not weather sealed like the Sony SAL 300F2.8 G2). It does not have the recessed focusing ring and the front protective glass element is now part of the lens and not removable. The lens is painted in a finely crinkled white finish. It looks like the same type of paint used on the Minolta 28-70mm f/2.8 G lens and withstands wear better than the white finish of the older Minolta G lenses.
The manual focusing collar, placed in the middle of the lens is wide and do not rotate when the lens is autofocusing. The customary golden ring, designating a G construction, is placed in front of the manual-focusing collar. The lens has four focus hold buttons placed right in front of the manual-focusing collar, these are evenly spaced at 90 degrees around the barrel. By pushing one of these buttons you can stop the autofocusing. When releasing the button the lens will start focusing again. By altering the custom functions of your camera you can set these buttons to perform different functions like DOF preview. There is also a read-out window for the distance scale, with some pretty useless depth-of-field indications for f/32, placed just behind the focusing ring.
Behind the focusing ring there are a lot of switches which control the auto focus functions. These are the Focus-mode switch, the upper left one, with which you can switch between autofocus or manual focus. The DMF-mode switch, the upper right one, sets the lens in standard Direct Manual Focus (DMF) or full-time DMF. Standard DMF allows you to fine tune the focus after the AF system has locked onto the subject (only in AF-A or AF-S mode). Full-time DMF gives you access to manual focus control at any time by simply turning the focusing ring.
The Focus-range limiter, the middle left button, selects the focusing range. You can choose FULL which is from 2.0m to infinity, from 6.4m to infinity and the last choice is a user defined range. The Focus-range setting switch, middle button on the right, sets the user defined range. To set the range first slide the Focus-range setting switch to the SET position. Then focus the lens to the minimum distance of the range and slide the Focus-range setting switch to the NEAR position. Focus the lens on the maximum distance and slide the Focus-range setting switch to the FAR position to complete the operation. The focus range limiter can be used to reduce the auto-focus time and eliminates the possibility of focusing on an object outside the scene.
The third row of buttons is used to control the prefocus function. This allows the lens to store a set focus position that can be recalled at any time by simply pressing one of the four focus hold buttons on the lens barrel. To set the object distance, slide the Focus-hold/prefocus switch to the PREFOCUS position. Focus the lens at the correct distance and press the Prefocus set button to store the object distance.
The last switch all the way at the bottom, is the Audio-signal switch and turns on or off an audio signal that confirms focusing range is customized or the prefocus distance is set or recalled. The good news is that it does not signal when focus is achieved.
The switches are easy to reach and change, still they will not accidently change position as you handle the lens. This was a big problem with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM IS lens. Several times when I brought the camera up to take a picture either the AF or the IS was disengaged accidently. This happened when I held the camera and lens combination around the lens barrel as I sat on top of an elephant moving through the jungle in search for a tiger or when I had the camera wrapped in a towel to keep dust out when moving around with a jeep at full speed.
All the way at the back of the lens is a solidly built tripod mounting collar that rotates 360 degrees and can be locked at any position. It can easily be removed when you are using the lens handheld. It is a good and compact design.
The lens hood is very large compared to the old 300mm f/2.8 Apo G. It is also detachable and can be reverse mounted for transportation and storage. It is made of lightweight carbon fibre and lined with black velvet to reduce flare. While it theoretically gives a better protection against flare due to the deeper hood, it is bigger and more cumbersome to attach than the sliding hood on the older lens. And I never had any problems with flare on that lens either.
The lens has SSM focusing. It means that the lens uses an internal motor to adjust the lens elements to focus. The design achieves a much quieter and smoother focusing than an in camera motor. The biggest difference is that the lens autofocuses without any noise, which is hardly the case with other Minolta lenses. Focus tracking is also much better and the lens does not run all the way out to infinity when it looses focus like the other older Minolta lenses have a tendency to do ever so often.
The filter thread is 42mm drop in filters. The lens is pretty heavy at 2310g but that is about the same as equivalent lenses from the competitors. The 2.0m closes focusing distance however is the best in the class.
The lens is constructed with 13 elements in 12 groups. Of these three are AD-glass (Anomalous dispersion) elements, one is the protective front element (not removable like on the old lens), and one is a clear optical element screwed into the built-in filter holder. The AD glass elements are used to eliminate chromatic aberrations and distortion. High-quality multi-coatings increase transmittance and reduce flare to preserve contrast. A circular aperture keeps the defocused image of point light sources outside the depth of field round between f/2.8 and f/5.6.
Overall the AF 300mm f/2.8 Apo G (D) SSM lens delivers a very good image quality. Based on optical performance I would rate the apertures as follows; f5.6 and f/4 with f/8 f/2.8, f/11 and f/16 just a tad behind. While at f/22 and f/32 optical performance suffers from diffraction. With the reduced image circle of an APS-C camera the sharpness at the corners are almost the same as at the centre. This coincides with the official MTF graph released by Minolta and shown above. Full frame performance at the corners are good and almost equal for all apertures.
Compared to the older Minolta 300mm f/2.8 Apo G lens the sharpness is about the same at all apertures except at f/2.8 were it is noticably better. Sharpness at the edges are also a tad better at f/4 to f/16 with the new SSM lens.
One of the benefits of the f/2.8 aperture is that you can attach a 1.4x converter and still retain a good image quality and autofocus. Using the Minolta AF 1.4x Tele Converter Apo (D) the image quality is still very good. The best aperture is f/5.6 with f/4, f/8 and f/11 not far behind.
Chromatic abberations is not a problem on this lens.
I have not seen any coma with this lens.
If you look very closesly there is an ever so slightly darkening of the corners at f/2.8 for the Minolta 300mm f/2.8 Apo G (D) SSM lens on a full frame body. If you feel this bothers you it is easily removed in post processing. Illumination is even across the frame from f/4.
For this lens geometric distortion is not noticable.
The lens has a circular aperture that keeps the defocused image of point light sources outside the depth of field round between f/2.8 and f/5.6. See pictures below. This is much better compared with the older 300mm f/2.8 Apo G (N) and is probably one of the reasons the SSM lens has a better bokeh. The round aperture combined with the good spherical aberration correction of the lens gives the 300mm f/2.8 Apo G (D) SSM a very pleasing image rendition. The background blurring attained by the lens is creamy and silky smooth.
The narrow field of view of a telephoto lens means that you can use deep hoods that very effectively cut out glare and reduce flare. The lens also uses high-quality multi-coatings and internal baffles to increase transmittance and reduce flare to preserve contrast.
So far I have not noticed any problems with flare or ghosting when using the 300mm f/2.8 Apo G (D) SSM lens.
This lens has the excellent optics, build quality and excellent autofocus that is to be expected from a top of the line Minolta G lens. It is equal to or even better than the older version on every aspect. The new silent SSM focusing is much faster and better than the former shaft focusing of the earlier version and the close focusing distance and the smooth manual focusing all comes as a bonus. The pre focus function is a very nice feature when waiting for action to happen. Just pre focus the lens to were you think something will happen, store the focusing distance, and you are free to photograph something else until the action starts. Then just hit the focus hold button and you are ready to go. The detachable tripod collar is nice if you use a beanbag for support. Just take off the collar and the lens becomes lighter and more stable on the beanbag. I am really happy with this lens and don't regret replacing the old one. All I can say is that this an exceptionally fine lens.
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