Bar Camp Charlotte returned to Area 15 in Charlotte’s NoDa district last weekend. Last January I wrote about my experiences shooting the first Charlotte Bar Camp with a M42 telephoto lens. This time around, I hauled along a wide selection of lenses, including the 70-210mm Minolta “Beer Can,” the Minolta 50mm f/1.7 prime lens, 16mm Rokkor and of course, the old Vivitar 135mm M42 telephoto.
Forty years young, the Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 is a delightful lens to shoot under available light. It is manual-focus only and requires a adapter to fit it to the Sony Alpha.
For a lark, I tossed my old Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 lens into my bag. My idea was to determine if the small increase in aperture opening (f/1.4 vs f/1.7) would offer any real advantage.
Of course, using the old Rokkor on the Sony Alpha requires a MD to MA (A-Mount) adapter, which has the same limitations as the M42 lens adapter. The MD to MA adapter also includes a glass element that is required for any Rokkor to focus at infinity on an A-Mount camera.
Rokkor lenses require an adapter to mount on the Sony Alpha
This is the first time I had actually mounted the 58mm f/1.4 lens on an Alpha A-mount dSLR. Typically I use my MD to MA adapter to allow me to use my Rokkor 16mm or the Rokkor 500mm f/8 mirror lens. Since I have the excellent auto-focus Minolta 50mm f/1.7, I have never felt the need to play with the f/1.4 on the Alpha.
Still, when shooting under available light conditions, even a partial increase in f/stop openng can make a huge difference. Shooting at f/1.4 also reduces the depth of field, allowing the subject to pop out of the background.
The f/1.4 stayed in the camera bag for the morning, as I used the other lenses to record the AM Bar Camp sessions. I used a flash to capture most of these images. In the afternoon, I finally dug out the Rokkor adapter and clicked the f/1.4 in place for a little available light shooting.
Lens is older than the subject matter…
My copy of the f/1.4 lens is used, so I don’t know it’s early history. I know it is an early model, because the focusing ring is a star-shaped metal grip. The later models of this lens use a rubber grip surface, rather than metal. The kit lens on my first Minolta, purchased in 1973, had the rubber grip, which tells me the f/1.4 version I own is older than that. I’m guessing the lens dates from the late 1960s.
Minolta Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 lens mounted on the Sony Alpha A350. You can see the adapter inserted between the silver aperture ring and the orange marking on the Alpha lens mount.
Bar Camps attract all ages, and I was by no means the oldest person in attendance. That said, most of the attendees looked to be in their twenties and early thirties. That means that when the Minolta assembly technicians screwed together my old Rokkor, most of the people I photographed were yet to be born.
So how well did the old warrior work on the Alpha? I loved it! Originally I thought I would snag a few images with the Rokkor, then shift back to one of my other lenses. Instead, I left the 1.4 glass on the camera for the entire afternoon. It felt comfortable and well balanced. This is a manual focus lens — there are no auto-focus Rokkor lenses — but the focusing grip is smooth and precise.
You can check out my Bar Camp Charlotte 2 gallery here. You can compare images from the 50mm f1.7 A-mount lens to the Rokkor 58mm f/1.4.
Which lens is better: Maxxum 50mm f/1.7 or Rokkor 58mm f/1.4?
I can’t really say the 58mm f1.4 lens is really superior to my 50mm f1.7, either in sharpness or light transmission. On other hand, it was a joy to shoot with, and looking through the viewfinder really made me appreciate that big f/1.4 aperture.
One thing that surprised me was that the bokkeh (the appearance of out-of-focus elements in an image) on the Rokkor was slightly harsher than I am used to with the Maxxum 50mm f/1.7. There isn’t a huge difference, but it is noticeable. It may be the lens, on the other hand it could be the adapter. I intend to investigate and will publish some tests in the near future.
Of course, I have no attention of giving up my Minolta Maxxum 50 f/1.7. It has a number of advantages…auto-focus and fully automatic exposure to name two. So I will continue to use the f/1.7 lens in the future.
The Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 has no auto-focus capabilities and until I get around to buying a chipped adapter, it can only be used in the manual exposure mode on Alpha dSLR’s like the A350.
Despite the obvious drawbacks, I have a feeling that the old Rokkor f/1.4 hasn’t seen the last of the Sony Alpha. When the lighting conditions are right, that big aperture opening trumps the A-mount len’s better features.