June 4, 2022

Alphatracks

Sony and Minolta SLR Weblog

Minolta MC Rokkor - PF 58mm f/1.4

Still a great lens today: Rokkor 58mm f/1.4

Old Glass: The Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 Prime Lens. Star Performer.

The MC Rokkor – 58mm f/1.4 lens is one of my all-time favorite lenses. It always lives in my camera bag, and I never leave for a photoshoot without it. It is that good.

For a gallery of Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 images, Click Here!

Officially known as the MC Rokkor – PF 58mm f/1.4, I’ve shot with this Minolta prime lens on 35mm film cameras, APS-C digital cameras and full-frame digital cameras. The resulting photos have never disappointed me.

The MC Rokkor – PF 58mm f/1.4 lens is a fast, inexpensive prime lens that can be easily adapted to Sony Mirrorless cameras. I have also employed an adapter to shoot on Sony A-Mount cameras, with favorable results.

Face of the Minolta MC Rokkor - PF 58mm f/1.4
The big aperture of the Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 can transmit plenty of light.

About the MC Rokkor – 58mm f/1.4 Lens

The MC I version of the Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 was introduced in 1966. My copy is the updated MC II which Minolta began selling in 1969. Although the lenses are similar, the general consensus is that the MC II is the superior optic.

MC stands for meter coupled, which means this lens can relate f/stop information to the camera’s light meter. The camera cannot physically adjust the aperture, but the meter can tell what f/stop has been selected. Back in 1966, this was a big deal.

According to Minolta’s internal code, the PF designation represents a lens with 6 elements in 5 groups. The body of the lens is all metal, no plastic here.

Similar to the majority of Minolta’s early SR mount lenses, the body is black, while the mount and the aperture are silver. The Minolta designers probably thought that a silver background would make it easier to read the f-stop markings in dim light.

Minolta Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 Aperture Ring
Like most of the early Rokkor lenses, the 58mm f1.4 has a silver aperture ring. Note the hills and valleys focus grip.

Since the 58mm f/1.4 dates to 1966, it is a purely mechanical lens. There are no electronic connections, which means this lens lacks autofocus and electronic aperture control. Hardly surprising, since these features weren’t available on Minolta SLRs until many years after this lens was discontinued.

At 10.2 ounces, it is a relatively heavy lens, which is partially the result of the previously mentioned metal construction. Personally, I like the heft of this lens. The overall weight of my photo gear isn’t a big concern for me. I understand that photographers value lightweight baggage. A camera bag full of gear isn’t much fun to lug around. But in use, weighty cameras and optics can go a long way toward dampening vibration. Given the option, I would always choose sharper images over a few tired muscles.

There is no imprint indicating my copy is the MC II version. Minolta never labeled these lenses as MC I or MC II. There are two primary ways of telling the two versions apart.

The first is the serial number. According to various online sources, the MC II version of this lens starts at 5064519. Thus, a lens with a lower serial number will be an MC I version, while anything greater will be the MC II.

A quicker method of identifying the MC II version is to glance at the focusing ring. The superior MC II has what is known as a “hills and valleys” design, where the metal grip undulates with high and low areas. The MC I features a circular grip with knurled areas and a band that has a constant height throughout its circumference.

I haven’t shot with an MC I lens, so I can’t really comment on the actual differences. I can say I love the results I obtain with my MC II 58mm, and the easy to grasp wavy grip is an added bonus.

I am not a pixel peeper. I seldom fritter away much time analyzing charts and graphs taken with a particular lens, since I’m not in the habit of photographing charts or graphs. Corner sharpness and edge fall-off are crucial aspects, but what I really care about is the look of the images delivered by a particular lens.

While I avoid lenses with egregiously undesirable characteristics, I am most concerned about whether a given lens can produce sharp and clear images. My MC II version of the Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 consistently produces great images for me, on 35mm film, digital APS-C and digital full-frame cameras.

In testing, the lens is slightly soft at its maximum aperture. Stopping down to f/2.8 improves sharpness, and the lens is razor-sharp at f/4 and above. This is based on examining images taken under controlled conditions. When making actual photographs, I haven’t detected any lack of sharpness when shooting wide-open.

Rokkor 58mm edge vignetting at f/1.4
Uncropped image captured with the aperture set to f1.4 shows corner darkening (vignetting).
Rokkor 58mm vignetting improves at f/2.8.
Stopping down the Rokkor 58mm to f/2.8 yields much less corner darkening. Vignetting and corner softness disappears at f/4.

In testing, I also noticed corner vignetting when shooting wide open. Once again, the darkened corners were visible in testing, but didn’t seem to affect any of my real-world images. In any case, the vignetting is absent at f/4 and smaller apertures.

Smooth focusing with the 58mm f/1.4.

Another reason I love this lens is the feel of the focusing ring. The ring conveys a precise tactile impression. The focus action on my copy is velvety smooth. Whenever I twist the ring on this lens, it radiates quality.

Maybe I just got lucky, because other reviewers claim their version has a scratchy focusing ring. My lens provides the smoothest focus of any manual focus lens I own. Despite the effortless focusing, the focus stays where you put it, without the focus shifting caused by a sloppy ring.

Flare

Most, if not all, vintage lenses exhibit flaring when shooting into the sun or intense light. My copy is not particularly horrible in this regard, but you do need to take care to prevent flare. I acquired my copy used, and it came with a collapsable rubber hood. I use this hood almost all the time, indoors and out. Minolta specified the D55NA metal hood as the standard shade for the 58mm f/1.4. I have found the rubber hood does an excellent job, and it is easier to fit in my gadget bag, so I have never bothered replacing it.

The Rokkor PF 58mm f/1.4 on Minolta SR Mount Film Cameras

Naturally, this lens was designed for film cameras and it is right at home on a manual focus Minolta such as the SRT series. Practically any 50-60mm prime lens from this era will yield excellent results because the engineers had so much experience in this area. More complicated optics, such as zooms, wide-angles, and telephotos require more care in the design. However, the “normal” lenses of 50-60mm focal lengths were a lens maker’s bread and butter. Hence you would expect this lens to work well on 35mm film cameras, and it does.

It was a different world in the 1960s, and camera makers lavished great attention on the “kit” lenses for their SLRs. Today’s kit lenses are usually merely adequate; camera makers expect buyers to purchase from their top-tier lens lineup if they want excellent image quality. The kit lens is frequently treated as a throwaway compared to the much more expensive “professional” optics.

In that bygone era, manufacturers treated the lens that came with the camera as the foundation of their camera system. The kit lens was considered an example of other lenses in the lineup, so nearly all of the base “normal” lenses were very high-quality.

Of course, the 58mm f/1.4 was never the base lens. To justify its existence in the Rokkor line, it had to be superior to the already first-class Minolta standard 50mm.

Adapting the lens to the Sony E-Mount

I use a cheap — by that I mean inexpensive — metal adapter to attach this lens to my Sony E-Mount cameras. All Minolta SR mount lenses have a flange focal distance (FFD) of 43.5mm. In contrast, the Sony E and FE mount cameras ( all the mirrorless models ) have a flange focal distance of 18mm.

Why do we care about this? All interchangeable lenses are designed to focus on a specific plane located at an exact distance from the mounting flange. This is known as the Flange Focal Distance. If the FFD of the lens is different than the FFD of the camera, it becomes impossible to focus the lens properly at infinity.

Without spending time on a physics lesson, it is easy to see that if we use an adapter that is 25.5mm thick (18 + 25.5 = 43.5), it will hold our Rokkor SR mount lens perfectly at 43.5mm from the film plane. Thus, we will have no problem focusing.

Because there are no additional lens elements employed in this type of adapter, they are simple to manufacture. As long as the lens is held exactly 25.5mm from the mounting flange and there are no light leaks, any adapter will produce excellent results.

Adapting to Sony APS-C Cameras

On an APS-C camera like the A-6000 series or the NEX models, the smaller sensor creates a focal length of 87mm. This makes for a great portrait lens.

Bokeh from Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 on Sony A6000
Even on the small APS-C sensor of a Sony A6000, the Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 delivers beautiful bokeh.

Some full-frame lenses lose quite a bit of character when mounted on a smaller sensor. The Rokkor 58mm f/1.4, however, still produces wonderful bokeh on APS-C cameras when opened to maximum aperture.

In addition, wide-open sharpness improves on an APS-C sensor because you are effectively cropping away the outer edges of the photo and only utilizing the center image.

Adapting to Sony Full-Frame Cameras

One of the advantages of adapting a lens like this to a full-frame camera such as the A7 series is the lens is designed to cover a full 35mm frame. This lens produces first-class results when used in full-frame applications.

Under careful full-frame testing conditions, I was able to detect a slight amount of light fall-off at the edges at f/1.4. The vignetting is fairly mild and I never noticed it in my day-to-day photos. It may seem like I am making excuses for this lens, but that is not the case. I never noticed vignetting until I ran an in-depth test. Like the soft corners, the light fall-off completely disappears at f/4 and smaller apertures.

Don’t tell the nay-sayers, but I think the results from using this old lens on a full-frame Sony are on par with the top-tier modern glass. Naturally, you have to forgo autofocus and shutter priority exposure. But aperture priority works and in many cases focus peaking is more than adequate to achieve pin-sharp focus.

I am not saying I don’t occasionally miss autofocus. In certain cases, like birds in flight, autofocus is nearly mandatory. But for the majority of my shooting, manual focus is more than sufficient.

Adapting to A-Mount dSLRS and SLT Cameras

On an A-Mount camera, adapting this lens — or any SR lens — is a different proposition. A-mount cameras have an FFD of 44.5mm, a distance 1mm greater than the 43.5mm design specification of the SR lenses. Because of that extra millimeter, a simple adapter cannot be used to mount an SR lens to an A-mount camera. The lens could be used for close-ups, but it could not focus at infinity.

Physics dictates you cannot make an adapter that would hold the lens closer than 44.5mm. The mirror box of an A-Mount camera is too thick. The adapter would need to move the lens inside the camera; a physical impossibility.

There are adapters that can make this possible, but unlike the simple E-Mount adapters, the MD to A-Mount adapters incorporate a close-up lens inside. This lens recasts the light so the image will converge properly at 44.5mm from the flange.

Purists argue that introducing an additional lens element into the light path will degrade quality. They are particularly troubled when these adapters are not made by major camera manufacturers. Most of these adapters are sold by small Asian vendors. How could these tiny operations develop an internal lens that won’t downgrade a sharp Rokkor lens? They point out that these off-brand sellers can hardly be expected to grind an element that could match Minolta’s standards.

There may be some truth to this concern, especially if you are a pixel peeper. In my own experience, I see very little difference between images shot with a Minolta film camera and the same lens adapted to an A-Mount Sony APS-C dSLR. I can’t comment on how well these adapters perform on full-frame Sony cameras because I have never used an SR lens on a full-frame A-mount camera.

At any rate, unless you are producing 30 X 40-inch prints, I doubt you will detect much difference.

One interesting note: In your quest for MD to A-Mount adapters, you may come across glassless adapters without an internal lens. As you have learned, these lenses cannot focus to infinity. But they can focus properly at closer distances, particularly if you are shooting close-ups. If you have a yen to do some Macro photography, these glassless adapters are perfectly suited to mounting an old SR Macro lens on an A-Mount dSLR.

Video Applications

I am primarily a still shooter, so I haven’t used this lens with video very often. The wide aperture, nice bokeh, smooth focusing and low cost suggest that this lens would be a wise investment for any video content creator.

Buying a used copy of the Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 Lens

The Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 has been out of production for decades, so if you are buying one of these lenses, it is almost certainly an “experienced” optic. Fortunately, Minolta sold a ton of these lenses, so they are relatively easy to come by. You’ll find them on eBay, used camera stores, pawnshops and flea markets. At the time this is written, prices range from $20 to $100. A careful shopper should have no trouble locating a nice example in the $50-$60 area.

With its metal body and solid construction, reliable working copies of this lens are readily available. Flaws are few, but they do exist.

Watch for dents and other evidence of being dropped. This lens can take a lot of punishment, but dropping any lens can cause a host of problems, including rough focusing and dented or unusable filter rings. In extreme cases, the lens may suffer misalignment of the optics after a fall, leading to degraded optical quality.

Many older lenses suffer from sticky aperture blades. This isn’t a concern if you are using the lens with an adapter, because adapted lenses don’t make use of an automatic aperture anyway. For film shooters, however, you want to be sure the aperture blades snap closed as they should.

Haze and Fungus

Haze and fungus are the by-products of improperly stored optics. Some people buy moldy lenses hoping they can clean away the fungus and get a bargain. This calls for some solid camera repair skills, as the lens will require dismantling.

More importantly, fungus is a living organism that can eat away the surface of the glass. This will destroy any special coatings applied to the lens elements. In extreme cases, the fungus can permanently etch the glass.

With plentiful copies of this lens available at attractive prices, I would steer clear of any that exhibit fungus and look for a variant with pristine optics.

From the tone of this review, it should be obvious I highly recommend this lens whether you are shooting with a Minolta film SLR or adapting it to a Sony digital camera. It isn’t in the same class as the legendary Rokkor 58mm f/1.2, but you can expect to pay five or six times as much for the f/1.2 lens. That is if you can find one. For everyday shooting, the fast, inexpensive f/1.4 warhorse will serve you well.


 

Minolta Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 at a Glance:

Serial Number:Type:Elements:Groups:
5921208Prime Lens65
Focus Type:Max Aperture:Min Aperture:Blades:
Manual Focusf/1.4f/166
Weight:Construction:Lens Mount:Filter size:
10.2 ozMetalMinolta SR (MD, MC)55mm
Adapter Available:Introduced:Country of Origin:Lens Hood:
Yes1969 MC II / 1966 MC IJapanD55NA

 

Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 lenses on eBay!

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For a gallery of Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 images, Click Here!