The most common and affordable focal lengths in prime lenses are 35mm and 50mm. However, just like I owned a 55mm for years before ever getting a 50mm, it’s taken me a long time to get round to having a 35mm.
It brings the build quality you’d expect from the legendary name, but what about the results it gives? Even with it being a common and inexpensive lens, is it worth you picking one up?
Let’s find out in this comprehensive review.
Find your MINOLTA MC W.ROKKOR-HG 35MM F2.8 on Ebay today
History of the Minolta Rokkor MC 35mm f2.8
Like those of many other camera companies, Minolta lenses were given a different or extra name to the bodies they were used on.
Think Konica Hexanon or Pentax Super Takumar.
For Minolta, this was Rokkor, which was used from 1940 to 1980 (and briefly between 1996 and 1998). It was inspired by the Rokko mountain that could be seen from the company’s factory in Mukogawa near Osaka, Japan.
The first Minolta 35mm f2.8 lens was the W.Rokkor-HG, which dates from 1958.
However, this was a low-production model that was quickly superseded the following year by the Auto W.Rokkor-HG. A compact version of this was also later released, in 1965.
In 1966, Minolta updated its 35mm f2.8 lens to the MC W.Rokkor-HG, which ran in its original form until 1973 when it too was upgraded to a new design, although the name remained the same.
This is the version that I have and that you can get for yourself from eBay here.
A smaller and lighter version of this lens, known as the MC W.Rokkor, appeared in 1975.
In 1977, as Minolta changed from its MC lenses to MD, the 35mm f2.8 again changed to the MD W.Rokkor, with a lighter version being introduced a year later.
Note that this rundown of Minolta Rokkor 35mm f2.8 lenses doesn’t include f1.8 versions, the Shift lens from 1976, or anything from after 1980 when the Rokkor name was dropped.
How old is my Minolta Rokkor 35mm f2.8?
If you have a Rokkor 35mm f2.8 and want to know how old it is but find the information above confusing, the table below will help.
It includes information parsed from that previous paragraph alongside some extra details.
You can check the name, filter diameter, and maximum aperture of yours to narrow down when it was made.
I know that mine, being an MC W.Rokkor-HG with a metal focus ring and unpainted aperture ring, was made sometime between 1966 to 1973.
|Name||Filter Diameter||Max Aperture||What Changed||Made From|
|Auto W.Rokkor-HG||55mm||f22||Became ‘Auto’||1959|
|Auto W.Rokkor-HG||52mm||f16||Diameter and aperture||1965|
|MC W.Rokkor-HG||52mm||f16||Became ‘MC’||1966|
|MC W.Rokkor-HG||55mm||f16||Rubber focus ring||1973|
|MC W.Rokkor||55mm||f16||No longer ‘HG’||1975|
|MD W.Rokkor||55mm||f22||Became ‘MD’||1977|
|MD W.Rokkor||49mm||f22||49mm diameter||1978|
What do the letters mean on my Minolta Rokkor?
You may be wondering what the letters mean on the different versions of these Minolta 35mm lenses – and on all other Rokkor lenses too, for that matter.
The W in W.Rokkor means wide-angle. So far so simple.
MC means meter coupled, from the metering system found on the cameras they shipped with.
MD means minimum diaphragm, which is again from the newer metering system found on the later Minolta cameras.
If you’re buying a vintage Rokkor to use on a digital camera today, both of these are immaterial.
The letters seen after Rokkor pre-1975 – mostly HG in the case of the 35mm lenses – relate to their optical formula, with the first letter denoting the number of lens groups and the second the number of lens elements.
The first letter is seemingly taken from Greek and / or Latin numerical prefixes (tri, quatro, penta, hexa, septi, octo, novem) while the second is the basic, modern-day Roman alphabetical equivalent.
From this we can see the 35mm Minolta lenses with the HG suffix had 7 lens elements (G) in 6 lens groups (H).
Some further examples, for clarity: a 28mm Rokkor SG had 7 lens elements in 7 lens groups while a 50mm Rokkor PG had 7 lens elements in 5 lens groups.
Finally, you may find you have an X on your lens; Rokkor-X HG, or simply just Rokkor X.
All this X means is the lens was produced for the American market. The lens itself is the same, with or without this extra marking.
So with the full name of my version being Minolta MC W.Rokkor-HG 35mm f2.8, I can tell it’s from an earlier meter coupled camera, is a wide-angle lens, has 7 lens elements in 6 lens groups, and was not made for the American market.
Using vintage Minolta lenses on digital cameras
Like with any off-brand vintage lens, using an old Minolta Rokkor on your digital camera will mean having no electronic communication between lens and camera.
This means having to use some sort of manual exposure mode and manual focus. Do not let this worry you. For the former, I shoot in aperture priority mode and suggest you do too, especially if you do street photography too.
I’ve written about why that is in this piece here, but the general idea is as follows: fully manual is too fiddly, slow, and easy to get wrong when you’re out and about. That leaves aperture priority and shutter priority, of which I much prefer aperture. You can learn more in that article.
As for manual focus, most new or new-ish digital cameras have some sort of manual focus aid. The Sony mirrorless I use has focus peaking, which I think is fantastic. If you’re after a mirrorless camera for your vintage lenses, the Sony range is up there with the best.
Olympus and Fujifilm, for two examples, have their own manual focus aids too, which work in different ways. You may prefer those, but that’s immaterial here.
The point is, shooting in aperture priority and with manual focus is not something to be intimidated by. For me, they’re both big parts of what makes shooting vintage lenses so fun and satisfying.
The adapter needed for your Minolta Rokkor 35mm f2.8
To use Minolta Rokkor lenses on your digital camera, you’ll probably need an adapter.
What adapter that is depends on your camera but it will start with MD. Don’t worry about whether your Rokkor lens is MC or MD, by the way.
The company thoughtfully used the same mount – commonly spoken of as the Minolta MD mount but actually called the SR mount – throughout all of its cameras, so one MD adapter is all you need for any and all Minolta Rokkor lenses you may have.
You can take those links straight to their respective Amazon listings. If you need an MD adapter for a different type of mount, check the table below or search on Amazon itself.
Build and image quality of the Minolta 35mm
I feel like I say this on every vintage lens review I write but the build quality of the MC Rokkor 35mm is reassuringly solid.
If a lens is to last for over 50 years like mine has, it does need to be put together well, and that does appear to be the case when you pick up this block of metal and glass.
However, there is one common issue that crops up with the inner workings of Minolta MC Rokkor lenses. Unfortunately, the aperture blades are prone to becoming oily, which can slow down their responsiveness to open and close.
This is true of mine, although I didn’t even notice it happening until I read about it while researching for this review and checked.
It’s never gotten in the way of me actually using the lens, although I am changing the aperture manually and not very much or very often. Only really between f8 and f11.
Even if the blades lag a little, they do have time to get to where they need to be before I shoot. And if they don’t, then it’s only really one stop difference anyway, which isn’t going to make or break my shot.
This becomes more of a problem though if you’re using this lens on its original film camera with auto-aperture, when they may move as you take the shot. Any delay caused by oily blades could well ruin your results.
As for the shots I manage to get from Rokkor on my digital camera – they’re generally great. As far as the image quality the lens gives me, I mean.
I don’t know exactly why, but I’ve found myself mainly shooting my street photography with it at f11. Most other lenses I’m at f8. It just seems to be a sweet spot for sharpness with this Minolta 35mm and helps me get more of my attempted shots actually in focus.
As with every vintage lens review I do, there are no zoomed-in flower-at-every-aperture test shots here. Just real world photographs I’ve taken with it – mainly for the #leesixtyfive project.
Street photography with the Minolta Rokkor 35mm
Having shot street photography with vintage lenses from 28mm up to 55mm, I think I’ve settled on my favourite length being somewhere in the middle.
Until now that’s been the F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8, but this Minolta 35mm is very similar.
It does mean having to get closer to your subjects than when using a 50mm or 55mm, but that’s not really a problem for me. Most people in China don’t care if you include them in your photographs.
The plus side of shooting street photography with a wider lens is being able to add more background to your shots.
I’ve been enjoying composing the whole shot recently, rather than focusing solely on the people in the middle of it.
Should you buy a Minolta MC W.Rokkor-HG 35mm f2.8?
I’ve never had a problem recommending any of the vintage lenses I’ve reviewed before, but there is something holding me back from telling you to just go get yourself a Minolta MC W.Rokkor-HG 35mm f2.8.
That thing is the aforementioned oily blades, which appear to be a potential issue on many vintage Minolta lenses and not just the 35mm.
I do wonder if buying a newer MD version of the lens will help you avoid this issue, but even then the only way to be sure is to check the actual lens for yourself.
I’ve seen eBay listings for used Minolta lenses that reduce the price when the blades are oily, which is refreshingly honest and nice to see. And if you do end up with one that suffers from this problem, you can get them cleaned up anyway.
Whether this issue is enough to put you off buying a Minolta Rokkor is up to you, but as there are plenty of other 35mm vintage lenses out there to choose from, I can see how you might want to leave the Rokkors alone.
From my personal experience shooting this on a digital camera in aperture mode, having a slight lag on the blades opening or closing up hasn’t affected the output I get, and it’s output that I’ve been very happy with so far.
If you’re looking to buy the lens on its original film body though, you’ll need to be more careful with the oily blades issue.
So, to buy or not to buy?
All I can really say is… I’m very happy with mine. 🙂
Find Your MINOLTA MC W.ROKKOR-HG 35MM F2.8 on Ebay Today
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