Monday, July 08, 2013

Beercan: Minolta 70-210mm F4

A long time blog reader, calex from Singapore contacted me several times for meet ups when he was stopping by in KL but we never did until recently. He has promised me a gift of the legendary Minolta 70-210mm F4, or more affectionately known as the "beercan". I have been needing a tele-photo zoom lens for my Sony gear, which I complained the lack of longer focal length in my recent shoots and assignment. I always emphasized the need and importance of having longer focal length, not just for the reach but for compressed perspective, creating different and more dramatic outcome in photography presentation. Ming Thein described it as "cinematic", and I found that to be a huge part of my shooting style as well. Hence the meet up with calex finally happened a few weeks ago, and to my surprise the beercan was in such pristine condition, and I was amazed by how well calex took care of the lens (note to self, learn how to take care of your equipment Robin, and don't overabuse your camera and lenses). I actually felt very guilty for receiving the lens and I wanted to pay him for the trouble but he insisted that I took it, with a promise I will make full use of the lens. And so here, in this blog entry, is my first time shooting with the Minolta 70-210mm F4 lens. 


All images in this blog entry were taken with Sony Alpha A57 and Minolta 70-210mm F4 lens. 







I really did wish to bring the beercan out for a spin a lot sooner, but work has been terribly busy, and then the Olympus PEN E-P5 review series happened, which took precedence. Only during last weekend I could dig up some time to shoot with the beercan. There was an outdoor portrait shooting session organized by the renowned Sony instructor, Kevin Ng, and I participated in this event, which could not have been more appropriate, considering it was participated mainly by Sony photographers/users. 

I am a huge fan of long lenses, and by now it should not be a secret anymore. Yes, I admit the need and necessity of using wider lenses, but when it comes to shooting people, there is something about the longer focal lengths that created better output. Faces appear more appealing and free of ugly distortion (the wider your lens is the more distortion there would be) and the body/head/waist/legs proportions will be more balanced. On top of the more "natural" and flattering look the long focal length provides, it also compresses the background, giving you less clutter and mess to avoid. The compressed background also created a very dramatic mood, which worked very well for portraits. The longer the lens is, the shallower the depth of field would be, and I always, always love the smooth, creamy bokeh produced by longer zoom lenses, over wider prime lenses. Even at F4, the beercan managed to throw the background away into creaminess with much ease. With less background clutter to work with, having compressed perspective, shallower depth of field it is not difficult to conclude my thoughts on the lens being the right choice to shoot portraits. 

No, surely I will not invest in expensive lenses such as the 70-200mm F2.8 for the Sony system, because my Olympus Zuiko Digital 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 is still an awesome lens, and can very well surpass any equivalent lenses in the class. I am not looking for a replacement. Nevertheless I did NEED a longer reach for my Sony system. That was where the Minolta 70-210mm came in. The constant F4 wide open aperture was a bonus, meaning even at the longest zoom of 210mm I do get F4 widest aperture, which is quite respectable for a zoom lens. Yet the lens was not overly heavy or huge,  and felt just right in my hands. The beercan is very well built, with all metal shell. The internal zoom mechanism (the lens will not extend when you zoom the lens) was quite a welcome as well. 





So how do I find the old, Minolta 70-210mm F4 lens? Did it meet my expectations from a zoom lens to be used on my Sony A57?

The lens performed adequately. 

The focusing was fast, but not superbly, "OM-D" like fast. It was not even as fast as zoom lenses being focused on my Olympus E-5. However, the beercan on A57 was also far from being slow. It was good enough and should not hold you back, and you surely won't blame it for missing your shots. Sometimes, getting the shot requires as much input from the photographer, as the capability of the lens to focus quickly. 

It was not clinically sharp, not even come close to Olympus Zuiko Digital 40-150mm F3.5-4.5 lens, and surely quite a far margin in comparison to the higher grade Olympus 50-200mm F2.8-3.5, but that is surely not a fair comparison. For what it is, the beercan produced sharp enough images, and good enough for most of my needs. However, the chromatic aberration can be an issue. I refrained myself from doing 100% crop views in this entry, to prevent pixel peepers from suffering eye bleeding, due to excessive chromatic aberration (purple and green fringing). The problem is quite serious, even with photoshop or any other softwares, I do not think you can fully remove the color fringing. Nonetheless, you must take note that I was never that critical about chromatic aberration in my photographs, and rarely do I complain about its presence in my images. Yes, the issue is there and I am well aware of the lens' characteristics, but it was not a deal breaker for me. On the whole the beercan performed very well, and I was satisfied with it generally. 

For a RM600-800 lens (depending on condition) I do think this is a no-brainer. I would choose this over the Sony 55-200mm anytime, and the F4 constant aperture will help in shooting under less than ideal lighting conditions. The better overall metal body built quality over newer generation plastic lenses is another plus point not to be ignored. 








Shooting locations were along the river at KL Central Market and Old KTM Train Station area, with wall paintings and murals/graffiti as our main backdrop. The model was Shermaine, who was very cooperative and enthusiastic throughout the whole shoot. Kevin was very kind and helpful in leading the group, and helping pose Shermaine, giving directions and coordinating the whole event. 

I know I could use other lenses (such as 35mm F1.8 and 50mm F1.8) but I refused to, because I wanted to really see what the beercan can do, and the only way to do so was to force myself to use only one lens, and one lens only throughout the whole session. Under normal circumstances I would have switched to wider lenses to capture more background, since the background was actually very nice. In this case, the beercan was my choice, and it was very versatile, having 70mm all the way to 210mm. 

Using a longer focal length also meant I was clashing with a lot of other photographers, about 15 who came for the event, whom mostly used shorter length lenses such as wide zooms (16-50mm, or 24-70mm) and normal prime lenses such as 50mm. Their distance being positioned much nearer to the subject resulted in my views being blocked most of the time. I knew this would happen, and I was not sweating it out. It was either them (most of them) or me, so I should not be pushing my way and get what I wanted, ignoring the needs of others. This was a group outing, and majority always wins. Hence it was only sensible to lay low, and shoot from the back, without much interruptions. Yes, I missed a lot of shots, no doubt, and I did not get much chance to shoot Shermaine in some of her best poses and positions. I am not complaining here, but explaining that my shots could have been a lot better, but I was working around restrictions. We have to give and take sometimes. 

As I have mentioned many times, I suck at shooting portraits. One of the main reasons I come to this session was to LEARN. My communication with the model needs a lot of work, and surely I know nuts about posing stuff. We dealt with natural light, so that was no biggie, but I also have not worked with light reflectors and other important lighting tools. So much to learn and explore, and the only way forward was to keep an open mind, and keep absorbing along the way. 

You only learn when you expose yourself to like minded people, observe and shoot, participate in real shooting circumstances. I know most of my shots were too tight, and I did want to get more full body shots but yes, I was being blocked most of the time. Learning is not about getting what you want all the time. Learning is also a lot about letting others get to do their part and you observe the whole process. While others were busy fighting for the spot to shoot, I chose to shoot them instead! And yes, I did shoot quite a bit of behind the scenes photograph, to better report to you beautiful people how the whole shooting process looked like. 

Look at the crowd! And Kevin gave some posing tips, which I have learned a great deal from. 

Jack and Joseph. Who says only Canon has white lenses? Sony also got!

Jack and his awesome Sony 200mm F2.8 (WHITE) and Nik Hadi shooting with a CCTV lens! 

Me chimping with Shermaine. Photo credit: Nik Hadi. 

My awesome beercan. Thanks Calex!!!
Photo credit: Jack Koh

I must express my gratitude to calex, who gave the beercan to me. Thank you so much, and I will make use of it, and shoot on the streets next with the beercan. 

Any of you beautiful readers who use the Minolta 70-210mm F4 lens? Do share your thoughts and opinion about the lens!

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11 comments:

  1. As I have mentioned many times, I suck at shooting portraits.

    Well, if that`s true, I REALLY suck

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Tommy,
      There is always room for improvement! I am sure serious portrait shooters will have plenty to say about my photos.

      Delete
  2. You're spoiling us lately with excellent pictures of pretty ladies! You won't hear me complain about that! :-)

    I don't have this lens, but I do have the same focal length, same permanent aperture zoom - in my case, a Nikkor. It's the first iteration of Nikon's AF system, with the old screwdrive, but still a very good lens in my opinion. I have not noticed much CA with that one. Of course it's a full frame lens (as I expect yours is too) and I'm only using the good center portion "thick glass" of the lens.

    I think the pictures are technically good, really good. There's only one where I can see some CA - so what. I never bothered to remove it either, at normal viewing distances and normal enlargements it's invisible anyway. I've never understood these nerds and geeks pouring over every inch of a print with microscopes and loupes.

    And as for the model: several of your pictures of her are really, really good. She has a sultry, special quality to her from certain angles. Very nice.

    Thanks again, for sharing! And enjoy the new "beercan"!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are being too kind Andre!
      I think the photos could be better if I have more time with her, and have more chances directing/communicating. Also, I did not get enough full body shots, due to distractions/blocking people in front of me. Nonetheless it was supposed to be a fun shoot, and it really was.

      Delete
  3. As a long-time fan & owner of the Beercan, I'll just note a few things.

    1. It's actually pretty sharp. What it isn't is high resolution. I had a lot of success with it on film and with the 12MP A700, but found it marginal on the 14MP A33 and on the 24MP NEX-7 it was simply out of its league.

    2. It's a very good lens for close focusing. Unfortunately it retains its low resolution close in, making it no longer ideal on today's higher-MP bodies.

    3. Absolutely wonderful colour. The 1st generation A mount lenses were noted for their superb and rather Leica-esque colour. The Beercan, as one of the two staple telezooms at launch back in 1985, was very much in this category (the 80-200/2.8 wouldn't come along for another year or two in the A mount system).

    4. Absolutely lousy manual focus. Loose feel, tiny MF ring. Typical for the era, but annoying by today's standards.

    Personally, I sold mine shortly after I sold off the A700. It just lost its magic on the newer bodies due to the overall lack of resolution.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey Robin,

    Great shots as always!!!

    I just created my own photo blog (www.igurel.com)
    Please have a look when you have time.
    I need to learn a lot, and sharing my photography will hopefully speed up the learning process.

    Greetings from Germany

    Ibrahim

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Robin. I am really glad you have the lens, as i know you will make full use of it.
    Since i havent used it for a long long time, i have totally forgotten how the result look like. I do agree that CA is quite evident.
    Anyway, hope its useful for you in long run. :)

    Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  6. hi robin..thnx for d pic..like d 2nd pic..on tht day i really wanna test my 60mm lens sigma f2.8..like d ring.really smooth when play manual focus..really happy that session as i can shoot before fasting month..so much info n learn a new thing from d expert..also i can test my cctv lens..like d image produce from this lens..soft image n looks like vignette style..nice to shoot with u n hopefully can shoot again after hari raya..see u soon robin..

    ReplyDelete
  7. Some really nice shots in here, Robin. I wouldn't have picked those shots as being taken by a lens worth "only" RM 600 to RM 800. They are really top notch.

    All the portraits are good, but for me the standout shot is the one of Jack and Joseph, standing with the grafitti background. I think this is a "Robin Wong" shot.

    All the best,
    Scott.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Great post. I have occasionally browsed your site over the past couple of years, and I enjoy both the photos and the commentary.

    This is the first Sony oriented posting that I have seen from you. I guess that I need to pay more attention. I also shoot Sony. My "Beercan" is a neglected beauty. Quite sharp with great colors - when it is "on." And all too frequently, it isn't. For portrait shots where the subject is reasonably static, I absolutely love it. The isolation and 3d effect at the long end just give me goosebumps. But that's not how I shoot. At an (American) football camp last week I took maybe 100 pictures, with ZERO keepers! Slow and inaccurate focus does in most of the shots. Not for moving people... And just when those brightly lit players stop moving, that ugly fringing shows up big time in high contrast environments. I can't remove it (using Bibble/Aftershot.)

    Move into the shade, and slow down the movement, and I would not ask for anything more in the 200mm region. But I guess that it's time to sell mine.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Great post. I have occasionally browsed your site over the past couple of years, and I enjoy both the photos and the commentary.

    This is the first Sony oriented posting that I have seen from you. I guess that I need to pay more attention. I also shoot Sony. My "Beercan" is a neglected beauty. Quite sharp with great colors - when it is "on." And all too frequently, it isn't. For portrait shots where the subject is reasonably static, I absolutely love it. The isolation and 3d effect at the long end just give me goosebumps. But that's not how I shoot. At an (American) football camp last week I took maybe 100 pictures, with ZERO keepers! Slow and inaccurate focus does in most of the shots. Not for moving people... And just when those brightly lit players stop moving, that ugly fringing shows up big time in high contrast environments. I can't remove it (using Bibble/Aftershot.)

    Move into the shade, and slow down the movement, and I would not ask for anything more in the 200mm region. But I guess that it's time to sell mine.

    ReplyDelete