There’s nothing quite like hiking up a trail, regardless of how many other people are walking up and down with you. It’s difficult to find time for a little mother nature in Los Angeles, California, but there are some nice spots for more easy-going hikers, such as my friends and I.
Also, I’m out of shape, so this was an eye-opening experience that pushed the upper limits of my Fitbit’s heart rate sensor.
This is also going to serve as a review of the Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm f/1.7 adapted to the Sony A7, so if you’re interested in trying out the capabilities of adapted lenses on mirrorless bodies, here you go!
The Griffith Observatory hikes aren’t necessarily the most taxing adventures you can have in Southern California, but for timid adventurers like myself it works well enough. It’s also an excellent opportunity to test out the capabilities of my new little toy: ye olde Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm f/1.7.
In severe need of a normal 50mm, but unable and unwilling to dish out the hundreds for the legendary 55mm f/1.8, I opted to go with a cheaper option that isn’t so outlandish for mirrorless cameras: adapting legacy lenses. For those who don’t know, mirrorless bodies are very capable of adapting lenses — particularly old film lenses — without the need of additional optics. This is because the lack of a mirror shortens the distance between the sensor and the mount, thus enabling most lenses to be adapted to mirrorless bodies with the simple need of an extension tube to account for the missing distance. Mirrorless cameras are also quite adept at utilizing these old manual lenses, because electronic viewfinders open the possibility of zooming in while focusing, as well as using focus peaking (a feature that marks higher contrast areas with colored dots to signify that something is likely in focus).
Blah blah, enough about the techy talk.
The hiking trip!
Last Saturday, my friends — Jeremy, Tran, Jenny, and Charmaine — opted to go to the Griffith Observatory this weekend since Jeremy has just never been. Hoping to catch a planetarium in the morning, we started at the not-so-wee hour of 10:30am — quite a shame, mostly exacerbated by the fact that we didn’t account for travel distance from home.
Dedicated to becoming healthy and fit individuals in society, we didn’t completely wuss out, and chose the hardest trail available to the observatory, which totaled out to a whopping 2 miles: just about the distance that my late grandmother would probably ask for a short break before continuing on. We reached the top without much effort, my own pulse peaking at a meager 179 bpm (noooothing!).
The Griffith Observatory is always a fun trip. Even if a lot of the displays are aging and may seem boring, a bit of contemplation enhances the experience. Most of the exhibits and information that you see truly emphasizes the scale of ourselves in comparison to our giant galactic neighborhood.
The Samuel Oschin Planetarium is made up of a gigantic dome, capable of fielding a big laser display, as well as the “star” of the show (pun fully intended): a giant Zeiss star projector. I’m still waiting for Zeiss to make it available for E-mount, and I will be doing a review of it once I manage to figure out how to mount it safely to my camera.
There are several shows available at the planetarium, and all of them are very informative and fun to watch. I highly recommend to check one or all of them out, if nothing else, when visiting the observatory. Each show runs about 20-30 minutes and only costs $7 ($5 for students, vets, seniors, etc.).
We capped off the day with a trip to a Korean BBQ joint, which is always a fun way to load on the protein after a successful hike, as well as replenish all of those much-needed carbohydrates and saturated fats that we worked so hard to lose for 2-3 hours.
Some words on buying old glass
I’m no professional tester, as I’m not nearly equipped, learned, or observant enough to adequately sample the intricacies of optical glass, focusing motors, or the exact number of grain specs I can manage to count for each available ISO on my camera. However, I can tread a bit on the practical and personal side of the matter.
That being said, the Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm f/1.7 is an excellent lens for the value. I picked this thing up for about $35 on eBay, and it was an amazingly mint-quality one at that. As a rule of thumb, the best things to look out for when shopping for old lenses are 1) seller reputability, 2) included images, and 3) the written description, obviously. Depending on how much of an investment you want to put down, make sure to keep your seller options relatively high: probably around 98.5-100% is best. Make sure that images are comprehensive. What matters are close-up images of the glass itself. Keep an eye out for ugly fungus, cracks, and any kind of damage. These can have rather negligent effects on the final image, but fungus grows and any damage can indicate the possibility for additional damage elsewhere.
Also make sure to pick up an adapter! Prices vary from $5-$500, depending on the mount. For Minolta MD/MC, mounts often run a bit over $10.
Mini Review of the Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7
This Minolta glass is one of the more prominent lenses out there for such a low price. As mentioned above, I picked one up for about $35, and I’m sure I could have gone a little cheaper with more persistence. However, I’m rather happy with my copy.
This lens is sharp. Of course, not as sharp as the FE 55mm f/1.8 (I don’t own the lens myself, but I hear it blows it out of the water in sharpness, micro-contrast, and other magical hubbub), or not even the FE 35mm f/2.8 (which I do own and love). However, I would say that you could easy squeeze out a good 80-90% of many of these premium lenses if you know what cheap glass to pick out.
Bokeh is really nice and smooth, but I’m not a huge fan of the angular light balls. If you don’t focus too hard on the polygons, then you get some pleasant results.
Colors are pretty nice and contrast is decent, but it does need a bit of slider-tweaking in Lightroom to really bring a lot of it out. Nonetheless, this isn’t much of an issue, as I typically post-process everything anyway, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re not too into that kind of stuff yet. This is really the case with a lot of legacy glass, often due to the lack of modern coatings rather than the glass quality itself. Also, due to the combination of a reflecting adapter interior and said lack of coating, some extra lens flare and light reflections could pop up. Good for J.J. Abrams, maybe not great for you.
Even with the ease provided by the A7’s EVF, manual focus can still be a pain in the ass. In low light, high ISO situations, the focus peaking often reads the grain, which can be irritating. Zooming in for precise micro-focus takes a press more than I would like (it automatically starts up when you manual focus with a native lens, but not with an adapted one). Since I’m just inept at everything, I found myself missing focus when I was sure I nabbed it, but I’m slowing working my way to higher hit rates. However, it’s a hell of a lot easier to achieve focus on my Sony than my Canon body, since the EVF made everything a breeze in comparison. I’m slowly starting to become accustomed to manual focus, though it inevitably takes more time than autofocus in general.
I would, without a doubt, recommend this lens to anybody who wants to try out manual focus on the A7 series. Once you start getting used to this, you could invest in some more expensive glass if you’d like to. Otherwise, it’s obvious that it would be best to shell out more money for a native prime if you have the cash and if it’s even available. The Sony FE lens selection may be growing, but it’s still pretty small, so make sure to indulge in the adapter options as much as you’d like meanwhile. If you have anything in the A7II series, you’re also gaining the added benefit of image stabilization, which I hear is stellar. The A7II also does quite well with certain autofocus adapters, especially the Metabones Canon EF adapter, which achieves blazing fast autofocus with many USM lenses out there.
January will be Anime Los Angeles season, so I’ll definitely be trying this lens out in that kind of environment! Hopefully, I’ll be good enough by AX so that I don’t have to spend my precious money on the beautiful 55mm.
Because I don’t want it.
I really don’t…
I… I don’t…………….