Minolta AF 300mm F4 HS APO G A-mount on Sony A99ii review
The Minolta AF 300mm F4 HS APO G A-mount is a more than 20 year old lens made by Konica/Minolta in Japan. Konica/Minolta was the only lens manufacturer that also produced their own glass, and hence they matched their designs with the best elements they had in stock.
It’s a different approach than designing a lens and then sourcing the glass in bulk from somewhere else as it gives you more quality control over the entire manufacturing process. Needless to say that they made some fantastic lenses, that can still be used today on Sony A-mount cameras.
With the release of the Sony A99ii in 2016, things got even more interesting, offering fast autofocus with a 42 megapixel sensor. Hybrid Phase detection AF (which uses a 79-point dedicated phase-detection autofocus sensor with 399 on- chip phase detection AF points) is not available with these pre Sony A-mount lenses, but you’ll still get a generous 79 phase detection points covering about 20% of the sensor to choose from. An AF system that was never possible before with these screw-mount lenses.
The Minolta AF 300mm F4 High Speed APO G A-mount features an all metal build with 9 elements in 7 groups and a drop-in filter system which is situated between the elements. I could not test any filters, as my second hand copy came without, but I would be very careful when using it as I’m sure that dust and moisture can easily get into the lens that way.
It also has a 9 bladed and rounded aperture which together with the compression at 300 mm and a maximum f/4 opening should yield some nice bokeh.
I’ve tried the Minolta AF 300mm F4 HS APO G together with a 1.4 TC and by itself on the Sony A99 II on a trip to India for this review. Let’s see what my findings are.
Autofocus on the A99 II
As I mentioned earlier, the Minolta AF 300mm F4 HS APO G can’t access the 4D focussing system of the A99 II. Instead, it can only use the 79-point dedicated phase detection points in the dedicated AF module. And this is also a screw driven lens, a pre SSM type of focussing that mechanically has to move a screw in order to achieve focus. Even so, autofocus is quite accurate and relatively quick (if you temper your expectations of course).
I had no problem getting getting great results with and without a 1.4 TC with the system on full automatic. The latest Sony Alpha features like face recognition and Eye-AF are even available, but you’ll need to put a bit more effort in than with a modern day SSM2 lens. For animals (like the Tigers in Ranthambore National Park) I would often switch to the centre focus point and then use the focus-and-recompose method to achieve the composition I wanted.
I wouldn’t say that this is a fast action lens, but with proper care and a tripod, it would even be possible to use the Minolta AF 300mm F4 HS APO G for birds in flight and airplane spotting. I’m not saying that you’d get the same shooting experience than with a Tamron SP 15-500 or the Sony 100-400, but it should be possible to get some decent shots in any case (though I would not recommend it for any kind of professional action photography).
Great news, the Minolta AF 300mm F4 HS APO G is tack sharp in the centre of the frame at f/4, which in my opinion is where 90% of the time your subject will be with a tele prime like this. The corners lag behind a bit, but are quite acceptably sharp by f/5.6. And yes, this lens does resolve the full 42 million pixels of the A99 II!
With a 1.4 TC attached, you’ll reach up to 420mm, with the loss of one stop, making it a maximum f/5.6 aperture lens. This loss of light is due to the teleconverter, so you’re basically shooting an f/4 lens through an magnifying glass (in very simple terms). Here, you will need to stop down to f/8 to get the same level of sharpness in the centre, and f/11 for the corners.
If you’re looking to buy this lens to go on safari, or to photograph animals, you can also use the crop mode (super 35mm mode) of the A99ii where you’ll have a reach of 672mm at a still respectable 18 megapixels.
As always, the quality of the bokeh does not only depend on the lens. In order to get optimal results, it’s important to shoot at a large aperture (f/4) with your subject in close-up and a suitable background. The Minolta AF 300mm F4 HS APO G can indeed yield some pretty impressive results in this regard. The out-of-focus area rendering reminds me of what you can often get with the Zeiss 135mm f/1.8, luscious, creamy and very smooth backgrounds. For me, together with the excellent sharpness at f/4, is where this lens shines.
Chromatic Aberrations, flare, ghosting and vignetting
The Minolta AF 300mm F4 HS APO G can’t take advantage of modern coatings to reduce CA off course, so the amount of chromatic aberrations (purple and green fringing) both in the centre and corners can be terrible at times. These times I’m referring too are off course in scenes with a lot of contrast. Luckily, it’s not too complex, and Lightroom manages to all but eliminate CA with the use of the eyedropper tool.
I had no issues with lens flare and ghosting during my months with the Minolta AF 300mm F4 HS APO G (perhaps due to my shooting style), but I’m sure that also here you’d see more than you’re used to with modern day lenses.
Since this is a 300mm prime, there is little or no vignetting visible. You won’t find any correction profiles for this lens either, but I wouldn’t worry too much about that.
Yes, the inolta AF 300mm F4 HS APO G will produce the famous Minolta colour rendering. What that is, is hard to explain, but once you’ve tried a few Minolta lenses (or early Sony A-mount lenses like the 35mm f/1.4), you’ll start to recognise the unique tones, vibrancy and distinctive rich colours synonymous with the name Minolta.
On the A99 Mark 2, auto white balance always seems to favour the warmer (yellow) side of the spectrum, but I found that a simple auto white balance adjustment alongside a neutral camera calibration profile from Adobe quickly gets me a very realistic yet eye pleasing tonal balance.
If you’re looking for a relatively lightweight tele prime lens at a very reasonable price on the second hand market, the inolta AF 300mm F4 HS APO G. You might be put off by the f/4 maximum opening (we like to to read f/2.8 don’t we), but this lens resolves the 42mp A99 II at f/4, and thanks to the high ISO capability (6400 is no problem) of this camera, this combo actually works quite well in that regard. If you are planning on using a 1.’ Teleconverter with this lens, remember that you’ll lose a stop of light and that you’ll need to step down another stop to f/8 to get the same performance as without a TC. So perhaps not the best use of this lens.
Chromatic aberrations can be quite pronounced and will show up visibly in your image as purple (the most annoying) and green fringing in areas with a lot of contrast. It’s not possible to fix this in-camera, but it’s easy to remove in an app like Lightroom with the colour picker tool.
Autofocus (although limited to the 79-point phase detection module of the A99II), also performs admirably. You also get access to the latest autofocus technology like face detection and Eye-AF (within the 72 point frame), so I would wager that there has not ever been a camera body that performs better with this lens. Having said that, I would not expect modern day performance from this combo, and you’ll need to take more care than you’re probably used to to get the focus to lay where you want. But it’s an f/4 lens, so the in focus area won’t be as shallow than with an f/2.8 lens.
For me, the lens really shines in regards to bokeh and color rendition for portraits, pseudo macro fauna/flora and architecture shots. In the right conditions, you’ll get a creamy background reminiscent of one of my all time favourite lenses, the Zeiss 135mm f/1.8. Combined with the sharpness at f/4 and the fact that it’s balances well on the A99M2, it’s a great lens to get up close to people or subjects without actually getting noticed. If your main area of interest is birds-in-flight photography or looking for a fast action lens, this might not be the right choice for you though as autofocus (and reach for that matter) is not compatible with new lenses on the market right now.
All in all, the Minolta AF 300mm F4 HS APO G is a nice addition to your kit for casual use if you manage to get a good copy at a reasonable price. Have a look through my gallery if you’d like to see some more images.