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Saturday, December 8

Working with the 35mm MD Rokkor



In the way that the 80mm Planar lens on the Rolleiflex is a jack of all trades, so, too, is the 35mm lens on the smaller format. Given the choice, I'd still vote for a 40mm lens as being the best all-round focal length but I'm more than happy to go out with just a 35mm, the bog-standard f2.8 MD Rokkor in this case. That's the lens that was used for all the photographs in this post.


It's one of those lenses that is often overlooked and can, consequently, be picked up very cheaply on Ebay. As well as being commendably sharp, it's also a diminutive lens and a great partner for the compact and relatively lightweight XG2. In fact, in terms of its performance and value it's possibly the biggest bargain on the market just now.

Everyone, myself included it has to be said, seems to be chasing fast lenses. If a 35mm f1.8 MD Rokkor pops up on Ebay you can bet there's going to be a tremendous clamour for it. As a result, the fast Rokkors often sell for about five times the prices of its slower brother. Is it five times the lens? Only if you're going to shoot everything at f1.8.


In fact, if you want to get involved in 35mm photography, then an XG2 and 35mm Rokkor is a hard-to-beat combination. There are actually quite a few Minolta bodies that you could use such as the XD7, XE1 and XE5, any of the SRT series and the newer X700. That's not an exhaustive list by any means. All of the bodies are well-made and capable with build quality on a very, very high level for the older, 1960s and 1970s models and slowly becoming more plasticky into the '80s and '90s. However, the somewhat plasticky MD Rokkor just seems made for the equally plasticky XG2.

But enough of this gear chat. If you remember, what I'm trying to do here in shooting with the XG2, 35mm and 50mm lenses is to stop myself thinking about fancy cameras by sticking to something rather more basic until the image becomes the important thing again and not the equipment.


The first pic was taken to finish the roll of Agfa APX 100 before I developed it in D76 1+1. It was shot wide open and handheld at about 1/30th. It's my version of Tracy Emin's My Bed but without the condoms. :-) All of these photographs were scanned and "post-processed" on the computer with added grain and arty borders (sorry, just haven't had time to get into the darkroom lately). 

Number two was taken in an old part of town few days ago. It was my type of day for photography - overcast and rainy. I love the way rain creates all these highlights on road surfaces. So much better than dry tarmac or cobbles.

My home town of Dundee has a lot of tenement flats and the communal entrance is known as a "close",  pronounced as in "a close second". They follow a familiar pattern with doorways out to the back green, flights of stairs with a window on each landing, shiny, well-worn floors and gloss-painted walls for easy maintenance. It's this paint that I love in the third pic as it bounces light around and turns what can be in reality quite smelly places (it's not unknown for late night revellers to see them as something akin to a Scottish version of a pissoir) into temples of light and shade.

Finally, here's a pic of Magdalene Yard bandstand. If I drop Cath and Freya off in the town for shopping, I often park the car around here and go for a walk along the attractive streets and lanes in Dundee's West End. I've photographed the bandstand many times. It's a nice subject with a pleasant backdrop of the River Tay and the gently undulating hills of Fife beyond.

9 comments :

Jan Moren said...

I inherited an SRT101 from my grandfather. Just this spring I bought an MD 35f/2.8 Lens for it for little more than a song at my local camera shop.

It flares quite a lot; it's not a good lens for any kind of strong direct light. But it's a good quality lens otherwise, and I really enjoy using it on this body.

If you want to start with film, then a system like Minolta is great, as there's a lot of excellent quality bodies and lenses out there, without the competition of digital camera users to drive up prices.

BRUCE ROBBINS said...

Couldn't agree more, Jan, about the Minolta system for people who are new to film. As you'll know, there are more than a few really good lenses in the system and they're as cheap as any other system lens (unless you're chasing the super-fast ones).

The 50mm f1.4 MC PG is a lovely lens and very useable wide open and it doesn't cost too much. The 24mm is legendary and, if what I've read is true, also doubled as a Leitz Elmarit. The fact that Leitz chose to work closely with Minolta in the 1970s in the development of bodies and lenses speaks volumes.

I have to say that I haven't had your experience of flare with the 35mm MD, though. I use mine with it's dinky wee lens hood. Don't know if that's what makes the difference. It's great for available light shooting indoors with a fast black and white film. For the SRT101 I'd go for a 35mm MC as it's built the same way as the camera - from a solid billet of steel. :-)

Al Denholm said...

My wife and her family's home town too "Dundee", must get through to take some pics sometime,played in the West Port Bar through there a couple of times before they ripped it down.

BRUCE ROBBINS said...

"Played" as in cavorted about or "played" as in was a member of a band?

Al Denholm said...

Haha,,yes,as in played music with a band,although I seem to be picking the camera up more than a guitar these days.

martynoliver said...

I'm in complete agreement with you about 40mm as an ideal focal length. I use a Leitz Summicron-C 40/f2 on my Minolta-made Leica CL, and it is perfect for my kind of photography. And as a combination, the two together are not dissimilar to the M6/35mm that you mention in your post on Eric Kim, and just as good for street photography. It could be argued that the M6 is more robust than the baby CL, but that depends on what you intend to do with it – I don't imagine anyone would use the M6 as a hammer; on the other hand, the CL is lighter and possibly even more unobtrusive.

One of your images, that of the old-town street, is very similar to one of mine shot with the Summicron-C (on APX-100). Am I allowed to put a link to it here? it's at http://www.flickr.com/photos/martynoliver/6909408579/ Like yours, this shot was scanned and then loaded into Photoshop, but I did nothing there other than up the contrast a bit to bring out the beauty of those lovely wet cobblestones.

These make a lovely set, Bruce, all of them you can be proud of. Could you have made them with your D700? Probably, at least something fairly close. But I doubt you'd have been able to look at them and feel quite so satisfied. Nor would I.

BRUCE ROBBINS said...

Martyn! What a nice surprise to hear from you! I can see you're getting on very well with the CL. They're fetching quite a lot of money on Ebay now. When I bought my Hexar AF a few years back, it was a toss up between the Konica and a CL. They were about the same price at the time. The last time I looked, you now have to pay about double for the CL and 40mm.

Is the 40mm all it's cracked up to be?

martynoliver said...

"is the 40mm all it's cracked up to be?"

I've been very happy with it, but I don't have anything else in this format to compare it with now. (I have use of a Noctilux, which to my mind has only the advantage of extra aperture.) I am just as pleased with the performance of my 90mm Hexanon, for example, in MF. And I think it's fair to say that a good deal of the Summicron-C's high reputation is founded on its relative cheapness against the rest of the M-mount Leitz lenses.

Jasmin Reyes said...

Hi. I just inherited a Minolta xg2 and I really don't know how to use it. I am used to my Nikon 5200 and I don't know how to use film. I am fond of black and white photography. Just want to ask if the pictures from xg2 are black and white? Or can I turn them to one? Sorry for a clueless question. Thank you!