Minolta MD 50mm ƒ/1.4 – The Ultimate Standard Legacy Lens?

With the runaway success of today’s mirror-less digital cameras has come another photo gear boom. And while the products in question are neither new nor novel, they’re essential and seem almost tailor-made to the mirror-less machine. We’re talking about legacy lenses. With impressive performance and value, legacy lenses have become a real passion for more and more in-the-know shooters.

And it’s easy to see why. Cameras like Sony’s A7 and Fujifilm’s X-Series have never looked better than when fitted with a classic, manual-focus lens. These modern, mirror-less marvels provide a perfect platform for the stylish and technically masterful lenses of yesteryear.

But with so many brands and models stretching back more than fifty years, which is the lens to choose? Especially in the standard 50mm focal length, the sheer quantity of available glass can be pretty overwhelming.

So, today we’ll make a case for what may just be the very best standard, 50mm legacy lens. With an ideally balanced combination of performance, build quality, versatility, and price, this lens is the perfect complement to your new mirror-less camera or classic film SLR.

It’s Minolta’s MD 50mm ƒ/1.4, and if you’ve been looking for the best legacy fifty, you may have met your match.

Minolta MD 50mm 1.4 Lens Review

For anyone unfamiliar with the Minolta name, check out some of our past reviews. In many instances we’ve delved into the history of the brand, their ethos, as well as their former and continued relevance. For those already familiar with Minolta, or for those who just want the dirt on the lens in question, let’s get to it.

What makes the Minolta MD 50mm ƒ/1.4 so special that we’re willing to claim it may be the best legacy fifty?

The first thing any shooter is likely to notice when grabbing hold of the MD 50/1.4 is just how great it feels. Minolta lenses are known for being solid, and the 50/1.4 does not disappoint. It’s a hearty lens that feels delightfully hefty. While lenses from other brands feel loose, fragile, or squeak and rattle when squeezed, the Minolta does not. It feels tight, compact, and strong. Were the nameplate removed, one could be forgiven for thinking it a German lens (Minolta did, in fact, design and build lenses for Leica).

The MD 50/1.4 weighs a healthy 235g, putting it right in the middle of the pack when compared to other brands’ 50mm ƒ/1.4s. It’s also compact, measuring only 40mm in length and 64mm in diameter. Filter threads are 49mm in the later models, 55mm in earlier 50/1.4s.

The lens barrel, helicoid, lens mount, and filter threads are solid metal, which feels great on the fingertips. Compromises in truly bulletproof build quality are few, though the aperture ring is one such compromise. In later models it’s made of plastic, while in earlier versions it’s aluminum. Still, the plastic ring is strong and durable, though admittedly not as nice (or heavy) as its metal predecessor. The aperture ring clicks nicely into its detents with deliberate precision, making viewless aperture adjustments easily trackable.

The focus ring spins smoothly with a perfectly weighted fluidity. There’s just enough resistance as we rotate the barrel, enabling pinpoint precise focusing with classic cameras and with new electronic viewfinders.

Close focus distance is superb for a 50mm, at 1.5 ft. This allows for excellent subject isolation in up-close shooting, excellent bokeh, and makes the lens a natural at product photography. Focus touch is further aided by a diamond-patterned rubber grip that stands up well against the test of time. We’ve not encountered any MD or Rokkor lenses in which the focus ring’s rubber has degraded.

Minolta MD 50mm 1.4 Lens Review 22

But it’s not until we compare the build quality of the MD 50/1.4 to competing lenses that we start to see why it’s so easy to recommend.

Operationally, the lens feels much better than the equivalent offering from Canon. Though that brand’s lenses perform great optically, they’re a bit too fragile for our liking. With their over-reliance on plastic, they often feel hollow and loose, with spongey focus throws and jittery aperture rings.

Another contender, the Olympus Zuikos, in our non-scientific testing have shown a proclivity for longevity issues. In our dealings through our camera shop, compared with Minolta, Olympus’ lenses show higher frequency of frozen apertures and elements afflicted with fungus. Not good. Minolta’s lenses, in contrast, are nearly always as functionally perfect as the day they were made (anecdotal information, we know, but that’s the way it is).

Minolta MD 50mm 1.4 Lens Review 1

Optically, the MD50/1.4 is second-to-none in its class. Minolta’s engineers knew what they were doing when they carried over the optical formula used in the much more expensive MD 50mm ƒ/1.2. This seven element in six group design offers ample correction of optical aberrations, and provides exceptional resolution and contrast.

But let’s get to the specifics of just why this lens performs better than any other legacy lens in its class.

Minolta MD 50mm 1.4 Lens Review 5

Many fast lenses suffer severe softness in the corners when shot wide open, which really hamstrings the capabilities of the lens. Not so with Minolta’s MD. Sharpness is fantastic, even when shot wide-open. Corners suffer a bit of softness, naturally, but it’s nothing in comparison to some other fast primes we’ve shot. The Minolta performs among the best we’ve tested in this regard.

The ability of the lens to resolve sharp images at ƒ/1.4 opens up a whole new world of low-light shooting possibilities. When light conditions allow, and when sharpness is valued, stop the lens down to ƒ/2 or ƒ/4 and things become outstandingly sharp across the entire frame. At ƒ/8 we’re seeing sharpness to rival many higher spec (and higher cost) lenses.

Minolta MD 50mm 1.4 Lens Review 4

Light falloff is visible at ƒ/1.4, so be wary if you’re shooting film (especially slide film). For those who can’t abide vignetting, you’ll need to post-process your digital shots or your scanned film negatives. Once your shots are in the digital workflow, it’s easy to do away with unwanted fall-off. Alternately, stopping the lens down a single stop to ƒ/2 eliminates much of the problem, while apertures of ƒ/4 and above will eliminate it completely.

With its 49mm diameter filter threads, we’re enjoying filters and attachments that are just slightly less expensive than larger diameter offerings. Similarly beneficial to the traveling photographer, these smaller diameter filters, caps, and lens hoods provide a lighter load, and take up less room in the camera bag.

Minolta MD 50mm 1.4 Lens Review 12

This lens fitted with a +10 close-up filter is a thing of beauty. By stowing a +10 filter in our bag we’re able to essentially carry a standard macro lens everywhere we go. See a bug? Screw on the filter and take incredible macro shots with ease. Screw off the filter and you’re right back to a standard. The MD’s high quality optics go a long way toward diminishing the negative impact a potentially less impeccably built filter may have on image quality. Good stuff.

It’s pretty remarkable to think that one can use this lens to shoot everything from portraits, to snapshots, to landscapes, to macro insect shots. It’s one of those rare bits of gear that works equally well for the photographer who loves nature, and the shooter who lives for low-light street photography. And this versatility is another reason the MD 50/1.4 is so easy to recommend.

Minolta MD 50mm 1.4 Lens Review 15

Bokeh is phenomenal. Partly due to the close minimum focus distance, and partly due to the lens being simply exceptional, you won’t find better bokeh in a competing 50/1.4. When shot wide open, background blur is exceedingly smooth, creamy, and blended, and depth-of-field is super shallow. Bokeh curve is predictable and nicely modulated without any drastic changes through the aperture range.

At its widest aperture the lens creates impossibly thin depth-of-field. While this value will change dependent on range to subject, at the minimum focus distance the DOF is razor thin. Some shooters will love this, others won’t care.

Minolta MD 50mm 1.4 Lens Review 21

Shooting portraiture in bright light at ƒ/4 results in perfect subject isolation and dreamy backgrounds. Even at ƒ/8 it’s possible to get extremely organic looking bokeh behind up-close subjects. It’s not until the smallest apertures that we start to see jagged bokeh highlights in the contrasty points of an image. These appear as hexagonal blurs that, while not overly conspicuous, can be a bit distracting.

Minolta MD 50mm 1.4 Lens Review 17

Chromatic aberration is nonexistent with the MD 50/1.4 thanks to Minolta’s exceptional optical coatings. Ghosting and flaring are incredibly rare, and one must be shooting directly at the sun to produce these unwanted affects. Even in this extreme situation, ghosts and flares are minimal. It’s pretty amazing, actually. The closest competing lens that’s as good at mitigating these kinds of aberrations is Nikon’s Nikkor 50mm ƒ/1.4, a lens that’s perennially pricier than Minolta’s MD.

Minolta MD 50mm 1.4 Lens Review 2

Which brings us to another big reason why the Minolta MD 50/1.4 may be the best legacy lens of standard focal length available right now. While it’s true that across the board prices for legacy lenses have been climbing, Minolta’s prices seem to be lagging behind the more recognizable names of Canon, Nikon, and Olympus. For those in-the-know, this presents an incredible opportunity to build a stunning collection of lenses for very little cost.

This is astounding since those other makers’ lenses, while excellent in their own right, are simply less of a complete package compared to the Minolta lens. Where other lenses may trump the MD 50/1.4 in certain individual categories, no single lens gets so much so right as the MD. It’s just the best all-rounder, and until more consumers catch on and drive the price up, Minolta’s MD 50/1.4 stands to be one of the best values in all of photography. At the moment, it’s almost criminally inexpensive. We might as well be stealing.

Minolta MD 50mm 1.4 Lens Review 11

Compatibility for digital and film shooting is a non-issue. For shooters using Minolta film cameras, the MD 50/1.4 will work with quite literally every SLR the company made between the years 1958 through 1998. That’s pretty amazing, and offers a world of choice for us analog shooters.

For those photographers using today’s crop of mirror-less cameras and DSLR machines there are countless inexpensive adapters available. Make sure the adapter you buy allows infinity-focus and enjoy worry-free shooting with any Minolta SR mount lens (these include all lenses marked MC, MD, Rokkor, Celtic, and 3rd party lenses).

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Are you convinced yet? You should be.

If you’re a mirror-less shooter who has yet to invest in legacy lenses, or a Minolta film shooter who’s looking for the perfect standard lens, now’s the time to buy. And there’s no better place to start than Minolta’s MD 50/1.4. It offers an unparalleled blend of quality, performance, and price. A lens that’s more robust than Canon’s, more reliable than Olympus’, and less expensive than Nikon’s, the Minolta MD 50mm ƒ/1.4 may just be the best legacy 50mm out there.

Buy it on eBay

Buy it on Amazon

Buy Your Adapter

Not convinced? Have a different favorite fifty? Let us hear about it in the comments.

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  • Reply
    Bevacqua Gianluca
    September 8, 2015 at 7:43 am

    An even cheaper alternative, not only without sacrificing image quality but actually even improving it, would be the Minolta MC or MD 55/1.7.

    I have both versions, and while the MC performs better toward infinity, the MD is sharper at close-range. The MC was my father’s and I’ve used it to learn to photograph since I was a kid (finally) allowed to use his reflex (an SRT-101), but for the MD I paid around 5€…

    And there are at least a few other Minolta lenses that I can vouch about (I use them on a Sony A7r, that usually shows when a lens is not good enough pretty fast):

    – 50/1.2
    – 35/1.8
    (these two have the loveliest bokeh, but are a tad pricer)

    – 200/4 (quite good from wide open, but at f/8 and f/11 is really really sharp, even if low contrast)

    BTW, great blog! I never miss one of your posts 🙂

  • Reply
    December 9, 2015 at 3:41 pm

    hi, great site. I do think you totally forget the Konica 50mm 1.7. Great great lens on my Sony a7…

    Thanks, Joris

    • Reply
      December 9, 2015 at 4:43 pm

      Thanks bud. Konica lenses are great for sure. Happy shooting!

  • Reply
    December 29, 2015 at 1:10 am

    I do agree that in terms of quality. I have numerous standard lenses across different brands and I have a criteria in my head now when just looking for a right lens. I like my 50’s to be less than 250 grams on my A7 and I don’t want the barrel too long. its a difference of 2mm to 8mm but they count to me, I also prefer rubber focus ring over metal focus ring. I particularly like ones that have some plastic in them like a Contax planar 50mm 1.7, Minolta Rokkors and Plain MDs, Canon nFDs, Olympus Zuikos, Nikon E lenses. I would say that the Minolta’s are the best mechanically among those plastic hybrids. . I particularly like the MD because it has a wider grip than rokkors and better lens coating.

    • Reply
      December 29, 2015 at 1:17 am

      Interesting that you’d mention the Nikon E series. That’s a lens range that I think is quite excellent, but that doesn’t seem to get much respect.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    Good article! Exactly what I was searching for during the last few days.. I’m currently searching for a fast 50ish mm manual and the Minolta was one of my favorites. Do you know what’s the difference between MD 50 1.4, Rokkor PG 50 1.4 and Rokkor PF 50 1.4? The latter seems to be the most expensive of the three, but by a small margin. How do these compare to Canon FD 50 1.4 S.S.C for example? So far I’ve tried only a Rolleinar 50 /1.4 and I was pretty impressed by its sharpness and bokeh, so if I could find something similar, I’d be quite happy.

    • Reply
      January 20, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      Hey bud. Thanks for the kind words. The Rokkor PF that you reference is, I believe, a 58mm 1.4 or a 50mm 1.7. I don’t recall ever seeing a 50mm 1.4 PF, though I could be wrong.

      The letters following the Rokkor name on certain Minolta lenses denotes the number of elements and groupings in the lens’ construction.

      To your question, the difference in optical quality between the MD 50 1.4 and the Rokkor PG 50 1.4 will likely be insignificant. I’ve read in many places online that the MD version (the version here reviewed) is very slightly inferior to the older versions. I’ve not found this to be the case. In fact, Minolta’s own reference material from the period states that the MD version produces identical image quality to the older versions. Do we believe that? I do, personally, having used all versions extensively.

      In practical application the only difference is in build material, size, weight, and build quality. The later MD version reviewed here is smaller and lighter than the previous version. It uses more plastic, including on the aperture ring. Some people hate that and consider it a mark of low quality compared to the metal ring of the previous version.

      Personally, I find the more compact lens to be nicer, since I value compactness. Additionally I’ve found no drop in build quality with this lens. For me, it feels better than the older versions in use. And in practical use, it makes incredible images at under $100. I can’t think of a value proposition better than this late model MD 50 1.4.

      Hope this has helped! Let me know if I can do anything else for you.

      • Reply
        January 21, 2016 at 9:59 am

        Thanks a lot, James!
        Indeed, the PF model was 58mm, not 50. That makes it a bit longer for my needs on an APSC, so I’ll probably have to choose between MD and PG. Plastic aperture ring doesn’t bother me at all. I’m looking at very well preserved examples, so I can live with the plastics.
        Do you have any observations on Canon FD 50/1.4? It’s the other lens I’m also considering along with the Minoltas. As I don’t have adapters for them, I’ll need to buy an adapter before I’m able to test them, so ‘ll have to decide on the mount 🙂

        I liked your sample shots – the bokeh in particular. I’ve seen other reviews where the sharpness was tested and they all looked good to me.
        I know that Canon FD also has great sharpness (maybe even better than Minolta), but I’ve read that its bokeh is harsher. Is the Minolta the better all-rounder in your opinion?

        How easy is to manual focus with Minolta? I’ll be using focus peeking anyway, but I know some lens are harder to nail the focus even with the help of focusing aids.

        That’s pretty much all I wanted to ask on this lens. I like the Minoltas by what I’ve read and learned so far, so a little comparison with the Canon FD will be enough for me.


        • Reply
          May 1, 2016 at 11:37 am

          Filip, I somehow missed this comment! I’m sorry about that. If you still need help deciding between the MD and Canon (or anything else), email me directly at contact@fstopcameras.com.

  • Reply
    April 16, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    What about the newer AF series? How do they compare with the MD? Obviously the 1.4 but also the 1.7 in value? Another question is there a difference in quality between the 55 mm filter size vs. the 49? In either the MD or AF should I be looking for.the larger 55mm size? It would be easier as I already have the filters. Thank you Great article

    • Reply
      April 16, 2016 at 2:07 pm

      Hey Ed. I’ve used the AF 50 1.4 and 1.7 and they’re fantastic lenses. As with most manufacturers, optical coatings were continually updated as techniques changed and improved. Is there a difference in naked image quality between the MDs, Rokkors, and AFs? Very unlikely. Very few people would find a difference even shooting on today’s digital sensors, and I am confident that no one would see a difference on film.

      Some people claim a difference in build quality between the older Rokkors and the newer MDs. This is more subjective, but I don’t buy it. The newer MDs have a plastic aperture ring, sure, but functionally there’s little difference. In fact, I find the compactness of the later MDs give the lenses a greater perceived heft, and they just feel tighter to me.

      The AF lenses are certainly less impressive feeling, especially the 50s. But there are some AF wide angle lenses that are super dense and feel just as solid as the older ones.

      Personally I would buy what works best with your system. If you have a collection of all 55mm filter lenses and you enjoy the look and feel of those, go for it! Otherwise, perhaps price and availability will be better parameters?

      I hope this helps!

      • Reply
        August 1, 2016 at 6:20 am

        Well, Sony has certainly benefited from the manual Minolta 50mm 1.4/7 legacy. The Sony 50mm 1.4 (auto-focusing and A-mount) is a super lens and carries on the tradition of lovely colors and great low light reach. I have not used the Minolta AF versions of the 50mm but I have read that people seem to prefer Minolta’s manual focusing ring on the AF (kind of an ironic statement I suppose). You can find some great deals on Minolta AF 50mm 1.4 and 1.7 that I recommend jumping on if you are looking for this type of glass. Especially the 1.7 considering the price — there is really no excuse not to have one in your arsenal. Sometimes, it’s nice to have something a little more modern and automatic when working with newer cameras. Keep in mind Sony A-mount and — you’ll need an adapter for the A7x,

  • Reply
    June 30, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    Hello! I’m very nearly sold on this, no thanks to your post, though I’m still dithering… A few questions, if you don’t mind:
    What is this magical +10 filter that you spoke of, and do you have any links to it?
    Have you had the chance to use the older MD-Rokkor version of this lens? If you have, which of the two would you recommend?
    Thank you!

    • Reply
      June 30, 2016 at 4:07 pm

      Hey! I’ve used the Rokkor versions of this lens extensively. I prefer this one because it is smaller, lighter, and newer. It offers the same image quality as the earlier lenses, and it’s compactness tips the scales for me.

      The +10 filter is just a high magnification screw on filter, just like a UV filter. They work great, though image quality is reduced a little bit. Still, for the low price they ask it’s better than carrying a dedicated macro if you’re traveling light.

      Just search Amazon for a +10 close up filter of the appropriate diameter. I think this lens uses 49mm, but double check that.

      Hope this helps!

  • Reply
    Daniel Stevenson
    August 20, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    I own the Minolta lens you discuss and it is indeed a terrific lens. You will certainly not be disappointed if you buy one.

    However, I would still select the SMC Pentax M 50 1.4. The Pentax lens is 63mm in diameter and only 37mm long so it is a bit smaller than the Minolta lens. I believe the weight is identical, around 235 grams. The lens IQ is amazing, it has a very, very devoted following and is considered one of the finest fast 50s made. Build quality is equally as robust with nothing coming apart over the years.

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