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Here's a brief look at the Minolta AF 17-35mm F/3.5 G  lens.  Scroll down for the main review.

Lens

Minolta AF 17-35mm F/3.5 G 

Box contents

Front and rear caps, hood, hard case and users manual.

Cost

$1000-$1500 used price at the time of this review.

Build quality

Very good

Additional information

Don't confuse this lens with the much less expensive Konica Minolta AF 17-35mm F/2.8-4 (D).

Specifications below

 

Optical configuration

15 elements in 12 groups

Angle of view

104°-63° full frame, 69°-42° APS-C.

Aperture

7 blades, circular

Full frame and APS-C

Yes, full frame and APS-C.   APS-C equivalent, 25.5-52.5mm

Depth of field and focus scales?

Focus window.

Minimum focus, image plane to subject

11.8" (300mm)

Minimum focus, end of lens barrel to subject

5.7"  (145mm)

Hard stop at infinity focus?

Yes

Length changes when focusing?

Yes

Focus ring turns in AF?

Yes

Filter size

77mm

Filter ring rotates?

No

Distance encoder?

No 

Max magnification

0.16x

Min. F/stop

F/22

Sony teleconverter compatible?

No

Length changes when zooming?

No

Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)

3.2" x 3.6"   82mm x 91mm, barrel width at focus ring, 3.0" (77mm)

Maximum  extended length (my measurements)

3.7"  (93mm)                                                      

Weight bare (my scale)

21.2oz  (600g)  22.2oz (630g) with caps


Requisite product shots.

April2009/1735gkit.jpg
Box and contents
April2009/1735gft.jpg
Front element
April2009/1735gbk.jpg
Backside mount.
April2009/1735gftup.jpg
Side shot showing full focus extention
April2009/1735gftdwn.jpg
Side shot with focus set to infinity
April2009/1735gup.jpg
Zooming in drops front element, 35mm maximum pictured.
April2009/1735gup.jpg
At 17mm, front element is up.
April2009/1735gcap.jpg
Original front cap
April2009/1735gftoff.jpg
Frontal offset with focus hold button showing

 
 
The Sony A700 and Sony A900 were used for this review.  For full frame results, go to the bottom of the page.  For a better understanding of my review methods and terms, go here.
 
Check out a comparison review that includes this. 
 
The (made in Japan, late 1990s) Minolta AF 17-35mm F/3.5 G lens is very similar to the newer, and much less expensive Konica Minolta AF 17-35mm F/2.8-4 (D), the main difference outwardly is the build quality, which is much better with the "G" lens.  If you're looking at this lens to use with an APS- C camera, you might want to consider the much wider Sony DT 11-18mm F/4.5-5.6, or Sigma 10-20mm F/4-5.6 zoom, which have the equivalent coverages of 16.5-27mm, and 15-30mm.  Used on an APS-C camera, the Minolta AF 17-35mm F/3.5 G has the equivalent coverage of 25.5-52.5mm, not really very wide, and there are other lenses better suited for that range, if that's the range you're looking for.  I guess what I'm trying to say here is; use this lens on a full frame camera!!  Incidentally; the "G" on Minolta "G" rated lenses was only applied to the box (not visible in the product shot above), and never on the lens itself.  That's why the front cap you see in the product shots above doesn't have the "G" at the end.  Sony isn't so modest, and has the "G" written all over the place.

Build quality is very good, and similar to other "G" lenses.  It looks like it has plastic around the zoom and focus rings, with a metal barrel.  The zoom and focus rings have rubber around them for easy gripping.  The finish looks like the Sony Carl Zeiss textured black, instead of the smooth, shiny black so typical of Minolta lenses.  This lens zooms internally, and doesn't extend out like most zoom lenses.  At 35mm, the front element drops down inside the lens, and is at the very top at 17mm, see photos above.  The zoom action is dampened well, but tends to creep some as you hold the lens at an upward angle, usually dropping from 17mm to 24mm.  The focus ring is very easy to turn, and turns in auto-focus mode unfortunately.  Focal length numbers come at 17mm, 20mm, 24mm, 28mm and 35mm.  EXIF data reads correctly at all marks.  This lens sports a focus hold button on the left side, which can be changed to DOF on select camera bodies.  A Konica Minolta Dynax lens manual from 2004 states this lens has "aspherical lenses and anomalous dispersion (AD) glass." 
 
In the box comes the lens with front and rear caps, a very nice hard case with strap, a plastic hood and instruction manual covering multiple zoom lenses.  
 
A note about the front element coatings.  This lens has an orange color reflected from the front element.  Some people claim there are updated copies of this lens that may show a green or bluish color.  I believe these people may be correct in the assumption that Minolta updated the coatings on this lens at some point, based on what Minolta has done in the past, and after examining different serial numbers and purchase dates.
 
Auto-focusing is fast, though it could be a little more accurate as judged by flipping through enlarged images at F/3.5.  Manual focusing takes just over 1/5 turn from Close-in to infinity, with no back slop when focusing manually. 
  


Lens flare/ghosting.  Veiling glare seems low at 17mm, and strong towards 35mm.  Ghosting control is poor, I thought it would be much better.  Check out the samples below.  If the sun is near the outside edge of the image, you'll need to block it with your hand, If the sun is in the image, you'll see some heavy ghosts, especially with the sun near the image edge at small apertures.  Pointing the lens directly at the sun near 17mm looks ok wide open or stopped down one or two stops, and looks bad stopped down to F/11-22, which results in a wagon wheel look (mostly using full frame) around the sun.  This lens has a petal type plastic hood, but as usual, it doesn't do much good, especially at 17mm, use your hand for the best control.

Lateral color fringing.  Above average control.  I see a very small amount of blue/purple fringing along the image periphery using an APS-C camera, and the typical green/magenta using a full frame camera, though I'd say the full frame results are slightly better than average also. 
 
Bokeh.  The usual for a super-wide, which is busy.  You won't notice any background blur unless you focus on something within a few feet (1-2m) from the lens, with a wide open aperture.  See crops below.
 
Color.  Similar to other Minolta and Sony lenses. 
 
Coma.  APS-C average to good control, but full frame results are fairly strong.  See crops below.
 
Close-up filter.  N/A.  
 
Filter size is 77mm.  This size is used by Sony for all their super-wide angle zooms. 
 
Distortion.  See sample images below.  At 17mm, mild to moderate barrel distortion, then becoming flat at 24mm to 35mm.  Good control here, especially for an super-wide.  For people looking at their images with a grid overlay; you'll see a tiny amount of pincushion at and near 35mm.  Full frame looks flatter at 17mm, due to wave distortion, see results at the bottom of the review.
 
Distortion examples 
 

April2009/1735gtdis.jpg
17mm, moderate barrel distortion.
April2009/1735gwdis.jpg
35mm, straight.

 

Random samples

 

17mm, F/5.6 ghosts

17mm, F/5.6 sun centered

April2009/1735gghtz.jpg
April2009/1735gsunctrz.jpg

35mm, F/5.6 sun just out of frame

35mm F/5.6, sun blocked with hand

April2009/1735ggstunz.jpg
April2009/1735ggstcovz.jpg

Bokeh,  17mm F/3.5

Bokeh,  17mm F/4.5

April2009/1735gwbok35.jpg
April2009/1735gwbok56.jpg

Bokeh,  35mm F/3.5

Bokeh,  35mm F/5.6

April2009/1735gtbok35.jpg
April2009/1735gtbok56.jpg

Coma,  17mm F/3.5

Coma,  17mm F/5.6

April2009/1735gbokf35.jpg
April2009/1735gbokf56.jpg

 
The top left shot shows ghosting when the sun is in the image.  You can see a line of colored blobs heading towards the sun, and a big orange spot in the lower left corner.  The worst focal range for ghosts seems to be around 20-22mm--lots of orange circles.  The top right shot shows what happens when you point this lens directly into the sun at 17mm, F/5.6, you see a very diffused orange disk, though there's not really a problem here, just don't stop down the lens to F/11-22, especially using a full frame camera. see images at the bottom of the page.   
 
The second row shows what happens when the sun is a little outside the frame at 35mm.  Veiling glare is Strong, if you hold up your hand to block the light from hitting the front element, you'll nearly eliminate this problem.  All this stuff is noticeable in the viewfinder, so just pay attention and block the sun, or frame the image from a different angle.
 
Bokeh.  The background blur isn't very good, then again, you shouldn't be getting much blur unless you focus on something that's just a few feet (1-2m) in front of you.  At F/8, and infinity focus, everything should be reasonably sharp past the 10' (3m) point.
 
Coma.  Mild coma at 17mm-24mm, wide open, stopping down to F/5.6 makes bright points of light in the corners look circular and sharp as they're supposed to be.  It's really not noticeable in regular pictures.  Full frame results are much stronger, see crops at the bottom of the page.

 
Light fall-off.

Mild vignetting at 17mm using an APS-C camera.  The amount below is not noticeable in regular pictures. 
 

           17mm F/3.5

             17mm F/5.6

April2009/1735gwvig35.jpg
April2009/1735gwvig56.jpg

           35mm F/3.5

             35mm F/4.5

April2009/1735gtvig35z.jpg
April2009/1735tvig45.jpg


Center and corner sharpness.

Below are crops from the image centers at 17mm.

              17mm F/3.5

           17mm F/5.6

April2009/1735gctr35px.jpg
April2009/1735gctr56px.jpg

 

The centers at 17mm look sharp wide open, and don't sharpen up by stopping down.  For those who look at their images all day blown way up on a computer scene; you'll see a tiny loss of contrast at F/3.5, which clears up at F/4.5.  

 

Now the 17mm corner crops. 

 

           17mm F/3.5

             17mm F/4.5

April2009/1735gcn35px.jpg
April2009/1735gcn45px.jpg

           17mm F/5.6

             17mm F/8

April2009/1735gcn56px.jpg
April2009/1735gcn8px.jpg

 
The 17mm corner crops look a little soft wide open, by F/5.6 however, they reach their maximum sharpness, and there's no need to stop down further to get sharp corners.   
 
Below, look at the 35mm centers.
 

           35mm F/3.5

              35mm F/5.6

April2009/1735gctr35wx.jpg

April2009/1735gctr56wx.jpg

 

Here you can see there's very little difference in 35mm center sharpness from F/3.5 to F/5.6, there's plenty of detail in the F/3.5 crop, but it lacks the solid contrast of the F/5.6 shot.

 

35mm corners below

 

           35mm F/3.5

              35mm F/5.6

April2009/1735gcntel35.jpg

April2009/1735gcntel56.jpg

           35mm F/5.6 from center

              35mm F/11

April2009/1735gcnctrtel56.jpg

April2009/1735gcntel11.jpg


The 35mm corners are somewhat soft at F/3.5, but do sharpen up nicely at F/5.6.  The maximum corner sharpness comes at F/11, though not by much.  I added a center crop at F/5.6 to show the differences.  I omitted the F/8 corner crop as it wasn't noticeably sharper than the F/5.6 crop. 
 
 
Let's check out the macro capabilities of this lens.

Below, check out the sample and click (179kb) for a 100% cropped portion of the full image.  The sample shot was taken with the Sony A 700 12.2MP camera.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 1"x 3/4" or 25.4mm x 19mm.  Also, note the macro shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; in this case a rather short 5.7" (145mm), measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject. 
 
 

April2009/1735gmac455.jpg
As close as you can get, F/5.6.

 
The Minolta AF 17-35mm F/3.5 G has a common (super-wide) reproduction ratio of 0.16x, and turned in a good close focus shot, with the sharpest shot coming at F/5.6. 
 
 

Full frame results using the Sony A900 below.

 

Check out the differences when using a film or full frame camera below.  I'm only pointing out the noticeable issues as compared to the APS-C bodies, so if I don't show it here, the results are not significantly different enough to warrant posting an additional set of images in this section.

 

Light fall-off 

 

         17mm F/3.5

          17mm F/4.5

April2009/1735g1735ffvig.jpg

April2009/1735g1745ffvig.jpg

         17mm F/5.6

          17mm F/8

April2009/1735g1756ffvig.jpg

April2009/1735g1780ffvig.jpg

         35mm F/3.5

          35mm F/5.6

April2009/1735g3535ffvig.jpg
April2009/1735g3556ffvig.jpg

 

Light fall-off is moderate to heavy at 17mm, from F/3.5-4.5, stopping down lessens the severity, but will not eliminate all dark corners.  At 35mm, there's mild corner darkening with a smooth transition, which is not noticeable in real shots. 

 

Full image from A900 below.

 

April2009/1735goverff.jpg

 

Here's yet another variation of the all-too-typical backyard scene, though it is colorful.  This time we see the light fall-off results with the lens set to 17mm and F/3.5, which is an aperture one wouldn't normally use in broad daylight.  The dark corners are noticeable, but the overall image is not effected in my opinion.  Shoot daylight landscape scenes at a more reasonable F/5.6-11, and you won't have this issue.

 

17mm corner samples next.

 

         F/3.5

          F/5.6

April2009/1735gcnff35w.jpg

April2009/1735gcnff56w.jpg

         F/8

          F/11

April2009/1735gcnff80w.jpg
April2009/1735gcnff11w.jpg

 

The 17mm corners are quite soft, and need about three stops to sharpen up nicely, which is at F/11.  This is fairly typical performance for full frame corners on a super wide angle zoom. 

 

35mm corners below.

 

         F/3.5

          F/5.6

April2009/1735gcnffw35.jpg

April2009/1735gcnffw56.jpg

         F/8

          F/11

April2009/1735gcnffw80.jpg

April2009/1735gcnffw11.jpg

 

The 35mm corners need two stops down to sharpen up, and look good at F/8, with F/11 showing ever-so-slightly sharper corners.

 

Distortion next.

 

April2009/1735gwffdis.jpg
Distortion @ 17mm on A900
April2009/1735gffdistel.jpg
Distortion @ 35mm on A900

 

There is mild to moderate distortion at both ends on the A900, but not enough to be noticeable unless you're shooting horizons or buildings.  The distortion pattern on the 35mm end is a simple curve, and is easy to fix in photo imaging software.  The 17mm distortion is in the form of a wave, with a gradual rise in the center, extending across half the frame, then leveling off a bit before finally turning up at the edges.  This kind of distortion is hard to get completely straight in post processing.

 

Coma results with full frame.

 

17mm, F/3.5

17mm, F/5.6

April2009/1735g35ff17cma.jpg

April2009/1735g56ff17cma.jpg

22mm, F/5.6

22mm, F/8

April2009/1735g56ff22cma.jpg

April2009/1735g80ff22cma.jpg

 

There is plenty of coma in the corners using a full frame camera.  I see mild to moderate amounts at all focal lengths at F/3.5, with the most noticeable coma near 17-24mm.  One or two stops down clears up the problem.  The bottom 22mm row shows about the same at F/3.5 as the top shot at 17mm, but I started the crops at F/5.6 to show what it looks like by F/8.  At 28-35mm there is only very light amounts, and isn't something I'd worry about.  The 100% crops in this A900 section are from the extreme corners.  Printed out as you see them on your screen would measure 65" (1.65m) wide!

 

Sun centered shots with A900 below. 

 

              17mm F/11

           17mm F/22

April2009/1735gffsun11.jpg
April2009/1735gffsun22.jpg

 

Earlier I told you not to shoot with the sun in the center of the image stopped down hard, and here's why.  A full frame camera shows some heavy duty rings, which may be used in an artistic way, or may ruin your shot, depending on your desired outcome.  I'm showing these crops just so you know.

 

 
 
Conclusion. 
 
As I said at the beginning of the review, APS-C owners will probably want to look at the much wider Sigma 10-20mm F/4-5.6, or Sony DT 11-18mm F/4.5-5.6 lenses, which are made specifically for that sensor size.  The Minolta AF 17-35mm F/3.5 G is more appropriate for full frame cameras.
 
This lens is fairly small, well built--though slightly on the heavy side, and pricey.  I like the fact that it's sharp at F/3.5 in the centers at all focal lengths, and color fringing is controlled well.   I also appreciate the internal zoom design which keeps the overall balance positive, though not a big deal on super-wide zooms.  A couple of surprises (also known as negatives) are full frame soft corners at all focal lengths, requiring three stops down to sharpen up; and control of flare and ghosting, where I see an awful lot of color blobs and blotches, which may ruin an image.  The performance of this lens is good, but overall, no better than the much less expensive Konica Minolta AF 17-35mm F/2.8-4 (D).  
 
The current used price of the Minolta AF 17-35mm F/3.5 G is between $950-$1450, the KM 17-35mm F/2.8-4 (D) can be purchased for around $250-$390.  Although the "G" lens controls color fringing and distortion better, I'd probably recommend the less expensive Konica Minolta, and use the savings to buy another lens, or a holiday weekend by the ocean!  On a side note; I purchased this lens from the original owner, who said he paid close to $1700 brand new around 10 years ago!  That's about $2200 in today's (2009) dollars!
 
For those of you with deep pockets, consider the new Sony CZ 16-35mm F/2.8.  Also consider the much wider, full frame Sigma 12-24mm F/4.5-5.6 EX DG which turned in a good performance also, just watch out for Sigma quality control, I lucked out on my copy, and didn't have to send it back.