The Allure of Old Glass

Last week, I wrote a short post called The Beauty of the Old, in which I shared my first experience with a 25-year-old Maxxum 50mm f/1.7 lens. Yesterday in a post on one of the many online forums, a user posted the comment, "I just don't get why people are willing to pay so much money for the big old Minolta prime lenses." This, of course, is a small part of her post, but this one sentence was the gist of it. She went on to comment that old things break and it's hard to get parts, etc. A lively discussion has ensued, focused (no pun intended) more on the mechanics of things and the currently available A-mount offerings. Her question is valid. Often times, the old Maxxum primes sell for nearly as much as their newer counterparts. In the course of the discussion, little has been said about why people actually want these things. Here's my perspective:

Konica Minolta Dynax/Maxxum 7D

I remember when then Maxxum 5D and 7D were introduced. Minolta did a series of advertisements featuring "interviews" with prominent Japanese professional photographers who were Minolta shooters. Of course, the ads each featured stunning photographs taken with the Maxxum 7D and a Minolta lens.

In each of the ads, the photographers moved quickly beyond the technical aspects of the digital cameras and spoke about being able to leverage their existing Minolta lenses. They spoke at length about the aesthetic advantage they felt that Minolta optics gave them in their photography.

Minolta optics have an interesting history which certainly helped to shape the subjective quality of their lenses. When Minolta was developing their first SLR (and again with their first autofocus SLR), they entered an agreement with Leica for assistance. The result was a combination of German precision design and consistency with Japanese aesthetics. The lenses were very carefully ground and polished and the coatings were developed to create lenses with a color balance that was consistent across the entire line. This philosophy continued up to the point when Minolta no longer made their own glass lens elements. Many of the Japan-made Maxxum primes reflect this early philosophy.

As I related in my earlier post, there is a certain "look" to these lenses. Those of you who have been following my posts over the years (predating this version of will know that I, perhaps romantically, prefer a more "analog" look and that I feel that a lot of today's cameras and lenses are almost too perfect; and that I also have a preference to do as much in-camera as possible.

Recently, I've had a bit of a shift in perspective about what I'll do in post-processing (see my recent comments on Snapseed, for instance). But there are certain things that can't be done in post. I think that certain aspects of the basic "look and feel" of a photograph begin with the lens.

So, that's why I'll be willing to spend money on those old lenses. I'd love to see your thoughts on the subject. You can post them in the space below the related articles?

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