Minolta MD lenses – what is it?

I love Minolta New MD lenses, but I realize that our world contains a lot of other lenses, and each Minolta item has at least 2-3 similar items from other competitors. That’s why before I’ll put here main links for serious materials about Minolta, I want to tell about advantages, the combination of which can make new-MD lenses one of the best choices for photographers like me.

But first I have to explain what does “New-MD” (aka N-MD, aka MD III for 99% of cases including MD IIIa, aka MD) mean: during the years Minolta has built a lot of photo-stuff divided into different product-lines. Minolta SLR lenses can be marked as ‘M Rokkor’, ‘W Rokkor’, ‘MC Rokkor’, ‘MD Rokkor’, ‘MD Rokkor-X’, ‘AF’, ‘AF Maxxum’, the line of different Celtics, etc. Add here a few non-official like ‘MD2’, ‘MDIII’, ‘Old Rokkor’ etc. Not everyone can sort this out quickly and I hope that the exterior description of N-MD lenses can fix this issue:

  • Named ‘MD’ (yeah, the name contains just two-letter, no more. Of course, some details can be added, like Macro, FISH-EYE, etc, but it is not the names of the line). No words Rokkor or Celtic (or Nikon…) are engraved on the lens.
  • Aperture lock – small pusher on the aperture ring should be presented (no lock – no N-MD, or  maybe broken N-MD…)
  • Distance foot-scale is marked yellow, meter-scale is marked white, minimal aperture position digit is green (just a few rare exclusions can be)
  • Red half-ball is presented

If you see a lens with all these characteristics at the same time – you see N-MD.


A little bit more about ‘MDIII’ abbreviation: this is collectors term (read more here at the down of the page), and based on engraving text on the lens, not on appearance. All NewMD lenses are included in this subset, but not all MDIII lenses can be called as NewMD, at least these two: Minolta MD Varisoft 85mm 1:2.8 and Minolta MD APO TELE 600mm 1:6.3

Shortlist of advantages :

  • Weight – N-MD is the lightest ‘metal&glass’ lenses. These lenses are not plastic, as is sometimes written about them on the internet. Of course, we can find a few plastic elements on the MD lenses, but they can’t affect performance or solidity.
  • Minolta N-MD lenses on average have a most modern coating. It looks like since then the inventors have not come up with anything better and just use some variations of it. So N-MD has better contrast.
  • N-MD lenses have a most modern optical design. Production of some of these lenses continues until now (some of Sony lenses), just in hulls with auto-focus. Of course, you can find opinions like this: “Previous MD-Rokkors was better, MC 85mm f1.7 was better”, so… strictly speaking, it’s not true. I know a few lenses with poor optical quality in the last MD-versions, but it not a simple case and needs to be sorted out.
  • N-MD lenses cheaper than modern and can have the same picture quality. Not all of course, but it happens. And some N-MD’s even better than modern analogs, yes, it’s rare cases, but it happens. I just want to say that N-MD can be enough for most photographers because a lot of amateurs don’t need to shoot with cool and expensive modern lenses with optical designs of about 20 elements. (However, if you can afford modern top-level  lenses – do it in no doubt and have fun.)
  • The number of models N-MD lenses are huge. I know 35 primes and 20 zooms in n-MD/n-MDa line. It’s enough for most of the tasks.

N-MD lenses use Minolta SLR camera-mount named as ‘SR’ (same as the lenses from previous generations, like Rokkors). And you should know, that Minolta SR lenses can be used easily with Techart Pro auto-focus adapter. I am very grateful to the developers of this wonderful magic. If ever there were thoughts to sell all my N-MD lenses and buy another with auto-focus, but after getting this adapter, I generally forgot about this idea. Of course, auto-focus via Techart can’t support all features of native lenses, but it works fine, and what about me – I am absolutely satisfied.

Additionally, the Minolta SR mount has a quite long flange focal distance for using simple tilt-shift adapters.

List of the greatest resources with info about Minolta at all, and Minolta lenses especially:

    • Minolta.eazypix.de – ‘must read’ site
    • Rokkor Files – one of the oldest and most famous Minolta’s fun’s sites, historical, and based on experience with film-cameras
    • Vintagelensreviews – a lot of detailed lens reviews. Not only Minolta. The address should be in favorites
    • Rokkor.de – another fun’s site with rare information and technical data
    • Aperturepedia.com – advanced aggregation site with tons of links for other resources
    • Facebook – Minolta Collectors Group – the talking place (main, actually)
    • MFLenses – biggest forum about manual lenses, Minolta MD included
    • MinMan – ‘must read’ site with tons of structured and detailed information
    • Wikipedia – Minolta at all
    • Wikipedia – Minolta SR mount

Here the little compilation about the main features of the latest manual focus Minolta’s lens line – called MD, N-MD, MDIII, and MDIIIa, plain MD, MD3, etc.:

The Minolta SR-mount was the bayonet mounting system used in all 35mm SLR cameras made by Minolta with interchangeable manual focusing lenses. Several iterations of the mounting were produced over the decades, and as a result, the mount itself was sometimes referred to by the name of the corresponding lens generation (f.e. “MC”, “MD” or “X-600”) instead.

MD III came in mid 1981 with the introduction of the Minolta X-700 and it’s P-mode. To lock the smallest aperture, a little pusher was added to the aperture ring. Further most lenses from ultra wide to short tele were made to the same diameter. The rubber waffle of the focussing grip became finer, the mounting index became larger and the feet scale changed from green to amber. The diamond shaped F-stop-focus-index was replaced by a straight line. The focal length marking on the barrel now lacked the “mm” and went next to the mounting index. Most lenses between 28mm and 135mm got a new 49mm filter thread, and the front ring featured a tiny groove all around, to take the new clip-in lens shades. Minolta got the new “rising sun” logo and decided to drop the Rokkor name. So the new front engraving was very reduced:
“MINOLTA       MD       135mm     1:2.8       JAPAN     Ø55mm”
Minolta called this lens line “New MD” (N-MD). Due to the lack of the Rokkor name, it’s often called “plain MD” among collectors.

In 1985 Minolta began to sell some low budget zoom lenses, propably built by supplier. They were optically and mechanically considerably below Minolta standards, had no aperture lock, no engravings, no plastic bead. The death of the manual focussing Minolta system was looming on the horizon.

In 1981 the last major modification of Minolta’s manual SLR lenses was released. The Minolta MD line. Probably in keeping with the features of the X-700 with programmed AE mode. The new camera was supposed to be simple to use and to make sure the photographer always had the lens set at minimum aperture there was a lock on the lens that you could engage when set at minimum aperture.

The MD line was the last of the manual Minolta lenses. In the 1984 brochure of the Minolta lenses I count 53 different lenses from Fisheye to specialized lenses.
In 1985 Minolta changed the world of photography altogether by releasing the first auto focus SLR camera, the Maxxum 7000. This changed the business and all other camera makers chased the leader Minolta once again. Minolta choose to leave the SR mount for the auto focus camera to the non compatable AF mount.