If you know me and my photography, you know that I’m a sucker for a good ultra-wide angle lens. The problem is that these lenses can often cost a fair amount of money and often have several issues that go along with that wide focal length. Probably the best lens of this class (ultra-wide zoom) is the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G which I reviewed last month. Sadly no other company has a similar lens to that beautiful Nikkor glass. However, while I was building up my Maxxum kit, I happened across this lens. While it is the odd duck in my Maxxum kit, all my lenses are pretty close to OG Maxxum without getting crossed x’s; it fits the bill perfectly. Sure, it’s not a favourite lens among A-Mount shooters, and it’s far from perfect. But it does exactly what I need it to do, and it didn’t break the bank.
Make: Konica Minolta
Model: Zoom AF 17-35mm 1:2.8-4 D
Focal Length: 17-35mm
Focal Range: ∞ – 0.3m
Aperture: f/2.8-4 – f/22-32, 7 Blades
Structure: 14 Elements in 11 Groups
What surprises me the most about the K-M 17-35/2.8-4 is how light the thing is, given that it’s an ultra-wide-angle lens with an f/2.8 maximum aperture on the wide end of things. Thankfully the lens is primarily made from plastic. Not the most well-built lens in my kit, but it does have the needed foundation where it counts. While the outer housing and filter thread and hood mount are plastic, the lens mount is metal, and the optics are clearly glass. It does little to throw off balance on the Maxxum 9; no surprise there. Still, I could see the lens being comfortable on cameras without a grip and even the older models like the si, xi, i and original series of Minolta autofocus cameras. The only thing to caution about is being careful about mounting and dismounting the hood or letting it knock against objects. Given that the hood and the hood mount (bayonet) are plastic, they can damage far easier. The one nice thing is that the optics are well protected, and the front element does not stick out past the front of the lens. It also has a 77mm filter thread, which means that you can easily add colour or other filters to the lens.
The first thing that you notice about the 17-35 is that there is a great deal of distortion at the 17mm end, especially when you have the lens close to the subject; while there is a curvature to the front lens element, the lens is certainly not aspherical like the 14-24mm f/2.8G from Nikon. Thankfully that is not much of a problem once you’re further back from your subject. I rarely encounter it when working out in the field because I don’t use this lens for close up work at the 17mm end. It also is not apparent when you zoom into the 35mm focal length. However, this lens still has some optical troubles; at the wide end, you will notice vignetting and distortion at your corners at wider apertures, not as apparent at the 35mm end but rather heavy at the 17mm end. This vignetting does go away once you get past f/5.6, the sweet spot between f/8 and f/22(32). While decent at f/4, if you shoot it wide open at f/2.8, the image is soft, but that clears up at f/4. Honestly, Konica Minolta probably would have made a better lens if they made it a constant f/4 aperture. The out-of-focus elements are nothing special but are smooth on the edges. The lens does not have trouble with flare; surprisingly, the deep-set from the element and the hood works in the favour, and unless your light is seriously off-axis or directly in front of the lens, it hardly flares. Despite its faults, the 17-35mm is not a bad lens, considering the cost.
If you’re a fan of landscapes, capturing the wide-open space or are a wide-angle junkie like I am, then this is your lens. While it certainly has some pain points in the optical quality department, these generally go away when you’re shooting outside and stopping the lens down. And any distortion is easily fixed in post-processing. However, these distortions make it unsuitable for architecture work (unless you’re cool with fixing). Personally, this would have been a favourite lens of mine while exploring if I had originally gone down the A-Mount path instead of the F-Mount path. The lens I can also see is a fun option covering outdoor events and capturing large crowds when you don’t always have the space to step back and use a longer focal length. And even though it’s not a constant aperture, f/4 isn’t too bad. One of my favourite compact lenses for the Maxxum system is the 35-70mm f/4. As for portraits, certainly not; even if you think it will ‘look cool’, the distortion on this lens is way too strong.
The Low Down
Thankfully because of the poor reputation this lens has, you can pick one up at a reasonable price for what the lens is; most run from 175-260$ on the used market. Some are a little more expensive, but these are often new in the box and come with all the original factory accessories. Of all the accessories you do want is the hood, at the very least, as it does help cut down on flare. If a constant aperture is something that you do look for in a lens, there is the 17-35mm f/3.5 model, but look for the later model units with the ‘green’ coating, but you’re also looking at costs around 350-500$ on average. It also depends on the camera you’re shooting; the f/3.5 version (the later versions) are far better performers on digital cameras, while the K-M version does better with film. Please don’t ask me why; that’s what my source has said.
Don’t just take my view on the 17-35mm, check out these other reviews.
Kurt Munger – Konica Minolta Zoom 17-35mm 1:2.8-4 (D) Review
Imaging Resource – Konica Minolta 17-35mm 1:2.8-4 D AF Review
Dyxium – Minolta AF 17-35mm F2.8-4 D A-mount lens reviews