A short review of the Minolta AF 200/4 APO Macro G
September 8th, 2004 - 03:31:25 PM:
When Minolta released the Dynax 9 in 1998, they also released a few new lenses. One of them was the 200/4 APO Macro G, a macro lens with a 1:1 maximum magnification and 200 mm focal length.
- 200 mm focal length
- aperture from f/4 to f/32
- 9 aperture blades, rounded
- internal focusing
- maximum magnification 1:1
- 72 mm filter size
- tripod collar, removable
- lens hood with bayonet mount
- focus range limiter
- focus hold button
- leather lens case
The distance scale not only shows the current focus distance, but also the resulting magnification for this distance (printed on the distance scale in blue letters). This allows you to easily pre-focus for a certain magnification.
The lens was obviously designed to be used with the Minolta APO TCs. The rear opening of the lens is wide and deep enough to take the APO TCs. However, AF is deactivated when you use the TCs, even though the effective aperture of f/5.6 with the 1.4× TC is wide enough for the AF system. On the Dynax 7, the camera even automatically de-couples the AF gearing so that you don't have to switch to MF manually.
The lens barrel and tripod collar are metal. The lens hood is made of plastic, with an inner coating of black velvet to cut reflections. The lens is built like the proverbial tank. It certainly deserves its G marking.
The focus range limiter is similar to that on the 100/2.8 Macro. You can set the switch to “full” to use the entire focus range, or you can limit the focus to either the near range from 50 cm to 75 cm (magnification 1:1 to 1:2.2), or to the far range from 0.8 m to infinity. When you engange the limiter, the current range decides which range you're limiting focus to.
A testbed for new technology
Minolta has introduced a few new features with this lens that were later used in D lenses and SSM lenses. For example, the 200/4 Macro was the first lens to feature the new focus ring design. It is only loosely coupled with the internal focus barrel. When you switch the camera to AF mode, the external focus ring does not rotate when the internal focus barrel is moving. This allows for a wide focus ring in the middle of the lens. In AF mode you can hold the lens at the focus ring without blocking the AF mechanism. The previous APO telephoto lenses solved this problem with a sliding cover for the focus ring. This cover is no longer required with the new design. Other lenses had a narrower focus ring closer to the front of the lens. Most D lenses released after the 200 Macro feature the new focus ring.
The 200/4 Macro also was the first lens that had the new tripod collar design. The new 70-200/2.8 SSM and 300/2.8 SSM have the same tripod collar (only in white). This new tripod collar is removable. I often wish the old 80-200/2.8 APO G had this tripod collar, because when hand-holding the lens, the tripod collar easily gets in your way.
In the field
I have used the 200/4 Macro with a Dynax 7, often combined with the Minolta APO TCs, with Kenko extension tubes and the Minolta Macro Twin Flash 2400.
Using this lens is a joy. The wide focus ring allows very precise manual focusing. With the tripod collar you can change between horizontal and vertical format without destroying your composition. This is something I miss a lot with the 100/2.8 Macro which doesn't have a tripod collar. The tripod collar operation could be smoother, like that of the 400/4.5 APO G, but you typically don't turn the lens as often as with a longer telephoto. That may be the price for making the collar removable.
At 1:1 magnification the focus distance is 50 cm. This is considerably more than the 35 cm that you get with the 100/2.8 Macro. If you measure the distance from the front of the lens hood to the subject, the distance is 20 cm vs. 12.5 cm. Without the hood it's 25.5 cm vs. 16 cm.
Image quality is amazing. Even with the 1.4× TC added, sharpness is not reduced much. The images that this lens produces are sharp, contrasty, color neutral and free of vignetting.
The new focus ring design works well. However, when you combine the lens with a TC and extra extension, the gearing may become so stiff that the focus ring tends to slip instead of moving the focus barrel. You have to turn the focus ring slowly to actually move the internal focus barrel. I have tried using the special MF mode of the Dynax 7, but it doesn't help much. I didn't have the opportunity to compare the performance with the focus ring of later lenses, so I can't say if Minolta has fine-tuned this design.
The 200/4 Macro is not optimized to be used as a general 200 mm lens. You can use the focus range limiter to keep focus out of the macro range, and you can remove the tripod collar for easier hand-holding. This will get you a rather slow lens (f/4) with average AF speed. If you want a general purpose 200 mm lens instead of a macro, you better buy the Minolta AF 200/2.8 APO G (although you have to do without a tripod collar, then). For macro photography, however, the 200/4 Macro is hard to beat.
I don't use the lens case. When I take the lens with me it's inside a photo backpack.
Here are a few sample shots. All were taken with the 200/4 Macro, the Dynax 7 and a tripod:
The 200/4 APO Macro G is not a cheap lens. However, it's worth every single dollar. When you're a macro photo enthusiast and you need a longer working distance and a tripod collar, this lens may be right for you.
- Excellent image quality
- Excellent build quality
- Good usability
- Compatible with the Minolta APO TCs
- High price
Product shots © Minolta