Back in 2019, only a few months after I had bought my first Sony a-mount camera, a used Sony a77, I stopped by my local camera shop one evening after work. The folks at Jack's Cameras in Exton, Pa, knew my interest in using older Minolta lenses on my camera and my preference for buying used and they pointed out that they had just taken in two Minolta prime lenses in on trade: the Minolta 85mm f/1.4 and the Minolta 35mm f/1.4.
I hefted both of them in the store, and despite the fact that I didn't need either one of them, decided (based solely upon how cool they felt) that I had to have one of them.
To be clear, at this point I still wasn't entirely sure what kinds of things I wanted to photograph. But I was already swinging towards nature photography, as I had already picked up a used Tamron 150-600mm lens and was spending every spare moment out in the wilds of suburban Pee-Yay getting bad images of birds and foxes. I had no idea what I would use either lens for, but that hefty mid-1980s weight and cool metal feel, just lured me in.
I didn't purchase right away, but went home and did some research. Both of these vintage lenses get great reviews. Almost mythical. But what pulled toward the 35mm lens was that I wasn't able to find one anyplace else. Not on CL or FB or eBay, or any of the used camera markets. I found one or two on EBay in Japan, but that was it. I could find a few of these 85mm lenses online, but the 35mm was non-existent. I drove back to the shop a few hours later, and bought the 35mm.
It is a weird lens. I think the best way to describe the images that it creates is the way other people have talked about the images it produces...something along the lines of "sharply-soft" or "softly-sharp".
After trying the lens in a lot of different scenarios and subjects and trying to find a "home" for it in my kit, it has found a good niche with people, shot between f/1.4 and f/4. Indoors or outdoors. Going above f/4 seems to take away the magic of the lens.
Here is what I learned from pixel peeping on the images. Between f/1.4 and about f/4 the lens produces this strange graininess to images. Not noise, but "grain" is the best I can describe, almost as though you are seeing imperfections in the glass's ability when you zoom in to 200-300 percent. But, this is the cool part, when you zoom back out, the effect of this "grain" or "texture" is that it smooths out imperfections. It essentially removes that HD digital feel. Creates a lovely softness while the microcontrast continues to produce sharp edges. Magic.