A short review of the Minolta AF 400/4.5 APO G

A 400 mm lens is one of the most useful longer telephoto lenses. It's ideal to photograph wildlife and larger birds. It has a size and weight that still allows you to handhold it if you need to. It still offers good image quality when combined with a 1.4× or 2× TC. A 600 mm is better suited for smaller birds, but it typically costs five times as much with almost triple the weight. Carrying a 600 mm over longer distances is not what you want to do every day, especially when you have to carry all your other photo equipment as well.

Minolta's 400 mm prime lens is unique in the 35 mm world because of its f/4.5 maximum aperture. Other makes offer either a slower f/5.6 lens or very expensive f/4 or f/2.8 lenses. There was a big “hooray” when Canon released their 400/4 DO lens because it was praised to be so much smaller and lighter than the typical 400/4 lens, for the price of a slightly worse image quality and much higher cost. But we Minolta users already had a 400 mm lens that was only slightly slower but just as small and light, and we don't have to sacrifice image quality and only have to pay a third of what you pay for the Canon lens.

Lens features

The focus range limiter works stepless. You can limit the focus range either at the far end or at the near end. You just loosen a small knob, turn the limiter either left or right, and then re-tighten the knob. What you do with this is move the end stop of the focusing barrel within the lens. When you find yourself in a situation that you need the entire range quickly, you can just loosen the knob, and the focusing barrel can again move through the entire range.

The hood is made of metal. It's white on the outside and coated with velvet on the inside. The front has a rubber edge. The hood can be reverse-mounted to save space when the lens is in your backpack.

The two Minolta APO TCs match with the 400/4.5 APO G. With the 1.4× TC the lens can still auto-focus, although slower (because of the reduction gearing in the TC and the light loss). With the 2× TC you can only focus manually. With the Dynax 7 this is especially easy, because the body automatically de-couples the AF gearing when you mount this lens/TC combination. With older cameras you have to switch to MF manually.

The tripod collar turns 360° and has no click-stops. I personally prefer not having click-stops, because with a tripod that is not exactly level with the ground these may force the lens into a position that is not exactly horizontal or vertical. The tripod collar is not removable. This is not a problem, because when you handhold the lens the tripod collar will not interfere with the hand holding the lens.

The lens has a 95 mm front filter size. A clear protective filter comes with the lens. Since these large filters are expensive (if they are available at all) and unreachable when the hood is mounted, the lens also takes 42 mm filters in a filter drawer at the rear end of the lens. Unfortunately only Minolta brand filters made especially for this holder will fit. The thread size is very uncommon, and the filter needs to be quite slim. This wouldn't be a problem if Minolta made a wider range of filters. However, only very few are available (orange, yellow, red, ND 4×, 1B skylight). I don't know any source for other common filters like a 81A or 81B.

There also is a special circular polarizer that comes with its own holder. This holder has a small thumb-wheel that lets you rotate the filter while it's mounted. This filter is very expensive. Luckily, I recently got one off eBay for a reasonable price. At least, the filter can also be used with other APO telephoto lenses (300/2.8 APO G, 300/2.8 SSM APO G, 300/4 APO G, 600/4 APO G).

A clear 42 mm filter comes with the lens, and since it's included in the lens' construction, it must always be mounted in the filter drawer (or one of the other filters).

The focus ring is slightly recessed and not very wide. There is a sliding metal cover for the focus ring. When you use AF mode and hand-hold the lens you can slide the cover over the focus ring so that you can hold the lens at its center of gravity without blocking the focus ring. Maybe that was the best solution for the problem at the time. Today, Minolta would surely use the new focus ring design that was introduced with the 200/4 APO Macro G and is now used in most D lenses.

The front cap is a padded leather cap with a velcro. It can be mounted over the hood when it's reverse-mounted, but it also fits over the other end of the hood. You can not mount it on the lens alone. However, you should always use the hood with this lens anyway.

The lens case is an aluminium box with padding inside. It has pockets for additional 42 mm filters, but no space for larger accessories (like a camera body). The locks are quite primitive, and the print on the outside shouts "valuable photo equipment inside, please steal me". I use the case for storage at home. When I'm on the road, the lens goes into a photo backpack.

Two carrying straps come with the lens. One is for the case, the other is for the lens. The lens strap is attached to the tripod collar.

In the field

I have used the 400/4.5 APO G with a Dynax 600si and a Dynax 7, often combined with the Minolta APO TCs and Kenko extension tubes. I've been using a tripod most of the time.

The lens is very sharp, even wide open. You can gain only little by stopping further down. This is a good thing, because you will use this lens wide open more often than not. Telephoto zooms in that range are often most sharp when stopped down for 1 or 2 stops, and not very sharp wide open. The resulting shutter speeds make it difficult to stop the action and to reduce camera shake. That's one of the prime reasons to get a prime lens (they perform well even wide open).

AF speed could be higher for my taste. Combined with a 600si (which is not really nicknamed "speed daemon") AF was slow and unassertive. The 7 has a much better AF system, and AF speed is a lot higher. Still, I think that the lens is missing the last extra bit to be called "fast".

The 400/4.5 APO G is working well with the APO TCs. With the 1.4× TC image quality is reduced only minimally. With the 2× TC you can see some reduction of image quality. It can be kept at a minimum by improving your technique. The 800 mm focal length requires a steady hand, good tripod and precise focusing.

The weight of the lens allows you to hand-hold it if necessary. Of course, using a tripod whenever it's possible is the better solution.

Sample images

Here are a few sample shots:

There are many more shots taken with the 400 mm in my Florida gallery.

Conclusion

A short review of the Minolta AF 400/4.5 APO G


Readers' comments

#1: Comment posted by Petar Stanev on November 27th, 2009 - 10:58:51 PM:
Thank you very much for the exelent review.
#2: Comment posted by Dominic on October 11th, 2010 - 03:53:26 AM:
Thanks for the review, I just bought one and glad that I made the right decision.
#3: Comment posted by jerry Harwood on November 20th, 2010 - 10:21:20 PM:
I have this lens, and I recently bought the 1.4 APO converter; to my delight, the converter absolutely transformed the lens, so much so that it is a permanent fixture. The only downside is the relatively slow auto focus; I have gotten used to this, and can hand hold it for really sharp images.

I had a 300mm F4 Nikon lens, and that was bad for hunting, even when new. I traded that in for the Minolta- couldn't be happier!
#4: Comment posted by Jocelynne Littlebear on December 21st, 2011 - 03:02:27 AM:
Thank you for your excellent evaluation of this lens. I am looking to purchase one of these during the coming year. I appreciate your helpful information.

J. Littlebear
#5: Comment posted by Timo on October 25th, 2012 - 05:35:44 PM:
Proud owner of the 400mm.
Only disappointment, the hood is missing, if anyone has a tip were to purchase a second hand piece or if a hood from more recent models would fit please any tip is welcome
Michael Hohner answers:
Unfortunately no hood from one of the other lenses fits the 400. I also don't know where to get a replacement, it's very rare.
#6: Comment posted by Adrian on October 28th, 2012 - 10:30:13 AM:
... and another proud owner to go with an A77 (and hopefully an A99).

Having purchased the 400mm after taking a few test shots at short distances which looked pretty sharp in the viewfinder, I went out and took about 200 shots. I downloaded them later and was very disappointed to find that I had a problem; 60% - 70% were out of focus, they weren't sharp at infinity and at shorter distances appeared to be front and back focussing. That said, the shots that were focussed correctly were simply stunning at f4.5.

I was totally confused and after a lot of searching on the web I eventually found this page which describes how the focus range limiter works (I was told that the buttons on the side were for distance preset) and found that it was set short of infinity. I then took some low light shots in the house under artificial light and found the lens was constantly hunting so I changed the AF drive speed in the menu to Slow and now it nails the focus every time.

** Is it normal to use the Slow AF setting with a Minolta HS lens or only in difficult (low contrast) light conditions?

Having read the FAQ's I now know that the lens buttons are for focus hold (and perfectly placed for landscape and portrait shots), I'm also delighted to find how out how simple and versatile the range limiter is ..........

Thanks for the time and effort maintaing this site to help people like me :-)
Michael Hohner answers:
Slow AF can help with low contrast situations or with macro lenses. Otherwise you can use normal AF with HS lenses.
#7: Comment posted by butch on November 29th, 2012 - 02:58:36 PM:
how is the CA on the lens as im looking at both the 300 and 400mm and hear that the 300 CA can gety to be a little much ? is the 400 that much better ?
Michael Hohner answers:
I don't have a direct comparison. And there are three different 300 (Minolta 300/4, Minolta 300/2.8 and Minolta/Sony 300/2.8 SSM).
#8: Comment posted by Philippe on February 19th, 2013 - 09:03:16 PM:
Hi Michael,
Sony has issued a 500 F4 and I was wondering how is the image quality of the Minolta 400 F4,5 in comparison with the new Sony 500. Have you got any feedback on it?
I own a Minolta 400 F4,5, a TC 1,4 and the A99 but sometimes I'd like some extra reach. Several solutions:
Either A99+500f4+TC1,4
or A77+400F4,5+TC1,4
The price of the 500F4 is so high that it has to be worth it as compared to the 400 F4,5.

Regards
Michael Hohner answers:
Obviously I don't have a personal experience with the 500. I also don't know a direct comparison elsewhere. In fact, I know only one person who owns the new 500. Sorry for not being able to help here.
#9: Comment posted by ka00lai on April 4th, 2013 - 04:54:23 PM:
Answer to #5:

There are hoods being sold at ebay.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Minolta-AF-400mm-APO-Tele-Hood-/330901122415

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Minolta-Lens-Hood-Maxxum-AF-400-4-5-APO-NEW-/261169531773
#10: Comment posted by Jackez2010 on June 16th, 2013 - 03:05:06 PM:
Je possède le Minolta 400/4.5 monté sur un SLT-A77 la qualité des photos est excellente même avec le Minolta TC X1.4.
#11: Comment posted by Capt Bob on January 28th, 2014 - 02:52:46 AM:
Another New owner of the HS 400 4.5 APO , I have a Tamron 300 2.8 AF I have been using for a tear now and Love it and my Favorite Long Lens using it with the Minolta APO 2 1.4 with much success at F5 , with the 1.4 wide open is 4.0 so 5.0 produces best and have always heard that stopping down with a Teleconverter is best for sharpness perhaps that might change with the Minolta though , I am using an A 99 and A 77 so I have the reach of the crop body and well as the benefits of the Full Frame 99 , Hopefully the 99 + APO 2 1.4 + A99 = :) .
I have not received it yet prob next week but it's as if it was in a Time capsule still in the Original White box , Hard case , Front filter and the straps have not been un furled it looks new in some high quality representations .
I will Post up on my Findings after a week of Florida Birding.
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