This happens all the time, if you’re me. Which, ok, you’re not. But maybe you can relate anyway.
Here’s the situation: You (or, I, in this scenario) watch some camera gear on eBay. There’s one of those big lots and it seems to be going for a reasonable price, or if you’re extra lucky, for dirt cheap. You bid, though you know you’re only really interested in one or two items, and it’ll come with one of those fashion faux pas 1990s cordura camera cases, and what will you do with that eyesore once you’ve acquired the thing? Sure, you could just throw it out, but then maybe at some point you’ll actually be bringing excess camera gear with you to somewhere, and then you might need it? It’s a perfectly good lime-green-with-pink-accents piece of padded luggage after all! You bid and win the whole thing and it arrives and you take out the thing you wanted and that thing is great, or maybe it’s not, but either way, it’s too much of a pain to lodge a complaint, and too much of a hassle to return it, and you take all the other stuff and put it away somewhere with the best intentions of either using it even though you didn’t want it in the first place, or selling it, and then you don’t do either, and well, there it sits.
What I really wanted from this lot was a second Minolta 7000 body and 35-70/4 kit lens, because my first, cheap purchase off the auction site had turned out to be functional but cosmetically lacking. And if it’s worth having, it’s worth having a nice copy of. (Says every G.A.S.-affected photography nerd.) What I got was a camera bag, the 7000 and lens, another lens, the Sigma 28-70 (which, while very good, has a problem with sticky rubber on the grip), and a 28–200 zoom by a brand I’d never heard of before, Koboron. So… that’s probably not gonna sell for, like, a lot? I may as well, you know… use it?
The problem? It’s a monster. It’s huge, and hugely impractical. This isn’t helped by the fact that the zoom keeps on sliding towards the long end when the camera dangles around your neck, the minimum focusing distance is a cool two meters (so, no selfies), and the 200mm setting is unusably soft, which makes it more of a 28–135mm lens that just weighs way too much. What on earth was I going to do with this albatross? Determined to make the best of the situation, I decided that it was worth testing out if I could get a blog post on 52rolls out of it. So one hot day, I screwed a polarizing filter on the big lens, made sure the strap on the camera was securely fastened, and set out. (If you’re interested, this is the setup that I used.)
The first thing I noticed was the ridiculously long minimum focusing distance. It made informal portraits impossible, and even the few formal ones I tried were either soft and shaky, or they were environmental portraits that would have been much easier to take with a 50mm or a short standard zoom.
The second thing? People notice the Koboron. It’s so big, even compared to a modern super zoom, that walking around with the combination of a noisy – both in sound and in visual terms – 80s camera and that lens, you stick out. Two young guys on skateboards passed me by relatively early in my walk, and looked back over their shoulders enviously, muttering “cool camera.” So, if looking cool is what you’re after, it’s easily achieved with this rig. Then again, one person’s cool is another’s ridiculous, so your mileage very definitely may vary.
Third, the lens does not only go soft at just before 200mm, it goes so soft that it makes the vaseline-assisted soft focus of a David Hamilton or Mario Casilli look oversharpened. From discussions I’ve had with other photographers online, this may just be my copy of the lens, but it is odd because every other focal length on the Koboron can get perfectly sharp.
Four: Yes, it does get plenty sharp stopped down, though distortion is quite visible at the short end. But overall it’s certainly good enough for small prints or shots posted to the web. So no more ragging on exoticly named off-brand lenses before actually testing them out.
Five: Polarizing filter. Works well for landscapes. Must remember to use it more.
And finally: This was fun. If all my camera gear got swallowed by a time vortex (they do open up here on occasion, I am sure) and all I had left was this old 7000 and that off-brand lens, I’d make the best of it. Although I’d be really sad to have lost my Autocord.
P.S.: I just (September 1, about two weeks after writing this originally) pulled out the Koboron again and put it on a Minolta 500si Super as well as another Minolta 7000 (not the one used for this roll) to see what the deal was with the softness at the long end. Strangely, I could not replicate it at all. The lens stayed sharp up till 200mm – whether it stayed critically sharp in terms of a 100% view I cannot say, but the softness I saw through the viewfinder when I shot this roll just was not there anymore. My working hypothesis here is that the lens misfocused on the camera I used for these images while still giving focus confirmation. This might be a problem with the camera and not the lens. So, if you find a Koboron 28–200mm for a good price, I’d say it’s worth giving it a whirl, provided you can live with the long minimum focusing distance. End of public service announcement.