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Vivitar Lenses

From the 1970s to 1990s, Vivitar was a very successful third party photographic equipment supplier. The company offered a broad range of lenses and accessories for all the popular camera brands. The photographic equipment company had been founded as Ponder & Best by German emigrants Max Ponder and John Best in Los Angeles in 1938 and after having used the Vivitar brand for some of its products was incorporated as Vivitar Corporation in 1964. After two decades of very successful expansion, the owners sold the company to Hanimex in 1985. Further ownership changes followed and eventually the firm slowly faded away. The trend towards autofocus cameras and lenses during the late 1980s and the later switch to digital photography presented Vivitar with challenges that it never fully lived up to. In August 2008, Sakar International acquired the Vivitar brand out of bankruptcy, and today markets digital imaging, optics, mobile accessories, and audio products under the Vivitar name.

Vivitar is best known for its catalog of manual focus lenses. The product offer was comprehensive, ranging from the ultra wide-angle prime to the super tele-photo zoom. The company sold its lenses at a price that was substantially below the sticker of original equipment manufacturers, such as Canon, Nikon, or Olympus. Vivitar representatives insisted that this price advantage did not reflect any lower standards in design or shortcuts in quality control, but the benefits from a larger production run and economies of scale, as Vivitar lenses were sold for many different camera mounts. Many independent reviews attest to the relatively high optical and mechanical quality of many Vivitar lenses.

Vivitar 90-180mm
Vivitar Series 1 90-180mm Flat Field[cameraquest.com]

Manufacturer identification

During the period from 1970 to 1990, Vivitar used a serial number system that makes it possible to identify the manufacturer of the lens.

Producer key
Serial Number Lens Manufacturer
09 or 9Cosina
13Schneider Kreuznach
22Kino/Kiron
25Ozone Optical
28Komine
32Makinon
33Asanuma
37Tokina
42Eugen Bauer
44Perkin Elmer
47Chinon
51Tokyo Trading
56Kyoe Shoji
61Samyang
75Hoya
77Kobori
81Polar

The first two digits indicate the company that designed and produced the optic according to Vivitar's specifications. For example, a serial number starting with "28" suggests that the lens was manufactured by Komine, and "37" points to an optic from Tokina. After 1990, this numbering system was no longer applied.

Similar to Soligor – its East Coast competitor – Vivitar did not engage in the manufacturing of most of its products, but generally commissioned its lenses from Japan-based producers. The company collaborated with a number of different optics manufacturers, including Cosina, Komine, Kiron, and Tokina. Perhaps as a side-effect of this collaboration, some very similar lenses to the Vivitar designs were also sold under other branding.

In the early 1970s, Vivitar launched the first lenses of its acclaimed Series 1 line. These optics offered outstanding specifications and superior image quality. They were competing with the professional lens offers of the main camera brands at a price that – although not cheap – was accessible to amateurs. Indeed, the Series 1 lenses received favorable reviews, established Vivitar as a high quality third party vendor, and in some cases, such as the 70-210mm macro-focusing zoom or the 90mm f/2.5 "Bokina", even achieved cult status among enthusiast photographers. These professional grade lenses continue to perform well on modern digital cameras. They can be mounted directly on Nikon and Pentax DSLR, while adapters exist to use them on Canon and mirrorless cameras (Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic, Sony).

The table below lists the specifications of most Vivitar lenses. Many optics were produced over the years in several different varieties. For example, Robin Parmar lists no fewer than 38 versions of the Vivitar 28mm wide-angle prime across different mounts, f-speed, filter size, and filter rim inscription. Some of these varieties are very rare and little is known about the lenses and their specifications. As a result, the adjacent compendium remains incomplete, but will get more comprehensive as additional information on some of the more exotic Vivitars becomes available.

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Vivitar Lenses
#  Lens
Designation
Focus
System
(type)
Lens
Construction
(elmts/groups)
Close
Focus
(m)
Filter
Type
(size)
Lens
Dimensions
(dia x len)
Lens
Weight
(net)
Used
Price
(USD)
Current
Offers
(USD)
1
 
Vivitar 17mm f/3.5 (E67)MF11 / 90.256770 x 49 mm305 g100-200i
2
 
Vivitar 17mm f/3.5 (E72)MF11 / 80.227280 x 56 mm369 g100-200i
3
 
Vivitar 19mm f/3.8MF9 / 80.206265 x 37 mm184 g75-150i
4
 
Vivitar Series 1 AF 19-35mm f/3.5-4.5AF13 / 110.507769 x 82 mm300 g50-150i
5
 
Vivitar 20mm f/3.8MF9 / 70.158285 x 51 mm408 g75-150i
6
 
Vivitar 21mm f/3.8MF9 / 80.317275 x 62 mm290 g50-100i
7
 
Vivitar 24mm f/2 (E52)MF8 / 80.305264 x 46 mm270 g50-150i
8
 
Vivitar 24mm f/2 (E55)MF8 / 80.315565 x 46 mm260 g50-150i
9
 
Vivitar 24mm f/2.8 (E52)MF8 / 80.265264 x 41 mm190 g40-100i
10
 
Vivitar 24mm f/2.8 (E58)MF8 / 70.125865 x 51 mm213 g40-100i
11
 
Vivitar Series 1 24-48mm f/3.8MF10 / 90.607780 x 76 mm539 g25-100i
12
 
Vivitar Series 1 24-70mm f/3.8-4.8MF11 / 101.206771 x 89 mm450 g20-80i
13
 
Vivitar Series 1 28mm f/1.9MF9 / 80.305866 x 61 mm340 g150-300i
14
 
Vivitar 28mm f/2 (E55)MF8 / 80.305564 x 52 mm283 g30-60i
15
 
Vivitar 28mm f/2 (E49)MF8 / 70.234964 x 49 mm285 g30-60i
16
 
Vivitar 28mm f/2.5 (E58)MF7 / 70.245865 x 53 mm231 g25-50i
17
 
Vivitar 28mm f/2.5 (E62)MF8 / 70.306264 x 64 mm454 g25-50i
18
 
Vivitar 28mm f/2.5 (E67)MF8 / 70.306769 x 60 mm318 g25-50i
19
 
Vivitar 28mm f/2.8 (E49)MF7 / 70.304960 x 38 mm281 g20-40i
20
 
Vivitar 28mm f/2.8 (E58)MF7 / 60.305864 x 58 mm275 g20-40i
21
 
Vivitar 28mm f/2.8 (E52)MF7 / 70.305266 x 37 mm270 g20-40i
22
 
Vivitar 28-50mm f/3.5-4.5MF9 / 90.605864 x 50 mm280 g20-40i
23
 
Vivitar 28-70mm f/3.5-4.8MF8 / 80.805262 x 75 mm350 g20-40i
24
 
Vivitar 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5MF13 / 120.346264 x 93 mm495 g20-40i
25
 
Vivitar Series 1 28-90mm f/2.8-3.5MF14 / 120.236770 x 112 mm680 g25-75i
26
 
Vivitar Series 1 28-105mm f/2.8-3.8MF14 / 120.206770 x 105 mm620 g25-75i
27
 
Vivitar 28-200mm f/3.5-5.3MF18 / 162.507275 x 118 mm665 g20-50i
28
 
Vivitar 35mm f/1.9MF8 / 60.305564 x 68 mm340 g70-140i
29
 
Vivitar 35mm f/2.5MF7 / 70.275864 x 49 mm238 g30-60i
30
 
Vivitar 35mm f/2.8MF6 / 50.345263 x 58 mm234 g20-60i
31
 
Vivitar 35-70mm f/2.8-3.8MF8 / 80.505567 x 70 mm371 g20-50i
32
 
Vivitar 35-70mm f/3.5MF8 / 80.755864 x 77 mm450 g20-50i
33
 
Vivitar 35-70mm f/3.5-4.8MF8 / 80.405263 x 66 mm320 g20-40i
34
 
Vivitar Series 1 35-85mm f/2.8MF12 / 90.267281 x 91 mm765 g30-90i
35
 
Vivitar 35-105mm f/3.2-4MF13 / 120.505564 x 95 mm513 g20-40i
36
 
Vivitar 35-105mm f/3.5MF13 / 110.357275 x 103 mm746 g30-80i
37
 
Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 MacroMF5 / 40.216265 x 80 mm312 g60-120i
38
 
Vivitar 70-150mm f/3.8 Macro FocusingMF12 / 90.415264 x 98 mm435 g20-40i
39
 
Vivitar 70-150mm f/3.8 Close-FocusingMF15 / 100.405261 x 112 mm550 g20-40i
40
 
Vivitar Series 1 AF 70-210mm f/2.8 APOAF17 / 131.808289 x 193 mm1,300 g75-200i
41
 
Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f/2.8-4 (Komine)MF14 / 100.806270 x 139 mm860 g75-200i
42
 
Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f/2.8-4 (Cosina)MF14 / 111.105868 x 131 mm670 g75-200i
43
 
Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f/2.8-4 QdosMF14 / 111.105870 x 172 mm770 g75-200i
44
 
Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f/2.8-4 ApoMF14 / 100.806270 x 132 mm763 g75-200i
45
 
Vivitar Series 1 AF 70-210mm f/2.8-4 ApoAF14 / 111.106270 x 132 mm763 g75-200i
46
 
Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f/3.5 (Kino)MF15 / 100.296778 x 156 mm879 g20-50i
47
 
Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f/3.5 (Tokina)MF14 / 101.206270 x 140 mm710 g20-50i
48
 
Vivitar 70-210mm f/4.5-5.6MF12 / 91.105264 x 102 mm450 g20-40i
49
 
Vivitar 70-300mm f/4.2-5.8MF13 / 91.505564 x 109 mm495 g20-40i
50
 
Vivitar 75-205mm f/3.8MF15 / 101.205865 x 153 mm735 g20-40i
51
 
Vivitar 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6MF14 / 101.505862 x 122 mm544 g20-40i
52
 
Vivitar 80-200mm f/4MF12 / 91.505563 x 128 mm600 g20-40i
53
 
Vivitar 80-200mm f/4.5 (Kino)MF12 / 92.005570 x 147 mm705 g20-40i
54
 
Vivitar 80-200mm f/4.5 (Kobori)MF12 / 92.005563 x 128 mm600 g20-40i
55
 
Vivitar 80-200mm f/4.5 (E58)MF10 / 71.805870 x 148 mm730 g20-40i
56
 
Vivitar Series 1 85mm f/1.4 Aspherical IFMF9 / 71.007271 x 76 mm907 g150-300i
57
 
Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 MacroMF6 / 50.356270 x 85 mm480 g40-120i
58
 
Vivitar Series 1 90mm f/2.5 MacroMF11 / 100.395870 x 90 mm644 g75-200i
59
 
Vivitar Series 1 90-180mm f/4.5 Flat FieldMF18 / 120.687275 x 158 mm1,090 g50-200i
60
 
Vivitar 90-230mm f/4.5MF11 / 71.405864 x 185 mm886 g30-60i
61
 
Vivitar 100mm f/2.8MF5 / 31.405564 x 71 mm327 g40-100i
62
 
Vivitar 100mm f/2.8 MacroMF5 / 30.445271 x 109 mm646 g50-150i
63
 
Vivitar 100-200mm f/4MF13 / 90.905864 x 135 mm650 g20-40i
64
 
Vivitar 100-300mm f/5MF13 / 90.436268 x 164 mm804 g20-50i
65
 
Vivitar Series 1 100-500mm f/5.6-8MF15 / 103.006774 x 210 mm992 g75-250i
66
 
Vivitar Series 1 105mm f/2.5 MacroMF6 / 50.355255 x 102 mm656 g50-150i
67
 
Vivitar 120-600mm f/5.6-8MF15 / 114.008289 x 292 mm2,200 g75-250i
68
 
Vivitar Series 1 135mm f/2.3MF6 / 60.897280 x 86 mm675 g50-150i
69
 
Vivitar 135mm f/2.5MF5 / 42.005867 x 77 mm442 g30-60i
70
 
Vivitar 135mm f/2.8MF4 / 41.505561 x 100 mm350 g20-50i
71
 
Vivitar Series 1 200mm f/3MF6 / 61.207279 x 119 mm823 g70-150i
72
 
Vivitar 200mm f/3.5MF5 / 42.506268 x 110 mm529 g30-60i
73
 
Vivitar 200mm f/3.5MF5 / 41.806268 x 124 mm595 g20-40i
74
 
Vivitar 300mm f/5.6MF5 / 36.005875 x 168 mm632 g20-50i
75
 
Vivitar 400mm f/5.6MF5 / 56.107784 x 292 mm774 g25-75i
76
 
Vivitar Series 1 450mm f/4.5MF13 / 103.40rear117 x 152 mm1,640 g100-300i
77
 
Vivitar 500mm f/8MF7 / 61.73rear76 x 86 mm522 g50-100i
78
 
Vivitar 600mm f/8MF3 / 27.008790 x 500 mm2,000 g150-250i
79
 
Vivitar Series 1 600mm f/8MF9 / 77.00rear107 x 95 mm1,400 g200-400i
80
 
Vivitar Series 1 650-1300mm f/8-16MF8 / 54.8895104 x 592 mm2,000 g100-250i
81
 
Vivitar Series 1 800mm f/11MF10 / 77.00rear108 x 84 mm1,360 g400-600i
82
 
Vivitar 800mm f/8MF4 / 218.00107112 x 640 mm3,000 g150-250i
83
 
Vivitar Series 1 800mm f/8 DXMF9 / 910.00rear111 x 145 mm1,290 g50-150i

Acknowledgement: Special thanks to Chris E. for transmitting information on several of the Vivitar lenses listed above.

Vivitar FAQ

Which Vivitar lenses are suitable for Canon EOS?

Canon radically changed its lens attachment system in the mid-1980s when switching from the FD to the EF/EOS mount. Manual focus Vivitar lenses will be available in FD mount, while autofocus lenses will use the EF mount. There are adapters to use FD mount lenses on EOS cameras, but since the flange-focal distance on the EF/EOS mount is longer than on the FD mount, the lenses will not focus to infinity, unless the adapter contains a lens element. The latter might slightly degrade image quality. However, there are adapters to use Nikon or Olympus lenses, which have a relatively long flange to focal distance, on EOS cameras. Hence, the Nikon or Olymus-version of a manual focus Vivitar lens could be adapted to an EOS camera and maintain infinity focus ability. In any case, there is no aperture control, so that the lens would need to be operated in stop-down mode.

Do Vivitar lenses fit Nikon digital cameras?

Nikon provides good backward compatibility, so that legacy Vivitar lenses in Nikon mount can often be used on modern cameras. However, some limitations apply. In particular, legacy F-mount lenses can be mounted on all cameras, but only the higher end Nikon bodies will meter with them (with other Nikon bodies, the lenses have to be used in stop-down mode). See the FAQ section of the Nikon lens compendium or this dpreview article for information on particular camera-lens combinations.

Where can I find good Vivitar lens reviews?

Some lab-reviews of Vivitar lenses with MTF data can be found at photodo.com. Also, Ken Rockwell reviewed the popular 70-210mm Series 1 zoom and the 1.4/85mm prime on his site.

Are all versions of the Series 1 70-210mm zoom held in equal esteem?

The 70-210mm Series 1 zoom was produced in several versions over the years. The three early varieties of the lens, the fixed f/3.5 aperture zooms by Kiron and Tokina, as well as the 2.8-4/70-210mm by Komine provide the highest optical quality. The later f/2.8-4 version by Cosina do not reach the same standard.

Why is the Vivitar Series 1 90mm f/2.5 macro lens sometimes referred to as "Bokina"?

This Tokina-manufactured macro lens provides a particularly pleasing bokeh. The optic is very sharp, while the transition to out-of-focus elements is seamless, smooth and dreamlike, to the extent that the lens earned its own nickname from enthusiast photographers – Bokina.

Do all Series 1 lenses provide superior imaging performance?

The fast manual focus lenses within the Series 1 line tend to be very good optically and mechanically. The slower (f/4.5-5.6) lenses and the autofocus versions are less distinguished.

Further Reading

Steve Rainwater provides a very nice historical account of the genesis of the first Vivitar Series 1 lens, while Boggy has made a collection of instruction manuals for Vivitar lenses available on his website. Moreover, if you are looking for bargains among third party legacy lenses, you might also want to check out the compendiums of, respectively, Soligor and Tamron Adaptall lenses. If, however, you are willing to spend a little more, you might well be interested in the Leica R-lens catalog, which contains some truly exceptional optics that can be adapted to and used with a variety of camera mounts.

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