Review: Vivitar Series 1 100mm-500mm Lens
I’ve already written about the benefits of vintage lenses with modern cameras. It can help you discover which lenses you really want to buy, or it can give you access to lenses you don’t really want to spend a lot of money acquiring. For example, the 100mm-400mm lens for my Fujifilm cameras is nearly $2,000. This is a tremendous amount of money for a lens I’ll only use a handful of times a year.
The lens I’m reviewing only cost me around $75. My copy is made to fit a contax mount camera, but a simple adapter allowed me to screw it on to the front of my Fujifilm camera.
So let’s get into the details of this lens. It is a super zoom lens from the Vivitar Series 1 range. From the research I’ve done, the Vivitar Series 1 lenses are widely regarded as decent to excellent glass. The 1 Series is kind of like the L-Series of lenses from Canon; they were the top of the line for Vivitar.
This lens is a variable aperture lens, which means as you zoom in, you start losing stops of light. At 100mm, the lens has a maximum aperture of f5.6. When you zoom in to 400mm the lens has a maximum aperture of f8.0.
Im not really one for all the technical specs so I don’t know about the lens elements, and groups and stuff. I don’t know about what kind of coatings Vivitar used, and I honestly don’t care. What I care about with this lens is the range and the handling.
The range on this lens is absolutely insane. To give you a little taste of this check out the following two shots.
Shot 1 - taken of my neighbor’s dog from across the road
shot 2 - I missed focus, but you can still see the framing
It’s a freaking telescope. The range on this thing really is amazing. That’s why it is my favorite lens to take to the zoo. Even though you’re pretty far back from the animals, it doesn’t feel like that.
Its not the fastest lens at f 8 when you’re zoomed in, but honestly, getting a 500mm lens with a faster aperture costs as much as a home down payment. This lens is a pretty good compromise of cost, range, and light gathering abilities.
So, what do I love about this lens? The first thing, and I know I’ve already covered it, is the range. Having 500mm at your fingers is a pretty amazing thing for certain circumstances. This is my zoo lens. It’s pretty much only suited for that singular purpose, however.
The other thing I love about this lens is that it is relatively compact for a 500mm lens. I know it looks like a six pack of beer cans stacked on top of each other, but it is pretty compact for such range.
As far as the image quality, I’d say that this lens is pretty good at making pictures. The images benefit from some added contrast and clarity in Lightroom because they are a little flat out of the camera, but I think the results speak for themselves.
These kinda of lenses benefit from under exposure and shooting raw files. What I mean by that is that you have to raise the shutter speed with a 500mm lens even if it means darker pictures. If you’re shooting raw files, you can always crank the pictures up in post. If you shoot this lens at too slow a shutter speed, your subject will move or the lens will shake and the photo will turn out blurry. I’d rather have an underexposed sharp picture than a blurry one properly exposed.
It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, however (when you think about it, would all rainbows and unicorns be all that great?!) this lens is a very specific tool for a very specific job. This is a lens that is going to spend a ton of time on a shelf. This is because it’s huge, it doesn’t have a fast aperture, and it’s range is really only useful for wildlife photography or maybe sporting events.
The other downside for this lens is that it is relatively slow. The problem with a lens this long and this slow is that it can be incredibly difficult to get clear shots. The other issue with this lens, which ties into the fact that it’s an older lens, is that there is no image stabilization. This means that you have to crank up your shutter speed to get sharp shots. Cranking up the shutter speed along with the slow aperture mean that his lens is very limited.
I would also say that the image quality of this lens isn’t anything to write home about. It is adequate but not stellar. This can be an issue with any long range zoom lens, but this was made several decades ago. The pictures this lens turns out can be helped in post production to get where they need to be, so I don’t think this is too big of a con.
Lastly but certainly not least-ly is the sheer size of this lens. It’s hard to call this a serious con because any lens of this focal length is going to be huge. However, it’s hard to explain just how big this lens is until you have it attached to your camera. It’s hard to fit in your camera bag, it’s cumbersome, it’s difficult to hold steady. The size of this thing is a con, but I also think that it’s a con of just about any long range zoom lens as well.
In closing, this is the kind of lens that makes me love vintage manual focus lenses. I can not justify spending $2,000 on this kind of lens. The modern version of this lens would be better in just about every aspect. However, I’m not a professional National Geographic photographer who needs the best of the best at this range on a daily basis. However, this lens gives me that range and some pretty decent image quality for a fraction of the price. Sure, it comes with some downsides, but one massive upside: price.
The bottom line is that I will probably never own the Fujifilm 100-400mm. It’s too expensive and too limited for me. This lens isn’t the greatest bit of glass on earth but I simply would not have the photos in this post without this lens. It allows me to do something that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to. This kind of lens is the best case for vintage lenses I can think of.