Vivitar Series 1 35- 85mm f2.8
I lovae vintage glass. It’s one of the most fun things about photography gear, in my opinion. I love hunting online and in thrift shops for new weird lenses I’ve never tried or heard of before. That’s exactly how I came across the lens I’m reviewing today.
I was in an antiques store and there was all the usual camera stuff. Argus bricks and various box cameras (all priced well above what they’re worth because they’re useful as decor) along with vintage 8mm movie stuff. Strewn among these useless relics was a lens with the weirdest front element I’ve ever seen. It was the Vivitar 35-85mm 2.8. I bought it simply because I’d never heard of it or seen it before. I think I paid $20 for it.
‘The big question about vintage lenses is, “is it any good”. Let’s find out.
This lens is a Vivitar Series 1 lens for the Nikon mount. The Series 1 lenses are to Vivitar what the L series is to Canon. It’s their very best. Quite a while ago, Vivitar took a serious run at the big boys and tried to make lenses that would perform every bit as good at a cheaper price. Sometimes They succeeded, and sometimes they fell flat on their face.
I own several series 1 lenses and they have all been pretty good to excellent lenses. What I like about them is that they are usually strange. This one is a 35mm-85mm focal length, which is odd. Usually this focal length is 24-28 to 80mm rather than 35-85. It’s a constant aperture lens, which means, as you zoom in to 85mm, the aperture stays consistent.
‘The weird thing, aside from the looks of the lens, is that it isn’t a constant focus lens. This means that as you zoom in, you aren’t in focus any more. I’ve never had a lens of this design before and it definitely takes some getting used to.
The zoom range is very useful. Hooked onto my Fujifilm XT-2, this gives a full frame equivalent field of view of 50-128-ish millimeters. Obviously I would have liked a little more wide on the wide end, but this works just fine and I don’t currently have a wide constant 2.8 lens, so this fits the bill.
‘The other thing I was surprised at is the close focus distance on the wide end. It’s nearly macro close. The same cannot be said of the 85mm end though as you will be pretty far away from your subject at closest focus.
The image quality is what I would call pretty good. Not amazing and certainly not up to modern Fujifilm glass standards, but pretty good. to me, I look to vintage glass to do jobs I don’t have modern glass for. The Fujifilm 16-55 2.8 is expensive and I honestly don’t need one that badly. As a result, this lens doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be good, and it is.
To summarize, this lens has a useful zoom range, excellent build quality, a constant aperture, close focusing, and, although not important, a really unique look to it. I like the mechanical feel of vintage lenses. I also especially loved their price. I don’t know that you could find this lens again for $20. I would happily pay up to $80 for this lens, hell, call it $85 to match the long focal length. Any more than that, and I’d really have to consider whether it’s worth it or not.
The cons of this lens are that the wide end of this lens isn’t that wide. Especially on an APSC camera, this makes this lens not as useful as it could be. There is such a thing as a focal reducer, which would make this a 23-56mm f2.0, but I don’t own a Nikon focal reducer, so I can’t comment on how this would work.
The other bad thing about this lens, and most vintage manual focus lenses, is how heavy it is. This lens in particular is one of the heaviest I have. It’s not like it weighs 50 pounds or anything, but a whole day lugging this thing around will get tiresome. Ounces feel like pounds when they’ve been in your camera bad all day.
The bokeh (out of focus bits of the image) is also really busy. It’s nervous looking rather than being smooth and creamy (I personally hate that word).
This lens is also really prone to flaring on the wide end. I pretty much never shoot with a lens hood, and I don’t think this lens came with one. it might help, but I don’t have a hood to test it with.
The only really irritating thing about this lens is the inconsistent focusing. You have to refocus every time you zoom. This really limits the use ability of a zoom lens. The other thing about this lens is that it is really front heavy because of that massive front lens element. this is especially problematic when you put that lens on an adapter which pushes it even farther from the camera.
I would say this lens is a great addition to your glass arsenal if you don’t currentl have a wide fast zoom lens and you don’t think you’ll use one every day. I’ve never been much of a fan of zoom lenses. They just don’t fit how I typically shoot. However, I’m starting to come around to them for specific circumstances where you might need multiple focal lengths quickly.
This lens delivers relatively sharp results with a usable zoom range (especially if you’re shooting a full frame camera like the Sony A7 Series) and great build quality. It’s heavy and prone to all the issues vintage lenses usually posses. Heft. Flare. Washed put images. Manual focus.
However, this lens offers one thing that none of the modern lenses offer: the potential for a $20 price tag. That is THE reason these lenses are so great. You can experiment and try different focal lengths and apertures and it doesn’t drain your bank account. Photography doesn’t have to be a financial disaster. You just have to be willing to shoot like folks did 30 years ago or so.
Sure, these lenses aren’t as sharp as modern glass. They have flaring issues, and they’re heavy, but there were great images made with lenses of this kind back then and there’s no reason you can’t make great images with them today.