Modern MACRO lenses tend to be quite expensive, therefore it’s something that many leave out of their kit. When it comes to vintage though, MACRO lenses are actually very affordable. One such example is the Vivitar 55mm F2.8, a Komine made lens, which was also sold under many other less popular brands including Elicar, Panagor, Soligor, Quantaray, Rokunar, Sears…
If you are into vintage lenses, you might know already that Komine made some very nice lenses for other brands and this is a great example of their lenses; fortunately for us forgotten and undervalued.
So let’s have a look at why I think it’s a great lens.
Sharpness: At F2.8 it’s not the fastest 50mm out there, but unlike most vintage 50mm F1.4 & F1.8 lenses out there, this lens is quite sharp wide open. Obviously sharpness improves as lens is stopped down, but some find it to be a bit too sharp even wide open. For example, the video above was shot wide open and my wife (seen in the video) told me that it was too sharp for her liking. Many people often choose vintage lenses for their pleasant softness that makes skin texture look great, especially popular with female subjects and even though in certain lighting conditions Vivitar 55mm F2.8 has that softens too, it’s not prominent as on some other lenses. If you like sharper lenses though, this is definitely a good choice, which is no surprise really because MACRO lenses are generally sharper that other prime lenses.
Macro: Talking about MACRO, apart for its good sharpness, that is the main reason for choosing this lens. It offers amazing 1:1 life size magnification, which will be close enough for just about anything you’d want to shoot. What’s funny is that it takes almost 2 complete rotations of the focusing ring to get from infinity to closest focusing distance which is 0.215m / 0.71f. Fortunately it takes just about 200° to focus from infinity to about 0.3m / 1f, so general focusing with this lens is really manageable and the extra focus throw is reserved for MACRO fine tuning. Another thing worth mentioning is that this lens extends quite a bit when focused from infinity to the foreground, ending up being almost twice as long at the closest focusing distance. The focus ring moves up the barrel in progress, so if you are planning to use this lens with a follow focus, you better have a wide focus gear and even that probably won’t cover the whole range.
Character: Coming back to optical quality, I’m really enjoying the character of this lens. Bokeh is very smooth and when a direct light source hits the lens, it’s brings out very gentle, warm flares which are not over the top or overwhelming. It’s a lens that can be used more often that some of the more “creative” lenses, not to say that this lens is not creative or boring. I find that it has more than enough character for most shooting situations. In controlled lighting condition contrast is also pretty good and colours are nice & vibrant.
Mounts: Vivitar 55mm F2.8 was made in many different mounts including M42 Screw Mount, Minolta MD/SR, Pentax P/PK, Canon FD, Nikon F, Konica AR, so you should not have any problems finding one that will work with your camera via your adapter of choice.
Here is one more example of what the look and performance this lens has, beautifully captured by Justice Goble!
- Aperture range: F2.8-16 in 10 click-stops
- Optical construction: 5 elements in 4 groups
- Filter size: 62 mm
- Lens coating: MC (multi-coated)
- Physical Length: 80-135 mm
- Weight: 312g
So now let’s take a look at Pros and Cons for video users.
- Very Affordable
- F2.8 is actually quite fast for a MACRO lens
- 1:1 Macro (many alternatives only do 1:2)
- Good sharpness wide open
- Clean image
- Smooth bokeh
- Pleasant flare
- Very good build quality
- Smooth focusing ring
- Extends while focusing
- Focus throw is very long (can be good for precise focusing)
- Front rotates while focusing
Conclusion: As you can see the cons are all to do with the usability, which is actually the case with most vintage macro lenses, so in reality, I have nothing bad to say about this lens. It offers exceptional performance and features for the money. If this was a $500 lens, I would try to be more critical, but since it can be bought for as little as $50 (if you get very lucky) I just can’t complain at all, therefore I highly recommend this lens to anyone looking to add MACRO or just a sharp mid-range prime to their kit!
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