When I first took the Vivitar 70-300mm F4.8-5.8 out of my “cheap telephoto lens bag” I didn’t know what to expect from it. It was a bright, sunny day and I was heading out to a Zoo,, so I though to myself: this one has a great reach, it’s small and light, exactly what I need for a day out. Its slow speed did not concern me as I knew it would still be too bright to use wide open without resorting to racking up the shutter speed or using NDs. In the end I had to use my Fotodiox ND Throttle anyway to keep the exposure under control, so F5.8 was perfectly adequate for the day time shooting. I think it’s a lens worth taking a look at, so let’s take a closer look together 🙂
Affordability: Lenses don’t get much cheaper than this 70-300mm. You can pick this lens up for as little as $20 and probably even less if Ebay auction starts at $0.99, but it is worth it? All depends on what $20 means to you!
Usability: As mentioned already this lens is very light and compact for a lens with such great focal range. It features the pull/push focus & zoom ring, which you will either love or hate. I love using such setup for video as I can zoom while focusing at the same time. I don’t have to take my hand off the lens to change one or another. Push/pull zoom ring is fairly smooth and allows for a very gentle zoom action; with a bit of practice it’s usable and very useful in certain shooting situations where you need to zoom in but can’t afford to make sudden zoom changes that will have to be cut out in post. This lens also appears to be parfocal, which makes the zoom feature even more usable.
Sharpness: Most of the video above was shot wide open and I was very surprised to find that it actually turned out to be quite sharp and usable; sharper wide open than the 4th version of Vivitar’s “professional” Series-1 70-210mm F2.8-4.0 I reviewed recently.
Macro: Although this lens has quite an average closest focusing distance of 1.5m, when combined with 300mm focal length it actually translates into 1:4x life size magnification resulting in some serious close ups; definitely a nice little bonus!
Bokeh: Same as with 70-210mm, this lens produces a surprisingly smooth and pleasant bokeh. It’s by no means a fast lens, but there is enough shallow depth of field on a Super35 sensor even at F5.8.
Character: In normal lighting conditions this lens is producing quite natural looking images. Unlike the 70-210mm is doesn’t have any particular look. Of course contrast is still lower than that on modern lenses, but it will match modern lenses better than the low contrast 70-210mm.
Mounts: This lens was produced in just about every main vintage mount, so no matter what camera you’re using, you will probably find a right lens/adapter combination for your camera (Canon EF users should avoid Canon FD, Konica AR and Minolta MD mount due to poor compatibility)
I think it’s a great lens for money, but it’s not all perfect so let’s round up the pros and cons:
- Great focal range
- Very affordable
- Lightweight and compact
- Good sharpness wide open
- Solid built, fully metal construction
- Smooth zoom/focus ring
- 180° focus throw
- 1:4 Macro at 300mm
- Smooth Bokeh
- Parfocal Zoom
- Variable aperture versions do not hold exposure when zoomed in or out
- Front rotates when lens is focused and extends when zoomed in
- Push/Pull zoom & focus ring not ideal for Follow Focus use
- F4.2-5.8 can be too slow for anything other than daylight shooting
- Some chromatic aberration wide open
Conclusion: Considering its price there, Pros heavily overweight the Cons. It’s a very low risk investment which can be very useful in certain situations. Its compact size means that you can permanently keep it in your kit bag for some nice close-ups or in case you need to get closer to a distant subject. I highly recommend getting one and will be keeping mine for very same occasions.
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I came looking for a lens for the zoo and it looks like this will do just fine. Certainly good enough to see if I will want to do more at these focal lengths. Ridonkulously cheap on eBay. Have you tried any others which would be good at a zoo? Seems to be some Sigmas with better reviews for low prices. Also have you tried any of the telephoto extenders? If so; any good or harms image too much?