Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm is one of the most difficult lenses to review. Want to know why? There are at least 5 versions of this lens, so chances are that next time you’ll find one, it might be different from mine, but let’s try to figure this out anyway 🙂
Versions: The only quick and sure way to distinguish between the versions is to look at the first 2 digits of the serial numbers (see below)
The first Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm was introduced in mid 70s and was built by legendary Kiron (serial starts with 22). Unlike the lens I shot my test footage above, 1st version featured the constant F-stop of F3.5 across the range, which I’d actually prefer for video use. This version also had the most impressive close focusing capability of 1:2.2. It’s the heaviest out of 4 main versions, which could be a downside because these lenses weren’t really designed to be supported by any form of lens support, so it might be on a heavy side for some smaller cameras.
The second version was made by Tokina (serial starts with 37), which we all know made and continues to make some very nice lenses. This version was much smaller and lighter, sacrificing the 1:2.2 macro ability along the way, which was reduced to 1:4.
The third version was made by Komine (serial starts with 28), another underrated manufacturer, producing a number of amazing lens for other brands. This was the version where they introduced the variable aperture of F2.8-F4.0. The close focusing capability was improved again to 1:2.5, almost as good as the first version, but it’s also because the second heaviest version.
The forth and the last common version (below) was made by Cosina (serial starts with 09). This is the version I shot my test video above. The close up capability remained at 1:2.5 but it became a bit lighter. My guess it that built quality was sacrificed as a result. The focus ring is certainly not as nice and grippy as on the older versions.
Sharpness: So as you can see these lenses are quite different and most importantly they appear to have slightly different optics designs too, which makes this review even more complicated. The first 3 versions are generally considered to be the best, so if you find one with a serial number starting with 22, 28 or 37, then you are in luck. Expect a superior optical performance for these, with much better sharpens on the third version in particular. I however have the forth version and even though I like it a lot, this lens is not exactly sharp wide open with quite a bit of blooming and general softness clearly visible, especially at the wider end (see examples below). Stepping down a by a stop or two improves the performance considerably.
So it might not be the sharpest telephoto zoom out there but even the 4th version is worth considering. Below are the reasons why:
Bokeh: Vintage lenses often suffer from busy, unflattering bokeh, but 70-210mm is certainly not one of them. Bokeh is super smooth and that appears to be carried through into all the versions.
Macro: As mentioned above, all versions feature a MACRO ability, which varies from one lens to another, but all are quite impressive and in the case of 4th version it’s 1:2.5 which is quite impressive for such lens, especially considering it that it becomes enabled at 210mm maximising the potential of how close you can get.
Character: I actually really like the low contrast look it produces. It has that vintage feel that a lot of people like and it will match certain prime lenses (like Russian M42 primes) better than other zooms, so it’s all depend on what your other lenses are and what look you are trying to achieve though the use of lenses.
Usability: If there is something that these lenses share apart for their name is their pull/push focus & zoom ring, which you 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 of the lens to change on or another. Push/pull zoom ring is very smooth and nicely dampened allowing for a very gentle zoom action, actually making it usable in real life shooting situations while recording.
Mounts: I believe that these lenses were produced in Nikon F, Canon FD, Minilta MD, Pentax K and Olympus OM mounts, 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 FD and MD mount due to poor compatibility)
Like most vintage lenses, this lens seems to have plenty of cons and pros, so let’s round them up:
- Parfocal Zoom
- Good focal range as reasonably fast F-stops
- Very affordable
- Version 3 has great sharpness (1 and 2 not far behind)
- Solid built, fully metal construction
- Smooth zoom/focus ring
- 180° focus throw (version 4)
- Macro mode
- Smooth Bokeh
- Vintage character
- Soft wide open (version 4)
- Can be a bit heavy for small cameras
- Low contrast look might not be to everyone’s taste
- Push/Pull zoom & focus ring not ideal for Follow Focus use
- Variable aperture versions do not hold exposure when zoomed in or out
- Front rotates when lens is focused and extends when zoomed in
Conclusion: Should you buy one? Depending on your budget and your needs. If you want a very affordable telephoto zoom with a decent speed, performance, macro ability and vintage character (maybe to match your Soviet primes), then you don’t need to look much further. It’s a great lens to have in your kit bag for occasions when you need to get a bit closer.
If you’d like to learn more about this lens and get a second option on it, check out this wonderful in-depth review by Caleb Swanson aka The wRight of Photo.
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