During the 1970s Vivitar was a household name in photography, at least when it came to third party lenses and accessories. It seemed like every time a new issue of your favourite photo magazine was released, so was a new lens.
Basically, if you spent all your money on the camera body and wanted a decent lens without paying a crazy amount, one solution was Vivitar.
You may scoff at third party lenses and I definitely have. I’ve come across a lot, and passed on most, but this lens I couldn’t resist because it was immaculate, and came with the original box and manual.
The Vivitar 75-205mm f3.8 telephoto lens was advertised in the March 1977 issue of Popular Photography. The ad claimed there were ‘five good reasons” for owning it. The reasons included a light and compact design and that it would replace several prime lenses. Sounds like a bit of a stretch on both accounts, especially all these years later. They also promised superb sharpness that even “fussy pros will applaud”.
Because it’s been over 40 years since these were made it will be hard to guage what the quality was like at the time. The examples in the ad use studio lighting which will showcase its abilities in the best possible circumstances as well.
The quality of even some of the more expensive lenses at the time varied enough that professionals and I’m assuming some enthusiasts would sample multiple lenses for the sharpest copy before opening their wallets. With all that being said, if there are some aspects of the lens quality displayed here in this video that you like or dislike, at least some of it may be just my copy. Here’s what’s the same for all of them though.
The maximum aperture it f3.8 across the board, which is fantastic. A lot of the time, when buying a budget lens, you’re going to end up with a smaller aperture while zoomed then fully wide. Other cheap zoom lenses have a push-pull method to the zoom, which sucks dust into the lens over time, I prefer what they have done here, using a twist method, just like focusing, though it’s not perfect and I’ll tell you why in a bit. The Vivitar 75-205mm weighs 787 grams or 28oz, and is 6 inches, or 153mm long with a diameter of 67mm or 2.6 inches. Actually that is pretty compact, but it’s still got some heft to it.
The minimum focusing distance was impressive, at just 14 3/4 inches, or 37.5cm from the focal plane when in close focus mode. You can get in pretty tight, and switching to close up gives you larger than life results.
My version of this lens is for Canon FL & FD mounts, so I used it on a Canon AE-1 that I also needed to test. When released, the 75-205 was also available for Nikon, Nikkormat, Canon, Minolta, Konica, Olympus OM, Pentax S and of course, Vivitar cameras. Not to mention universal thread mounts. Remember though, the lens doesn’t work with all of them at once, each version has the mount build into it, otherwise I’d have used this on my Nikon. So while shopping for one make sure and include the mount type in your search.
Like I mentioned, mine came with the box and manual. I got it from the original owner a few years back at a garage sale, and it looks like he bought it from Super S Drugs for $289.99 Canadian. A hefty price, and I’m guessing he bought it at least fairly new, as there’s no barcode to be found.
I’m going to give you my personal pros and cons, as well as a few tips, but first, here are my favourite photos taken the with Vivitar 75-205mm close focusing zoom lens.
Okay, let’s talk pros and cons, first the pros.
Pro #1 I mentioned already, but it’s the consistent 3.8 max aperture. It’s one less thing to think about and usually a sign of quality.
Pro #2 is the close focus option, it’s really easy to set. All you need to do is keep rotating. Other lenses like my main Nikon zoom lens, require a switch and needs to be a certain focal length to engage and disengage.
Con #1 is the amount of twisting required to get from 75mm to 205mm. If you’re holding the camera up at eye level is takes a couple twists to get from one end to the other.
Con#2 is the front of the lens rotates while focusing. This is fine until you have a linear or circular polarizer, which will rotate with the focus.
If you just grabbed one of these, or are still interested in one, I have a few tips for you.
Tip#1 is get in the habit, of zooming with the camera, rather than the lens. Zooming with the camera at eye level is slow and for me a little clumsy. I just lower the camera, crank it, and raise it back to my eye, then fine tune as needed.
Tip#2 is focus first, before adjusting your polarizing filter. By the way, it has a 58mm thread.
Tip#3 is that the Konica mount only goes to f16
And those are my tips, I hope it helped you make a more informed decision. This is made to be a practical guide, things like which aperture has the best sharpness, bokeh balls, colour rendering, don’t play into my final decision on whether or not I like a lens. Like I mentioned earlier, even if I did, the quality will vary from lens to lens, and probably mount to mount, as they were just pumping these out to consumers as fast as possible. That’s why you still see so many of them in the wild. The other truth here is if you care about those things, you probably shouldn’t shop for a Vivitar. If you’re a pixel peeper, or a grain gawker as I coined recently, you need to ask how much time you’re spending taking photos of brick walls checking for barrel distortion rather than shooting what you love. When I do care about quality and sharpness, I gravitate to prime lenses.