Vivitar 28-200mm f/3.5-5.3 Macro Focusing Zoom Vintage Lens Review

John Riley takes the vintage Vivitar 28-200mm f/3.5-5.3 lens on a trip to Wales to find out how it compares with zoom lenses of today.


|  Vivitar 28-200mm f/3.5-5.3 Macro Focusing Zoom in Vintage Lenses
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Vivitar 28-200mm f/3.5-5.3 Macro Focusing Zoom Vintage Lens
 

Vivitar have never manufactured lenses themselves, but they have designed, sourced and sold many of them, and full marks for innovation and a particular honesty are in order. The design aspect brought the zoom lens into the mainstream of photography and the rare honesty was their attempt to be straight about what the term macro really meant. To Vivitar of the 1970s and 1980s, macro meant life-size, or 1:1 magnification, not the macro term used freely on many makers' zoom lenses, some of which did not focus particularly closely. This early Super Zoom, made for Vivitar by Kobori, focuses down to 1:4, or one-quarter life-size, and for this Vivitar coined the term "macro focusing zoom lens". Vivitar zooms were marketed as amongst the first true zooms of high quality, so let's see how that stands up today, using the 36MP Pentax K-1 and an M42 screw thread version of the lens.



Vivitar 28-200mm f/3.5-5.3 Macro Focusing Zoom Vintage Lens Handling and Features

Vivitar 28-200mm f/3.5-5.3 Macro Focusing Zoom Vintage Lens
 

In common with most manual focus lenses from the 1970s and 1980s, the Vivitar is relatively slim, presumably because there are no AF motors and circuit boards to add in, but they are relatively heavy compared to current manufacture. Metal and glass make this M42 version of the lens weigh in at a hefty 640g without caps. Made by Kobori in the early 1980s, it is multicoated, essential really considering its optical formula of 18 elements in 16 groups. Again typical of the era, the diaphragm comprises just 6 blades.

Vivitar was one of the first to offer high-quality zooms that were billed as being the equal of prime lenses, and although we'll reserve judgement on that until we look at the technical results, it is true that the lens seems very well made.

Vivitar 28-200mm f/3.5-5.3 Macro Focusing Zoom Vintage Lens
 

Starting our lens tour at the front, we find a 72mm standard filter thread. Immediately behind this is the large trombone action combined focusing and zoom ring. Push/pull to zoom, rotate to focus. It is very impressive that when the vertical shot was made of the lens, with the zoom pushed fully out, it did not move in the slightest, despite the weight of all that glass. Most lenses would slowly creep downwards under that weight, but not the Vivitar. The zooming action is very smooth, as is the focusing. The focus throw in the standard range is a very small 30 degrees, so there is a real limit to its precision. In this range, manual focusing, of course, the minimum focus distance is 2.5m, or 8.2 feet, one of the most obvious limitations of a zoom as compared to a prime lens. At 28mm, we might have the field of view, but a prime lens might be expected to focus down to 0.3m or so. However, at 200mm focusing continues into the macro focusing range, down to 1.1m or 3.6 feet. This is pretty impressive for a 200mm lens and gives us a maximum magnification of 1:4; one-quarter life-size.

Vivitar 28-200mm f/3.5-5.3 Macro Focusing Zoom Vintage Lens
 

Trombone action zooms mean that it is possible to produce markings indicating the depth of field. There are blue lines that show DOF at f/8, which is highlighted in blue on the aperture ring, and green lines that show DOF at f/22, also highlighted, in green. The red line is the IR focusing indicator, showing the displacement in-focus position for IR photography.

There are more marks of importance. The red dot indicates the aperture selected, but the green line close to it shows the reduction in aperture as we zoom in to 200mm. This is of course only approximate and for the purposes of our MTF and CA graphs we show only the correct value for maximum aperture and the marked value for other apertures, but all the correct aperture values for 200mm as this information was provided at the time by Vivitar and included in the lens instruction manual.

Vivitar 28-200mm f/3.5-5.3 Macro Focusing Zoom Vintage Lens

The aperture ring itself is closest to the camera body, and the efficiency of this will depend somewhat on the mount variation being used. The lens was available in Contax/Yashica, Canon FD, Konica AR, Nikon F, Olympus OM, Pentax K, Pentax KA, Minolta MD, Minolta MC and also M42 screw mount. The version used for this review is the M42 lens, mounted on a Pentax K-1 using the Pentax Adapter K. This makes the aperture ring uncomfortably close to the camera and very fiddly to use, especially as its resistance is quite firm. Turning the aperture towards f/3.5 tends to slightly unscrew the lens, which is not helpful and needs watching. Not only that, but the auto/manual switch common in screw mount lenses is impossible to turn whilst the lens is mounted on the camera. Normally, as the mount is totally manual, with no electronics at all, the switch could be set to auto to focus at maximum wide-open aperture, and then moved to manual to stop down to the selected value. Instead, the switch needs to be set on manual and the lens physically opened up and then closed down again to focus and then to shoot at the desired value.

All of this is most inconvenient when the lens is used on a tripod, but to be fair it is slightly easier when used handheld and there is slightly better access to the aperture ring. The best technique is to focus at open aperture and then count the clicks to stop down to the required aperture. This works well in practice and does improve handling.

 


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Comments


balazer New Member
3 Sep 2019 11:07PM
Your lens was made in 1987 (Serial number 777...) not the early 1980s. Vivitar sold the Kobori-made 1:4 macro 28-200 f/3.5-5.3 in 1986 and 1987 (maybe 1988 too).

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3 Sep 2019 11:34PM
Many thanks for the information balazer!
6bq5 6
5 Sep 2019 3:59AM
How cool is that?! Grin I used one of these for a good number of years back in the late 80ís all the way up to the mid 90ís. It felt like a powerhouse of a lens back then. I still have that lens! The push-pull zoom is all worn now and the barrel slides back and forth very loosely. There is no damping left. Mine is native K-mount. Yes, it is decently sharp at f/8 for the most part. Itís fun to use a trip down memory lane.

Now you just have to review the FA Limited trio lenses on your K-1!! Grin

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