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Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm f/2.8 Vintage Lens Review

Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm f/2.8 Vintage Lens Review - John Riley review the vintage Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm f/2.8 lens on the 36mp full-frame DSLR, the Pentax K-1.

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Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm f/2.8 in Interchangeable Lenses

Handling and Features
Performance
Verdict
Specification
Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm F2,8 Front Oblique View

There are some lenses that achieve a certain legendary status over the years, and the Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm f/2.8, made by Komine, is probably one of the better known. Having been given the loan of a boxed example of the lens that has hardly been touched since new, it's an interesting chance to review it using the Pentax K-1 36mp full frame DSLR. From the serial number of 28711929, the lens falls into the years where the numbers can be deciphered. This gives us the maker (28 is Komine), the year of manufacture (7 could be 1977 or 1987), the month of manufacture (11 is November) and the serial number within that month (929). So far so good, let's see how it works out in practice.

Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm f/2.8 Handling and Features

Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm F2,8 On Pentax K 1

A multicoated manual focus macro lens with continuous focusing down to life-size, or a magnification of 1x or 1:1, is an attractive proposition. AF is, of course, absent, but then again many macro subjects favour manual focusing even with an AF lens. So that may not be too much of a disadvantage.

There are no electronic contacts, so the K-1 immediately asks what the focal length is, the information being fed to the SR (Shake Reduction) system that is built into the camera. 50mm is the closest setting available. After that, on the K-1 manual exposure mode is set. To obtain the correct exposure, press the green button on the back of the camera. This briefly stops down the lens to whatever aperture is set, takes a meter reading and sets the shutter speed accordingly. Then take the shot and the lens will stop down correctly. Other camera bodies from other marques will behave differently. There were a very wide variety of mounts made for this lens, so with an appropriate adapter, it could well be possible to use it on whatever camera system we have.

Removing the metal push-on lens cap, we can see the front element is very deeply recessed. This really makes a lens hood redundant, which is good as the working distance can be quite close with macro subjects. There is a standard 62mm filter thread, but placing another piece of glass in a position exposed to potential reflections perhaps should be avoided unless necessary. It would negate the usefulness of the recessed front element.

The focusing ring turns fairly smoothly, not silky like some, but good enough. And it turns and turns...all the way down to that ultra-close 1:1 magnification. There is a depth of field scale, superseded at closer distances by magnification ratios, all being clearly marked.

Finally, the aperture ring has half stop détentes and operates perfectly well, again not super-smooth, but effective. Optically, we have 5 elements in four groups, a 6 bladed diaphragm and all in a metal package that weighs in at a modest 312g. This is a relatively simple, traditional optical design, but one capable of excellent results.

Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm F2,8 Fully Extended On Pentax K 1

Using older manual focus lenses is actually quite straightforward, given the time to focus accurately. It's quite probable that focusing errors were much more common when this lens was new, but in this digital age where we can examine sharpness on our screens at enormous magnification then the various focusing aids can only be a good thing in our quest for sharp detail.

Vivitar was a product line of Ponder and Best in the USA and they commissioned lens designs and manufacture rather than making anything themselves, so a variety of lens manufacturers were involved. Komine is one of the better-known examples, but there are others and some very high-quality designs were produced. This macro lens was also sold under other names, and the Elicar V-HQ Macro 55mm f/2.8 and the Panagor PMC Macro 55mm f/2.8 are two examples.

Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm F2,8 Rear Oblique View

Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm f/2.8 Performance

Looking first at sharpness, at f/2.8 and f/4 the standard is very good centrally. It is excellent at f/5.6 and f/8 and again very good at f/11 and f/16. The edges are softer but still good at f/2.8, very good at f/4, excellent at f/5.6 and f/8 and very good at f/11 and f/16. It can be seen that we have excellent and totally even sharpness at f/5.6 and f/8, where the lens peaks at a very high standard.

Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm f/2.8 MTF Charts

How to read our MTF charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution as LW/PH and is described in detail above. The taller the column, the better the lens performance.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Pentax K-1 using Imatest.


Chromatic aberration (CA) is very well corrected centre and edge, not always expected in a film era lens. It is not a problem and it is very unlikely that any further software correction will be needed.

Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm f/2.8 Chromatic Aberration Charts

How to read our CA charts

Chromatic aberration (CA) is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Pentax K-1 using Imatest.

 

Distortion measures -0.22% barrel, excellent and especially necessary for a macro lens. Copying of documents, for example, should retain straight edges without any problem.

Bokeh is not in the first league, being a little busy, but it's very acceptable and unlikely to be an issue with the sort of subjects sought for a macro lens. With just 6 diaphragm blades this is inevitable.

No doubt the very deeply recessed front element, effectively making its own lens hood, helps to banish flare and indeed flare was not a problem throughout the shooting of the sample images.

Overall, really a very pleasing performance, with a lens design that compared to current designs is relatively simple. That simplicity in itself will reduce the likelihood of flare.


Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm f/2.8 Sample Photos

 

Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm f/2.8 Aperture range

 

 

Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm f/2.8 Verdict

In a way, unfortunately, these lenses do have a reputation, which tends to put up the price. That reputation is largely justified in that it holds its head up high and can perform as an excellent macro lens on current digital cameras. Asking prices on eBay today ranged from £60 to £150, in a variety of mounts, even a Minolta fit that could be usefully employed on the Alpha 7 and 9 cameras with a suitable adapter. Probably £100 could be considered good VFM, depending on the condition of course, and £50 or £60 would be a bargain, certainly much less than modern macro lenses

The main advantage is being able to focus right down to 1:1, whereas most macro lenses of its era only went down to half life size, or 1:2. The Vivitar is a totally viable macro option and should give excellent service. A classic lens with its reputation vindicated.

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Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm f/2.8 Pros

  • Excellent, even sharpness
  • 1:1 magnification
  • Very good manufacturing quality
  • Recessed front element makes its own lens hood
  • Virtually no distortion
  • Very well corrected for CA
  • No flare

Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm f/2.8 Cons

  • Manual focus slows things down
  • No electronic contacts

Features3.5/5
Handling4/5
Performance4.5/5
Value4.5/5
Overall Verdict

 

Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm f/2.8 Specifications

ManufacturerVivitar
General
Lens Mounts
  • Pentax M42
Lens
Focal Length55mm
Angle of ViewNo Data
Max Aperturef/2.8
Min Aperturef/16
Filter Size62mm
StabilisedNo
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingNo Data
Maximum magnification1x
Focusing
Min Focus5cm
Construction
Blades6
Elements5
Groups4
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data
Dimensions
Weight312g
Height65mm

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Comments


josa 6 25 Czech Republic
16 Apr 2018 12:11PM
Great lens! Sharpness as good as on modern lenses!Grin:

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pelo 9 3 Australia
30 Apr 2018 5:50PM
I still have my Minolta mount lens from my film camera days. Serial no. 28211076. I used it as the standard lens on my X700.
17 May 2018 7:41AM
Further information received indicates that the lens was made in 1977.

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