Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Vivitar Macro Progression

I actually just found an excellent write up on the differences between the Vivitar macro lenses as well as perhaps some of the reasoning for the various manufacturers and labels. Now currently I can neither confirm or deny any of these explanations and most likely find them just as interesting as you! Certainly, if you have any further insight feel free to share! The information below was found here:

A member, Lewtwo, posted this (requoted from a fellow called "Boggy" of the Kiron-Klub forums of yahoo here: which is perhaps the progression of the Vivitar macros:

- Vivitar 90mm 2.5 Series 1 was made by Tokina, followed by
- Vivitar 90mm 2.8 produced by Komine, followed by
- Vivitar 90mm 2.5 uprated version of #2, produced by Komine, followed by

- Vivitar 100mm 2.8 produced by Kino, modified version of the Kiron 105mm f/2.8 Macro, followed by
- Vivitar 105mm 2.5 Series 1 uprated version of the above, also produced by Kino

and that the Komine produced Vivitar 90/2.5 served as base model for the 1:1 derivates like Elicar, Rokunar and Soligor

additional info on later request: approx. production periods for these lenses

- Tokina made 90mm f/2.5 1976-78
- Komine made 90mm f/2.8 1977-79
- Komine made 90mm f/2.5 1980-83
- Kino made 100mm f/2.8 1985-87
- Kino made 105mm f/2.5 1987-9?

More to come!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Vivitar Series 1 - What's all the Hoopla About?

So what's the deal with me and Vivitar? Why are over half the lenses I have reviewed and poured over from the 1970's and 80's and made by a now obscure third party brand; a brand most likely associated with garage sales and giveaway 35mm cameras from Legends of the Hidden Temple (by people of my generation), if recognized at all? What's the deal with all the sensational terminology like "legendary" and "cult status"? If Vivitar lenses were so great, what happened, why doesn't anyone talk about their new series 1 lenses?

Perhaps this article would have been more useful if written earlier in the blog for those not yet familiar with the Vivitar culture, but now is as good of time as any seeing as how I too have been learning more about Vivitar all the while in my personal observations and testings of their lenses. After all, it doesn't make any sense for someone to develop brand loyalty with little to no experience with the product.

A Brief History

Vivitar was a photo sales company founded in 1938 by two men, Max Ponder and John Best. Based out of Oxnard, California, the company got its start by selling imported German photo gear and later expanded to distributing Japanese made equipment following the conclusion of WWII.

For the sake of this article I will relegate most of the information to the Series 1 line specifically, despite the fact that Vivitar produced a wide variety of successful photographic equipment including the famed Vivitar 283 and 285 model flashes.

It was in the 1970's when Ponder and Best introduced the Vivitar Series 1 line. Interestingly enough, Vivitar was not a camera or lens manufacturer. It was a sales company. Boasting computer designed optics, the lenses would be contracted out to various manufacturers providing a less expensive alternative to the big name-brand lenses without sacrificing a whole lot of quality. In fact, many of the Vivitar lenses rivaled those of the high end lenses of the day. Vivitar technicians were the dreamers, pushing boundaries and attempting things that were unheard of in that day, and passing on the technology and savings to the photographers.

Zooms are a given in today's photographic world but in those days, primes were standard practice. Companies like Tokina got put on the map for their innovation in zoom lense technology. Vivitar, likewise, became well known for their 70-210mm zoom with macro function (Gandy). Some of their primes still today outperform many lenses and remain high on the MTF test charts. Especially the Vivitar Series 1 90mm f/2.5, a.k.a. the Bokina.

So what happened to the company? Often times it only takes one or two people to really make a huge difference and likewise, without them, everything falls apart. With the passing of Ponder and Best, Vivitar (according to Wikipedia) "drifted" between different owners, losing it's innovative edge. Interestingly enough, in my search to find parts or someone to help with a lens modification I contacted a lens design company out in California and ended up learning a little more about the demise of Vivitar. Apparently, in 1994, an earthquake, later deemed the "Northridge Earthquake" struck southern California, leaving large areas devastated. Wouldn't you know it, the Vivitar headquarters was among the casualties. Already struggling by this point, it seems the earthquake provided a final blow.

Perhaps some exaggeration lies in just how severe the earthquake affected the Vivitar company, it can at least be agreed it didn't help. In 2006 the company was bought (Syntax-Brillian Corp.), then again in 2008 (Sakar International) after filing for bankruptcy. Even now, if you call the Vivitar company, they provide no support and retain no relation to the Vivitar corporation of old.

A Different Time

It's nothing new, a company going out of business. But it's sad to see a company, that did so much for the photographic industry just fade away. Even worse, the new Vivitar company has, at least as most recently as this past year, been producing lenses bearing the "Series 1" name (Like the 500mm catadioptric, 650-1300mm, 7mm fisheye, 19-35mm, and so forth). I would call them misnomers because despite having the rights to the brand name, these lenses are in no way near the optical quality of those designed by Ponder and Best in the 70's and 80's. In most cases, I don't know that Vivitar has anything to do with the design. You can find the exact same lenses for sale under various other names like Bower, Phoenix, Promaster, and more. So someone must be responsible for the original design and then it gets rebranded all over the place! But again, they lack that signature Series 1 innovation, as well as optical quality.

Are Series 1 Lenses All They Are Cracked Up To Be?

Absolutely... to me. I think this is a personal issue. I mean, things like's MTF tests indeed show lenses like the 90mm proving themselves on the scientific "mat" if you will. But some of their Series 1 lenses had optical shortcomings, like any other lense. They aren't infallible. As always, it comes down to what you want out of your glass, and what you think it is worth. I pay good money for these lenses when I find them in good condition, even if I could save some money by finding one in bargain condition, because even the cosmetics mean a lot to me. Call it what collector's have (I am by no means a real collector because I use all my lenses) but I love having one of these older lenses in like new condition. It's downright exciting! Sure some lenses show color fringing wide open, others have light fall-off, and so forth. But, they emulate an era. They have a nostalgic air about them. As I often note in my reviews, you pick one up and it seems as if it has been cast or carved from a single solid piece of raw material. It is all of these qualities that make shooting with these lenses such a joy! Truly, some do perform extremely well but realistically, if you have the money to spend, of course their are much better lenses out there (in MOST cases, I have a hard time feeling that way about the 90mm, it is simply stellar). Auto-focus, Vibration Reduction (VR), Nano coatings, and all sorts of cutting edge technology adorn the newest members of the photographic legacy. But to me, the Vivitar Series 1 glass still maintains an excellent balance between nostalgia and performance and thus defending their coveted slots in my bag.


The history written here was gathered from these two sources and as I said, the gentleman I spoke with at another company's lens design facility.

Stephen Gandy

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Vivitar Series 1 90-180mm f/4.5 Flat Field Macro Lens

The Vivitar 90-180mm f/4.5 macro lens is a truly unique and exquisite lens. As of now, I only state this based on its physical appearance as well as reading about its reputation. Just how amazing of a lens it really is or how usable it is to me has yet to be determined. In my ongoing quest to acquire and test all the Vivitar Series 1 lenses I can get my hands on, mostly primes and macros, this is my most recent find.

The condition of this lens is perfect. Found it for $60 on craigslist a few weeks back. Actually had it shipped, the seller was incredibly nice. Only caveats, slightly dented filter ring so getting the hood on takes a little work. Also it is in FD mount and I need Nikon, I will figure something out! It will be my last lens for awhile as I have other financial priorities at this time and simply cannot allow LBA (Lens Buying Addiction) to overtake my reason! I have more than enough testing and shooting to do with the lenses I have now anyhow.

So onto the lens! The Vivitar 90-180mm f/4.5 is a true macro zoom in that it was designed as a flat field lens for excellent macro reproduction. Most lenses are design where the focal plane is an arc with all points equidistant from the film plane. In macro photography, especially something like reproduction with items which are flat, this would mean when filling the frame with something such as a stamp, while the center would be in focus, the outer edges would actually be outside the plane of focus. Flat field optics provide a plane of focus parallel to the image plane. Most true macro lenses are designed this way for reproduction.

According to most forums and postings from users of this lens, it produces amazing results. Guess who made it? The serial begins with 22- Kiron! To determine who made your Vivitar Lens see my links or simply see Stephen Gandy's "Who Made That Vivitar Lens".


Focal length: 90-180mm
Filter thread: 72mm
Min. Aperture: f/4.5
Max. Aperture: f/22
Angular field of view (diagonal): 27°
Elements/groups: 18/12
Min. focusing distance: 27" (68.6 cm) @ 180mm
Max reproduction ratio: 1:4 @ 90mm, 1:2.7 @ 135mm, 1:2 @ 180mm
Weight: 2.4 lbs. ( 1.1 kg)

Vivitar 90-180mm f/4.5 Lens Diagram

Allow me to re-iterate, this lens weighs almost 2.5 lbs! Awesome. In reading reviews, a lot of users actually criticize this particular aspect to using the lens. I suppose it depends on the photographer. While I am young, I like a nice solid lens!


The Vivitar 90-180mm f/4.5 is no exception to the superior build quality of the other Vivitar Series 1 glass I have reviewed thus far. Beautifully and precisely crafted with exact tolerances, a durable barrel, multi-coating, smooth movements, and an overall professional, appealing appearance. The lens utilizes a dual focusing mechanism where the lowered diamond knurled ring zooms the lens from 90-180mm and the upper, equally knurled, ring focuses. In addition to the heft of the lens, it features a rotating tripod collar with tightening screw. I find these mounts a great design addition however I am typically unable to take advantage of them because of lack of room when shooting with a battery grip.


Finally got my FD-m4/3 adapter. When those Chinese merchants say 20-60 business days, they mean it. It felt like an eternity waiting for this thing. Anyway, because I am using this lens on a four thirds sensor, there is a 2x crop factor and I and getting the sweet spot of the lens. Therefore I cannot fully assess this lens' capabilities nearer the edges of a full frame image.

With the GF1, this lens is great. (Be sure if using it with an m4/3 camera, to use the lens' tripod mount rather than the camera. This brick just may tear the mount right off the camera!) Below are two samples @ 90mm and two more @ 180mm, at f/4.5 (wide open) and f/11 (my sample's sharpest aperture).

f/4.5 @ 90mm

f/11 @ 90mm

f/4.5 @ 180mm

f/11 @ 180mm

Wide open, the Vivitar 90-180mm is soft for sure. But this lens gets crisp and clear when stopped down, best at f/11. I am new to the GF1 so it is possible another factor is in play causing the f/4.5 results to be so soft. Otherwise, the lens is relatively unusable at this f/stop.


Below, found on Ed Sawyer's site, is some scanned documentation from Modern Photography's own review and testing on the Vivitar 90-180mm. I just pasted it all together in PS.

Robert Monaghan's Write-up of the Vivitar 90-180mm on his Cult Classics webpage:

"Vivitar also made a number of high quality zooms under the Series I label. The 90mm to 180mm f4.5 flat-field VMC lens from 1978 is an optic that has also achieved cult status.

This Vivitar 90-180mm f/4.5 lens was really designed for medical photography needs. A ring-light flash unit was designed to mount on the front of this lens too. But as far as I know, it was never released. This original medical market niche explains some of the design features and range of this high quality zoom lens.


The Vivitar 90-180mm f/4.5 Series I macro zoom is designed to provide the highest possible quality continuously down to its closest macro settings. The Vivitar 90-180mm f/4.5 flat-field lens provides high quality macrophotography continuously from 90mm (to 1:4) to 180mm (to 1:2). That's unique, and useful, so you should expect to pay quite a price premium for such a cult status lens!"

Source: Modern Photography, June 1978, p. 126, 182

Again - The above text is all from Robert Monaghan's webpage on cult classic lenses.

Stephen Gandy's write-up on the Vivitar 90-180mm
Vivitar 90-180mm FD-M42 Mount Modification

Saturday, November 28, 2009

2009 - The Year of the Zhu-zhu

As sick as it may be, spending my Thanksgiving evening among the hundreds of locals searching for their deal-of-the-century has become something of a tradition. It actually started years back when I was not home, but on vacation in Wisconsin with family friends. Heather, the girl nearest my age and I were most likely complaining about the lack of things to do now that Thanksgiving had gone when someone sarcastically threw out Black Friday shopping as one idea. I didn't even know what that meant. Next thing I knew, I was freezing cold, standing outside a store I had never heard of, not looking to buy anything, but amongst hundreds of others who knew precisely where they were going when those doors cracked. I was astounded. Now, every year my friends and I get together, pick a spot and go solely for the purposes of observation.

I suppose for me, the experience is two-fold. On one side, I find myself appalled (though not surprised) at the frantic, mindless, and just outright inconsiderate behavior of humans towards others. The most obvious example of this being the man who was trampled to death last year at a Wal-Mart. Outrageous is probably an appropriate adjective here. I am constantly amazed at the power of intangible forces such as greed and peer-pressure. For others however, despite the seemingly overwhelming stench of capitalism, this day provides a unique opportunity to grow closer. Standing, sitting, even camping in line, many families and friends I spoke with appeared to be in great spirits, enjoying the conversation and even laughing themselves at the absurdity of the situation.

Without continuing into a full dissertation diagramming the details of Black Friday and its social implications, let's just say you should go at least once, if not just to witness first hand the kind of behavior only an extremely well-off, disillusioned populous can parade.

Of course, I brought my camera. And ISO performance has come a LONG way. All images are on the D700 at 3200 ISO. Awesome. The opening image is a stitch obviously, and a poor one at that. I threw it together realizing the couple shots I took with the spiratone 18mm were wide, but still not enough to fully describe the line and having not planned on making a panoramic, I had to pull the 3 shots together despite having been taken from three different vantage points. It but you get the idea. This was the midnight opening at Toy'R'Us. Below I have made a diagram of the Line Dynamics.

The GREEN ARROW represents the true entry line, the die-hards. Though honest and law abiding, they still demonstrate a disregard for common sense as they stand hours and sometimes days on the sidewalk to get the first crack at a hard to find $10 toy for their kids. Last year I spoke with a family who camped out in front of Best Buy (Also known as Worst Buy) beginning Wednesday morning, ate turkey dinner on the sidewalk, and made it in to get their $200 laptop or whatever it was. The BLUE CIRCLE represents the bystander zone and acts as a screen for snipers, as denoted by the BLUE-TO-RED ARROWS. While many like myself come to just watch the mayhem others have given up on being first in line and resign themselves to getting in when the end of the line makes it through the doors. Either way, most in this area were laughing and in good spirits. Perhaps the distance from entry is symbolic of their true distance from the situation? Whatever their motives, the BLUE ZONE provides the perfect screen for many latecomers to sneak into the chaotic mass of people shoving their way through the doors once the line begins to move. I'd say the success rate was about 50% on the night. I positioned myself just to the right of the door (and not without being shouted at before I pointed to the camera indicating I was no threat to their electronic hampster toys). Some snipers would sneak their way right through with only as many as one or two people yelling to no avail that they be sent to the back of the line. Others were not as fortunate. Such was the case for this man:

Oh yes! The police were someone in line no less.

Well in the end, no deaths, not even an arrest. They just asked the man not to enter the store and go home. Then the police even commented aloud on the senseless behavior and continued on their way.

We did go IN as well but after seeing images such as those found on the People of Wal-Mart Blog like this one below, we didn't see anything particularly shocking:

The Walmart Crib (Black Friday Edition)

I wish I had seen that haha! No my images are relegated to elderly people standing beneath towers of toys attempting to move through the store to no avail. Perhaps Ill catch a gem such as the above next year! To those who were out participating: sit and think about your behavior! And being that somehow this post went down unbeknownst to me, and its now mid february, take a moment to reflect. Are you even still using whatever it was you stood in line so patiently for? Is your child a better person? haha

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Kiron 105mm f/2.8 1:1 Macro Lens - Kino's Prize

November 2010

Since the initial post of this write-up, I have owned a few copies of the Vivitar Series 1 105mm, a Lester A. Dine 105mm, and this Kiron. Of the bunch, I have sold all except for this Kiron. You can read some about performance HERE in my 8-Lens Macro Shoot-Out. I have found the Dine and Kiron iterations to be the better performers than the Vivitar 105mm f/2.5. I have not however had the opportunity to test the Vivitar 100mm f/2.8, Rikenon 105mm f/2.8, Rolleinar 105mm f/2.8, or other optically identical iterations which you can read about HERE.

My current recommendation is, if you find yourself enamoured with this lens, curiosity piqued, buy one. You will not regret it. Buying a cosmetically and optically excellent copy will afford you the best bang for your buck since it is these that often fetch the higher prices in the used market (unless of course you pay through the nose in the beginning...).

Original Review

Behold the progenitor of the famous 105mm f/2.8 macro lenses, capable of 1:1 without use of extention tubes: The Kino-made Kiron 105mm f/2.8 1:1. You may also recognize this lens as the Vivitar Series 1 105mm f/2.5 1:1 or the Lester Dine 105mm f/2.8 1:1. All are optically the same lens.

This lens has gained what is often referred to as a "cult-status" in terms of its great performance in relation to its cost. I was fortunate enough to find one with the original box. However, I would note, as of the current time I am writing this, it seems due to increasing number of photographic forums and perpetuation of that very information, this cost-to-performance ratio is being somewhat undone. That is, as more and more photographers tout this lens' wonderful performance, prices on the used market continue to increase. I saw a sample of the Kiron version of this lens go off for over $450 on eBay just the other day. You can buy many of the more current autofocus macro lenses for that which will perform better as they contain better coatings and are optimized for the digital sensor.

That said, others, like myself, are more interested in the lens as both a piece of photographic history and its "optical personality" if you will. Like the Vivitar 105mm, although sharp, this lens suffers prominent color fringing wide open. Performance does improve as the lens is stopped down, but again, for the money, my Tokina 100mm has autofocus, goes to 1:1 without need for extension tubes, and in most respects is a much easier lens to work with. The Tokina does actually suffer some color fringing itself but not as severe as the Kiron 105mm, and again, costs less than the Nikon AF Micro-Nikkors. In all honesty, I probably spent more on this lens than it is worth optically, but my appreciation for this lens goes far beyond it's optics. Consequently I find it of much higher value. And even so, the condition of this particular sample can hardly be outdone.


Focal length: 105mm
Filter thread: 52mm
Max. Aperture: f/2.8
Min. Aperture: f/32
Angular field of view (diagonal): 23.3°
Elements/groups: 6/6
Min. focusing distance: 1.14' (0.35 m)
Dimensions: 3.5" (90mm)
Dimensions w/ extender: 5.4" (138mm)
Weight: 22.75 oz. ( 650 g)


Like the Vivitar 105mm, this gorgeous instrument appears as if it was carefully and precisely carved from a single piece of metal stock. The barrel moves with the same fluid ease and enables the user ample room to exact his or her focus. Though it may sound superfluous, I was initally much more enthralled with the slightly "beefier" Vivitar version of this lens (Note the considerably smaller built-in lens hood lip on the Kiron as opposed to the Vivitar. The grip of the Kiron runs a shorter length of the barrel than the Vivitar and is slimmer as well.). Now however, after picking one up and using it, I find the Kiron to be equally as well-crafted and substantial. I even find myself appreciating the coatings a little more just because of the increased number of hues as opposed to that of the Vivitar. Unfortunately, I sold the Vivitar to pick this lens up and thus cannot put them head-to-head just yet. All in good time, I have my eye out for a Nikon mount Vivitar S1 105mm.


Like the Vivitar 90mm, I have found a .pdf on this lens but am unsure as to its original source. Nevertheless, it is a manufacturer manual and it is available for download below.

Kiron 105mm f/2.8 1:1 PDF

Kiron 105mm Iterations - Be aware this lens comes in many shapes and brandings. Here I have attempted to outline those of which I am aware.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rainy Day Special

I don't have a whole lot to say today since I will probably be on my way out to shoot some more droplets and so forth. We are having one of our wettest seasons in years. Literally, it will rain for a week solid, and sometimes longer. The sun setting at 4:30pm doesn't make getting out to shoot any easier. Regardless, I have been itching to get outside so bring on the trash bags and rubber bands! I had my entire macro rig, the vivitar 90mm f/2.5, 1:1 converter, D700 w/ battery grip, SB-600, and a large homemade softbox in the trash bag with only the lenshood peeping out. Not only that, I went out before my shower, in athletic shorts, a hoodie, oversized DJ headphones, and long socks and shoes. Even I thought I looked ridiculous. Here are a few of my shots, uncropped. I simply love that lens.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tokina Macro Extender and Vivitar Series 1 105mm FOR SALE!

**Vivitar 105mm SOLD**
Tokina Extender is combined with the Vivitar Series 1 90mm BOKINA in a NEW AUCTION

Feel free to click the images for a closer look. These are the unaltered shots save for some curves and saturation of each lens. The Vivitar is in excellent condition with some minor cosmetics, optically excellent+! The tokina suffers some sort of blemishing on the anodized coating but optically is sound.

I have just listed a couple items on eBay that I have used here on this blog. Not only will the sale hopefully finance the remainder of my Vivitar Series 1 90mm "Bokina", but I also just got the opportunity to pick up a Kiron 105mm f/2.5 with the box! That said, some things must go! As much as I would love to keep every piece of equipment I buy (unless it is no good) I simply cannot! In the end I will break even (That's in case my girlfriend is reading this...). I'll have to write up something on women (non-photographers) and camera equipment, it's an interesting thing!

Take a look and feel free to shoot me any questions you might have!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Insect/Arachnid Relocation Program (IARP)

Being as this is far from the first instance this has happened, I have decided to create a "program". I simply love human's reaction to particular instances when even one of the innumerable other residents of our "spaces" make his or herself known. Instances such as a deer eating "our" gardens, a tiny jumping spider crawling up our kitchen walls, ladybugs dive-bombing our screen doors, and so forth. I proudly adhere to the old maxim, "They were here first!" So rather than squish them, shoo them, or in most cases hastily ward them off, I like to observe what they are doing. Are they building something? Going somewhere in particular (towards warmth, light, food, etc)? Or, are they just simply hangin' out!? As a photographer, I take it a step further and tend to want to document the little guys, if for nothing more than just to see them through the lens, with more detail.

This morning, I did just that. Today is my day off. Being out of school and now working a full time job which I do not personally have to "take home with me" I have found increasing contentment mentally. Last night, a visitor was discovered, or perhaps even a resident. Either way, he was deemed unwelcome by my parents. My dad put him in a jar and gave him to me. (Allow me to assume, since I have a limited knowledge of arachnids, this is a male spider)

The program works quite simply. The individual is selected for relocation. He/She is photographically documented. The individual is then carefully introduced into a new, larger, more "natural" environment (A.K.A. the yard).

Above is the inaugural candidate for the program. Being as specific spider identification is hard to find based on the sheer number of species discovered (not to mention UNdiscovered). From other images I have found, I believe it is a type of crab-spider Thomisidae family of the Araneae order (wikipedia's crab spider). I will update as I discover more information.

All images were made using the Vivitar Series 1 90mm f/2.5.

Since this blog is all about information I realized a quick image of how I made this shot might be a fine conclusion to this post. I got home tonight from being out and about and my dad asked me what I was doing with the leaves downstairs. I am not sure what you may have thought when first looking at these images or even if you considered it at all. I always find myself asking the question of how the shot was made when I see an image. Consequently, I thought I would include it. This was not made outside, as hopefully it appears it was, but in my "mini-studio". I recently moved out of my apartment and in with the rents in hopes that should I take a job outside the city I currently reside in, I can easily move without having been locked into an apartment contract. Well, I have been searching for several months now and continue to do so but have to get a job for the time being. That said, my ability to set up shoots is limited and thus I try to make everything as low maintenance and manageable as I can. Enter the mini-studio haha.

Ok, so it's a light tent...big woop. It is a few square frames made from PVC, some with white shower curtain stretched over them, and all with velcro wraps at the corners so that I can just stick 'em together as I see fit. With the addition of some foamcore and plexi, I have all I need. Strobist: White Lightning 1200 monolight (was given to me by a very gracious photographer looking for a good home for his equipment), Nikon SB-600 and SB-800 (which I picked up for a steal at $100 on craigslist!). The SB-600 was the most expensive thing!

Is it odd that I have the majority of my money invested in my glass and a skeleton crew when it comes to studio gear? I think not! We all have our priorities. Yesterday I was in a local camera store browsing when I asked to see a Kiron 80-200mm zoom (asking $30). It was in very nice condition and it honestly just peaked my interest. The associate asked what I would be using it on and I said a D700. He furrowed his brow at me, hesitantly mocking, "You're going to use that on a D700?" To which I replied, "Sure, why not!" This may however all simply be a result of the poor, condescending service I often encounter when I shop the local camera shops. That is an entirely different post all its own. For now, I will stick to the positives!

I hope to put up some DIY photo gear projects soon since that's another one of my personal favorites!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Helicon Focus with the Vivitar Series 1 90mm f/2.5

The above image was made from a series of 15 images stacked with Helicon Focus. In this case, considering the size of the subject, I could have just grabbed a long telephoto to compress the DoF...but that's not the point.

I hope to write more in depth on this later but I will need to at least pick up a year license to the program (a mere $30, unlimited is $200). I recently download HeliconFocus but my 30 day trial is running out and I have just been too busy. If you are wondering what the heck I am talking about, Helicon Focus is a photostacking program which, just as you would expect, creates images with an extended depth of field from stacked, inherently shallow DoF macro shots. The possibilities are for all intents and purposes, are limitless, providing you have a computer to handle this monstrosity your defiant imagination has just created in order to prove me wrong. Theoretically, you can do it with a series of images from any focal length I suppose, but it is most commonly used for macro work (as well as MICROwork, that is images taken through microscope) since at such high magnification, your DoF becomes so shallow. ANYwho...being the junkie that I am, my first, most accessible subject was none other than....(drumroll) Vivitar Series 1 90mm, muwaha! Ok, so perhaps not all that exciting. Sorry! I'm workin' on it!

I actually did one of these type shots (manually of course) in PS for the Vivitar Series 1 105mm f/2.5. It sucked. This program does everything it took me hours to do, in 1-2 minutes. And it's good. I can't wait to put some bug shots through it!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Looking Up

This post really isn't about anything technical. The image above was made with the Spiratone 18mm discussed here, but that's about as far as I'll go with that. No, tonight I am simply... feeling. No more thinking. The cogs have eased into suspension. I have recently begun a new job and it has been increasingly demanding, both mentally and physically. It is not the professional level, right out of college, "show us your resume" type job I always thought I would be entering upon graduation but in this economic situation, it is something. And to be quite honest, despite its perhaps mundane nature, I find it a unique opportunity to gain experience, work hard, and serve what appears to be a very positive, customer-oriented company (and transitively, serve customers!).

In spite of my fatigue, I feel anticipation. I have energy and a desire to keep getting up, stay late, and build something. Yes, I will ride this as long as I can for now. It feels right.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Vivitar Macro Trio

I'm looking to do a comparison with the three Vivitar macro lenses. Granted I have my predictions based on previous comparisons and experience with the lenses, but hey, comparisons are fun! Coming Soon!

Vivitar Series 1 90mm 1:1 Macro Extender Comparison

I was curious whether or not there was a difference between the Vivitar and Tokina 1:1 Macro extenders for the Vivitar Series 1 90mm. So...

The Acquisitions

In anticipation of getting the famed Vivitar 90mm "Bokina", I came across (and quickly bought) a Tokina branded 1:1 extender originally made for the Tokina 90mm AT-X version of this lens. These lenses achieve only a 1:2 reproduction ratio on their own and were consequently designed with a paired 3-element extender for 1:2-1:1 reproduction. Finding these extenders sold alone is rare, and even more scarce in Nikon AI mount.

The article posted here claims the extender is a 3-element optic designed to minimize aberrations within the "difficult" 1:2-1.1 ratio. "A concept borrowed from astronomical optics".

As often seems to be the case, shortly after discovering this vivitar 90mm/tokina macro extender combo, a vivitar 90mm with macro extender appeared on the "in-transit" section of KEH's website. Well of course, I had to request a notification when it became available. KEH often has items, such as this listed at a book value. For a lens with more of a "cult" following this typically means prices well below those paid on auction sites. $150 in Bargain condition. Another policy of KEH is severely underrating lenses. My guess for this would be it is a result of a good number of returns due to very meticulous natured photographers scrutinizing every facet of their equipment and considering the slightest cosmetic defect less than EX condition. Placing anything that is essentially not "mint" in the "bargain" section frees KEH from a lot of misery! ANYWAY, I received the lens and other than minor dust inside the glass, which does not affect the image quality and is expected of a lens 30+ years old, it is in immaculate condition.

Above is the lens I received, "Bargain condition" indeed!

The Vivitar branded macro extender with built-in rotating tripod mount.

Now owning both macro extenders, I began analyzing the various physical differences and wondered whether there was any optical performance difference. While the Vivitar lens and extender were produced in the 70's (still by Tokina), the Tokina AT-X version wasn't manufactured until the 80's. Although the optical formula did not change, it does appear some differences in coatings did occur.

Physical Appearance

Right off the bat, the two extenders can easily be differentiated by Vivitar's prominent built-in rotating tripod mount. Also, the Vivitar version has a glossy, reflective black sheen matching that of the Vivitar 90mm lens. The Tokina on the other hand, has more of a brushed, flat black finish with a rubber grip. In terms of build quality, the Vivitar feels like a rock, solid and heavy. The Tokina feels tinny, clanks, and is considerably lighter. I really love the tripod mount since this lens can get rather long as it gets cranked out there. Also, the ease of rotating the camera from this mount is unmatched. Overall, the Vivitar just feels more engineered. Optically we can easily see the hue difference in the two coatings, as the Tokina takes on a vivid red cast while the Vivitar maintains a more subtle gold.

The Test

I went for a walk at my new favorite park and ended up down by the recently flooded creek. I found a perfect littly clam shell half buried in the sand. I set up a tripod and used the timer function to take an image at each aperture. I used the same 90mm lens with both extenders.

The Results

**I have updated my thoughts on this test since its initial release**

OK, so in the end, the results are not extremely ground-breaking but still enough to fulfill my curiosity! The extenders produced virtually identical images at each aperture. However, for the pixel peeper, there may appear to be a couple differences. It appears as if (at least in these wide-open samples), the Vivitar produces a slight bit more color fringing than the Tokina branded extender but it a hair sharper. Now initially, I just noticed the color fringing and labeled that as the only key difference. However, after discussing this with my girlfriend, she pointed out she though the Vivitar looked sharper. Looking closer, as well as at other aperture samples, she's right. The Vivitar branded extender does produce slightly sharper images (at least between the two extenders I have, more on this later) Below is a side-by-side of the extenders shot at f/2.5 and an extreme close-up demonstrating the color fringing evident. Also, it is fairly easy to see based on the texture of the shell and in the grains of sand, the difference in sharpness. In analyzing the plane of focus, both shots appear to be in very close proximity if not just about exact. The camera did not move and I did everything in my power to merely switch out the converter. The lens remained cranked all the way out to 1:1. Take a look and see what you think!

Again, this is only fodder for pixel peepers, but hey, it's something I wanted to know! Understand also, these results are based on tests from a single sample of each extender. Not every sample produces the exact same results and the extremely minor difference in the two extenders may merely be a result of leniency in factory standards (even between months of production). That is, not all Tokina extenders or Vivitar extenders may behave this way. It would take some testing on a random group of samples over the course of production from each to really by exact. So if you have one, send it to me, haha!

Wrap Up

So perhaps this test is a little extreme. With either the Tokina or Vivitar, I don't believe you will notice much difference in almost all cases. I find the build quality, addition of the rotating tripod collar, and the added sharpness (by a hair) to outweigh the extremely minor difference in image quality between the two extenders. Honestly, the solid feel of the Vivitar alone is enough to sell me on it. Given the choice, while being sharper, though it appears to produce more color fringing (barely), I would choose the Vivitar branded extender.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Closer Look

I found this on the web and just wanted to share. Marianne Oelund is the original creator, and Jeffery Friedl created the slide-animation for her. She did not have a high speed camera and apparently did all this with a Nikon D3. With patience, she took some 200 images and simply pulled about 70 of the ones she needed for the animation. It looks awesome! Definitely check it out and there is much more explanation on the site!

Not to steal Marianne's thunder (I don't know this woman, I realize it certainly sounds as if she's a good friend of mine, the way I am talking haha. Nor do I know Jeffery) but Jeffery Friedl's blog is very informative and all around quite interesting. He has a lot of good information and appears to be a very intelligent/do-it-yourselfer. I can really appreciate the work he does. So definitely poke around on his blog if you have time!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Vivitar Series 1 90mm f/2.5 VMC 1:2 "Bokina"

The legendary "Bokina".

October 2010

Though I still absolutely love this lens for its build, I must say at the time I wrote this, I had not yet experienced the Tokina 90mm f/2.5 AT-X. The Tokina although not built quite as bomb-proof, seems to handle flare, color, and contrast just a step above this older Vivitar. Also, having an OEM hood that was actually designed for the lens is more than convenient! While both are exceptionally sharp, meticulous pixel-peepers point out the fact that the Vivitar's aperture maintains a round shape at f/4 whereas the Tokina 90mm takes on a bit of that "sawblade" shape. This difference is said to render the Tokina 90mm's bokeh slightly harsher at this aperture than that of the Vivitar 90mm. Congrats if you can even make this distinction because I don't think I could see it if I tried!

Quick Links

Vivitar Series 1 90mm and Tokina 90mm Comparison
Vivitar and Tokina Macro Extender Comparison
Tokina 90mm f/2.5 AT-X

Original Review

The Vivitar S1 (Series 1) 90mm f/2.5 macro lens is one of the sharpest lenses made for 35mm. NOTE: This Series 1 version is NOT to be confused with the non-series, Komine-made Vivitar 90mm f/2.5 or f/2.8 (although the non-series f/2.5 and f/2.8 are the same lens just labeled differently). It is not the same optical formula, nor was it manufactured by the same company. You can easily see who manufactured your lens by checking the serial number. If you see a "37" it was Tokina, maker of this famous lens. If you see a "28", you've the lesser-known Komine-made. I personally find the S1 version far superior in many respects to the Komine-made. The Vivitar S1 90mm can, however, be considered synonymous with the Tokina 90mm f/2.5 AT-X. They are rumored to be one and the same optically and both Tokina-made.

This lens has a maximum reproduction value of 1:2 on its own and was uniquely designed with a paired 3-element macro extender for 1:1 magnification. This extender was designed to correct for aberrations as the magnification increases. When I originally purchased this lens, it was without the 1:1 extender however I did come across the Tokina version's 1:1 and thought I would give it a shot. Since these lenses are optically identical, it worked great. For my own aesthetic purposes, I have since picked up another 90mm with the Vivitar extender and sold the other combo.

Allow me to interject before all of these links and images: This is my favorite lens of all time bar none. Everything about it. The build quality is like no lens you will find today: solid, heavy, metal construction. The optical capabilities, especially wide open, are outstanding. The f/2.5 usable aperture is the best part. It is a 2.5 lens, able to be used, just about optimally even, at f-2-point-5! It is fallible, however. As seen below based on MTF charts it is not "perfect". I have seen some CA here and there, which tends to be the case with many of the original series 1 lenses. But that's all minor. With all of our technology today, we still have lenses with these problems. This lens truly is something special. It all comes together. My recommendation: If you are looking to do a lot of macro and want a high performance lens, for a great price, and especially love that substantial, rock-like feel of older manual focus glass, buy the Vivitar Series 1 90mm f/2.5 or Tokina AT-X 90mm f/2.5. You'll never think twice.

Compared to another cult favorite, the Kiron 105mm, many people like the ability with the Kiron, to go from 1:1 without having to mount and un-mount a separate adapter. That is a bit inconvenient, however, in use, the Vivitar Series 1 90mm is a sharper lens wide open.

Pictured above is the Vivitar 90mm with the 1:1 extender as well as the Tokina 90mm's dedicated hood. Unlike the Tokina 90mm, the Vivitar version was never marketed with a dedicated hood, that I can see. Having become interested in both these 90mm versions, I saw the Tokina hood for sale on eBay for around $10, and I picked it up hoping perhaps a lens might come along with it, ha! Well no lens then, but when I did eventually purchase one, I had the perfect accessory. The Vivitar 90mm is actually prone to some flare since it has no built-in hood, and the front element is relatively exposed. The Tokina hood mounts via a spring loaded clip system which is matched to a groove that runs the circumference of the top of the Tokina 90mm's barrel. Since the Vivitar does not have this notch, and is a 58mm thread instead, it took some DIY. Through a modded step ring, I now used the Tokina's hood on my Vivitar. (turns out a Fotodiox brand 55-52mm step ring fits snugly inside the hood, so long as it has been notched to accommodate the clips. I then throw a 58-55mm step ring onto it, and presto, right onto the front of the Vivitar!)


The Vivitar S1/Tokina 90mm f/2.5 can be found ranked among the top few lenses on Photodo's greatest lenses chart. Below are Photodo's top 5 ranked lenses, based on an array of scientific performance tests:

1. Grade: 4.8 35mm/AF Canon EF 200/1,8L USM
2. Grade: 4.7 35mm/AF Contax G Planar 45/2,0
3. Grade: 4.6 35mm/MF Tokina AT-X 90/2,5 macro (Vivitar Series 1 90mm)
4. Grade: 4.6 35mm/MF Pentax SMC-A 85/1,4
5. Grade: 4.6 35mm/MF LeicaR Elmarit-R 90/2,8 discontinued

This rating is performance based, not a rank relative to other glass. Out of 5, this lens scored a 4.6 in testing. This lens was designed and manufactured in the 70's. Not bad for a "vintage" piece of glass.

Click HERE for some of my thoughts and images with the Vivitar Series 1 90mm f/2.5.


Focal length: 90mm
Filter thread: 58mm
Max. Aperture: f/2.5
Min. Aperture: f/22
Angular field of view (diagonal): 27°
Elements/groups: 8/7
Macro Extender Elements/groups: 3/3
Min. focusing distance: 15.5" (39.3 cm)
Min. focusing distance w/ extender: 14" (35.5 cm)
Dimensions: 3.5" (90mm)
Dimensions w/ extender: 5.4" (138mm)
Weight: 23 oz. ( 644 g)

I cannot fully describe my joy at finding such a beautiful sample of this lens. No optical issues, no DIY adapters (it's the right mount, eh hem NIKON!), not even so much as a cosmetic defect. Everything about it is pure sweetness.

Discovered this lens diagram including the 1:1 macro extender on an asian site. I cannot understand anything on the site save for a few keywords still in english. Nevertheless here is the images source and below is the diagram.

Vivitar Series 1 90mm f/2.5 Lens Diagram

Also, to address the rumors that this lens and the Tokina 90mm share optical formulas, I have put together this comparison. Assuming the source of the formula for the Vivitar 90mm and the box of the Tokina 90mm are correct, the results look fairly conclusive to me:

Original Packaging

A reader of this blog, Jack Middlebrook, recently informed me that he found a New Old Stock (NOS) Vivitar Series 1 90mm f/2.5. Admittedly, this must be a truly amazing experience. Kindly he sent me some images. Here is what the Vivitar 90mm looked like coming out of the packaging.

Similar to the Tokina 90 (or perhaps the other way around since the Vivitar lens came first), the Vivitar S1 90 came with a leather case containing two compartments. The top portion for the extender and the lower portion for the lens. Due to the materials/construction of the case, cracking is fairly common from what I have seen.

Note that in the first profile of the box, a sticker stating Vivitar retro-fitted this lens from Nikon F-mount (N/F) to Nikon AI (N/AI). After seeing this, I look at my sample to find the lens mount was engraved with N/F while the presence of the indexing tab and lower aperture ring of the barrel was marked N/AI. Contrastingly, the macro extender was engraved N/AI on the bottom. It would appear Vivitar did a number of factory retro-fittings on these lenses when Nikon moved from their F-mount to AI mount.


Here is some Vivitar corporate literature on the Series 1 90mm:
These articles were scanned in by Flickr user: Nesster. You can see his photostream and many more vintage ads by clicking the links. A Hirsch Photo Ad:

I especially LOVE this! Some of the comments on the photostream were similar to my thoughts, "I'll take that lens for THAT price!". Particularly I am thinking about any/all the original Series 1 primes!

In searching around for more specs on this lens, I discovered this old review posted on from the Modern Photography publication.

Again, this snippet is from the Modern Photography Buying Guide, 1978. I found it on a post by Robert Bohl on MTF charts, retro advertising, and more praise - awesome!

Notable eBay Siting

Wow! A beautiful condition Tokina version of this lens just went off on eBay and I can't believe the price. Wish it had been just a tad less, it would have been mine! I suppose it's a GREAT price for the seller!