The legendary "Bokina".
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!
Vivitar Series 1 90mm and Tokina 90mm Comparison
Vivitar and Tokina Macro Extender Comparison
Tokina 90mm f/2.5 AT-X
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°
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:
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 photo.net 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 photo.net. 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!