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!


  1. It is great review. It is great price for seller of ebay over $530 but last year I saw one one ebay that sold with $550. To me it is GREAT for buyer who get chance to own that great legendary lens.

  2. Nice Post..I just came into of one of these myself - wanted to know more about it. Seems like a very nice piece of glass!

    Cheers, Jeremy

  3. Nice post.
    Just found one of these on Craigslist in my K-mount (I shoot a K200D).
    Got it and a genuine Pentax m42 adapter for $135. It is one of my dream lenses!

  4. I sold a mint+ new with less than 10 uses on ebay for $500 last year..I miss this lens more than any other photgraphic peice that I have owned...I have over 200 lenses and this was the nicest, better than my nikkor 70-200mm 2.8 vr or lester dine 105mm 2.8 macro....

  5. "I miss this lens more than any other photgraphic peice that I have owned"

    Wow, that's really saying something! Did you have the original box, case, or whatever it came with new? I haven't seen one yet with any original packaging. Also, I have been curious whether a dedicated Vivitar hood was ever made for this lens? If you have any images of the lens or packaging to share please send them and I will happily add to the post and credit you! (you can send them to Thanks for checking out the site!

  6. I bought one in 1978 for $263.00, N mount, and still have it. Used it on an FE, now use it on a D40 and just walk in the exposure since it doesn't meter. This lens could be my excuse for getting a better camera. Great for macro, maybe a little too sharp for portraiture.

  7. Forgot to add: it didn't come with a hood, but did come with a leatherette case that deteriorated over time. I've seen posts that say that's not unusual. You can use a screw-in 58mm collapsing rubber hood if you're not a purist. After I bought the lens, the mail order seller got in touch with me and offered to take back the lens, saying there had been some sort of a recall, and the replacement would only be about $120.00. I smelled a rat, and really liked the lens, so I just kept it.

  8. Last week I purchased a new, in box, with case and manual, Vivitar Seies 1 90mm f/2.5 lnes including the 1:1 Adapter (both still wrapped). $335.00! I thought at first I might have been paying to much but after reading some of the post here perhaps I may have stolen it. Looking at and holding this lens is almost orgasmic - it is so beautiful it almost seems a crime to use it!

  9. Jack - That no doubt must be an amazing feeling! These lenses tended to gather dust on the inner elements frequently so having the opportunity to use one new is but a dream for most. I'm envious! I am interested in images of the original packing, what's on the box, etc. Do you have any images of unwrapping the lens and the sides of the box? If so, please send them ( and I will gladly credit them to you! I always love seeing what these older lenses looked like when they arrived new. Thanks for reading!

  10. I'm desperately chasing one of these in m42 mount. Willing to pay top dollar for one in nice condition. Please drop me a line at if you have one.

  11. I bought this lens (Vivitar Series 1 90mm f/2.5) in the late '70s to fit my Pentax ME. I concur with the other posts above -- it's a jewel of a lens, amazingly sharp with superb build. As I've switched to a Canon XSi body at this point, I would dearly love be able to use the lens (with its Pentax K mount) on the Canon XSi body. I don't mind a bit that I'd have to meter and focus manually. I've just ordered a PK to EOS adaptor that I hope will work (

  12. I bought one of these lenses used for $90.00 at a local camera shop, about ten years ago. It is the only reason I keep my Olympus OM setup.

  13. I ordered the PK to EOS adapter from Amazon ( that I mentioned in a post above. I'm happy to report that it works very well. The adapter allows me to mount my Vivitar Series 1 90mm f/2.5 on my Canon XSi easily. The fit is great -- not loose or too tight. I've just started playing with it, but it seems that the chip on the mount does provide decent metering information to the camera in manual or aperture-priority mode (and the lens is always stopped down to whatever the aperture setting is). The camera's LCD always shows the aperture at f/1.4 which is of course incorrect, but it doesn't affect the metering or images. I think there's a way to program the "dandelion" chip on the mount for max aperture and focal length, and I might try that. Currently Amazon three different sources for the (same) PK to EOS adapter and the price varies widely from about $25 to $75. I specified that the order be shipped from Rainbow Imaging, which sells it for $25. The order arrived in just 2 or 3 days in perfect condition.

    Now, about the performance of the Vivitar Series 1 90mm f/2.5. I've only taken a few shots with it on my XSi, and all I can say is that the image quality is just outstanding. I'm glad I kept this lens; it's a marvel. I also have a Pentax-M 35mm f/2.8 lens that seems to work well too with the adapter.

  14. Hello, can someone post the exact part code of the Tokina hood, or a link to a picture of it? Seems I'm unable to find it anywhere. Thank you. Andrea

  15. Andrea-

    Sorry it took me so long to respond! Regarding the Tokina 90mm hood, I don't have a part number since the first hood. I have owned two. The first I found on eBay and it only said "AT-X 90/2.5" on it. The second hood I bought from KEH which did come with a box but no part number anywhere. The box does say"

    Lens Hood
    AT-X M90
    SMZ 214
    SMZ 835

    It is identical to the first hood but does not have the matched "AT-X 90/2.5" text on it.

    I have only seen these come up twice in the last year or two but I would keep checking eBay and KEH.

  16. I've got the KA version of the Tokina 90mm f2.5 Macro. It's by far the best lens I have ever used. I don't understand why it doesn't sell for more, I picked it up for only $300.

    Sadly I too am looking for a suitable hood. Can anyone recommend a replacement while I continue my quest for the original? Clip-on style like the original would be preferable...

  17. Just FYI I did some research and found that the 70-210 / 4 and 80-200 / 3.5-4.5 use the same hood.

    While I couldn't find a hood for either of those, I did come across a hood for the minolta version of the 70-210/4 that fit perfect (snap on and everything).

  18. Jeff,

    Thanks for looking into that. Having been fortunate enough to have come across a couple of the original hoods, I never looked into an alternative. As hard to come by as these hoods are, this is great info. If you have any images of the hood or the hood mounted on the lens, feel free to send them!

  19. Thanks for a great review.
    I'm so revved up now that I just have to start looking for this lens in my locality.

  20. Hi, I need to know, what is the optical & functional difference between Vivitar Series 1 90mm f/2.5 Macro Adapter and Vivitar 2X Macro Focusing Teleconverter MC?

    The Vivitar Macro Adapter is very rare on eBay. So, can the macro teleconverter replace the dedicated macro adapter?

  21. nixland-

    While I know which Vivitar 2x Macro TC you are referring to, I have no direct experience with is. So I can't give you any first hand advice. Though I can say the Vivitar 2x Macro TC uses a 7-element formula. The Vivitar macro extender uses a 3-element formula. Also, according to their own literature, the native extender is said to be optimized so that the lens maintains it's maximum aperture even when the extender is used. Most reviews I have read chalk that statement up to marketing hype. From my limited experience with optics, even if there was no glass in the extender, simply the distance between the optic and the camera would mean light was lost. But from what I can tell, and others seem to confirm, that you lose only about a stop of light with the native extender. The Vivitar 2x Macro TC appears to incur a 2-stop light loss.

    In terms of your question "can the macro teleconverter replace the dedicated macro adapter?"...I would say try it. And feel free to share your finding! I would be happy to post any test shots and attribute them to your name. If I come across one at the right price, I certainly would be willing to give it a go!

  22. Hi,

    I am Len from the Netherlands and work with an Olympus E600 body and an Canon 60D body.

    Besides the 15-85mm IS USM for the Canon, i only use manual focus prime lenses.

    Last weekend i went to a local flea market, and found the vivitar serie 1 F2.5 90mm macro and the Macro adapter in m42 screw mount in mint condition in a box full of camera gear.

    Hold your seat ! paid 5 euro for the lens and 2,50 euro for the adapter !!!!

    So 7,50 euro in total. i was stunned, and didn't even hackle on the price.

    first picture are razor sharp at full opening on both camera's !

    great topic, its e gem of a lens, greetings len.

  23. Len,

    Wow. Amazing find! Enjoy that lens!

  24. Just Bought on of these... Absolutely incredible lens.

  25. I am the proudly owner of one of these wonders, and a won't give it even dead!

  26. Just picked one up in near mint condition about a week ago for $20.

  27. I purchased one of these 90mm f2.5 Vivitar Series 1 in 1978. I made the purchase because an article in a photo mag, claimed that this lens, was without a doubt the sharpest lens in 35mm photography. They also stated that this lens was capable of resolving more lines than the film was capable of recording. Well I was convinced. I still own it and in fact the case, the lens & the 1:1 adapter lens are sitting next to the laptop computer that I am currently using. Originally I used it on my 35mm Nikkromat EL. I have since used it on my Nikon D-80 & D-7000. I also own the following lenses. AF Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D, AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED and last but not least an AF Micro-Nikkor 200mm f/4D IF-ED. I like the more modern Nikon Lenses for a few reasons. 1) They auto focus, even though when really close in, you still need to focus manually because of such a shallow DOF. 2) I am lazy. Auto Exposure helps keep my Sekonic 478DR in my camera bag. With all that said I must admit that the Vivitar 90mm Series 1 still can take a macro or other type picture equal in quality to the top of the line Nikon Macro lenses that I own.

  28. Haha, I love your second reason, "I am lazy." I have been told this will increase as I get older, and it's true. I'm hardly old, but already I find the shortcuts often looking much more appealing as time goes on. I agree very much with your experience. I love the lens and the image quality it produces. But ultimately, when I can get the same, better, or even just close, image quality with another lens, plus added modern features such as AF, newer coatings, image stabilization (or VR), etc. it's too difficult not to grab the modern glass. But it's wonderful that we don't have to choose just one. The Vivitar can still look beautiful in the case and come out on nice days or when I'm feeling it!

  29. David, I appreciated your reply. As I pointed out in my post yesterday I am Lazy. I am also 70 years old and believe me I could personally go for some AF, maybe a newer body coating, and probably some added stabilization so I don't have to say I'm taking pictures and I Can't Get Up.
    Have a Great Day,

  30. Hi everyone!
    I have Vivitar 'Bokina' which I used on Nikon FE, but it has N/F bayonet.
    Does anyone know if it is possible to mount it on D3 camera? I know it is pre-ai type bayonet, but I read somewhere that Vivitars have a bit narrower bayonet and it is safe to mount them without damaging/touching meter coupling lever?

    1. Hello and thank you for reading. Have a look here and hopefully this answers your question:

    2. Thanks! I believe you summarized it very well and in easy way to understand! ''ONLY IF, the rear-most lip of the lens does not interfere with the AI tab''. I'll be very cautious!

  31. Ummmmm, have just come across this Vivitar Series 1 lens and extension for the pricely sum of $35 in a 2nd hand shop. Looks clean, no fungus I can see. After reading the reviews looks like I'll be going back tomorrow to get it..... Happy days! I took photos, can I post them up here?

  32. I have a question. Reading this review inspired me to buy one from Keh. They had a listing for one with an OM mount, which is what I want. Then, they have two separate listings for the macro adapter. I ordered one as well, not realizing that perhaps it may be for a different mount than OM. Is my take correct-- that there's a chance the adapter will not work with the OM? Or is the adapter universally accepted (from the look of it, it attaches closer to the camera, so my guess is no?)

  33. Very good equipment I just wanted a new camera lens to buy.

  34. I have owned the VIVITAR Series 1,90mm 1:2.5 lens w/adapter since it's introduction. It will never be sold...period. 'nuff said!

  35. What do you think about comparing the design of the Bokina 90/2.5 with the wonderful APO elmarit 100/2.8.

    The similarity of otpic formula, may explain roughly the performaces of a photodo of 4.6, of both.
    Of course the Leica has extra engineerings which permits the best work at f2.8,...