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


  1. hey, i have a vivitar series 1 90-180mm as well. i would like to know what camera you are using to fit this lense. i have a nikon fg20 and for sure it does not fit that. i've been trying to research the vivitar to see what camera would fit, however, it says that all nikons should be able to fit it.

  2. if you could email me with some information i'd be very grateful. thanks.

    email: v.alexander.bui@gmail.com

  3. Wonderful write-up and magazine ad quality photos of this beautiful lens. I recently acquired a Nikon mount version in VG to EXE condition. But I am a Canon guy now. Are you interested in it? I am planning to put it on eBay.

  4. Hi again David,
    Good information also on (THE) Web page of the challenger Tamron ; I am sure that you know it, and that it is your choice of not to publish; But (perhaps) on a comment we can allow a broader approach :
    JC (from France)

  5. just found this lens at an antique store. after researching it, i'm pleasantly shocked to learn it's such a high performance and rare lens. I just ordered an adapter to my 35mm minolta, can't wait to get it and start using the lens!

  6. I purchase one new and still have it. It's truly an outstanding lens. The lens, couples to my old Pentax KX film camera, has delivered some of the best pictures I have ever seen. One in particular, of a large black and yellow spider capturing a moth in its web and drawing a sliver of thread around it, is just unbelievable.

  7. Could you please post info as to where one acquires adapters for this lens. I have a couple of them but they are very old and one is for Nikon F; would like to make certain they function with a Nikon D7000

  8. Adapters? The Vivitar Series 1 90-180mm lens was manufactured with specific camera mounts. Typically, by looking at the lens' mount, a small letter designation will tell you which camera system it was designed for (N/AI, NF, C/FD, etc.). If the mount is not, in your case, N/AI, you will not be able to natively use it on your D7000. The basic Nikon F mount likely has a ridge around the base of the lens that would interfere (and potentially break) the indexing tab on your DSLR. You would either have to rebuild the mount somehow (such as have that lip machined down and a tab added - people do this but it is very DIY), or you could use an adapter, but you would lose infinity focus (likely, you would only be able to focus on something that is within several feet depending on the adapter thickness) because the thickness of an adapter between the lens and camera would extend the flange to sensor distance (The lens was designed to focus for a specific distance). I don't know that I have ever seen Nikon F to Nikon N/AI adapters to be honest. Your best bet, if you would like to use this lens on a Nikon D7000, would be to find and purchase a version with an N/AI camera mount.

  9. Just an addendum on this old thread.... While older Pre-Ai Nikkors need to have the excess aperture skirt removed, Many of the 3rd party Pre-Ai "F" mounts have no such issues. Only thing is to not mount them if they bind. I have used an older Tokina 100mm F2.8 on my old Nikon D70s without issues. That said, many of the older Ai spec lenses are cheap enough that buying the older stuff doesn't make sense. Only in the case of an exotic lens maybe...My go to macro lens (I have 6 different ones in AF & MF from 55 to 180mm) is my 105 Lester Dine (which I got for free from my Father in Law, a retired Dentist)

  10. Thanks for the info Scott. I wasn't aware of that fact. I know I had trouble with the Series 1 135/2.3 in F-mount. It definitely had a ridge large enough to bind and cause issues. I sold it since at that time, I wasn't interested in wrecking that lens in an attempt to DIY. But I will certainly have to give the older third-party glass a second look from now on! Thank you!

  11. hello David I have purchased one of these lens. the front element is badly damaged. I was wondering is there a way to identify the glass of the front element. I would like to replace that is there a company where one can purchase that glass. any help greatly appreciated.

  12. Hi David, Excellent article but I have tried the link to "Vivitar 90-180mm FD-M42 Mount Modification" at the bottom but it doesn't work. Do you have another link?