Manual Focus Lenses on a Canon 60D – A Vivitar Series One 70-210 f3.5

This is the sixth of a detailed series of posts for photographers who want to try cheap but fast manual focus lenses on an APS-C DSLR. I’ve been digging out some of my favourite 35mm OM mount lenses for reuse, and this one emerged from storage and begged to be resurrected. The Vivitar Series One line was a successful attempt by Vivitar to make their independent lenses as good as those of the premium camera makers, and this one was a bit of a legend with a unique trick up it’s tail!

_MG_8551s

f4 at max tele setting – lovely shallow depth of field and very soft tones

Several manufacturers were sub-contracted to make them including Kiron (serial numbers starting 22) and Olympus (serial numbers starting 6) but the later models weren’t that good, so if you’re thinking of getting one after reading this check here for the definitive history. In short, steer clear of anything with apertures f4.5 – f5.6.

_MG_8573s

Maximum macro at a few cm – this is like carrying around a compact like a G9 – except it’s anything but compact!

What’s so special? It’s a fast (at least at the tele end) zoom with a fixed f3.5 across the zoom range, cracking performance and the most amazing macro mode which I’ve never seen anywhere else. It’s also very well made – as good as Zuikos and the Helios 85mm tested earlier – all metal and very heavy, the weight acting as a primitive sort of image stabilisation through sheer inertia. The APS-C equivalent range is approximately 112mm to 336mm so pretty much the entire range from mid to the near end of extreme telephoto. The lens adaptor is a Fotodiox, but many are available.

_MG_8607s

Macro at medium distance – nice out of focus highlights and very good colour.

The filter size is 67mm, the minimum focus (non-macro) is 2 metres, and infinity to a few cm in macro mode (see later – it makes sense!).

_MG_8561s

Macro at 300mm equivalent – included for comparison with the other lenses in the test series, and a cold, neutral colour cast.

_MG_8609s

At longer focal lengths, compressed telephoto perspective is evident. Focussing in the viewfinder is easier at the tele end (this was taken around 150mm) but the LCD is needed for fine focussing. A tripod is pretty useful too!

To engage macro mode, the zoom ring is pulled back to 210mm, and a button pressed to allow another ring at the base of the lens to be rotated. The lens is now ‘locked’ at 210mm and zooming in and out allows focus from infinity to a few cm. The zoom ring (in/out) acts as a coarse focussing mechanism, with the focussing motion (rotate) working for fine focus. To disengage macro mode pull the zoom ring to 210mm and reverse the procedure. It’s easier than it sounds and quite brilliant!

IMG_0099s

You know you’ve got something heavy attached – be careful who you point this at! It’s surprisingly well-balanced on the 60D, but it was too much for an Olympus 620. On 35mm OM’s it’s a bit too heavy, probably because I’m used to Zuiko primes which are so small and light. The zoom ring slides under gravity when the lens is pointed downwards – not good for tripod work.

So a quick test at 70, 135 and 210 mm.

70mm

f8s

f3.5 – A smidge of CA and slightly soft but perfectly acceptable.

f3.5comp

f8 – Sharp as anything else on the 60D. f5.6 is the same

f8comp

f16 – unchanged.

f16comp

135mm

f8s

f3.5 – a bit vague here – but not bad.

f3.5comp

f8 – same at f5.6 and excellent

f8comp

f16 – perfect!

f16comp

210mm

f8s

f3.5 – a bit soft but not bad

f3.5comp

f8 – no complaints here.

f8comp

f16 – slightly improved if anything.

f16comp

Across the zoom range and at all apertures except 3.5 this is superb, and at f3.5 it’s not too bad either. Add to that the amazing macro mode and it’s irresistible, and despite the weight it’s going straight back into the camera bag.

What’s best though is the price – I got this one from Ebay for £10 (yes ten), sold by someone who apparently liked nothing better than a spot of oily engine maintenance followed by some photography. It was truly filthy but cleaned up beautifully in 1/2 hour or so. Several agency shots have sold from this lens so it’s paid for itself tens of times over.

If I’m honest, the reason for purchase was that I always wanted one when they were way out of my price range in the 1980’s (£400 as I remember), and I didn’t expect much – but what a pleasant surprise. Highly recommended at ten times the price (all of £100!). Remember to shoot in RAW though, as with all MF lenses, the exposures can be a bit wayward.

Hope you find this useful and thanks for looking.

If you’re interested in using other MF lenses on your DSLR have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

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