Ultrawide on a 5d Mk2 – a Vivitar 17mm f3.5

This lens worked out pretty well on a Canon 60D crop frame sensor (here) and it’s also quite handy on Olympus OM series film cameras. ‘Full Frame’ digital though is a lot more demanding, especially at the far edges of the frame so how well does this vintage lens shape up on the mighty 5D Mk2? I need a wide-angle lens for this camera so it’s been dusted off for a test. All shot in RAW and converted in DXO Optics 9.

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

The waterfall at Kimmeridge Bay in full flow. The flare to the bottom left is a ‘feature’ of this lens – I quite like it and here it fills a dark area of the frame.

On the bulky 5d Mk2 even this relatively heavy old MF lens feels fine. It’s lighter than a 24-105mm ‘L’ so it’s quite reasonable to carry around without becoming fatigued. The filter size is 67mm and infinity to minimum focus (25cm) takes a rack of around 180 degrees. The majority of this rack is taken getting from one metre to 25cm so you probably won’t see that bit of the scale very often.

This lens seems to cause the 5D MK2 more metering problems than any lens I’ve attached to it. Evaluative and centre weighted modes both occasionally produced wildly overexposed shots so keep an eye on the playback histogram after each shot.

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

On the 5d Mk2 via an Olympus OM to Canon EF Fotodiox adaptor. Nicely balanced and a pleasure to use. Manual focus is very difficult due to the huge depth of field so the LCD of depth of field scale are preferable.

One of the traditional uses of such a wide-angle lens is for course landscapes and initial impressions are impressive at f8. The colours are natural and everything looks sharp enough – without pixel peeping.

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

What it should do well – and it does. There isn’t much curvature on horizons (pincushion distortion) as long as the horizon is near the centre of the frame though it’s not that bad generally.

The other traditional use is interior shots and with an angle of view of 90 degrees it’s quite good at that too!

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

Remarkably I haven’t seen any chromatic aberration which usually plagues wide-angle lenses, but there are a few odd internal reflections and flare when shooting into the sun which you can either live with and use creatively or just try to avoid by being very careful with your compositions.

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

As with all wide-angle lenses converging lines look particularly dramatic – you end up looking for them everywhere. The closer you are to the subject the more dramatic the effect is.

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

As there’s so much depth of field you can also use the depth of field scale to ‘shoot blind’ and just hold the camera near the ground like the following shot. After lots of experimenting it seems the depth of field scale is a bit optimistic – use the next widest aperture scale (i.e. set f16 but set a hyperfocal distance for f11). Maybe it was ‘good enough’ for film but it’s not for critically sharp results on the 5D…..

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

Using such a wideangle lens for close-ups isn’t advisable due to distortion which increases the closer you get. The closest focus distance is 25cm – use it if you dare!

And another using the same technique – one of the few shots of snowdrops I’ve taken which I like – and I’ve taken loads!

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

Bokeh with such a wide-angle lens only appears when the lens is closely focussed. It’s slightly fussy but not bad.

After all these promising results, time for some proper test results. This scene was chosen to be especially demanding for a wide-angle with bare branches acting to test the sharpness.

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

The full test frame.

At f3.5 centre :-

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

f3.5 edge :-

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

Well wide open it’s not that good at all – the edge is terrible, but having read detailed test results for such lenses – even modern ones – the extreme edges of wide angles are often poor. Conclusion – avoid f3.5!

at f8 centre :- Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2f8 edge :-

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

Improved as you’d expect, though still not exactly brilliant!

at f16 centre :-

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

f16 edge :-

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

Much better – relatively… The extreme edges of the frame are still not great but better than I expected.

All things considered, this is remarkably good for a £100, thirty year old lens. As long as you keep it at f8 to f16 the performance isn’t too bad at all and on a par with many modern ultrawides (especially mid-priced zooms). It’s so much fun to use that I don’t really care too much about the soft edges – with such a wide angle of view they don’t seem too important. If you’re a perfectionist or pixel-peeper though this may not be good enough for you.

For someone who needs such a wide-angle lens infrequently this is good enough for me (and becoming a favourite lens). The lack of chromatic aberration is remarkable, the flare which crops up now and again is quite attractive (to me anyway) so all in all it’s getting a hearty recommendation for the price.

I’ll finish with another shot from the waterfall sequence – the slight vignette is caused by stacked ND filters, not the lens.

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Canon 5d Mk2

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful.

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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