The Sony A7R and a Vivitar 70-210 f3.5 Series 1

Continuing this series of mini-reviews of old MF lenses on the superb Sony A7R, this time it’s a Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm constant f3.5 aperture zoom from the 1970’s. It’s very different in terms of size and weight to the small Zuikos tested so far, but it showed some promise on the Canon 60D and I need to at least try to find a decent telephoto option before lashing out lots of cash on a Zeiss/Sony zoom. All shots taken in RAW and converted using DXO Optics 9 an ‘auto levels’ in Photoshop.

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

 

The history of the Series 1 line is described nicely here – suffice to say avoid later models with variable apertures. The earlier models were very highly regarded in the film days – at least equal to most camera manufacturer’s equivalents if not superior. If the build quality is anything to go by this lens is already a star – heavy at 967g (2lb 2.2 oz) and built to an extremely high standard of metal construction, it still feels precise, solid and reliable after 40 years, not surprising as this one was made by Kiron. It feels best to hold the lens rather than the camera when carrying it!

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Nice soft bokeh – close upat 210 mm f3.5

The filter thread is 67mm and this one has VMC (Vivitar Multi Coating) which looks effective, and this model also sports an innovative if slightly clunky macro mode I’ll describe later. The aperture range is f3.5 to f22 and the aperture has six blades.

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

The lens on the camera. Not well balanced at all, so support the lens at all times! This is a one touch zoom so pulling the focus ring back zooms in, rotating it focuses it, much faster than a two touch designs if rather under geared on the focus. The only major sign of age is that some of the yellow paint has flaked out of the etched ‘macro’ focus channel. It’s possibly one of the best finished lenses I’ve seen.

In use the focus is easy (as with most MF lenses) using focus assist tools of the A7R’s EVF, though focussing gets more difficult as the focal length increases. There’s no image stabilisation so shutter priority is the best exposure mode – set twice the focal length e.g. 1/400th for the 200mm long end of the zoom) and use your best shooting technique to avoid camera shake.  My only criticism is that the focus mechanism could be more highly geared – sometimes it needed lots of focus ring turn to rack focus from infinity to close up – around 180 degrees. Closest ‘non-macro’ focus distance is around 2m/6ft.

 

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

The macro button – a plastic white release, puts the lens in macro mode when the lens is at 210mm with a twist of the knurled ring. Once in macro mode, zooming in and out quickly changes focus, turning the focussing ring gives finer control. It’s not effortlessly smooth but the results are good and once the lens is ‘in or out’ of this mode the operation is pretty smooth.

Macro results are very good. I found ‘zooming’ quickly to achieve rough focus then turning the focus ring nailed focus quickly and easily.

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

The maximum macro reproduction ratio is around 1:2.5 (ish), about the same as the Zuiko 50mm f3.5 macro without extension tubes. There is some variable telephoto magnification going on as well, but what the focal length is in this mode is guesswork at somewhere between 135 and 200mm.

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Closest focus distance is around 5cm from the front element. Not bad for a ‘walk around’ lens but not as good as a proper macro lens.

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Nothing to complain about in the bokeh department at max aperture in macro mode.

So for macro it’s pretty good, apart from a tendency towards chromatic aberration in closer distance highlights at maximum aperture. How about normal ‘non-macro’ close focus?

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

210mm at f3.5 at around 10 m (30 ft) – good too.

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Nothing to complain about here.

And finally medium to far distance, and a change of subject from my normal test – Kingston Lacy House. All at f8.

70mm, f8

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Centre

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Edge

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

135mm, f8

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Centre

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Edge

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

210mm f8

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Centre

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Edge

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

In conclusion then, this is a pretty good ‘old’ lens – especially if you can get it, as I did,  for £10 (yes ten!) on Ebay. The macro performance is outstandingly good if your camera is level, but pointing the camera downwards allows the zoom ring to creep forward. In ‘non-macro mode’ things are good at 70mm, deteriorate slightly by 135mm and the edges are starting to fall apart by 210mm but the centre holds up. This isn’t unusual for telephoto zoom lenses where the long end lets things down and is provided as a sort of ‘free extra’ (or example, the relatively modern Canon 70-300 mm f4-5.6 is fine until 200mm then falls away quite fast). Chromatic aberration is slight at f3.5 but gone by f5.6 across the zoom range.

I didn’t notice any flare without a lens hood except at 70mm where it was comparatively minor.

Is this resolving 36MP? Well it’s good at 70mm, but past 100mm definitely not. However the macro mode is very useful so for sub £100 it’s worth it just for that – and the 70-100mm performance.

Whether it’s worth £1000+ for a Zeiss/Sony AF version with all the AF bells and whistles is entirely up to you…..

Hope you find this useful, thanks for looking.

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

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