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!

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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

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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!

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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

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

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

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f16 – unchanged.

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135mm

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

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f8 – same at f5.6 and excellent

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f16 – perfect!

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210mm

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f3.5 – a bit soft but not bad

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f8 – no complaints here.

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f16 – slightly improved if anything.

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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.

Manual Focus Lenses on a Canon 60D – A Vivitar 17mm f3.5

This is the first of a detailed series of posts for photographers who are thinking of using relatively cheap old manual focus lenses on an APS-C DSLR. In order to do a meaningful evaluation we’ll need some proper test shots – so other than a few examples on 35mm film and a rather nice Dorset mill as a subject there aren’t any photographic masterpieces I’m afraid.

All test shots on an 18MP Canon 60D at ISO 100 and Olympus OM mount lenses using a Fotodiox adaptor. Images were taken in centre weighted metering mode, saved in RAW and converted to JPG with default settings in Canon’s DPP software.

So starting the lens series at the wide end – a 1980’s era Vivitar 17mm f3.5 and quite a special focal length on a 35mm Olympus film camera. Ultrawide on 35mm (I think the angle of view is 92 degrees) it’s capable of some typically dramatic distortion :-

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Image from the Vivitar on an OM1N

This lens is identical to a Tokina branded lens of the same era, and the edge performance and chromatic aberration always left something to be desired – at least that was the rumour. These lenses were always mid range and weren’t expected to produce top flight results. However, this is ‘only’ an APS-C sensor so the edge of the frame (usually a weakness in cheaper lenses) isn’t in the picture. Maybe this lens could be useful – unfortunately it’s only around a 28mm equivalent when the 1.6 crop factor is taken into account so it’s not that exciting an effective focal length. The minimum focus is 25cm.

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In use it’s nicely balanced as the lens is all metal and quite heavy. Apertures run from f3.5 to f16, and there’s a depth of field scale on the lens. This indicates everything in focus between infinity and 0.5m at f16 – this is misleading as it doesn’t work as accurately on APSC – to be safe use the setting for one stop less than the aperture set.

The focus mechanism is smooth and even, and focussing is difficult through the viewfinder as the depth of field is huge. For critical results use the LCD and ‘focus magnify’, or stop it down to f8 and use the depth of field scale on the lens and don’t focus at all!

One thing worth pointing out about the lens mount adaptors  – they only allow ‘stop down’ metering. Most cameras use ‘open aperture’ metering – keeping the aperture wide open until exposure, keeping the viewfinder nice and bright to allow for easy focussing and composition. The manual focus adaptors use ‘stop down’ metering where the aperture set is the one in use at all times  – at f16 the viewfinder gets pretty dark. If this is a problem the LCD image will always remain bright even as the aperture closes.

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Being an ultrawide this has a large front element – the filter thread is 67mm which means filters aren’t cheap!

So – the test subject – used for several posts on film as well as digital :-

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This was taken at f8 – very pleasing colours, contrast and sharpness. Some clumps of snowdrops as an added bonus!

The samples are taken from the centre by the dovecotes, and the right where a red car is parked.

First samples at f3.5 and surprisingly good in the centre but the edge is a bit vague. There’s also an overall light ‘sheen’ to the image which is common at max aperture and may be caused by light bouncing around the mirror box onto the sensor – this hasn’t helped the contrast of the image. However these are extremely small samples and this would be perfectly good printed to 10×8 inches.

f3.5compAt f8 (5.6 was almost identical) and a dramatic improvement! Razor sharp in the centre and the edge is pretty good too.f8comp

f16 -even more of an improvement at the edge and a slight degradation in the centre – sharp across the frame and certainly showing no signs of diffraction.

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Finally – edge chromatic aberration – taken from the very top left of the main frame. Perfectly acceptable at f8 and not too noticeable at f3.5. I’m amazed!

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As we’re only using the centre of this lens’s image circle, there isn’t that much barrel distortion either. ‘Bokeh’ is almost impossible to judge as the extreme depth of field means that virtually everything is in focus.

So – is this useable?

Yes – and this is a genuine surprise to me – just one stop down at 5.6 it’s very good, at f8 to f16 the results are excellent.

All good so far but this focal length is already covered by kit zooms at around f3.5 so there’s no speed advantage. However, the resolution, chromatic aberration and contrast at f5.6 to f16 are better than I’d expect from a kit zoom lens.

So if you’re a prime lens shooter, or want something better at the wide end than the standard offering this might be for you.

It’s also pretty useful on an Olympus OM 35mm film camera so can happily live a ‘double life’!

It’s around £100 second hand in the UK, with a lens mount adaptor costing anything between £20 and £150 (which you can use for all lenses of the same mount obviously).

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking.