Vivitar VMC 70-210mm f/3.5 Series 1. enlarge.
Best for: High optical quality in a very inexpensive FX or film manual focus tele zoom.
Optical Quality: Very Good.
Ease-of-use: Fair: focus ring turns backwards and macro mode requires a gear shift.
Usefulness: Excellent, if you need a manual-focus tele.
The Vivitar 70-210mm Series 1 is the classic of classics of third-party lenses. Like many Vivitar lenses, it was made for Vivitar by fourth parties, and its design varied over the years. Apocryphal data suggests this version was made by Kino Precision (Kiron) in December, 1978.
The version seen here has always been the classic of these 70-210mm Series 1 to me, since its what my smart friends had back when I was a photo editor at a New York newspaper back in 1980-1984. (I was still trying to shoot sports with my fixed Nikkors.)
It offers very high performance, and today sells used for next to nothing.
The 70-210mm Series 1 was made throughout quite a few years in several versions. The earliest ones were not AI, and won't do much of anything with most cameras. Avoid these, since newer ones cost no more used. Get at least an AI version as shown here, which is identified by its two sets of duplicate numbers along the aperture ring.
On the D3, D300, D200, D2 and F6, use the "Non-CPU Lens Data" menu option to get full matrix metering, EXIF data, and finder read-out of set aperture. It works great in aperture-preferred as well as manual modes on these cameras.
If you want the EXIF to read the correct focal length as you zoom, assign as many memories as you like to the various focal lengths. For instance, set 70mm and f/3.5, 85mm and f/3.5, 105mm and f/3.5, 135mm and f/3.5 and 200mm and f/3.5. Set the function button to let you select among these settings as you zoom. Exposure will be fine, even if you don't bother to change it to get the EXIF data correct as you zoom.
The meters of cheaper digital (D80 and below) and cheaper film cameras (N80 and below) will not work with this lens, so you'll be on your own guessing exposure using the rear LCD or an external meter.
It works perfectly every professional film camera (F, F2, F3, F4, F5, F6), and adds Matrix metering on the F6. This version doesn't have all the correct lugs to trigger Matrix metering on the FA and F4. Newer versions may.
See Nikon Lens Compatibility for details on your camera. Read down the "AI Converted" column for this particular lens shown here.
Vivitar 70-210mm Series 1. enlarge.
Specifications with commentary back to top
Name: Vivitar calls this the Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f/3.5 Macro Focusing Auto Zoom.
Optics: 15 elements in 10 groups. VMC Vivitar Multi Coating. The efficiency of the coatings don't seem anywhere near as efficient as the coatings of the Nikkors. Looking into the Vivitar lens I see a lot more and brighter reflections than I do looking deep into a Nikkor lens.
Diaphragm: 6 blades, stopping down to f/22. Annoying arbitrary half-stop clicks added as a sales feature to impress innocent amateurs: it doesn't have twice as many settings as the Nikkor (all lenses may be set anyplace along their aperture scale), and this confuses pros who click off apertures by feel.
Focus Ring: Rubber-covered metal. ROTATES BACKWARDS.
Hard Infinity Focus Stop? Yes.
Close Focus: 6.4 feet (1.95m), per focus scale. Additional macro mode.
Maximum Reproduction Ratio: about 1:2.2 in macro mode, almost as good as a real Nikkor manual focus micro lens!
Focus Distance Scale? Yes.
Depth-of Field Scale? NO.
Infra-Red Focus Index? There is a red line next to the focus index which could be an IR index, however it's straightness makes it suspect, since every other zoom, cheap or good, varies with focal length setting. It would be intriguing if the IR shift didn't vary with focal length.
Filter Thread: 67mm.
Size: 6.20" extension from flange x 3.076" diameter (157.5 x 78.12mm), measured when focused at infinity. The widest part are the rubber focus nubbins. The length changes as focused, but not when zoomed.
Weight: 33.280 oz. (943.45g), measured.
Front Cap: Stamped anodized aluminum slip-on cap with painted "Vivitar Series 1" logo. Inner felt lining to keep it attached.
Vivitar 70-210mm Series 1. VMC is Vivitar Multi Coating.
Performance back to top
Except for the one serious compromise of the focus ring turning backwards, optics and handing are excellent.
The focus goes the wrong way, which is a huge block to usability since the rangefinders of every Nikon camera will tell you to turn the ring the wrong way, because Vivitar supplied these lenses in mounts for every brand of camera. Since most other brands of cameras focus in the other direction from Nikon and Vivitar was too cheap to use a different focus system for the Nikon mount version, Nikon users are screwed.
Used on AF Nikons like the Nikon D3 and F6, try to imagine the little electronic focus arrows telling you in which way to turn the bottom of the focus ring.
Bokeh is neutral.
Lateral Color Fringes
None, on the D3 which corrects for anything minor or moderate.
I haven't tried it on film or old non-correcting digital cameras like the D200.
Distortion is as good as the Nikkors. It is slightly more balanced from one end of the zoom range to the other, while the Nikkors have more barrel distortion at the shorter end with less pincushion distortion at the longer end.
Use these numbers in Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter to rectify it. These aren't facts or specifications, they are the results of my research that requires me to climb a bluff on a very clear day and shoot the ocean's horizon.
For scanned film, use the FX full-frame figures.
© 2008 KenRockwell.com
Focus, except for being backwards, feels great. It's smooth and feels just about perfect.
Vivitar used the wrong colors. Nikon lenses have meters in white and feet in yellow. This vivitar colors the meters in green and leaves the feet in white, meaning that you're going to get confused if you use the focus distance scale.
Infinity focus is pretty close to the stop at most focal length settings.
The 80-200mm Nikkors which have no macro setting rings are better at this. The other, shorter, zoom Nikkors which have separate macro levers, as this lens does, are often worse.
Full-frame image as closest macro setting, wide open aperture.
Press the small white button on the left and rotate the two wings.
To use the macro mode, pull the zoom ring to 210mm. Now squeeze the little white button on one of the two little wings that come off the lens, and rotate in the direction of the yellow arrow until the yellow "MACRO" is lines up with the red dot.
You focus in the macro mode by sliding the zoom ring forward and back. Closest focus is with the zoom ring at the 70mm position.
Sharpness is excellent, corner-to-corner at ever setting.
It has a little lower contrast wide open, but is always sharp. Contrast picks right up a stop closed down.
Zooming is very good. The zoom slides reasonably freely and smoothly. It feels almost as good (which means not as good) as a Nikkor.
It's a hand-job style zoom: the focus and zoom ring slides up and down while the lens doesn't change size.
It's cammed just about perfectly: it's a perfect combination of speed versus precision, and it's easy to set a precise focal length at any part of the range. it has a reasonably accurate log curve at about 3 cm/octave.
Vivitar 70-210mm Series 1. enlarge.
Recommendations back to top
If you own one, use it, but if not, spring the extra fifty bucks (used) for a real Nikkor 80-200mm f/4 AI-s. If you're on a budget, get an older 80-200mm AI f/4.5 Nikkor, which is also superior and sells used for about the same price.
Performance is excellent for a non-Nikkor lens, but no big deal compared to a real Nikkor.
Skip it for DX digital cameras and get at least the 55-200mm AF Nikkor instead, if you're on a budget. The lack of autofocus will drive you crazy.
More Information: Mark Roberts has the best historical data on the various versions. Mr. Roberts refers to my version shown here as "Version 1."
If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.
Thanks for reading!
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