Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm f/2.8 Vintage Lens Review

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Pros
  • Excellent, even sharpness
  • 1:1 magnification
  • Very good manufacturing quality
  • Recessed front element makes its own lens hood
  • Virtually no distortion
  • Very well corrected for CA
  • No flare
Cons
  • Manual focus slows things down
  • No electronic contacts

Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm F2,8 Front Oblique View

There are some lenses that achieve a certain legendary status over the years, and the Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm f/2.8, made by Komine, is probably one of the better known. Having been given the loan of a boxed example of the lens that has hardly been touched since new, it’s an interesting chance to review it using the Pentax K-1 36mp full frame DSLR. From the serial number of 28711929, the lens falls into the years where the numbers can be deciphered. This gives us the maker (28 is Komine), the year of manufacture (7 could be 1977 or 1987), the month of manufacture (11 is November) and the serial number within that month (929). So far so good, let’s see how it works out in practice.

Handling and Features

Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm F2,8 On Pentax K 1

A multicoated manual focus macro lens with continuous focusing down to life-size, or a magnification of 1x or 1:1, is an attractive proposition. AF is, of course, absent, but then again many macro subjects favour manual focusing even with an AF lens. So that may not be too much of a disadvantage.

There are no electronic contacts, so the K-1 immediately asks what the focal length is, the information being fed to the SR (Shake Reduction) system that is built into the camera. 50mm is the closest setting available. After that, on the K-1 manual exposure mode is set. To obtain the correct exposure, press the green button on the back of the camera. This briefly stops down the lens to whatever aperture is set, takes a meter reading and sets the shutter speed accordingly. Then take the shot and the lens will stop down correctly. Other camera bodies from other marques will behave differently. There were a very wide variety of mounts made for this lens, so with an appropriate adapter, it could well be possible to use it on whatever camera system we have.

Removing the metal push-on lens cap, we can see the front element is very deeply recessed. This really makes a lens hood redundant, which is good as the working distance can be quite close with macro subjects. There is a standard 62mm filter thread, but placing another piece of glass in a position exposed to potential reflections perhaps should be avoided unless necessary. It would negate the usefulness of the recessed front element.

The focusing ring turns fairly smoothly, not silky like some, but good enough. And it turns and turns…all the way down to that ultra-close 1:1 magnification. There is a depth of field scale, superseded at closer distances by magnification ratios, all being clearly marked.

Finally, the aperture ring has half stop détentes and operates perfectly well, again not super-smooth, but effective. Optically, we have 5 elements in four groups, a 6 bladed diaphragm and all in a metal package that weighs in at a modest 312g. This is a relatively simple, traditional optical design, but one capable of excellent results.

Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm F2,8 Fully Extended On Pentax K 1

Using older manual focus lenses is actually quite straightforward, given the time to focus accurately. It’s quite probable that focusing errors were much more common when this lens was new, but in this digital age where we can examine sharpness on our screens at enormous magnification then the various focusing aids can only be a good thing in our quest for sharp detail.

Vivitar was a product line of Ponder and Best in the USA and they commissioned lens designs and manufacture rather than making anything themselves, so a variety of lens manufacturers were involved. Komine is one of the better-known examples, but there are others and some very high-quality designs were produced. This macro lens was also sold under other names, and the Elicar V-HQ Macro 55mm f/2.8 and the Panagor PMC Macro 55mm f/2.8 are two examples.

Vivitar Auto Macro 55mm F2,8 Rear Oblique View

Performance

Looking first at sharpness, at f/2.8 and f/4 the standard is very good centrally. It is excellent at f/5.6 and f/8 and again very good at f/11 and f/16. The edges are softer but still good at f/2.8, very good at f/4, excellent at f/5.6 and f/8 and very good at f/11 and f/16. It can be seen that we have excellent and totally even sharpness at f/5.6 and f/8, where the lens peaks at a very high standard.

MTF Charts
How to read our MTF charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution as LW/PH and is described in detail above. The taller the column, the better the lens performance.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Pentax K-1 using Imatest.

Chromatic aberration (CA) is very well corrected centre and edge, not always expected in a film era lens. It is not a problem and it is very unlikely that any further software correction will be needed.

Chromatic Aberration Charts
How to read our CA charts

Chromatic aberration (CA) is the lens’ inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Pentax K-1 using Imatest.

Distortion measures -0.22% barrel, excellent and especially necessary for a macro lens. Copying of documents, for example, should retain straight edges without any problem.

Bokeh is not in the first league, being a little busy, but it’s very acceptable and unlikely to be an issue with the sort of subjects sought for a macro lens. With just 6 diaphragm blades this is inevitable.

No doubt the very deeply recessed front element, effectively making its own lens hood, helps to banish flare and indeed flare was not a problem throughout the shooting of the sample images.

Overall, really a very pleasing performance, with a lens design that compared to current designs is relatively simple. That simplicity in itself will reduce the likelihood of flare.

Sample Photos

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