Archive for December, 2014


Muffin, harsh backlight wide open at f/1.8

I have an EBAY store where I sell a bazillion items including photo stuff. As an EBAYer I also buy a lot of items on EBAY. I want to support the community that supports my E-Store when ever I can. My good friend and long time business associate, Graham Law and I recently acquired the Photo Fair as well. This is the largest camera show and swap on the West Coast. I support camera shows whenever I can. I write about cool stuff that you can’t likely find in a Ritz Camera Store or Best Buy. This is where EBAY, cool camera shops like Seawood Photo, along with camera shows like Photo Fair reign supreme.

vivitar-92I was surfing around on EBAY one day looking for comps for an item I was about to list; lo and behold, I came across a listing for a Vivitar Series 1 85mm 1.8 manual focus lens for Canon EOS mount. This was a modern lens designed to work on modern DSLR cameras. They have Nikon, Pentax, Sony etc. available as well. I have been in the camera business since 1983. Back in the day, Vivitar’s Series 1 line carried serious clout among both advanced amateurs and professionals. They had some legendary glass back then, including the monster Series 1 70-210 f/3.5. So I saw this lens listed at just $110. I thought, “huh? this can’t be any good.” I looked at some other listings for the same item and found that the running price was in fact $115-$130 for this lens brand new. So I bought one! $110, I can’t go wrong! If it sucks, I’ll box it up and sell it for $110 and be no worse for wear.

I am here to tell you I am pleasantly surprised with the performance of this cheap lens! In the 80s, a Vivitar Series 1 lens was not cheap at all. These lenses challenged the pricing and quality of camera brand lenses. This lens doesn’t quite challenge Nikon or Canon optics but its price is ridiculously low for what you get.


Betsy, on the couch (not supposed to be, bad dog) wide open f/1.8 with flash

I have no shortage of lenses. Between my EOS-M and my EOS 5d Mk II, I have 20 lenses! I did not need this 85mm 1.8. I do have the 85mm 1.2 L on my wish list, but this will have to do for now 😉 My first few shots with this lens were unimpressive. I immediately found a fault in the lens. If the primary light source is both bright and just off the image circle of the lens, the contrast gets really flat. It doesn’t flare, but the color and contrast are horrible. So initially I was thinking, “time to box this one back up”. But I gave it a chance and shot a number of photos. I even did a crude resolution comparison with my old Canon 85mm 1.9 rangefinder lens from the 50s on my EOS-M. It is sharper than the old Canon RF lens. The bokeh is not quite as nice as the old lens with the 12 blade curved diaphragm but the lens is sharp and crisp in most lighting situations.


Muffin in the sun, wide open f/1.8

This Vivitar 85mm lens is tiny. It does have a very deep lens hood with the lens cap designed to fit on the hood rather than the lens. I like that, it makes the lens bulkier to store, but who wants to fiddle around with the mounting the lens hood every time? You can take the hood off but if you do you will need to acquire another lens cap, probably a 55mm or 58mm. Optically you are not likely to find any brand new lens for $120 that will perform better. The focus is sloppy and there is no electronic focus confirmation like you find on other manual lenses for Canon. However you don’t find those lenses even used for anywhere near this price. I can use this lens on both my EOS-M with the EOS adapter and my full frame 5d Mk II. I am going to keep this lens 🙂 I probably should get the Canon USM 85mm 1.8 lens, but those are $300 used and $400 new. I don’t really shoot portraits much any more so I think I will just play with this fun ‘lil’ ‘cheapy’ lens for a while.

I think the cure for the side lighting contrast problem is to put felt inside the hood. The lens hood is hard plastic and I think damping it with felt might solve that one problem.

Kershaw-testI decided to put this lens to the test against my Canon 24-105 f/4.0 L lens. I figured a sharpness test should be done with a sharp subject like my little Kershaw knife that is so sharp you can shave with it :). This test is in no way scientific. I mounted the Vivitar Series 1 85mm 1.8 on my 5d Mk II and took three images, wide open, f/4.0 and f/11. I took the Canon 24-105mm and shot two images at f/4.0 and f/11. Obviously f/1.8 was not possible on the zoom. The Vivitar is sharper wide open than the Canon is wide open despite the 2.5 stop advantage in speed. At f/11 the Canon took control. I should have shot one at f/5.6 or 8.0 on the Canon but Kershaw-wideopenthis was not really scientific, remember? The image at left shows a close up of both lenses wide open. The Vivitar is sharper at f/1.8 than the Canon at f/4.0. I was so set back by this revelation, I went back and took 2 more f/4.0 shots with the L zoom just to be sure. The Canon can’t be softer than a $110 lens can it? Yep, the Vivitar is sharper wide open 🙂

I like this little lens. If you want a fun and inexpensive lens with a nice creamy bokeh and a decent 8 blade aperture diaphragm, this is hard to beat. The only complaints are the ocassional flat contrast in difficult lighting situations and the fact that this lens only focuses down to about 30 inches. I would like to have it 20-24 inches, but this lens was under a $120 delivered to my door. I think it gets a pass on that.

My manual focus skills have lost their edge as you can see the animal shots are just a tick off focus. I’d like to say it was dark (it was for the Lab shot) but the cat shots are clearly in bright sun 😦 Oh well, such is life when you’re in your fifties; the ‘ole eyeballs aren’t as snappy as they used to be.




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