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Vivitar Series 1 28-90mm F2.8-3.5 Zoom

Louis Meluso , Sep 01, 2008; 02:52 a.m.

I don’t shoot with zooms very much. I’ve always preferred the speed and sharpness of prime lenses. I’ve had a number of various range zooms over the years, Canon FD and third party, and (with the exception of the nFD 80-200 F4 L) have not been happy with them for serious work. They mostly found duty at parties, family gatherings and other non-critical uses where variable focal length was more of an advantage that absolute image quality. I have seen many nice pix from other photographers using zooms on their FD gear but I never was happy with the hardware or the results for one reason or another……..until now.

I picked up this Vivitar Series 1 28-90mm f2.8-3.5, in mint condition, for the grand total of $45 from eBay a few months ago. Here is a link that describes the lens from a printed ad:


Made by Komine, the lens is large and heavy with 67mm filter size. This turns off a lot of folks but in that heft is a beautiful build quality and precision operational feel. The focusing and zoom mechanics are really top notch. Smooth and positive with no slop or creep. Since I also use Bronica SQ-A gear that take 67mm filters, I already had all the filters I needed. Here are a few shots taken with this lens. All images are shot handheld with the Canon F-1 (except the first one) on Fuji Superia 400 film, scanned on a Nikon CS4000ED.

Vivitar Series 1 28-90mm on a Canon T90


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Louis Meluso , Sep 01, 2008; 02:55 a.m.

This is shot, with my T90, at the 90mm setting wide open. Overall I noticed it performs better in the middle focal ranges best and the long end is better than the wide end. Decent performance here handheld and wide open.

Sharpshooter-90mm, wide open,Canon T90

Louis Meluso , Sep 01, 2008; 03:00 a.m.

Sliding down to the 80mm setting and closing down to f/4, with an F-1, gives a jump in IQ. I tend to want to shoot this type of portrait with a tripod, but handholding makes for a much more fluid and faster sitting. (note: the previous image of the sharpshooter was scanned on an Epson V750 all the others were scanned on the Nikon)

Agnes in the Garden, 80mm setting, f4, Canon F-1

Louis Meluso , Sep 01, 2008; 03:02 a.m.

This is shot at the 70mm setting and f/5.6. The one thing you immediately notice is how bright the viewfinder image is with this lens. This helps me focus with my over 50 y/o eyes

Troubador, 70mm setting, f5.6, Canon F-1

Louis Meluso , Sep 01, 2008; 03:04 a.m.

Shot at the 50mm focal length, at f8.5 is the sweet spot for this lens and this image shows the best results I could achieve handheld. Distortion is minimal and density across the field is very uniform. Flare is very well controlled.

Downtown Seattle, 50mm setting, f8.5, Canon F-1

Louis Meluso , Sep 01, 2008; 03:06 a.m.

I left this view of Lake Union, as seen from the Seattle Space Needle, in color. This is shot at the 28mm setting at f11. The wide end is the weaker side of this zoom and at this focal length corner light fall off (see the right side) is seen. Resolution is fair and some barrel distortion is seen. Still quite usable however

All in all, this lens is one of the better lenses I’ve tried in this zoom range. While it will be difficult to leave the primes at home, this one delivers the goods as an excellent walk around lens that has speed, optical quality and a really fine, all metal build.

Lake Union, 28mm setting, f11, Canon F-1

Don Boyd , Sep 01, 2008; 06:48 a.m.

Louis, Superb photos and I can see the quality of this lens even through the scanning and TV image distribution process. Glad you are happy. Go forth and take pictures!!

Don B in Hampton Roads

Mark Wahlster , Sep 01, 2008; 08:14 a.m.

One of the reasons this lens is as good as it is is that it is not really a zoom but a Varifocal lens. You have to refocus it after changing to focal length. This lack of holding focus through the zooming range allows the optical designer to better/or easier correct for certain aberrations.

I owned one of these for a summer and took some very nice photo's with it and mine even had about a dozen tiny like rock chips in the front element. I used it while driving a 96 foot long hay hauling semi that worked in and out of the fields. I documented the whole summer with it. And since it was already a little beat up I didn't have to worry about it.

I really enjoy those photo's

A fine piece of kit in my book.

Mark Stephan , Sep 01, 2008; 09:46 a.m.

Mark, since you once owned this lens and you once said you own the Canon 28-85/4 nFD lens I was wondering how the two compare. I really like my Canon but after looking at the pictures from the Vivitar I may have to watch that auction site for the 28-90.

Jeff Adler , Sep 01, 2008; 10:37 a.m.

Of the Vivitar Series 1 lenses in this range this one is my favorite. I have the 35-85/2.8 and it's a nice lens but heavy and not so wide. The later 28-105/2.8-3.8 is more bulky and does not allow you to get very close at the 28 setting. In good light and if you can live with the close focusing limit at 28, the 28-105 is still a very nice lens. I have the 28-90 in several mounts but used it mostly in OM mount. Somewhere there is a thread in which someone guesses that the non-Series 1 Vivitar 28-85 Variable Focusing lens was in competition with the 28-90 to be the Series 1 model. I have that lens in K mount and I would say it's about as good as the 28-90. In general I would say that I prefer to use zoom lenses with cameras which have interchangeable screens so I can use a grid type or plain matte type. I don't find a microprism or split image aid helpful with any zoom.

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