Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 Macro Lens Review

By Nathaniel Stephan
Last Updated: April 20, 2019
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Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 Macro Lens Review

There is lots of lore and hype built up around this Komine lens, and it is all deserved. This is the sharpest standard focal length vintage macro lens I have ever used. The Vivtar 55mm f/2.8 macro lens is sharper than the Canon, Nikon, Minolta, and Olympus lenses I have tested.

Lens Specifications

ManufacturerKomine
Made inJapan
Year Released 19??
Original Price $139.95
Elements Groups5 ele. 4 gr.
Aperturef/2.8-16
# of Aperture Blades6
Aperture ControlManual, Manual/Auto Diaphragm
Focus TypeManual
Hard Infinity StopYes
Magnification1:1
Minimum Focus Distance25cm (10”)
Working Distance5.2cm (2-1/16")
Filter Threads 62mm
Weight318g (11.2oz)
Dimensions⌀70mm x 80mm (2.75" x 3.15")

Price is from a 1985 Competitive Camera Corp catalogue. The lens was released earlier than that.

Vivitar serial numbers beginning with 28 designate lenses manufactured by Komine.

Lens Barrel, Focus Ring, Aperture Ring, and Distance Scale.

Used prices on eBay

Prices are all over the place. Most copies sell for $50-$80, but there are several that have gone for well over $100. Check eBay to see what the current market prices are.

Higher priced lenses can be due to their branding or mount. Nikon F, Pentax K, and M42 lenses are the more desirable mounts.

I am checking prices on December 1st, 2018. The supply of reasonably priced lenses has been cleared out. Every thing that is left is overpriced. If you find yourself in a situation like this, just be patient and check listings a few times a week. Other than the end of November and December, deals do show up regularly.

Accessories

I am not aware of any available accessories for this lens. The front element is recessed far enough back so a lens hood will not be needed.

Lens Versions

This lens was manufactured by Komine in Japan and branded by distributors for sale around the world. The Vivitar, Spiratone, and Quantaray brands will be more prevalent in North America. Panagor and Elicar are more likely to be found in Europe and Asia. Lenses can be found in all of the common 35mm film mounts.

MountsBrand Names
Pentax M42Panagor
Pentax KVivitar
Nikon FQuantaray
Canon FDElicar
Minolta MDSpiratone
Olympus OMRokunar

Mounts are not specific to the brand names. All of the mounts can be found with any of the brandings.

Extended to Show Magnification Scale

Build Quality, Design, and Sample Variation

Unlike all the other comparable lenses, the Vivitar does not need an extension tube to reach 1:1. This results in a focus throw that is almost 720 degrees. Focusing can take a while.

The helicoid grease in my copy of the lens is drying out. Turning the focus ring is harder than I would prefer. The lens would be better if it was serviced, but that would cost more than the lens is worth. I also have the earlier f/3 version of the lens branded as a Panagor with the same problem.

Construction quality is lower than first party manufactures. My assumption is that this is because competing on price was important. At $139.95, there was significant savings when compared to the other options available:

  • Canon $154.95 + $34.95
  • Nikon $144.95* + $34.95 (*Rebate from Nikon)
  • Olympus $139.95 + $36.95
  • Pentax $154.95 + $??.??

Usage & Working Distance

Tested was done using a cheap adapter on a Sony A7.

The focus ring feels like it turns forever. Changing focusing distances can take several seconds due to the long throw of the focus ring. It is also fairly large which doesn't make it attractive as a walking around lens.

What stands out about the lens is that it is usable at f/5.6. With the exception of the Olympus OM 50mm f/3.5 Macro lens, I would not plan to use any of the other vintage macro lenses I have tested at f/5.6. Stopped down to f/8, the lens was the sharpest I've tested.

I prefer 90-105mm focal lengths for 1:1 magnification because they have more working distance. At 1:1 the working distance is a couple of inches (~5cm), which makes lighting difficult. At 1:2 or 1:4, 55mm is great because the subject will still be within arms reach.

Test Shot Sharpness Comparison

The Vivitar is the sharpest vintage macro lens I have tested at f/5.6. At f/8 the lens is sharper. All of the comparable lenses do well at f/8.

ApertureCenterCorners
2.8MehSoft
4BetterSoft
5.6Very GoodSharp
8SharpestSharp
11Not as sharp as f/8As sharp as the center
16Noticeable DiffractionSoft like the rest of the image
Sample Image Corner Crop f/2.8
100% Corner Crop at f/2.8.
Test Image Corner Crop f/8
100% Corner Crop at f/8.

Magnification by Extension & Reversal

The lens performed very well when being reversed. My copy has an FD mount, which means either a Canon Macro adapter or mount adapter has to be used so the aperture can be used. I preferred the mount adapter as it also acts as a lens hood. The only issue I had was seeing what aperture I was setting the lens to.

Comparable Lenses & Conclusion

This is the best. All of the other comparable lenses are a step down in sharpness, usability, and availability.

This is the only standard focal length vintage macro lens worth actively tracking down. At under $60, it is an amazing value. I wouldn't pay more than $100.

The only lens that came close to the Vivitar was the Olympus OM 50mm f/3.5 macro lens. The Olympus is not as sharp at f/5.6, only goes to 1:2, but is about half the size of the Vivitar. Other than that, the next step up is lenses in the $300+ price bracket.

Vivitar 55mm Pinterest Pin

Sources

Competitive Camera Corp Catalogue No. 25 Fall Supplement 1985, Page 17.

Camera Quest - https://www.cameraquest.com/VivLensManuf.htm

Photo.net Forum - https://www.photo.net/discuss/threads/tell-me-about-komine.456767/

MF Lenses Forum - http://forum.mflenses.com/viewtopic.php?t=42604

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