The Legendary Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 Macro Lens Reviewed

By Nathaniel Stephan
Last Updated: April 20, 2019
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Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 Macro Lens Review

The Komine made Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 is a legendary cult classic because of how sharp it is. From f/5.6 to f/11, the lens is tack sharp with no signs of chromatic aberration or distortion.

Out of the 6 90mm to 105mm vintage macro lenses I've tested, it is the sharpest.

Relatively light, the lens doesn't need an extension tube to reach 1:1 magnification. Once there you'll have 12.7cm (5") of working distance.

For less than $150, I don't think a better macro lens exists in the 90mm to 105mm focal length range.

Used lens prices on eBay

I checked prices on March 1st, 2019. Sold prices ranged from $70-$130, depending on the mount. You'll have to check eBay to see how many are available.

Ignore lenses that are priced above $200. If no reasonably priced copies of the lens are available, just keep checking every few days. Eventually, more will show up.

Lens Specs

ManufacturerKomine
Made inJapan
Year Released19??
Original Price$???.??
VersionVivitar
Elements Groups6 ele. 4 gr.
Focal Length90mm
Aperturef/2.8-22
# Aperture Blades8
Focus TypeManual
Hard Infinity StopYes
Magnification1:1
Minimum Focus Distance35cm (13.75”)
Working Distance12.7cm (5")
Filter Threads62mm
Weight480g (17oz)
Dimensions⌀70mm x 105mm (2.75" x 4.15")

Serial Number

Vivitar serial numbers beginning with 28 designate lenses manufactured by Komine. Check out Camera Quest's page on Vivitar lenses for the other manufacturers.

Accessories

The manual lists front and rear lens caps as the only accessories included.

Rear Element Lens Mount

Lens Versions

The lens can be found with the following mounts:

  • Olympus OM
  • Pentax K
  • Pentax M42
  • Nikon Ai F
  • Nikon Non-Ai F
  • Canon FD
  • Minolta SR (MC & MD)
  • Konica AR

You can also find the same lens branded as a Panagor or Elicar. These brands are more likely to be found in Europe.

The 90mm f/2.5 Vivitar Series 1 lens was made by Tokina. You might also find this lens branded as an Elicar.

Macro Lens Barrel, Aperture Ring, and Distance Scale.

Build Quality, Design, and Sample Variation

Build quality is mediocre at best. The lens is two aluminum tubes joined by a helicoid. Machining was kept to a minimum, to keep the original price lower than first party lenses.

With the exception of the bayonet mount, the lens is all aluminum. I'm not sure if the mount is stainless, nickel, or some other metal. I do not believe that it is nickel plated brass.

There are half stops between the marked apertures, except between f/16 and f/22.

All of the numbers and text on the lens have been engraved and then painted.

There is over 900 degrees of travel in the focus ring. Precise focusing is easy. Even moderate changes in focus distance means cranking on the focus ring.

Unfortunately, on my copy of the lens, the grease in the helicoid has begun to dry out. The aperture ring feels inconsistent in resistance. Regreasing the helicoid would help, but I don't know how to disassemble the lens.

Magnification is done through extension. Focus at infinity my Nikon F mount version is 10.8cm (4.25") tall. At 1:1 the lens is 19.7cm (7.75") tall. Modern macro lenses are designed with floating elements that do not need as much extension to achieve 1:1 magnification.

If you intend to adapt the lens to a mirrorless body, make sure to support the lens. The easiest way would be an adapter with a tripod collar built in.

Usage & Working Distance

At 12.7cm (5"), the working distance is 2.7cm longer than the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 SP Di. It also is only a couple cm shorter than the 105mm macro lenses I have tested.

I was using the lens on a Nikon D750 and was impressed. For macro I set the magnification I want and move the camera to focus. I also shoot objects so I don't have to worry about my subjects moving.

For those of you shoot insects or small animals, the focus ring could be an issue. If you use the focus ring to focus, it is slow because of the amount of rotation needed. If you focus by moving the camera, there won't be any problems.

The lens is about 100g (3.5oz) lighter than 105mm alternatives. Given time, that will become a noticeable amount of weight. This is a good walking around lens.

Test Shot Sharpness Comparison

  • f/2.8 - The entire image is soft with chromatic aberration.
  • f/4 - Center is sharp. Chromatic aberration is gone. The corners are slightly soft.
  • f/5.6 - The entire image is sharp. Indistinguishable from f/8.
  • f/8 - Tack sharp. Can't see any improvement in sharpness from f/8.
  • f/11 - Close to f/8. A small amount of diffraction causes a small loss of detail.
  • f/16 & f/22 - Diffraction has set in.
Sample Image f/2.8 Corner Crop
100% Corner Crop at f/2.8.
Test image f/8 Corner Crop
100% Corner Crop at f/8.

Magnification by Extension & Reversal

Life Size 1:1 Magnification
Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 at 1:1 Magnification

Conclusion

The Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 is a my favorite vintage macro lens I have used. I prefer manual focus macro lenses so the lack of a focus motor is a plus for me.

I would recommend avoiding the first generation of autofocus macro lenses. The AF motors are slow, loud, and the lenses are larger than they need to be.

A lens that provides comparable image quality will costs hundreds more. For that extra money you are likely to get autofocus, a better build quality, and better image quality wide open.

Comparable Lenses

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