The Legendary Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 Macro Lens Review
The Komine made Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 macro 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 focal length vintage macro lenses I’ve tested, the Vivitar 90mm 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 November 25, 2020. None of the recently sold lenses were under $100. You can check current prices on eBay.
Previously I checked prices on March 1st, 2019, and sold prices ranged from $70-$130.
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.
|Elements Groups||6 ele. 4 gr.|
|Focal Length||90 mm|
|# Aperture Blades||8|
|Hard Infinity Stop||Yes|
|Minimum Focus Distance||35 cm (13.75”)|
|Working Distance||12.7cm (5")|
|Filter Threads||62 mm|
|Dimensions||⌀70 mm x 105 mm (2.75" x 4.15")|
Vivitar serial numbers beginning with 28 designate lenses manufactured by Komine. Check out Camera Quest’s page on Vivitar lenses for the other manufacturers.
The manual lists front and rear lens caps as the only accessories included with a new lens.
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 Vivitar Series 1 90 mm f/2.5 macro lens was made by Tokina. You might also find the Vivitar Series 1 lens branded as an Elicar.
Adapting to a Digital Camera
As long as you use a mirrorless digital camera, you should be able to find an adapter that will allow you to take photos with the a copy of the Vivitar 90 mm lens.
Lenses with a Nikon F-mount or Pentax K-mount will be the easiest to adapt. Both are bayonet style lens mounts with long flange distances compared to other film SLR lens mounts.
Adapters are available for cameras made by Sony, Nikon, Leica, Panasonic, Olympus, and Fujifilm.
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, in order 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 lens extension. Newer lenses can have more complex optical designs which do not require as much lens 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 when it is fully extended. The easiest way would be an adapter with a tripod collar built-in.
Usage & Working Distance
At 12.7cm (5"), the working distance for the Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 macro 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 with the photo quality. For macro, I set the magnification I want and move the camera to focus. I also shoot still life 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. That makes this is a good lens to walk around and work with.
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.
Magnification by Extension & Reversal
The Vivitar 90mm f/2.8 is my favorite vintage macro lens I have had the chance to review. 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 to the Vivitar will cost hundreds more. For that extra money you are likely to get autofocus, a better build quality, and better image quality wide open.
For more information on macro, check out the Beginner’s Guide to Macro Photography.