My story and thoughts on Vivitar Series 1 90mm 1:2.5 VMC Macro.
M42, FD, C/Y, SR, F, OM, K mount
f2.5-22, 8 blades
Min. focus distance: 39.3cm - 1:2 magnification OR 35.3cm with dedicated macro adapter - 1:1 magnification
1: Vivitar Series 1 90mm 1:2.5 VMC Macro
2: Tokina AT-X Macro 90mm 1:2.5
*another Vivitar 90mm 1:2.8 Macro (without Series 1) exists. It is a different lens.
Dad: "What is a lens made by Tokina with excellent Bokeh called?"
Son: "I don't know, dad. A Japanese Leica?"
Dad: "It is BOKINA!"
I am quite sure the guy came up with this name Bokina (Bokeh+Tokina) likes to make dad jokes.
For those who do not know what Bokeh is referring to: in laymen's words, it is the blurry back(fore)ground. (Bokeh is also the magic word to summon and impress your photographer friends.) The character of the blurriness is affected by many factors, for example, the optical design of the lens (the glasses), focal length of the lens (how many mm), aperture size (f-stop number), aperture shape (shape of the hole), the subject distance (how far the subject is away from the camera), the foreground or background distance, etc... Different lenses render the blurriness differently in their own ways and characters. One could say that Bokeh is like the signature or the spirit of a lens.
So Tokina AT-X Macro 90mm 1:2.5 has really nice Bokeh and earned the name "Bokina", but what has it to do with this Vivitar Series 1 lens?
Back in 1970s, an American photography equipment reseller company hired some excellent optic engineers to design ambitious top-quality lenses that would allow it to compete in the first league with the optic giants. These lenses are said to be the first lenses designed with the help of "the largest" computers (Computers back then were indeed pretty large...). In 1975, this company shocked the world by introducing a top-quality innovative lens lineup named Vivitar Series 1. Back then, the Vivitar Series 1 90mm Macro lens was so sharp that it shared the crown with Leica's Dual Range Summicron as the highest resolution lenses tested by the American photography magazine - Modern Photography.
But Vivitar did not make the lenses in its own factory. In fact, it had no factory. Vivitar subcontracted the lens production to other optic manufacturers instead. Vivitar Series 1 90mm 1:2.5 VMC Marco was produced by Tokina. It is actually amazing how a reseller company managed to build and produce its own new top-quality lenses without its own factory.
After the decline of the Vivitar company in 1986, Tokina took over this 90mm lens and introduced its own Tokina AT-X Macro 90mm 1:2.5. The optic design of this lens is so similar to its predecessor that one could say that they are basically the same lens, except the lens coatings and their aperture shapes. Tokina's lens then carried on the reputation and legacy, and even earned the nickname Bokina for its beautiful Bokeh.
*wide open at f2.5
A sharp 90mm macro lens with aperture f2.5 is a very versatile lens. The main reason I bought my Vivitar is because I needed an affordable alternative to a 85mm portrait lens. And it would be even more useful and fun to use if I could get as close as I want to my subjects!
1: Dedicated 1:1 macro adapter;
2: Lens with macro adapter, side-by-side;
3: Full length of the combination.
My Vivitar came together with its dedicated macro adapter. The adapter has 3 glass elements. It turns the lens into a full macro 1:1 lens (Life size image) without compromising the image quality, although the lens then loses the ability to focus to infinity. It is very useful when making product shots. The following photo of a Takumar 50mm 1.4 lens (Click here to my review on this lens) was taken with the lens alone on a Sony A6000 camera, and the 2 Euro coin photo was taken with the lens and macro adapter on a Sony A7RII camera.
*at f5.6 at minimum focus distance. 1:1 Magnification.
It is also enjoyable to use this lens for street photography.
And, of course, it is perfect for flowers.
Stunning. (No more words needed!)
Ergonomics and Build
Focusing manually is not difficult at all on modern cameras with the help of focus peaking and magnification. Focus throw is very long, about 320 degree. After some practice, focusing could become very precise.
1: Lens on A7RII (adapted from OM to EOS, then to NEX mount)
2: Lens with macro adapter at closest focus distance.
Robust all-metal construction. Lens alone weights 644g, which is a little bit heavy. Together with the adapter, the combination is heavy. But anyway when you use the macro adapter and get really close, you need a tripod. That is why there is a build-in rotatable tripod mount on the macro adapter.
Image Quality and Chromatic Aberration
It is a very sharp lens. At f2.5 the image is already very sharp and with good color and contrast at both infinity and at the minimum focus distance. There is a little bit of purple fringing, especially in harsh environment. But still I have no hesitation in using it wide open, as it is easily corrected in post processing. Stopping it down to f4, the image becomes even sharper and the problem of purple fringing is almost gone. From f5.6 onward, there is nothing to worry about.
There is no observable distortion. Very well controlled.
Vivitar's VMC coating is a weakness. Maybe Tokina's coating does a better job. The lens is sensitive to direct bright light. It can flare quite heavily and contrast drop noticeably. A lens hood is really necessary. If you can’t beat them, join them. I like integrating the flares into creative and artistic purposes.
The only thing that bothers me when using this lens is the focus breathing, especially when focusing on close objects. Sometimes it could get so much that it ruins and limits the composition of the photo.
In conclusion, what do I think about this lens?
a very versatile lens that stood the challenge of time and still keeps delivering beautiful photos in any focus distance.