• Mike

Reviewing the Vivitar 28-70 f3.5-f4.8 lens

This is a review of the Vivitar 28-70 f3.5-f4.8. It's a very interesting lens and one with a lot of possibilities when combined with a modern camera. In fact when you consider sharpness it stacks up well against modern lenses. Vivitar has connected their name to a lot of garbage in recent years, from awful cheap binoculars to outdated digital cameras in airplane magazines. Vivitar, a well respected camera brand known for quality flashes and third-party lenses, isn't what it used to be. The company is now owned by Sakar, a company that has built its reputation on low-cost products made with questionable quality, and imported from China. This lens therefore may be made during the high point in Vivitar's innovation and quality.

This lens made it's debuit in 1986. This lens is older than I am which feels weird to be using. It's optical train consists of 9 Elements in 9 Groups. The aperture has 6 blades and goes from f3.5 up to f22. This lens also has a macro function that is enabled by zooming all the way in and then turning the focus to the left. The lens body is all metal except for a rubberized focus grip that is somehow not too powdery for being so old. Technically this lens was made for Vivitar by Kobori as Vivitar was mostly a brand and not a manufacturer.

I picked this lens up new in box at Goodwill here in Bay City for merely $8. My version is on the Canon FD mount. But they also made a version of this lens for other mounts. The C/Y (contax/yashica), , FDn, M42, Nikon F (FX, DX), Olympus OM, Pentax K, and Minolta SR.

The box has some amazing 80s vector art of the lens inside. That's really cool.

Armed with an FD-EOS adapter I set this lens up to be mounted to my Canon T6s. You can read about how to do this here.

The first thing I noticed once I had this lens on my camera was the buttery smooth focus. Despite being over 30 years old the grease inside is in great shape. I'll probably at some point replace the grease and tear this lens down, but for now it's great.

The night I got this lens I went out to take a few photos with it and get a feel for how it'd perform. Not all FD lenses are very good. I didn't have high hopes.

Right off the bat I was impressed. Even wide open this lens was very sharp. As you can see the lens really did a good job of handling the subtle color of the sunset and the sharp contrast. There's a bit of vignetting forming but I think this is fine. It only adds to the charm of this lens.

But just because you can focus the daylights out of a lens on a tripod doesn't mean that you can get sharp pictures in other settings. So it was off to the zoo to try this lens out in a fluid shooting environment.

Right off the bat I could see that this lens wanted to produce sharp images. I was constantly fighting to give my camera good light as I passed from bright sun to shaded areas. I was constantly jumping around with my aperture.

Despite this the camera really seemed to handle this lens well and it happily shifted ISO and shutter speed around. I rarely ran into places where I didn't have enough light to take sharp photos.

Zoomed in with low aperture settings did create some bad CA artifacts. Lightroom would happily clean these up with the manual CA eyedropper tool. But this was the result before cleaning up photos. At lower zooms this wasn't too bad.

Without any color enhancements in lightroom the lens was creating some very nice and faithful color. There wasn't any tinge of magenta that sometimes happens with these older lenses.

It was as I was shooting with this lens at the zoo in strong light that my first real issue with it started cropping up. In bright situations there would sometimes be a really bad halo if you were looking into a shadow. I think a lens hood of some sort on this lens is a must. The front element is right up with the end of the filter ring. There's a lot of room for stray light to bounce in and wreak havoc in there.

You see this also really bad at night. While the lens may be coated, shielded from bad internal reflections it is not. These reflections can ruin your photos so I highly suggest putting a lens hood on this if you plan to use it.

On the subject of shooting with this lens at night I can say that wide open this lens is a mess. Most modern lenses would have the same problem but they usually don't look this bad.

But step this down a few stops and something magical happens. This lens becomes a wonderful piece of glass and begins to produce some wonderful images. The diffraction spikes off this lens are amazing. Crisp, starry, and without color fringing, this lens makes lights sparkle in a very pleasing way with it's 6 aperture petals.

It was as I was shooting these photos that I realized something. This lens may be on par with my Canon EF 17-40.

Are you actually going to compare an $8 vintage Vivitar to an EF lens?

Yep and I'm willing to admit it. We're doing this.

Taken with EF 17-40 @ 19mm, 37 sec at f-20

Here's an Image I took with some EF glass on the same camera. Very nice.

Zoomed in we see that there's a bit of mud even at f-20. The diffraction spikes suck too. Still, no chromatic aberration to really speak of outside of a few shadows with strange hues.

it's acceptable for what I was doing but when we compare this lens to the Vivitar something strange happens.

Taken with Vivitar 28-70 @ 30 sec f-22

Here's a zoomed in area of the Photo taken with the Vivitar under similar lighting conditions.

As you can see here the diffraction spikes are crisp and clear around the distant street lights. The powerlines all that distance away are also sharp down to the pixels from the sensor. Google Earth says those powerlines are a whopping 3000 feet away so over half a mile away those powerpoles lack serious artifacts. The difference in sharpness between these two lenses is negligible. Yes, any EF lens will destroy this Vivitar lens in a competition of autofocus because the Vivitar has none. but in terms of sharpness it's about a tie. So for the price of an adapter and one of these lenses you could be shooting sharp night landscapes is pretty incredible.

When it came to macro this lens also would shine, a lot. As you can see zoomed in here there's a bit of muddiness to the lens but there's still lots of detail. A bit of strange artifacting especially with the greens are present.

The truth is though, for under $30 you too can buy a manual macro lens and shoot delicate flowers, bugs, and anything else your heart desires in macro. That's a really neat feature in a lens like this.

Then there's the bokeh because thats another nice thing about this lens. With minimal barrel distortion this lens produces some very nice and appealing bokeh behind and in front of your subject.

Then there's the video.

So one of the cool things about modern DSLRs is that we can take HD video with them. Ok, so can your cell phone but the thing is with removable lenses we can also get some really cool effects. One of those effects is the vintage feeling you get from using old glass. Bengt Köhler Sandberg from BKS picture blog shot some very nice sample videos with this lens on a Pentax PK mount. His results are some of the most 90s feeling footage you can create for under $50 with your modern DSLR.

The 28-70mm on a cropped sensor makes for some great filming possibilities.


Time and time again I was able to take shots with this lens that I really liked. I love manual lenses and I love using old ones and this one only rekindles my love for older glass. Vivitar may be trash now but it's clear from this lens that they had something of great value here. It's also a lens that most people aren't looking out for so the prices are low enough on Ebay that you should be able to get your hands on this thing for very little coin compared to even the Canon FD lenses. The fact that in terms of sharpness we can use this lens to outperform some EF-S lenses is really great. It's just an awesome piece of kit all around. I'll certainly be holding on to this one for a long time.