Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A look at the Vivitar 135mm Close Focusing lens

Vivitar 135mm f/2.8 Auto Telephoto Close Focusing

Back in 2010 I published two articles on 135mm focal length lenses. The first was an overview while the second went into more detail and recommended three specific models. But I never detailed the lens that was my favourite of the bunch. With spring flowers begging for photos, it's time to set that right!

Read on for the scoop on the "Vivitar 135mm f/2.8 Auto Telephoto Close Focusing". I'll abbreviate that moniker to Vivitar 135 CF for convenience. Click through to Flickr for larger images.


Vivitar was a brand that farmed out the actual manufacture to some of the best Japanese firms. Marketed between approximately 1975 and 1981, this particular model was made by Komine, a name I've learned to associate with quality. 

For most Vivitar lenses made between 1970 and 1990 the manufacturer can be confirmed by examining the first two digits of the serial number: Komine is indicated by "28". 

Vivitar 135mm f/2.8 Auto Telephoto Close Focusing

During this period Vivitar competed in quality with native lenses from Nikon, Canon, Pentax, and others. Indeed, their prestige "Series 1" line commanded prices even higher than the famous brands!

Unfortunately later Series 1 models suffered a significant dip in optical quality. Though Vivitar still markets lenses, they are no longer exceptional.

Be sure not to confuse the lens under discussion with the "Vivitar Auto Telephoto 135mm 1:2.8", which is far more common and inexpensive. Note two differences that are easy to check: it doesn't say "Close Focusing" on the front rim, and it takes a 55mm filter.

Physical Properties

The Vivitar 135 CF is a solid lens of all metal and glass. The rubber knurled focus area is wide and easy to use. The helicoid has a long throw. One full revolution of the focus ring takes us from infinity focus to 1:3 magnification, this number clearly marked on the barrel behind the grip. Another half-turn takes us to the maximum magnification of 1:2. This gives us lots of control in the near-macro range where we most need it.

Vivitar 135mm f/2.8 Auto Telephoto Close Focusing

I should note a rather curious feature that is indicative of a sharp engineering mind behind the design. As usual the focus ring is marked in distance to subject, from infinity on down. But what happens once we have made our first revolution? The final marking says 0.75 meters (in green) after which we return to infinity. Yet we can focus still closer, the new distance indicators appearing on the barrel in front of the focus grip. Clever!

(Check out the first picture above for clarity.)

The aperture ring has markings at f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, and f/22. There are half-click steps between each of these indicators except for the last interval. It's easily to count clicks without looking at the lens.

This is an "Auto Aperture" lens, a term I describe in my article on SLR Aperture Control Mechanisms. There's no "A" marking on the aperture ring. Instead use a switch to go from "M" to "A". When adapting for digital cameras, this is a treat to use. Leave it on the "M" setting and use the aperture ring. Simple.

The lens was available in several mounts including Canon FD, Nikon AI, Minolta MD, Pentax K, and M42. The latter is what I own. I've adapted this to Pentax K and Micro Four Thirds with simple adapters.

The filter ring is 62mm and the front element is multi-coated. One can see a blue colour cast when looking into the lens (see photo above). In practice this coating has worked well for me, with no flare evident, though I have not tried a torture test. The lens did not come with a hood, just a screw-on cap. Vivitar must have sold hoods separately. But you absolutely require a hood with a telephoto lens like this. I recommend the solid metal Nikon HN-23. 

The lens weighs 425g and is 86mm in length. Add the hood and it's 113mm. With the MFT mount adapter it's 149mm. And fully extended, at maximum magnification, it is a rather daunting 217mm. These figures are nonetheless reasonable when compared to the alternatives.

I've mentioned that the lens has an impressive maximum magnification of 1:2, which permits close focus at 59cm. Contemporary manufacturers might call this a macro lens, but Vivitar more correctly labels it "close focusing", since "macro" requires 1:1 magnification.

I have several macro lenses and find that using them above 1:2 is difficult. The slightest motion of camera or subject results in blur, and depth of field is minute. I generally prefer the range of 1:2 to 1:4 magnification. Hence I don't find this lens to limit my photography.

Here's some perspective on what an engineering achievement this lens is. When compared to the Vivitar Series 1 135mm 1:2.3 VMC, it's is one-third lighter, has twice the magnification, and focuses 30cm closer. But does it deliver the goods? We'll see in part two.

This article was rewritten for clarity 28 March 2024. Yes, 11 years later!


1 comment:

robin said...

P.S. I have read that the same lens was sold as Maginon and Panagor brands, but have seen no evidence of this.

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