Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Using The Vivitar 75-205 f/3.8 on an OMD E-M10

Conventional wisdom indicates that, when discussing the use of legacy lenses on modern cameras, it is generally best to avoid zoom lenses in favor of prime lenses.  However, I came into possession of  an elderly Vivitar 75-205 mm Zoom lens in a Canon FD mount that makes me question this 'wisdom'.  Note that I am talking about the ubiquitous, less expensive Vivitar "SuperZoom" lens and NOT the legendary Series 1 lens.

I found this lens to be sharp at all focal lengths and very sharp at the macro setting.

However, I doubt that I will use this lens very much on an Olympus OMD E-M10. It's just too big for the E-M10's body.  I found it extremely difficult to hand hold at the extreme level of magnification that the 4/3s sensor offer.  (A reminder, the 75-205 Vivitar is effectively a 150mm - 410mm lens when mounted on a camera that uses the 4/3s sensor size.).  

It seems that the "macro" setting uses a close-focusing enhancement of the 75 mm focal length.  Hand holding the E-M10 with the lens in Macro mode is extremely difficult, I think.   Below, is a hand-held macro shot,  it's better than most of the macro shots I got hand held, but if you look close, I think you can still see a bit of camera movement.
Macro mode, hand-held, 1/1600 sec f/5.6 ISO 200

Taken with a Samsung S5 Camera phone,
The ergonomics make it impossible to hold
steady.  Camera phones, UGH!
Using it on a tripod works relatively well though.  But I personally find that I don't enjoy using the E-M10 on a tripod.  To  me, the appeal of a camera this size is the ability to hand hold it for almost every shot.  And a tripod for macro shots, while essential with this lens would be GREATLY enhanced with some sort of focusing rail.  It was too hard to position the camera lens assembly by physically picking up the tripod and moving it a fraction of an inch.

I had an optional external grip installed on about half the shots, and without for the other half.  I was surprised to discover that using the grip didn't work any better than not using it.  One needs to support the camera/lens assembly by that non moving part of the lens barrel for maximum steadiness and support, so the 'grip-ability' of the body itself doesn't really factor into the way the camera and lens assembly is held and supported.

Hand held 205 mm 1/2000 sec f/5.6

This lens is prone to flare in situations where more modern lenses would not.  I have taken the photo above, several times with modern Olympus lenses at various times of day, and never saw this much flare in them.   I would recommend that a lens hood of some sort be purchased if you intend to use this lens with any regularity.

I have heard that Ponder & Best, the company that owned the Vivitar line back in the day, contracted out the manufacture of these lenses to other manufacturers, and the quality varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.

In my research, the common belief is that one can tell which manufacturer made the lens based on the first two digits of the serial number. I don't know if this is true, or not, but most of the internet web sites that deal with legacy lenses all seem to accept this as 'probably true'.

The most useful link I found that deals with Vivitar serial numbers was the page.  This web page also deals with the persistent rumor that Olympus made lenses for Vivitar.  Apparently, it did not, though my basic test of this particular lens indicates there would be no shame in such a move for Olympus.  My Vivitar 'superzoom' seems to be at the very least, a solid second tier lens of that era.

75 mm 1/640 sec f/5.6 iso 200
The serial number on my lens is 22713212 which indicates that it was made by Kiron.  In my serial number research, I found some legacy lens forum sites where users make the claim that the most desirable lenses were the ones made with the serial numbers of 22 - Kiron, 28 - Komine, and 37 - Tokina.  I have no way to verify these claims, so use that info at your own risk.

In summary, I think this is a fine legacy lens that is unfortunately prone to more flare than modern lenses.  It is worth seeking out and using on a fairly regular basis, but I question its value as a companion for very small camera bodies.


  1. I have the metabones speed booster for My Olympus Em1 and used my old nikon lens and newer ones like my 70-200mm f2.8 mk2
    I luv manual focus lens with this camera body-- good article about your own experience

    1. Thanks Evan. Tell me if you will, is there much of an Image quality hit with the metabones booster? I'm thinking of getting one for my Canon FL/FD lenses since even my 28 mm Canon FL lens is effectively a 56 mm lens when mounted on my E-M10.