Vivitar 400mm 5.6 Lens Review & Video : UPDATED

Review of a Classic Lens, the Vivitar 400mm f5.6 With Video
vivitar 400mm 5.6 vintage prime lens OM EF Nikon
Once upon a time, only pro’s could afford long fast glass. Serious amateurs though craved for long lenses too, but could only afford a fraction of what serious pro’s would pay. Enter the slower speed long lenses. With 400 ASA film, you could certainly get great shots, with grain, while the pro’s got the same shots on 100 ASA film. These days reasonably priced longer f2.8 lenses are common due to advances in glass making and manufacturing. This has left a lot of these old and slower lenses collecting dust, or selling for very cheap.
Here are some shots from the lens:

Vivitar ( Tokina ) 400mm f5.6 Lens Test from Steve Oakley on Vimeo.
f5.6 would hardly get most people’s interest these days. However, if you take a look at the really long glass from Canon and Nikon, like say their 600mm lens, its a 5.6 to at a hefty $6k price. Now I’m not going to pretend here, those lenses are ultra sharp, use LD glass, and the best focus motors around. They are for serious still shooters. Video however doesn’t require the same level of ultra sharp thats shooting stills does. In fact a somewhat softer lens can help reduce or eliminate moire and stair stepping seen  dslr video. Autofocus is a non issue as well for video.
Taking into consideration that the APS-C sensor has a 1.6X crop factor, that really turns a 400mm lens into 640mm, still at a now very respectable f5.6. The APS-C sensor also is using the sweet spot of the lens in the center. Any CA or vingeting in the corners of a full frame sensor are generally not an issue with APS-C.
With those thoughts in mind, lets check this one out. There are  plenty of odd brand lenses out there, but I’ve found most older vivitar glass to be good. While I’d be a little cautious about real off brand glass if you couldn’t try it out first, this one seemed interesting.
Its serial number indicated that Tokina actually made it. That was one big plus for starters. Next it was multicoated. Any lens that isn’t is going to have flare and lose contrast. Unless you are really going for a retro look, make sure its multicoated.
The lens I got looks like it came out of the factory box practically. Its not uncommon to find super clean glass like this when its one thats off most people’s radar. After all, who’d want a big heavy made of metal 180deg focus turn manual lens thats on the slow side ?
WHile this lens is made in several different mounts, I got this one with an OM mount. A cheap adapter for OM->EOS and I was off and running.
First, the iris ring is different. Its marked and operates in both direction. The center is 5.6 and you can turn it left OR right to stop it down. I suspect that one way was for stopped down shooting, the other was auto iris mode where the camera closed the iris down when it shot a frame off. My lens may of had a minor mod so it stops the lens down in both directions. It doesn’t bother me since it only goes to f22.
This thing is heavy. Forget any idea of hanging this on the body without support. If you are shooting bare bones, use the built in tripod collar. If you are on rods, you need to have a lens support for sure. I’d highly recommend that your lens support have a strap on it that loops over the lens to lock it into place or the weight of the lens could very easily twist things sideways during handling. This lens demands respect for good handling.
The focus ring is slightly stiff, or perhaps what I would call firm. That’s a perfectly good feel for a long lens where its easy to knock it out of focus. Its got a nice long 180 deg focus rotation. A minor downside is that it only focuses to 13ft / 4m. If you need to get closer, consider an extension tube or two. The focus is also in the normal direction for video / film glass.
At first f5.6 might seem to be a problem limiting this lens to sunny day work only. We’ll talk about that shortly.  Consider how with a long lens like this DoF is  very shallow to start with. I’m often at F8 or F11 when I can. Here are some quick numbers on DoF so you can see what I mean.
400mm F8 @ 13ft, DoF 1″
400mm F8 @ 20ft, DOF 3″
400mm F8 @ 40ft, DoF 1′ 2″
13 ft will let you fill 50-70% of the frame with a cat’s head.
20 ft is a head and shoulders shot, a very tight one.
40ft, you are shooting a waist up shot of some one or a bit less. 1′ is just enough to hold focus on them so that their body is sharp. Your background will drop out quite nicely.
100ft 400mm F8  7′ 8″
This will get you a full body shot, with just a little bit of play room. You’ll still have shallow enough DoF even in bright sunlight, but with some safety margin here.
So that F5.6 really isn’t the limitation it seems to be. Considering that you can go to ISO 1250 on the 60D / 7D / 1D / 5D you can start to approach some lower light situations that would of not been possible 25 years ago with ISO 400 speed film, even pushed one stop to 800. This isn’t a shoot under  dim streets lights lens ( unless you can live with ISO 2400 ) but it can work in bright city areas, or places where you ‘d be lighting to F5.6 or F8 anyway.
Also know you need a real tripod and head to work with a long lens like this. My Vinten 6 works ok, but a manfrotto 500 series head will never be smooth enough. With a long lens like this, even small movements translate to big image changes, so pan and tilts need to be slow and controlled. Fast pans will bring rolling shutter effects into maximum effect, for better or worse. WInd will also be something to deal with as well.
Of course I’m saving the best part for last, the price. You can pick these lenses up for around $100 or sometimes less because no one wants them. That, for now makes them a steal.
Next, I want to find a good 1.4X converter to add in for 560mm ( 900mm APS-C to full frame equivalent ) at a modest F8. Sounds like fun !

Canon 100mm F2.8 Macro Lens Test Vs Tamrom 70-200 2.8

My lens test of the canon 100mm 2.8 Macro lens. I also put in my Tamron 70-200 2.8 almost macro lens as a comparison. Surprising results here. The canon lens is a solid performer to say the least, but its limited by its really super short focus rotation. Its super tricky to keep the lens focused on things that move around, at 2 feet or less, more or less wide open, with DoF of under 1 inch


Canon 100 2.8 Macro Lens Test VS Tamron 70-200 2.8 using 550D from Steve Oakley on Vimeo.

Canon 100 2.8 Macro Lens Test VS Tamron 70-200 2.8 using 550D from Steve Oakley on Vimeo.

Stillwater to Minneapolis Lens & FIlter Shoot

A few weeks ago [ in 2010 ! ] I got to spend some time in Stillwater MN on a shoot. I also spent a nite in Minneapolis. This was a chance to try out some vintage glass and filters again along with some modern glass. Many of the shots where taken with a Tiffen Black Softnet 3B filter. Placed in front of my Vivitar 28 1.9, it made for some interesting effects. With my tamron 70-200 2.8, I got some really great organic starbursts around car lights completely with some funky CA.
Right in the middle of this video is a shot illuminated by the full moon. Thats right, F1.9, ISO 1600, and there was an image there ! its truly amazing what these cameras can do. If I get the chance, I’ll put up a version with the lens / filter info on each shot.
Stillwater to Minneapolis from Steve Oakley on Vimeo.

Is the 1976 Vintage Vivitar 35-105 3.5 a Mini Primo ? UPDATED

Vivitar 35-105 3.5  
vivitar 35-105
This bargain lens looks impressive. Its got a big front element, solid metal construction, constant iris, and the perfect range for a lot of the work I do. Is it a little slow at 3.5 ? maybe, but thats really only a 1/2 stop from 2.8. I’m generally working with a light level of about F4 @ 200 for sit down interviews so this easily fits into the comfort range for me.
First Video Test WIth Lee ND Filter
Lets go further, this lens has an internal zoom ! Thats right, the length of the lens does not change when you zoom. Focus on the other hand does cause the front of the lens to turn, and it does move forwards, but only about a 1/4″. The front of the lens barrel is also a perfect fit for one of the doughnut rings on my matte box. It moves and rotates through it fine without worry its going to move too far forwards and hit a filter inside.
The markings in the lens barrel are larger then average which is great. The focus rotation is in the correct direction, and is around 180 deg. If you add on a large gear on the lens barrel and a small one on the follow focus, there is plenty of control here. It overall feels very smooth.
The lens I got is in pristine nearly new out of the box condition, and was really really cheap. So did I really get a bargain ?
vivitar 35-105 bokeh example
Bokeh sample shots from Vivitar 35-105 3.5he upper shot shows its a bit different. Hey its vintage 35 year old glass !
Are there any downsides ?
Well the lens doesn’t focus that close, maybe 4 feet. It does have a macro function which works by going to 35mm, then pulling the zoom collar back to focus close. At the wide end, you can certainly rack from maybe 10 or 15 feet to close using just the macro ring.  Using macro does make the lens extend itself, but nothing too far, maybe 1″.
click on the image for a full res video still. I was focused at about 30ft or so, Lee ND.9 in front, wide open, maybe shutter at 1/60th

I wasn’t happy with the tests I ran on the lens a few months ago, mainly due to the Lee resin filter I had on. This time I went and redid the same tests, and used a new Schneider 4X4 ND .9 EF81.

Overall Image Quality : UPDATED
Now that I have your attention, the big question, how does it look. Well the answer is, it depends. I’ll be putting up a lens test video over the next few days so you can see for yourself. My conclusions are, at 5.6 or slower, it looks great. At 3.5, its a bit soft for stills, but ok for video.  What  happens wide open is that CA starts happening in the out of focus areas. This is typical of the look of lenses from this era. Its something like a diffusions filter, but different because there is some color spread.  Its a very 60’s and 70’s look I like. There is also certain amount of CA going on in high contrast areas that goes away by 5.6. If you want to bump up your ISO a stop in lower light levels, no problem, or drop your shutter to 1/30th while adding a little more light. Outdoors of course its a great general shooting lens. Reasonably wide for general shots, and at 105 goes in close.
I know if I could have  my ideal lens would be something like a 20-120, F2. There is a Olympus OM 35-105 2.8 out there. I’ve found only one, it was $1200, and in Hong Kong. I’m not saying that’s unreasonable as many folks have paid about as much for various canon L lenses. However, what I don’t know is if its any better then what I already have and paid, well $100 for ! This lens may well be the very best bargain lens out there is for shooting video if you can get over the fact its a 3.5 rather then 2.8 lens.

A Nite In Cincinatti Vintage OM Lens Tests

This is a cool little night time test shoot that I did. I was trying out some of my lenses, and ISO settings. I put some cool vintage glass to the job including a Olympus OM 50 1.4, OM 35-70 F4, 1 shot with a Vivtar series 1 28 1.9, a new Tamron 17-50 2.8 and 70-200 2.8. It was fun, gave me sore feet, and I think I learned quite a bit.
A Nite In Cincinatti by Steve Oakley from Steve Oakley on Vimeo.
The OM 35-70 F4 would seem to be a dark lens in comparison to the others, and it is, but I still got some quite usable shots. Its a nice compact lens with a solid feel to it. I’ll also say the area was pretty bright, so it wasn’t a problem to use this lens. On a 7D @ 1250 ISO, it would still be very usable for all except the very darkest places.
This alternate version shows which lenses I used on each shot. You might be a bit surprised at a few.
A Nite In Cincinatti by Steve Oakley from Steve Oakley on Vimeo.

If you want to know, I did do some color correction on some shots. It seems the street lights have something of a green cast, and I did do a minus green correction on them. I also think I did adjust one or two shots for exposure too, but it was gentle. I did the editing and color correction in Premiere Pro CS5 Mac using mainly RGB Curves. Having a QuadroFX 4800 let me work on this in realtime, at full resolution which was a real pleasure. It also really let me get done with this a lot quicker.


I’ve got another video in the works, just as soon as I can edit the thing. Meanwhile I’ve been watching as canon announced the new 60D a few days ago.