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Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Tamron 400 6.9 vs Vivitar 400 5.6


Big impressive lens vs. small almost embarrassing lens. The winner ? you guessed wrong already !


I was more than expecting that the Vivitar 400 5.6 was a good lens. In fact I'd already reviewed this lens and its been a part of my regular package for a while. Its true I don't often have a need for 400mm, but when I do, its there. I've used it to get a number of memorable shots that needed the reach.


A few weeks ago I came into a pile of lenses. In the bunch was a great Takumar 50 1.4 that had my attention. Several weeks later I got to try the Tamron 400 6.9 and wasn't expecting too much. Its a wimpy looking skinny lens thats very light weight  and not at all impressive or interesting. Its even an M42 screw mount making it even more dated.


Lets go take it out and shoot a few shots. Its 10 deg F ! I quickly learn why screw mount lenses suck in the real world ! changing lenses is miserable because of the precision required to get it to go together.  Then turn and turn until it locks. Its a far cry from "modern" breech mount twist lock mounts that are 45 to 90 degs. So I fire off a bunch of shots on the Tamron 400 6.9 and then do matching shots on the Vivitar (Tokina made) 400 5.6. 



Ok, its not impressive and down right wimpy looking.



Far more impressive looking and a bit nicer handling. A much more pro looking lens.




Judge for yourself which lens came around to surprise me.


Vivitar 400 5.6 { click for full size image }


Tamron 400 6.9 { click for full size image ]





These images are full frame images from the 5K original stills. The difference in sharpness came to surprise me to say the least. This is especially true since the Tamron 400 6.9 you can't give away, at least until now !


Now for the 1:1 crops -


Vivitar 400 5.6 1:1 image crop


Tamron 400 6.9 1:1 crop


Once I warmed up back home I took a look at the images and got a surprise. The ugly near worthless on ebay lens made better images than the Pro looking lens. Poking around online it seems for STILLS purposes the Vivitar 400 5.6 is not that great of a lens. I guess every company makes a stinker and this was theirs. That said, when shooting 1080 it looks just fine, at least on a canon dslr. There in lies the rub - what is your purpose ? if its 1080 video that's incredibly more forgiving than 5K stills  are or video via something like a Scarlet or Epic. Another factor is the  handling of one lens may well be  better than the other for sure or just the client impression level when needed.  The Vivitar 400 certainly works well with a follow focus. Until you ride focus at 400mm wide open you haven't lived. I found the Tamron focus is a bit stiff in 10F temps and a follow focus probably wouldn't turn the lens very easily.


This quick test has even me thinking about what makes the best image for a given job... and that one should not get too hung up on what a lens looks like or seems to be rather than the images it actually makes ! TEST TEST TEST ! you don't know if you gear is hitting its marks or not utnil you do and this is a great example of being surprised by a lens I never expected would be that great. In fact I was expecting it would have a real funky look instead of being sharp and reasonably contrasty.