Review: Vivitar (Tokina) Series 1 90 mm f/2.5 VMC Macro


The Vivitar Series 1 90 mm f/2.5 VMC Macro is a well known macro lens produced by Tokina (Serial 37xxxxxx) under the Vivitar brand. The lens allows for a magnification of 1:2 by itself and reaches 1:1 when combined with the dedicated macro converter. It was manufactured by Tokina, who, after production of the Vivitar lens ended, re-released the lens design with identical optical scheme, updated coatings and much lighter mechanics as Tokina AT-X 90 mm f/2.5 Macro. Due to it’s unusual, smooth and distraction-free bokeh, the Tokina is often called “Bokina” – and its older Vivitar brother shows the same bokeh characteristics.

Featuring a 58 mm filter thread, an all metal housing and weighing in at 660 g, this is one tank of a lens. The dedicated macro converter adds another 305 g if attached. Focus is smooth and well dampened, with an extra long throw of about 340°. The aperture ring clicks precisely and is equally well dampened. Overall, the mechanics of this lens are excellent. Not surprisingly, handling on a NEX-5T is very much top-heavy: You don’t hold the camera, you hold the lens. Focus peaking lights up like a Christmas tree starting wide open, which is quite rare. With an effective focal length of 137 mm on APS-C cameras, the Vivitar would be a perfect short tele for everyday use – if it weren’t for the weight.

 

Condition of my copy

Optics: Good. A slight haze on some elements and a small amount of fine dust inside. No scratches or fungus.

Mechanics: Very good. Uniform and smooth focus with medium resistance. Aperture clean and fast.

Exterior: Excellent. Some marks on the mount, otherwise like new.

 

Optical performance on NEX-5N / 5T

The lens shows good to very good sharpness starting wide open (f/2.5), with some haze and minor purple fringing in the corners. At f/4 the light haze and fringing are gone from the corners and the image is just perfect, showing excellent and consistent sharpness across the frame. Results at f/5.6 are indistinguishable from f/4. At f/8, there is a tiny loss in sharpness, which is likely caused by the onset of diffraction. The latter becomes more prominent by f/11 and – as always – causes pronounced softness at f/16 and f/22.

At 100% magnification, there is absolutely no lateral CA visible in any of the test images. I tried searching for it at 400% and I guess there might be a pale yellow/purple-blue tint of about one pixel width at contrasty edges. This is hands down the best performance I have ever seen from a vintage lens.

Vignetting is about a third of a stop at f/2.5 and gone if stopped down a click. The lens exhibits no measurable distortion whatsoever. The effective T-stop at f/2.5 is approximately T3 (-0.5 EV), which is not impressive. There is little to no field curvature at f/2.5, but fringing and haze outside the central image region are greatly reduced in corner-focused shots. Nothing to worry about in real life, though.

In conclusion, the Vivitar Series 1 90 mm f/2.5 VMC Macro is a high-resolution, well corrected and supremely crafted vintage macro. Apart from minimal fringing wide open, it performs spotless on the test chart. Sharpness is never a problem with this lens. The correction of lateral chromatic aberration is as good as it gets for achromatic lenses. Some people go as far as calling the lens apochromatic, but I can assure you: It is not. There’s a slight amount of pale yellow and purple/blue-ish aberrations visible in out of focus areas which doesn’t distract much, though. The Vivitar’s only two downsides don’t show on the charts: It really is quite heavy and also highly susceptible to flare and loss of contrast in backlit situations. Usage of a lens shade is absolutely mandatory with this gem. Ironically, Vivitar itself never offered a dedicated one. Coming back to the lenses’ strengths: Bokeh. I have never seen such smooth bokeh with very uniform circles of confusion, without bright outlines and with only very little mechanical vignetting (cat’s eye) at the image borders.

Overall, I can strongly recommend this lens. Due to the weight, it’s not always in my bag. But if used, it never fails to produce distinct and beautiful images.

 

Test charts

The following images are pixel-level crops from the test chart. They may appear scaled in your browser window. Click on them to view the crops in full size and cycle through them easily. For more info on the test setup, visit the details page.

 

Overview

Test chart overview

(Cropped areas marked in orange)

 

f/2.5

Vivitar Series 1 90 mm f2.5 @ f/2.5

 

f/4.0

Vivitar Series 1 90 mm f2.5 @ f/4.0

 

f/5.6

Vivitar Series 1 90 mm f2.5 @ f/5.6

 

f/8.0

Vivitar Series 1 90 mm f2.5 @ f/8.0

 

f/11

Vivitar Series 1 90 mm f2.5 @ f/11

 

f/16

Vivitar Series 1 90 mm f2.5 @ f/16

 

f/22

Vivitar Series 1 90 mm f2.5 @ f/22

 

Field curvature at f/2.5

Field curvature: Vivitar Series 1 90 mm f2.5 @ f/2.5

 

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