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Vivitar 85-205mm f/3.8 Review RSS Feed

Vivitar 85-205mm f/3.8

Reviews Views Date of last review
5 40,614 Sat April 18, 2020
Recommended By Average Price Average User Rating
100% of reviewers $17.00 8.00
Vivitar 85-205mm f/3.8

Early vivitar 2 touch zoom, made in successive versions for more than 10 years. Early versions were swappable t-mount, later fixed mount versions are much more common, M42 is the most readily found mount. Later versions also had a macro mode ring.

Manufacturer: Kino Precision (= Kiron), later versions have 22xxxx serials.

Manufacture Date: ca 1967 to late 1970's
Focal Length: 85-205mm (1:2.4 zoom ratio)
Aperture Range: f/3.8 - f/22 w/half stops
Diaphragm Type: Automatic
Diaphragm Blades: unknown
Filter Diameter: 58mm
Minimum Focus: 1.9 m (6.3 feet) versions 1-6
Mounts: Canon FL, M42, Mamiya/Sekor, Olympus O/OM, Minolta, Nikon F, T mount (early versions only)
Elements: 13
Groups: 9
Weight: 794 g (28 oz) chrome nose versions, 907 g (32 oz) black hood versions

Accessories: A zoom lever was included to fit threaded hole in zoom ring

There were 6 different versions of the lens. The first 4 versions came in both auto and preset variations, making a total of 10 different variations of the lens that are known to be marketed by P&B. All versions of the lens are believed to have been manufactured by Kino Precision. The earliest models pre-date the standardized Vivitar serial numbers but all later models use the 22 prefix indicative of Kino Precision. Because the lens was included in several different Vivitar lens families, crossed the serial number transition, and was heavily advertised, the lens is something of a Rosetta Stone[1] for Vivitar researchers. Ads put definite dates on versions and mapping serial numbers to versions should help us pin down the exact date of Vivitar's serial number transition as well as date specific lens families more accurately. For these reasons, we maintain fairly extensive serial number data on this particular lens.

85-205mm lenses with eg Soligor, Travenar, Seimar nameplates are probably of the same family.
Mount Type: M42 Screwmount
Price History:

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Senior Member

Registered: February, 2013
Location: Spokane, WA
Posts: 118

2 users found this helpful
Lens Review Date: September 26, 2013 I can recommend this lens: Yes | Price: $38.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Sharp, CA, build, price
Cons: none so far
Sharpness: 9    Aberrations: 8    Bokeh: 8    Handling: 8    Value: 8   

I'm surprised this lens wasn't already in the database. It's one of my favorites now. Once you get use to the two rings that control focusing it will become easy to use. It also stays focused through out it's range in macro mode. I will update more as I use it more.
Inactive Account

Registered: October, 2011
Posts: 147

3 users found this helpful
Lens Review Date: December 7, 2013 I can recommend this lens: Yes | Price: $25.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Solidily Built, Smooth Operation, Seems Parfocal
Cons: Ask About Fungus befor buying..
Sharpness: 8    Aberrations: 8    Bokeh: 7    Handling: 8    Value: 10   

I only use M42 Primes with my K-01. Never liked Zooms ever since my first Spotmatic. No video either. However, I'm putting together for Christmas Gifts for my (now adult) twins, 2 K-01 camera/lens packages. Thought this lens might be useful for them possibly when shooting video.

Bought three of them - all around $25 each. The first one was mechanically and cosmetically perfect, but it had terrible contrast and softness. Then I saw why - heavy, really heavy, fungus on one small interior element.

The next two were clear. And obviously had much better sharpness and contrast, though of course nowhere near something like my 50mm F4 MACRO SMC Tak.

These are so cheap that I don't think many dealers bother with them. They seem to be often offered by thrift shops, garage sale pickers, etc. The Seller may not know about fungus, and thinks the lens is great based on its looks. I strongly suggest you ask about fungus - and when you ask, include instructions on how to check for it and what to look for. I did more research after experiencing the bad lens, and fungus seems a very common problem with this lens.

My ratings reflect my intended use - my kids and video. So don't think its going to replace any of your Prime Taks. But for $25 - not bad..
New Member

Registered: November, 2013
Posts: 8
Lens Review Date: February 8, 2014 I can recommend this lens: Yes | Price: $10.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: a real macro lens / very sharp / to use with converter
Cons: nothing
Sharpness: 10    Aberrations: 9    Bokeh: 8    Handling: 6    Value: 10    Camera Used: K-5 K-x K-S1 K 200D - Fuji x-T100 X-e1   


I've undoubtably got one of the best versions

This is a very sharp lens similar to the famous and very expensive Zeiss 4/80-200.

The old 3-ring-construction has one achromatic element more than many other comparable tele zooms.

+++ excellent sharpness (landscapes, portraits, street photography etc.)

++/+ very good to good sharpness - close ups (from 1:3 up to 1:2)

+/++ high contrast

++ neutral color rendition

+++ no CAs at aperture 5.6-11 (landscapes, portraits, street photography etc.)

+ CA control good enough for close ups with a.m. long macro ring/ very small CAs visible

+ agreable bokeh

O three ring operation

I use it for macro shootings as bees, flowers and butterflies with an additional macro ring of 36 mm

Butterflies on a flower are often fleeing very quickly, so that a longer distance to these objects is affordable. With 205 mm tele + 36mm macro ring the distance to the small objects (approx. 3x4 inches = 7.5x10cm) is more than 50 inches or 1,35 meter from the rear side of the camera - a huge advantage ! TRY IT.

The CA-correction is similar and sharpness is still better than of the 3.5-4.5/70-210 APO MACRO of SIGMA at a much more higher price.

My lens has no dust no fungus no scratches.

Many thanks to Vivitar - VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED BY ME !

PS. the distance is approx. half at 1:2 (2x3 inches = 5x7.7 cm) with approx 70 cm
New Member

Registered: February, 2015
Posts: 2
Lens Review Date: February 13, 2015 I can recommend this lens: Yes | Price: $7.00 | Rating: 7 

Pros: Construction, all metal and glass!
Cons: Pretty useless at f3.8, too long, poor ergonomics.
Sharpness: 7    Aberrations: 8    Bokeh: 6    Handling: 2    Value: 8    Camera Used: Sony a6000   

When I first read the reviews here, it reassured me to purchase and try one, as they can be cheap as dirt online. There were so many of them made since 1967. As the description states, there were many versions. I picked up one identical to the one pictured above, a later release, with the matching rubber grips, instead of the earlier aluminum knurl focus barrel and textured rubber rear 'palm' rest. There was another mid version with front rubber focus grip matching the zoom ring.
Mine came with a Minolta SR fixed mount. Cosmetically excellent, smooth operating. But elements were covered in fungus.
The lens construction is simple. External focus and zoom at the front half, iris and mid and rear groups are fixed. Based on my level of knowledge, this design resembles a front lens mated to a teleconverter rear to get 85-205mm.

EDIT: The front half of the lens is sold as another zoom lens model.

The lens disassembles easily, and access to the elements made cleaning them simple. There are no realignment issues.
Discovered the rear element has lens bubble defects! But they didn't affect the images.

When I took shots after restoring, the results were pretty poor. Seems the opposite of the other reviews. Not focused, not sharp, soft and cloudy details, not contrasty at all. Wide open is useless from 85-205. It produces a strange tunneling effect for DOF and out of focus areas. The reassembly was correct, compared the before/after photos to see this existed before I took it apart. A search online showed sample photos from another owner of a similar Panagor producing the same odd off center focus.

I'm surprised a company could even dare to sell such a product! It will yield a useable image by stopping down to f11.
This externally focused design is also clumsy to use. The focusing barrel extends over an inch of travel, and the image seem to change more than 5mm of zoom. The two-touch zoom is nice, but this lens is so flawed to shoot with. Perhaps it's handling is a problem only for small hands.

I noted that my version has fewer elements/groups than what was stated in the original literature advertised in the late 60s/early 70s. Mine is a 76-77 production.
Earlier models could be the good versions. I felt compelled to make this entry to warn others considering this lens. The later version I have is a dog!

After posting my review, it compelled me to take another look at this lens. How can it be as sharp as a f/4 Zeiss? :-o
I decided to disassemble it again and inspect my work. I used what diagrams I could find to perform my cleaning. Perhaps I messed up the configuration. Ah-ha! Found a glued together pair of elements that may have been reversed. Flipping it made the results dramatically better. It more matches the results before it was disassembled.

But it's still not tack sharp and 3.8 is still soft and quite unacceptable. Perhaps other elements need to be scrutinized.
I was a bit harsh on this lens in my review.
It still doesn't explain the results of the Panagor version found online with similar f3.8 performance.
Could there have been assembly errors with these at the factory? Perhaps my opinion that the later offering are worst still holds.

Even if the performance improves with tinkering, I still think it's a below average lens. But given one can buy an used one for under $'s not bad if you get a good one. It can stand in for substitute lens when shooting in adverse conditions where risking a $$$$ lens isn't prudent.


I was solicited to change my mind regarding my review, which brings down the rating of this model, due to the experience I had with my copy. Due to the fact I could have a bad copy. Well, bad copies can result straight from the manufacturer, which should factor into what the end user may confront. This hinders quality.
But I was compelled to give this model another try due to the circulating sample photos out there which shows nice performance.
That change came with the find of an early model from 1970 for $1.00 USD.
It is in pristine condition. No fungus, original carrying case, and caps. It was M42, and this early version does not have the Close-Focus macro feature. Other noted difference was the single-coated optics as compared to the 1977 version with an amber/rainbow colored appearance. Also the focus ring is machined aluminum. And the finish is flat black, opposed to semi-satin black.

First thing I noticed is performance at f3.8. Less CA, sharper, and the bokeh is less frenzied. Color rendition is typical of the purple single-coating of lenses from this period. A little flatter and neutral. The previous lens was warmer.
Stopped down and the sharpness improves to the edge. This one is sharper than the first sample.

A noticeable improvement over the first sample. But even though it's better wide open, f3.8 is still not acceptable and is too soft for real usage. By 1960-70 standards, it's OK. One thing of note, CA is barely detectable. Very much under control.
Thanks to this version, I've averaged out my rating. The ergos of handling the lens hasn't changed (for me). Still sucks for a zoom.
But given it's construction (first rate), optical performance, and value (if you find one under $10), it's a worthy buy.
Do note though, there are newer and optically better zooms also in this price range if you're fortunate to find them. ie. Tamron 103A.
New Member

Registered: November, 2016
Posts: 1
Lens Review Date: April 18, 2020 I can recommend this lens: Yes | Price: $5.00 | Rating: 7 

Pros: Solid Construction
Cons: Size, Sharpness Wide Open
Sharpness: 5    Aberrations: 6    Bokeh: 6    Handling: 5    Value: 8   

A fun lens to mess around with. Relatively useless wide open, but when stopped down it will produce sharp enough results. This is the second copy that I have come across as the 1st one I purchased had a noticeable haze issue that affected image quality. Not a lens I would include in my regular lineup, but still a solid oldschool zoom.
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