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Thrifted Lens Review - Vivitar Series 1 70-210 f3.5

This behemoth has been my favorite thrifted lens I've pulled yet. Super heavy, super sharp, and relatively fast for a constant aperture zoom.

On my GH5 without a speedbooster it's a borderline telescope, but with the speedbooster it is a shockingly great lens. I've been walking out of the house more and more with this monster, it's a blast to shoot with!

It is a challenge to use and I'm still getting the hang of it. For $25 this lens is a gem!

So the first quirk of this monster is that you pull back to zoom. This is actually very handy as you can pull back on the lens to keep it stable while adjusting your focus - same for fully extended. Due to it weighing more than the camera itself this is a huge help. The intermediate spots are tough to hit, and can be easy to lose while focusing. It's easier to nail your focus first and then slide to the focal length that will frame your shot and make micro adjustments from there.

Once you get used to it, it's actually faster to frame the shot and focus than my Panasonic 40-150mm.

I love how quickly I can capture shots with lots of movement like this murder duck on the attack:

My other favorite thing about this lens is the constant aperture!

For video this is amazing as shutter speed is tied to frame rate. I can really only adjust aperture and use an ND filter to adjust exposure when filming subjects. f3.5 isn't blazing fast, but it's definitely serviceable for outdoor and standard indoor lighting. It's sharp throughout the zoom range and the macro feature is amazing.

Hold down the macro button and slide the ring to the left and now you have a compact macro lens without having to deal with a bellows system.

Color reproduction is nice, some very light chromatic aberration wide open, but not terrible. I would say the sweet spot on this lens is around f5.6, which is very serviceable in most instances. Photos below were taken at 210mm at f5.6.

In terms of sharpness, the lens is excellent and I have no complaints. Excellent subject separation, but once again, really tough to make those micro adjustments when zoomed all the way in. As you can tell from my second picture of the murder duck, I focused just a tad bit too close so the waves are suspended perfectly, but the duck is slightly out of focus. It's easily fixable in post, but I left it for illustrative purposes.

Dramatic framing is so easy with this lens. Deep in the forest wide open, I could take pictures here for days.

For portrait work I am very pleased with this lens. It also makes you look like you know what you're doing to be shooting with such a giant lens. Here my little studio assistant stood in front of a softbox and managed to stay still for long enough to snap this shot.

It also works for regular business portraits and headshots - where you want a clear and sharp photo that will look nice on a company website or a LinkedIn profile picture.

For this shoot my normal studio space was unavailable and we had to relocate to my home studio. In a tighter space being able to easily move between close headshots and full body portraits with the benefit of a constant aperture was very nice.

My client said something like "wow we're using the good lens now aren't we?" The psychology of shooting with a massive lens can show clients you know what you're doing and help them to relax. Even if you have a Leica Summilux in your camera bag!

In conclusion

It is not a fast lens, and needs ample lighting for it. to shine. It also has a steep learning curve if you are not used to shooting with a push-pull lens. However, if you can get used to it, I find it to be faster than shooting manual with a standard telephoto. Without a speedbooster, it's very difficult to use without a tripod however I do want to give it a go with some long exposure astrophotography at some point.

This is not an everyday walk around lens and it's size means that you're not going to be doing any street photography without being noticed.

With that being said, this monster has earned its spot in my camera bag. It's a blast to shoot with and fits most use cases that I need in a zoom lens.

Paired with a 24-70mm, you can cover all your bases focally, if you're just starting out this is a great lens to add to your kit if you can find one.


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I help people to tell their stories through engaging content such as presentation decks, photos, videos, and music.  Give me a shout if I can help you tell your story.  


Hi, I'm Brent.  I'm a musician, photographer, video maker, and designer in Edmond, OK.

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