If anyone ever listened to my advice I’d probably tell them something like “don’t spend a lot of money on old telephoto and zoom lenses”. The reason for this is that lens design has improved greatly over the years, and the longer focal lengths have benefited the most. For example this entry’s test subject is an old Vivitar 300mm f5.6.
This is a large lens. It weighs in just under two pounds and does quite a job on the tripod trying to hold it steady. If this were mounted on the Canon 1Ds it would be an unmanageable 5+ lbs. of equipment. It is also a ‘slow’ lens at only f5.6, but at 300mm it’s the kind of focal length that is suited to much of my photography. By the way the “P&B” on the front of the lens is for Ponder & Best, the ‘maker’, who started using the Vivitar name in the 1960s – when this lens probably dates from given its design. In fact their equipment was made by other companies under license. I have a Vivitar 135mm f2.8 lens that is excellent, and also a 24mm f2.8 (acquired in the same deal as this long lens) which also performs very well. This 300mm, however, is not as good.
Sharpness is lacking, contrast is low, colours are dull, and chromatic aberration shows up too often. Despite this it is possible to get decent pictures with it, but you need just the right conditions – such as bright light so you can use f8 and a tripod because hand-holding this beast is a challenge.
Although it is possible to get a good picture from it, most of the time it fails. It’s hard to use too, due not only to its large size and great weight but also looking through a maximum aperture of only f5.6 is difficult for my fading eyesight. I have a Canon 75-300mm f4-5.6 that is smaller, lighter, sharper, and has better colour & contrast. Over-all I can only rate this lens as “fair”. It doesn’t even have any particular characteristics that make it interesting, unless you like schlepping around a lens that can double as a piece of weight-lifting equipment.
2 thoughts on “Low-cost lens cavalcade #8”
Hi Marc…. Bit of a disappointment then with the vivvy 300mm… shame as they did do some decent gear back in the day… but as you say things move on… there are plenty of decent 300mm on the market… but for fast work especially birds etc… the Canon 300 F2.8 is the king of the crop but be prepared to dig deep into the wallet for one… I was fortunate to use one that a friend asked me to try out… this fast lens really did shine … and I was hooked for getting one.. but finished up reigning the leash in after coming to my senses, as 2k UK£ for a 2nd hand lens took some swollowing.. but it was nice using it at the time I have to say… argh well we can all dream of owning one nice fast telephoto I suppose… Kind regards.. Lynd
Hi Lynd, yes indeed a good lens requires a good amount of money it seems. Oh well, I shall continue to work with what I’ve got – until it doesn’t work. Two of my three Vivitar lenses are just fine, even if they aren’t the focal lengths I typically use.