The Mad Hatta's reviews

  • Vivitar 100mm f/3.5 AF Macro

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Very sharp images, great IQ, pleasing color and contrast
    Cheapest body I've ever seen, AF sounds like a coffee grinder and can hunt a lot

    First, this lens is manufactured (in Japan.. good news there) by Cosina, and is also sold under the brands promaster, phoenix, pentax, soligor and voightlander.

    I've been an amateur photographer for 21 years, and over the past 5 years, have begun selling my photographic art as a side interest in local (and one not so local) galleries as well as to magazines and catalogs.

    I've had this lens (under the name promaster) for years. I don't even remember how many years, but I've used it a LOT over those [indiscriminate number] years and I love the images this lens is capable of. I received this lens as a gift many years ago from my father, who didn't make much money, but did what he could to support my affinity for photography (which is why I have this super-cheap lens in the first place). In fact, my parents bought my first camera (a $20 kodak 110) for my 9th birthday, 21 years ago, and I haven't stopped viewing the minute details of the world through a viewfinder since then.

    The first thing I noticed about this lens was how terribly tacky and cheap the exterior was. I mean.. wow, this thing looks and feels like a child's toy. I suppose I can interject here to say, equipment snobs might as well stop reading. Then again, if you were an equipment snob, you probably wouldn't be reading reviews of vivitar lenses in the first place. That brings me to another point.. I'm afraid that this lens will be completely missed by many, just because they won't bother to read about lenses under these cheap brand names.
    Anyway, back on track. The case is very light-weight plastic with cheap-looking markings around the barrel. The cheap feeling continues when you turn the focus ring. It's stiff and jerky with not a hint of smoothness or refinement. Turn on the auto-focus, and you'll find that it focuses fine with good light, not so well with low light. The manufacturer's muse must have been a coffee grinder, because that's what it sounds like when the auto-focus operates. The auto-focus is also very slow. I just use mine manually.

    The quality of the exterior materials and appearance could mislead some to conclude that it has low quality construction. This is not so. Over the years, this lens has seen a lot of use, and I've never experienced any inconsistencies in it's image production. I'm sure it cannot take a serious drop as well as a metal-bodied lens, with the plastic case being more susceptible to cracking (though no one has reported any problems in any of the reviews I've read), then again, metal transfers kinetic energy very well rather than flexing upon impact and dispersing energy away from the glass. So, the plastic shell could potentially protect the glass better under certain impacts. Also, one of the other reviewers mentioned that his superb example of this lens may be a fluke, and results from other examples could be inconsistent with his great results due to it's 'poor' construction. This is not the case. A quick search on the internet proves that people are consistently getting wonderfully pleasing (much to their surprise) images with this lens. dyxum[dot]com has a looong list of reviews of this lense.

    The second thing I noticed.. MAN this thing takes beautiful pictures! Not just extremely sharp, but with good contrast and beautiful color. Bokeh is very pleasant. With or without the 1:1 adapter, images are beautiful and sharp. Only a hair softer with the adapter fitted, but step it down a notch and it's just as sharp again. To be honest, when I first used this lens, I didn't realize there was such a disparity between quality and cheap optics. To me, it just took great pictures.. which is what I expected from a lens. I didn't realize until recently, when comparing it to other 100mm macros in the $500 range, that it took pictures as well or better than all that I compared it to. One of them would be better at resisting CA under certain conditions, while another would have slightly more vibrant contrast, and another would be slightly sharper with both of them at their fastest settings only. None of them would take pictures (considering overall quality) which I would consider definitively superior.

    I can imagine that the terrible feel of the focus ring would continually bother some people, and that some just can't get past the cheap feel of the lens. All the faults of this lens have long since fallen by the wayside in my mind, and I'm completely over them. The pictures are astounding, and that's what it's made for.

    The manufacturer put all it's investment in this lens into the optics and associated construction, while using cheap materials for shell construction and focus operation. I recommend this lens to anyone wanting a prime macro. Just be ready to deal with a focus ring that is NOT smooth and cheap looks. Anyone who dismisses this lens strictly on looks or brand will be missing out on an amazing find. This is by far my cheapest lens, and it's the one that has produced my most profitable images.

    I've also noticed there is a different version of this lens, which is manual focus only. Reviews of that lens are similarly stellar, and people don't seem to complain about the focus ring. Maybe the manufacturer decided to just drop the AF mechanism, rather than put money into it to make it work. I don't know if either of them are still in production, but they can be found for sale easily online from $100 to $200.

    I have read other's reviews (on other sites) knocking this as a portrait lens, saying that it doesn't serve the purpose very well. It's a macro lens! Use it for its intended purpose and you should get the intended results!

    reviewed January 10th, 2012