The Ultimate Vivitar 200mm F3.5 Review!

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Regardless of whether or not you are shooting a brand-new DSLR or running vintage camera equipment that still has film stuffed inside of it, there’s a lot of interest right now in the photography world to get your hands on vintage lenses and play with vintage glass.

The Vivitar 200mm F3.5 is a prime example of a high-quality (but relatively affordable) vintage lens that you don’t want to sleep on, especially if you are looking to get your hands on a quality telephoto lens option that isn’t going to cost a mountain of money.

Originally manufactured somewhere between 1976 and 1980 (the first few Vivitar 200mm F3.5 models rolled off of the assembly line in April 1976, in fact), you’ll be amazed at just how many of these lenses are still available for sale today – and how well they work when paired with today’s top-tier DSLR cameras (with the help of handy adapter rings, of course).

Straight out of the box this lens can accommodate Canon FD, Konica, Minolta SR as well as Minolta XK, Nikon F, and Olympus OM mounts without any adapter necessary. The only trouble is, there aren’t a lot of modern DSLR cameras running those same vintage mounting systems any longer – but that’s where those adapter rings we just mentioned, into play.

If you are balking a little bit at the idea of spending any money on a lens that might be almost 45 years old (even if it is going to be super affordable) we get that. A lot of people aren’t sure if this telephoto lens is worth adding to their collection because of its age.

Hopefully by the time you’re done with this quick guide, though, you’ll understand exactly why it’s important to snap the Vivitar 200mm F3.5 up anytime you have an opportunity to do so – and why you’ll want to play with this glass as often as you can once you have attested to your camera.

There’s a reason why the reputation for the Vivitar 200mm F3.5 is off the charts almost 50 years after it was first made, after all.

Performance And Functionality

As far as performance and functionality is concerned there really isn’t all that much different when it comes to the Vivitar 200mm F3.5 compared to modern lenses that roll off of assembly lines today.

Sure, camera technology has grown by leaps and bounds since the late 70s and early 80s.

There weren’t too terribly many digital cameras kicking around back then after all, with most people shooting on film – and almost all of them spending a mountain of money on film and development, too.

But lens technology isn’t all that much different from back then, and there are even some photographers (including professional photographers) that believe lens technology has actually regressed from the “Golden Age” of manual only lenses like the Vivitar 200mm F3.5, for example.

I don’t know where you’ll fall in that debate – and I don’t know if I prefer vintage lenses over modern lenses when it comes right down to it – but I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt is that there’s a lot to like but it comes to the Vivitar 200mm F3.5 telephoto setup and it really is a dream to use when paired with vintage or modern camera technology.

Of course, a lot of the performance and functionality components of this lens are going to be dictated by the quality of the lens itself and how well it has survived the nearly 5 decades from when it first rolled off of the assembly line.

Vivitar 200mm F3.5 lenses that have been well taken care of are going to shoot just as good as brand-new (if not even better things to new camera technology) whereas Vivitar 200mm F3.5 lenses that are beat up, worn out, and have been mistreated are going to be a little bit lackluster in the results department.

Thankfully though, it’s really not that hard (or that expensive) to have vintage glass refurbished and to have your Vivitar 200mm F3.5 lens brought back to better than brand-new condition.

This might be a road you want to go on if you’re able to come across one of these lenses at a yard sale for five dollars (or pick one up on an online auction for a song), but there are a lot of places online to grab one of these lenses that have already been refurbished – lenses that are good to go straight out of the box after you have attached them to your camera.

The photo quality of this telephoto lens is pretty fantastic, though you’ll get better results when you keep the lens a little bit closed rather than running it wide open. Some people have reported fringing issues with blue and purple specifically when they run this lens wide open, but others report nothing of the sort (so it seems a little bit hit or miss with this vintage glass).

Taking advantage of the lens in 5.6 configuration guarantees that you eliminate a lot of the contrast and hazing issues you might have otherwise had to deal with. Lowlight situations are no trouble at all thanks to the aperture and 200m focal length you get straight out of the gate with the Vivitar 200mm F3.5, helping you to capture razor-sharp images of your subject matter even when the lighting is less than ideal.

One of the coolest things about this telephoto lens is how well it works in a sort of macro configuration after you parrot with modern camera technology. There are a lot of people that use this lens for close-up shots, and while your images are going to be a little bit more restricted since you aren’t running a wide-angle here the end results are still pretty spectacular – especially for an almost 50-year-old lens.

User Interface And Control System

It’s going to come as no surprise to experienced photographers that the Vivitar 200mm F3.5 is 100% manually focus with absolutely zero autofocus (AF) capabilities.

Believe it or not, autofocus technology is still a relatively new phenomenon in the world of technology and photographers used to have to handle all of the heavy lifting of focusing their images with manual rings like the one on the Vivitar 200mm F3.5.

As far as manual focusing rings are concerned, though, this one is a treat to use.

Manipulating the ring on a well refurbished lens is pretty smooth, with no real friction whatsoever though there is a little bit of built-in resistance to help you avoid over adjusting and over focusing on your photography subjects.

A little bit of practice is necessary to get the feeling of adjusting this lens down. But once you get into the habit of quickly spinning that ring to get it into focus you’ll be amazed at how fast you’re able to get the results you are looking for – sometimes manually focusing your camera faster than you would have been able to with AF, and getting better results at the same time.

Build Quality And Design

The overall build quality and design of this lens is solid, stable, and durable though it may not be described by too terribly many people as “spectacular” or “timeless”.

Of course, anytime you are talking about a piece of photography equipment that is still relevant almost 50 years after it was first available for sale you’re talking about a design that can stand the test of time, that’s for sure.

No, this isn’t an iconic piece of photography equipment like a Leica might be.

In fact, there are probably plenty of modern photographers that haven’t ever even heard of a Vivitar 200mm F3.5 lens before – and may never have heard of this lens until they stumbled across this breakdown.

But the glass is high-quality and super clear, the body is strong, stable, and durable without adding a lot of weight to the mix, and after it has been professionally refurbished this lens is going to work just as good as brand-new (if not even better).

Final Verdict

When you get right down to it there are more lens options available for sale today than ever before – and more on the way, too.

You definitely aren’t going to have a shortage of options to sift through. Plenty of telephoto and macro options are being made right now that are pretty slick, but there’s just something about attaching a piece of vintage glass like the Vivitar 200mm F3.5 to your favorite camera and taking snapshots that are crystal-clear and drop dead gorgeous makes it all worthwhile.

If you are a photographer on the market for a rock solid, dependable, and well-made telephoto lens that isn’t going to blowholes in your bank account or melt down your camera equipment budget the Vivitar 200mm F3.5 is definitely something you’ll want to consider.

This lens has an amazing reputation, a lot of fans worldwide, and even a bit of a cult following that continues to give the Vivitar 200mm F3.5 lens a lot of relevancy even though the last few original lenses popped off of the assembly line in 1980.