Anyone with even a modicum of knowledge about long telephoto prime lenses will know that they cost a king’s ransom and are large and heavy. At least the Vivitar 500mm f/8 checks the “large” box, but for a prime lens at this focal length which costs just shy of a hundred dollars, the price point is almost laughable. In comparison, you can’t even buy a lens hood for one of the expensive versions for the price of this lens.
The kit version comes with a 2x teleconverter, which bumps the focal length up to an incredible 1,000mm and also comes with a little monopod and cleaning kit. Purists wouldn’t even give this lens a second glance, especially if they shoot at this focal length all the time. However, for the beginner or for those who never shoot at the longer focal lengths, the Vivitar could be a fun super-telephoto prime to play around with.
Clearly, this is a long lens at 297.94mm, looking and feeling like the vintage variety and weighing in at only 638g. A tripod mount has been provided, which gives a firm attachment, although it is very basic. The lens is completely manual, but it does feature a distance scale and aperture readings on the lens barrel if you want to work out your own hyper-focal distance. The focusing ring is a nice, old-school knurled version, which definitely lets you know you have a grip on the thing.
The Vivitar 500mm f/8 doesn’t have the widest starting aperture in the world, from f/8-f/32 and your subject needs to be at least 10m away for the minimum focusing distance. Inside the lens there are a whopping four elements, which for convention’s sake are arranged in four groups and apparently have some form of multi-coating applied to each to improve overall image clarity and reduce flaring.
The Vivitar 500mm f/8 In Use
As previously mentioned, the Vivitar is manual focusing only. This means at this focal length, it’s a good idea to do all your shooting on a very sturdy tripod. The lens can be used handheld, especially as it is so lightweight, but unless you have built-in camera body stabilization, it’s going to be tricky juggling manual focus with hand steadiness. When it does come to the focusing aspect, it’s more trial and error than anything. But the lens can focus efficiently with patience and practice.
As expected, the Vivitar 500mm f/8 is not the sharpest lens in the world, but as the aperture starts at f/8, it’s reasonable enough for candid shots. Stopping down doesn’t really improve the sharpness levels, but at least it provides a wider depth of field. As for general lens anomalies, chromatic aberration can clearly be seen in the form of blue and purple fringing, especially on high-contrast backgrounds. This effect can be mostly cleared up in software, but with certain shots there’s more purple fringing than Prince in his heyday.
The final image rendition is good enough for occasional snaps, but it’s not exactly a lens that will be recommended for mission-critical work or high-quality prints. However, for someone like myself who never has the need to go beyond a 200mm focal length, having the chance to play around with a 500mm (or even a 1000mm with the converter) is a low-cost way to practice long-range photography.
How Does It Compare to the Opteka 500mm f/8?
It would obviously be unfair to try and compare the Vivitar to professional-level 500mm prime lenses, not just from an optics and features point of view, but also from a cost perspective. If you consider that something like the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM costs nearly $9000 and the Nikon version nearly $10k, it’s basically an apples and pears scenario.
A comparable lens would be the Opteka 500mm f/8, which has largely the same features and price. To be honest, there’s not much difference between the two lenses and you could pick or choose either one at this price point.
For just a few dollars more, Opteka produces a mirror version of the 500mm, which essentially uses internal mirrors to create the focal length in a very compact size. The benefits of this type of lens are its small dimensions, slightly overall better image quality, and the way it renders highlight balls as donut shapes, if you’re into that sort of thing.
|Vivitar 500mm f/8||Opteka 500mm f/8|
|Min. focusing distance||10.06m||10.06m|
The Vivitar 500mm f/8: Okay for What It Is
If you’re very serious about your long-range photography and want the best in image quality, you probably haven’t even read this far. For those in this category, you’ve probably already been down the path of owning budget-friendly optics and moved on to the more expensive variety. Even photographers who generally buy expensive optics at the shorter range wouldn’t look twice at the Vivitar. Mainly because they are used to the luxuries that higher-quality optics can afford.
But as previously mentioned, for the beginner who wants to experiment, the Vivitar is a low-cost way to practice at this focal length. The resultant images will be acceptable, but not outstanding. There is enough definition with the lens to get a handle on the characteristics of this focal length.
The other benefit from the price point of the Vivitar for the more experienced photographer is to take a punt, with not much to lose. If you’ve never previously taken an interest in long-range moon shots or want to experiment with being a wildlife photographer for the day, the lens is a fun, low-cost option. Due to the amount of chromatic aberration, it’s not the best solution for capturing stars or night-time images, but you can hardly complain about any of its optical qualities at this price point.
Which brings us to answer our original question: is this lens any good? If you own a DSLR and this is the first time you have experimented with a 500mm lens, the Vivitar is a low-cost entry point. Which means the lens’s primary asset is its price point. You will definitely have fun with this lens, but you will also quickly outgrow it with constant use.