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Vivitar 85mm f/1.4
Series 1, Manual Focus (2009 - )
© 2009 KenRockwell.com

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

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Vivitar 85mm f/1.4

Vivitar 85mm f/1.4, Nikon AI-s version (72mm filter, 17.5 oz/497g.) enlarge. I'd get it at Adorama or Amazon in Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Sony/Minolta mounts. Using these links when you get yours is what helps me keep adding more reviews. Thanks! Ken.


June 2009         More Nikon Reviews


Optics:   Same as Nikon.
Ergonomics:   Weird half- and full-stop aperture clicks.
Mechanics:   Better than expected.
Usefulness:   Everyone needs an 85mm lens.


Ideal Uses: Perfect for use on manual-focus FX digital and film cameras. Pop one on a D700, and if you don't mind manual focus, you'll get fantastic results.

Not for: Fast action: focus is manual. Not for cheaper cameras that can't meter with manual lenses; use the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 AF-D instead.


NEW: 85mm Lens Specifications Compared 23 June 2009

NEW: 85mm Lens Central Sharpness Comparison 23 June 2009

NEW: 85mm Lens Corner Sharpness Comparison 23 June 2009


Introduction        top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

Compatibility    History    Production    Pricing

The Vivitar 85mmm f/1.4 is a made-in-Korea manual-focus lens that was announced in January, 2009. It comes in versions to fit Nikon, Canon, Sony/Minolta and Pentax cameras.

This Vivitar's optics are as good as Nikon's, which is quite a surprise, but then again, Nikon's newest 85mm f/1.4 AF lens came out back in 1995.

This Vivitar 85mm f/1.4's mechanics are nicer than expected, but still not as nice as Nikon's. For less than one-third the price of Nikon's 85mm f/1.4 AF-D, or half the price of a used Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AI-s, this Vivitar lens is a steal if you're on a budget and really need f/1.4.

If you can make do with f/1.8 or f/2, I prefer the current Nikon 85mm f/1.8 AF-D which doesn't sell for much more money than this Vivitar 85mm, and offers autofocus as well as higher mechanical quality. For manual focus, I prefer Nikon's classic manual focus 85mm f/2 AI-s, which is Nikon's smallest 85mm lens ever and sells for less used than this Vivitar new.

Vivitar 85mm f/1.4

Vivitar 85/1.4. enlarge.


Compatibility       back to intro     back to top

The Vivitar 85mm f/1.4 is compatible with every decent Nikon SLR ever made, from the original Nikon F of 1959 through today's D3X, D3 , D700 and F6.

The newest upper-end digital Nikons are fully compatible, and even have this lens programmed into their firmware!

On the D3X, D3, D700, D300, F6, D2 and D200, use the "Non-CPU Lens Data" menu option to input 85mm and f/1.4. This gives full color matrix metering and EXIF data, and finder read-out of set aperture. It works great in aperture-preferred as well as manual modes on these cameras.

It works perfectly every professional film camera (F, F2, F3, F4, F5, F6), and adds Matrix metering on the FA, F4 and F6, although it won't couple well to the cheaper digital (D80 and below) and cheaper film cameras (N80 and below).

See Nikon Lens Compatibility for details with your camera. Read down the "AI, AI-s" column.

Vivitar 85mm f/1.4

Rear, Vivitar 85 1.4. enlarge.


History      back to intro     back to top

2009: Announced at the same time Sakar bought rights to the Vivitar name. For all I know, this same Korean lens that's also sold under the cheesy Bower and Rokinon names.


Pricing      back to intro     back to top

MSRP: $400, USA, 6/09, Nikon version.

Actual Price: $350 for Nikon, Canon and Pentax versions; $375 for Sony/Minolta Maxxum version, USA, 6/09.


Specifications        top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

Vivitar 85mm f/1.4

Vivitar 85mm f/1.4. enlarge.

Name     back to Specs        top

Sakar calls this the Vivitar Series 1 85mm f/1.4 Aspherical Lens.


Angles of View     back to Specs        top

Reverse-calculating Sakar's numbers, I calculate that they figure actual focal length as 85.8mm.

FX and Film


Optics     back to Specs        top

7 elements in 9 groups.


Mostly single-coated in amber and purple.


Diaphragm     back to Specs        top

Vivitar 85mm f/1.4

Vivitar 85mm f/1.4 at f/5.6. enlarge.

8 traditional blades.

Stops down to f/22.


Close Focus     back to Specs        top

3.3 feet (1.0m), marked.


Depth-of Field Scale     back to Specs        top



Infra-Red Focus Index     back to Specs        top



Infinity Focus Stop     back to Specs        top

Yes, but I'm unsure how accurate it is.


Filters     back to Specs        top

72mm, plastic threads.

The filter threads don't move, ever.


Size     back to Specs        top

Nikon version, as measured: 2.844" extension from flange x 3.060" diameter, 3.163" overall (72.24 x 77.74mm, 80.35mm overall).

Sakar specifies 2.8" long by 3.0" diameter (71.2 x 76mm).

The widest thing is the bayonet for the front hood.


Weight     back to Specs        top

Nikon AI-s version lens, naked: I measure 17.540 oz. (497.2g).

Sakar specifies 17.6 oz (510g).


Cases     back to Specs        top

The Vivitar 85mm f/1.4 comes with a foam padded pouch.


Hood     back to Specs        top

PH-072B plastic bayonet hood included.


Product Numbers     back to Specs        top

Nikon Version: VIV-85MM-N; UPC: 6 81066 30282 8.


Included      back to Specs        top

Lens, padded pouch, plastic hood, caps, glossy black 2-sheet manual.

Vivitar 85mm f/1.4

Bottom, Vivitar 85mm f/1.4. enlarge.


Performance        top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

Overall   Bokeh   Color   Distortion   Ergonomics   Falloff   

Focus   Mechanics   Sharpness & Lateral Color   Sunstars


Overall    back to Performance        top

It works great.

It's not quite as sharp wide-open in the center as the Nikon lenses if you're looking too close, but at the same f/1.4, it's sharper than the Nikons in the corners, so it's a toss up.


Bokeh       back to Performance        top

Bokeh is wonderful.

Backgrounds melt away into walls of soft colors.


Color Balance      back to Performance        top

It might be a tad cooler than my Nikkors. If it is, it's about half an 81A filter or about an extra B1 in white balance.


Distortion    back to Performance        top

There is no visible distortion.

For critical use, dial-in +0.3 in Photoshop's Lens Distortion Correction tool.


Ergonomics    back to Performance        top

This is a swell lens. It's a little bigger than Nikon's 85mm f/2 and smaller than either Nikon 85mm f/1.4.

Nothing moves when focused except the focus ring.

The aperture ring is mostly in red, which is difficult to read compared to other lenses.

Focus turns in the same direction as Nikon's own lenses.

One finger is all it takes to focus.

The aperture ring is annoying! Vivitar added half-stop clicks between f/2 through f/16, but traditional full stops between f/1.4-f/2 and f/16-f/22. This means that you'll go crazy trying to set apertures by feel as pros do.


Falloff (dark corners)    back to Performance        top

Falloff is the same as Nikon's 85mm lenses.

It may be visible on full-frame at f/1.4, and goes away quickly as stopped down.


Focus    back to Performance        top

The only thing that moves is the focus ring, and the rear elements. Nothing else moves externally. Focus turns in the same direction as Nikon's own lenses.

Focus has no play and is smooth, although there is a little grinding to be heard, presumably from the cutting of the internal cams.

It takes only one finger, with moderate pressure, to focus. It's a little stiffer than Nikon, but unlike Nikon, you can press down hard with one finger and it still focuses smoothly.


Mechanics and Construction    back to Performance        top

The Vivitar 85mm f/1.4 is made better than I expected. It's nowhere near as nice as Nikon's manual focus lenses or Nikon's 85mm f/1.4, but the Vivitar does feel almost as good Nikon's AF 85mm f/1.8.


Filter Threads: Plastic.

Bayonet Hood: Plastic, included.

Hood Bayonet: Plastic.

Fore Barrel: Plastic.

Focus Ring: Metal, rubber covered.

Aft Barrel: Metal.

Aperture Ring: Plastic.

Finish: Pseudo sputtered epoxy.

Mount: Metal of some odd slightly brass or yellow color.

Internals: Presumed metal.

Markings: Some just painted, important markings engraved and filled with paint.

Made in: Lens, caps and hood made in Korea.


Sharpness and Lateral Color Fringes

   back to Performance        top

See 85mm Lens Central Sharpness Comparison and 85mm Lens Corner Sharpness Comparison for examples.

This Vivitar 85mm lens is as sharp as Nikon's lenses: sometimes better, more often not, but overall, there is more difference from aperture-to-aperture or shot to shot than there is from lens to lens.

There are no color fringes on any FX camera or Gen 2 DX camera.

The biggest differences are visible at f/1.4, where Nikon's lenses are sharper in the center, but this Vivitar is sharper in the corners.

More critical to sharpness at f/1.4 is your ability to focus accurately and precisely. To see the small differences in sharpness I've noted, I had to try several different attempts to get perfect focus. When photographing living things, they don't hold still long enough to let anyone get precise enough focus to see any difference between these lenses.


Sunstars    back to Performance        top

With its conventional 8-bladed diaphragm, it should beget Canonesque 8-pointed sunstars on bright points of light.


Compared     top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AF

Nikon 85/1.8 K, Nikon 85/2 AI-s, Nikon 85/1.4 AI-s, Nikon 85/1.8D, Nikon 85/1.4D and Vivitar 85/1.4. enlarge (actual size at 106 DPI).


NEW: 85mm Lens Specifications Compared 23 June 2009

NEW: 85mm Lens Central Sharpness Comparison 23 June 2009

NEW: 85mm Lens Corner Sharpness Comparison 23 June 2009


Recommendations        top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

This is a manual focus lens. For AF cameras, manual focus would drive me crazy. For not much more money I'd opt for the autofocus Nikon 85mm f/1.8D.

I prefer the silent precision of Nikon's 85mm f/2 AI-s over the faster optical speed, larger size and weight and sloppier build of this Vivitar 85mm f/1.4. The old f/2 sells used for less money, too.

Then again, if you demand f/1.4 instead of f/2 and you're on a limited budget, by all means go for this Vivitar. It's by far the least expensive way to get a decent 85mm f/1.4 for Nikon; it costs half of a used manual-focus Nikon 85mm f/1.4, and less than a third the price of a new Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AF lens.

Even better, this Vivitar weighs less than any Nikon 85mm f/1.4. Which f/1.4 lens would I rather carry around all day? This one.

Watch for sticky diaphragms: my sample sometimes would stick open, resulting in massive overexposure at set apertures other than f/1.4.



I'd pitch the flimsy Vivitar front cap and replace it with a working Nikon 72mm front cap.

I'd keep a Hoya 72mm UV filter on it for protection on digital cameras, or when shooting color print film, or B&W film indoors.

I'd use a 72mm Hoya 81A filter with Fuji Velvia 50 or other color slide film.

I'd use a Hoya 72mm yellow filter outdoors with B&W film.


PLUG         top

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Thanks for reading!


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