Mirrorless technology gave us photographers an easy way to use legacy lenses from analog times on our digital cameras. These lenses are usually cheap compared to brand new ones and often offer decent or excellent optical quality. Now I have about 40 legacy lenses and I decided to sell some of them. But how can I decide which lenses are the best and which should I keep? By testing them, of course! I’ll start with Vivitar MC Wide Angle 19mm F3.8.
Vivitar lenses were produced by various manufacturers. If you want to read more about these lenses then Vivitar Lens Compendium is a nice place to start. The 19mm F3.8 lens was manufactured by Cosina. It is plastic, and therefore light (only 175 grams without caps). At the time of writing, the price ranges from 70 to 90 EUR. Sometimes you can buy it even cheaper. This makes it probably the cheapest wide angle for a full frame! But is it worth it? Let’s see how it performs on A7 mark II.
With wide angle and ultra wide angle lenses we can expect vignetting. This lens gives a huge vignette when it is wide open and it becomes acceptable at F11. It can be both a problem and an advantage depending on the object being photographed and the effect we want to achieve. There is also almost no difference between F3.8 and F5.6. I believe this lens wide open is rather F4.5, not F3.8. If you look at aperture blades at F5.6, they’re barely visible and almost completly hidden.
Color rendition looks neutral but there is greenish/yellowish cast so images will look warmer. You may not notice this without comparing colorchecker tests of few different lenses. Image also is a bit washed out so you may need to bump contrast. Both issues are easily fixable in either RAW processing or post processing.
The resolution and sharpness test reveals potential problems with these lenses. As you can see, this particular copy loses it and is soft in the right corners of the image, especially in the upper one. It is possible that other copies will also lose sharpness in one or two corners. I’ve seen such problems before in some old Tamron lenses. Sharpness at F3.8 and F5.6 is acceptable in center and middle sections with soft corners. At F8 it is good with just extreme corners still soft. To get a decent sharpness across whole image it is required to set aperture to at least F11, preferably F16. Soft corners have visible medium ghosting. There are also strong barrel distortions in the resulting images with slight pincushion in corners.
To sum up: it is nice, small and light wide angle lens if you can live with heavy vignetting below F11 and the fact that you have to go up to F11 or even F16 to get decent sharpness. If your budget is very tight and lens is cheap, go ahead and buy it. If however you can spend more than 70 EUR I’d rather consider investing money in different, better lens. You may look for Vivitar 20mm F3.8 instead, which was manufactured by Kiron/Kino so it should be optically superior and just a tiny bit more expensive. Also Vivitar/Tokina 17mm F3.5 have good opinions. The 19mm F3.8 has one advantage: it is often available. It may be hard to get other legacy wide angle lenses with focal length below 24mm.
For more complete overview on how this lens performs you may also want to check my sample images.