Back in the manual focus era, Vivitar were known as a great third-party lens company. Though based in the USA, they sourced their glass from the best Japanese manufacturers: Komine, Kiron and Tokina. Even now their lenses can provide excellent optics for those who do not mind -- or actually prefer -- to focus manually.
I became particularly interested in the 28mm focal length, which used to be a great wide angle in the film era, and provides a comfortable "normal equivalent" on the APS-C size sensor of today's Pentax digital cameras. It is a bit of a mystery why Pentax have no current 28mm lens. Their FA 31mm Limited, while widely regarded as one of the best pieces of glass on the planet, measures closer to 32mm in formal tests, and so does not have the same outlook. Besides, it is very expensive. Many Pentax shooters believe that a normal lens should be available at commodity pricing.
So, back in Augst 2008 I started the thread Vivitar 28mm As FA 31mm Replacement? on Pentax Forums. It soon became obvious that there were many different variants on the Vivitar 28mm, but little did I know that I would end up cataloguing over thirty of them! I realised that it would help to number the variants for reference, but soon I got bogged down in renumbering to accomodate new entries. The thread got rather messy and hence led on to this page, an attempt to provide a single home for the definitive lens list.
The lenses are grouped by mount. TX was a "universal" mount type that requires the correct adaptor for a particular mount. Vivitar sold individual adaptors for Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Pentax and other cameras so a given TX lens could work with all of them. M42 is the original Pentax screw mount; a readily-available adaptor means you can also use these on current Pentax digital bodies, and also those of other brands. K-mount is the current bayonet mount, but without the auto-aperture feature some people take for granted. Still, it is easy enough to stop down the lens using the green button on Pentax digital cameras. Finally, KA indicates K-mount lenses with the contacts for automatic aperture control by the body. These are "fully automated" but of course are still manual focus.
The lenses are indexed using the following scheme:
Following the lens ID is the barrel text exactly as found, starting with "Vivitar" for consistency. You'll have to pay close attention to these markings, as some variants differ only slightly. After this notation, the filter size and manufacturer are given, if these are not already obvious. Finally missing info is noted in the hopes that you can fill it in.
Each of the lens IDs now links to further info and a picture on a seperate page!
TX mount (4) T91 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2.5 | AUTO WIDE-ANGLE | No. 37xxxxx | Ø58mm" T92 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2.8 | AUTO WIDE-ANGLE | No. 37xxxxxx | Ø52mm" T93 "Vivitar | WIDE-ANGLE | 28mm 1:2.8 | No. 37xxxxx | AUTO" [58mm] T94 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2.8 | No. 63xxx" [?mm] M42 mount (13) M01 "Vivitar | 28mm 1:2.0 | CLOSE FOCUS WIDE ANGLE | No. 28xxxxxx" [55mm] M02 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2.8 | MC | WIDE ANGLE | NO. 28xxxxxx | Ø49MM" M03 "Vivitar | 28mm 1:2.8 | MC | WIDE ANGLE | JAPAN | No. 28xxxxxx | Ø49MM" M04 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2.8 | MC | CLOSE FOCUS WIDE ANGLE | NO. 28xxxxxx | Ø49MM" M11 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2 | AUTO WIDE-ANGLE | No. 22xxx | Ø55MM" M12 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2.5 | AUTO WIDE-ANGLE | No. 22xxxxxx | Ø62MM" M13 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2.5 | AUTO WIDE-ANGLE | No. 22xxxxxx | Ø67MM" M14 "Vivitar | WIDE-ANGLE | 28mm 1:2.5 | No. 22xxxxxx | AUTO" [62mm] M15 "Vivitar | WIDE-ANGLE | 28mm 1:2.5 | No. 22xxxxxx" [62mm] M16 "Vivitar | 28mm 1:2 | MC | WIDE-ANGLE | No. 22xxxxxx | Ø55MM" M21 "Vivitar | WIDE ANGLE | 28mm 1:2.5 | No. 26xxx | AUTO" [62mm, make?] M22 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2.8 | MC | WIDE ANGLE | Ø49MM" [0/0M96301485 on barrel] M91 "Vivitar Series 1 | 28mm 1:1.9 | VMC | Auto Wide Angle | No. 37xxxxxx | Ø58MM" K-mount (13) K01 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2.0 | MC | CLOSE FOCUS WIDE ANGLE | NO. 28xxxxxx | Ø49MM" K02 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2.8 | MC | CLOSE FOCUS WIDE ANGLE | NO. 28xxxxxx | Ø49MM" K03 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2.8 | MC | WIDE ANGLE | NO. 28xxxxxx | Ø49MM" K04 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2.8 | AUTO WIDE ANGLE | NO. 28xxxxxx | Ø49MM" K05 "Vivitar | RL EDITION | 28mm 1:2.8 | CLOSE FOCUS | MC | NO. 28xxxxxx | Ø49mm" K06 "VIVITAR | SMS | 28mm 1:2.8 | MC | CLOSE FOCUS WIDE ANGLE | NO. 28xxxxxx | Ø49MM" K11 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2 | WIDE-ANGLE | NO. 22xxxxxx | Ø55MM" K12 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2 | AUTO WIDE-ANGLE | No. 22xxxxxx | Ø55MM" K13 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2 | MC | WIDE-ANGLE | NO. 22xxxxxx | Ø55MM" K14 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2.5 | AUTO WIDE-ANGLE | NO. 22xxxxxx | Ø67MM" K21 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2.8 | WIDE ANGLE | MC | NO. 42xxxxxx | Ø49MM" [Bauer] K22 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2.8 | AUTO | Ø49MM | VMC" [make?] K91 "Vivitar Series 1 | 28MM 1:1.9 | VMC | AUTO WIDE ANGLE | No. 37xxxxxx | Ø58MM" KA-mount (8) A01 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2.0 | MC | CLOSE FOCUS WIDE ANGLE | NO. 28xxxxxx | Ø49MM" A02 "VIVITAR | SMS | 28mm 1:2.8 | MC | CLOSE FOCUS WIDE ANGLE | NO. 28xxxxxx | Ø49MM" A03 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2.8 | MC | CLOSE FOCUS WIDE ANGLE | NO. 28xxxxxx | Ø49MM" A04 "VIVITAR | 28MM 1:2.8 | MC | WIDE ANGLE | NO. 28xxxxxx | Ø49MM" A21 "Vivitar | 28MM 1:2.8 | MC | WIDE ANGLE | Ø49MM" [Cosina] A22 "Vivitar | 28mm 1:2.8 | MC | WIDE ANGLE LENS | NO. 61xxxxxx | Ø52MM" [make?] A23 "Vivitar | 28mm 1:2.8 | MC | WIDE ANGLE JAPAN | Ø49mm | IMAGE by" [make?] A24 "Vivitar | RL EDITION | 28MM 1:2.8 | MC | WIDE ANGLE | Ø49MM | 97xxxxxx" [Cosina?] for comparison X01 "KINO PRECISION | KIRON | 28mm f/2 | MC" X02 "smc PENTAX-A 1:2.8 28mm xxxxxxx"
In case you were wondering, I have several of these 38 variants, but nowhere near all of them. That is why I cannot answer definitively the most common question I receive: "Which one should I buy?" I must first caution people not to have too hightened an expectation of their prospective purchase. These lenses are old and not optimised for digital capture. We are intereted in them because they can provide good value for money, not necessarily because they are the best lenses on the planet.
Three things to be aware of. Older lens coatings may be poor by today's standards. Proper use of a lens hood and consideration of the placement of lighting sources in your frame can help that a great deal. If you did not get a hood with the lens, buy one! It can help increase contrast and reduce flare. Secondly, do not expect these lenses to be sharp or contrasty wide open. In fact some are quite ridiculously hazy and mystical... which can be nice effect if you want it. But stopped down one or two, many are perfectly serviceable performers. Thirdly, be aware that there will be great variation in individual samples, depending on where the lens has been and how it has been cared for. Someone else's K11 (for example) might be excellent but your could be out of alignment.
As a specific example, Kiron manufactured lenses have a common problem with oil on the blades. If you get a lens cheaply enough, even in this condition, the cost to clean it up might nonetheless present you with a bargain.
Some advice: You will do best to avoid the newer variants with an "A" setting, made by Cosina and other unknown manufacturers. These tend to be as average as any off-brand 28mm. You might also wish to avoid the "TX" and "M42" mount lenses since many have poorer coatings and seem to have mediocre micro-contrast. However, this is not true in all cases, since some of the M42 variants are more recent than some of the K-mount variants. If we could date more of the lenses we would have a better idea of their evolution, but it seems unlikely this will happen. (Another reason to avoid these is if you dislike stop-down metering.)
There is no doubt that the "Close Focus" variants have become particularly desireable, due to the championing of certain forum members. The ability to get closer to the subject opens up new and enticing photographic possibilities. For some reason the overall image quality of these also appears to be superior to many variants. However the reported minimum distance of these varies widely enough that I doubt the data. More study is still needed.
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You may wish to check out the following for further reading.
v2.13 (11 Jul 2011): added SMC Pentax-A 28mm f/2.8 for comparison
v2.12 (11 Jul 2011): updated size of M91, updated optics and official size of K01, added 9 links to reviews on my blog
v2.11 (18 Jan 2011): new photos of A01 and M13 (courtesy "721"), changed reference to Robert Monaghan's site (thanks Paul)
v2.10 (6 Nov 2010): reference to rear flange problem
v2.09 (21 Oct 2010): added missing A24 details, explanation of "RL EDITION", few more data points and the References section
v2.08 (20 Oct 2010): two new photo sets, addition of "full focus range", "front element turns" and "aperture blades" specs
v2.07 (19 Oct 2010): add full details! photos! extravaganza!
v2.06 (18 Oct 2010): add T94, rewrite with section headers
v2.05 (19 Jan 2010): corrected A03, updated totals
v2.04 (18 Jan 2010): add A24, M15
v2.03 (18 May 2009): add A03, A04
v2.02 (5 April 2009): T93 casing fix, filter size on M14
v2.01 (4 April 2009): add K06, fix casing on M and T lenses
v2.00 (3 April 2009): formatted and online