Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f/3.5 VMC Macro Focusing Zoom

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The Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f/3.5 VMC Macro Focusing Zoom lens was designed for and marketed by Ponder & Best (later Vivitar) in the 1970s. It was the first Vivitar Series 1 lens and was considered revolutionary for its time. Among other innovations, it is notable as the first macro focusing zoom lens. Its patented ability to switch into macro mode was eventually adopted by nearly every major camera and lens manufacturer in the world.

Vivitar's specifications were turned into a lens design by optical engineer Ellis Betensky of Stamford, CT. Betensky had developed an early auto-optimizing optical design program that he ran on a mainframe computer owned by Perkin Elmer. Betensky's design was then manufactured by Kino Precision.

U.S Patent number 3,817,600 was granted in 1974 for the invention of a Zoom lens having close-focusing mode of operation. The patent lists Rinzo Wantanabe of Tokyo, Japan (probably Rénzow Watanabe of Kino Precision), and Ellis I. Betensky of Stamford, CT as the inventors.[1]

Here are several excerpts from a lengthy review in the June 1973 Issue of Popular Mechanics:

...the designers of Vivitar's new Series 1 lenses have come up with the closest approach to my dream lens yet: a sharp (I wouldn't say ultrasharp), reasonable-sized, 70 to 210-mm f/3.5 zoom telephoto that focuses down to about three inches...though I've been reluctant to use zooms before (I've found them awkward and unsharp), I took to this one like a duck to water.

I found the lens as sharp and contrasty as my conventional 135-mm tele at all distances from infinity down to its minimum focusing distance of about 6 1/2 feet...but that's just the beginning of this new Vivitar's close-up capability. Pull the control sleeve back to its 210-mm setting, push a latch button on the left side of the lens barrel, twist two finger grips left to align the yellow "Macro" inscriptions on the barrel and sleeve, and things start happening inside the lens. You're still focused at 6 1/2 feet, but now you're in macro range, ready to focus on any object down to 11 1/2 inches away from the focal plane - which is as little as three inches from the front lens surface. [2]

The January 1974 issue of Popular Science offers this praise for the lens:

Available since mid-1973, the 70-210mm f3.5, [the] first macro-focusing automatic zoom lens for 35mm single-lens reflex cameras, delivers impressively high performance throughout its focal-length and focusing ranges, comparing favorably with top-drawer nonzoom telephoto and macro lenses.[3]

The Modern Photography Photo Buying Guide, 1977 edition offered a large, multi-page, comprehensive review of the lens (sn:22410910) and also included information concerning the history of the lens. Here are few excerpts:

We first reported its existence in Feb. 1972, did an extensive coverage of its practical general applications in March 1973 and analyzed and compared its macro abilities as recently as May 1974.

In 1972 we examined a prototype. In 1973 and even as late as May 1974, the lenses we reported on were evolutionary and not final. The growing pains of a lens which was optically computed by Ellis I. Betensky of Opcon Associates in Stamford, Conn., and then mechanically optimized and prepared for manufacture by Rénzow Watanabe of the engineering division of Kino Precision Industries, Ltd (Japanese manufacturer of the lenses for Vivitar) were considerable.

In summation, we would say that the Vivitar Macro Zoom is truly a remarkable accomplishment in which the designers have attemped and largely succeeded in providing a flexibility of close focusing, convenience of one touch control, plus compactness and lightness all in one package. As a practical, usable lens, there is none superior. [4]

Finally The Vivitar Guide, written by John C. Wolf in 1980, has this to say about the lens:

One of the most remarkable lenses ever built, the 70-210mm provides true zooming from long-tele through normal ranges, down to macrophotography (as much as 1:2.2 magnification). To this add incredible resolution and contrast and the convenience of single control focusing and zooming. You have an optical warehouse in one barrel. [5]

While this is the original and most well-known Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm lens, it was eventually replaced with other 70-210mm lenses with varying specifications, produced by several different manufacturers.


Prototypes (1972-1974) - The complexity of the lens lead to an unusually long development period extending from 1970 through 1974. There were a larger number of prototypes than was typical for a Vivitar lens. The first prototype reports are in 1972. Some of the early prototypes were examined by Modern Photography editors, who offered this description:

How can you distinguish the latest [production] lenses from the earlier [prototype] ones? The new lenses have a 67mm front diameter instead of the original 62mm. They accept an accessory lens hood rather than having the telescoping built-in lens hood of the earlier versions. (The built-in lens hood had to be abandoned to allow a larger front lens-cell which the improved internal engineering required.)[4]

Version 1 (1974-1978, sn 224xxxxx - 227xxxxx) - This was the initial production version of the lens. It was soon discovered that there were reliability issues which Vivitar attempted to address through a series of minor changes. These changes were undocumented even in Vivitar service publications, with one exception - an "improved helicoid assembly" was introduced starting with sn 22528001 according to the service manual. However, all changes were designed to be backwardly compatible with the version 1 design. All version 1 lenses should be more or less interchangeable from a service perspective.[6]

Version 2 (1978-1981, sn 228xxxx - 221xxxxx) - In late 1978 Vivitar attempted to solve the reliability problems by introducing a major internal redesign of the lens known as the Z71 modification. Pre 1978 and post 1978 models are no longer completely interchangeable. The Version 2 redesign also introduced several additional mounts. Because of the redesign, Vivitar's internal stock numbers for lens changed (see stock number listings below).[6]


  • Badging: Vivitar Series 1
  • Manufacturer: Kino Precision
  • Manufacture Date: ca 1972
  • Focal Length: 70-210mm
  • Aperture Range: f/3.5 - f/22
  • Diaphragm Type: Automatic
  • Diaphragm Blades: 6
  • Filter Diameter: 67mm
  • Minimum Focus: 1.9 m (6.3 ft) Macro: 29.2 cm (11.5 in)
  • Mounts: Canon FD, Konica Autoreflex, M42, Minolta SRT/ST, Nikon F, and Olympus OM
  • Elements: 15
  • Groups: 10
  • Weight: 940 g (33 oz)
  • Accessories: screw-on collapsible rubber lens hood was available
  • Example Serial Numbers: 22039107, 22410910
  • Original Stock Number(s): see below

Stock Numbers

Version one from 1974 - 1978[7]

  • 31-2246 - M42 Universal thread mount
  • 31-2305 - Canon FL/FD mount
  • 31-2279 - Nikon F, Nikkormat mount
  • 31-2338 - Minolta SRT/SR mount
  • 31-2361 - Konica Autoreflex mount

Version two starting late 1978[6]

  • 0312257 - M42 mount
  • 0312350 - Minolta M/MD mount
  • 0312316 - Canon FL/FD mount
  • 0312291 - Nikon N/AI mount
  • 0312372 - Konica AR mount
  • 0312408 - Olympus OM mount
  • 0312420 - Pentax K mount

Test Results

The previously mentioned Modern Photography review included these resolution test results:[4]

Resolution Results at 70mm
Aperture Center lines/mm Corner lines/mm
f/3.5 44 35
f/5.6 62 39
f/8 62 44
f/11 62 49
f/16 55 49
f/22 44 44
Resolution Results at 135mm
Aperture Center lines/mm Corner lines/mm
f/3.5 50 25
f/5.6 70 28
f/8 70 28
f/11 50 32
f/16 56 40
f/22 45 35
Resolution Results at 210mm
Aperture Center lines/mm Corner lines/mm
f/3.5 39 25
f/5.6 44 28
f/8 55 31
f/11 55 35
f/16 49 35
f/22 49 31