Vivitar Series 1 35-85mm f/2.8 VMC Auto Variable Focusing

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The Vivitar Series 1 35-85mm f/2.8 VMC Auto Variable Focusing lens was designed for and marketed by Ponder & Best in the 1970s, and is highly regarded.


The Vivitar Series 1 35-85mm f/2.8 VMC Auto Variable Focusing lens was intentionally designed to use vari-focusing instead of being a conventional zoom in order to achieve higher optical quality. The upside was having one of the highest resolution lenses of its type. The downside was needing to refocus each time the focal length changed.[1] Though modern zoom lenses may match or surpass the quality of this 1970s lens, it compared favorably with zoom lenses made as late as the 1990s, putting it well ahead of its time. The Lens Book, published in 1994, says this lens has cult status[2] and offers this praise for it: <blockquote> An old lens, like the 1970s-vintage Vivitar Series One 35-85mm f/2.8, may actually outperform some modern zooms of similar focal length, especially if they are of the variable-aperture type''.[3]

Vivitar believed the wide angle to medium telephoto range lens was an ideal choice by many photographers who wished to carry only one lens with them. Vivitar had 8 goals they wished to achieve with the design of this lens, which are described in a 1975 full-page ad for the lens:

The specifications included the following: (1) A focal length range from 35 to 85mm. (2) Close focusing capability. (3) An f2.8 maximum aperture, so the lens could be used in place of a normal lens in low light areas. (4) Length under 4 inches. (5) Weight under 30 ounces. (6) Contrast and resolution equal to or superior to comparable lenses. (7) Smooth but rugged mechanical operation. (8) Multi-coating.[4]

Like other Series 1 lenses, Vivitar's design specifications were outsourced to American optical company Opcon Associates of Stanford, CT, where chief designer Ellis Betensky was able to take advantage of computer time due to his association with Perkin-Elmer and NASA to run new programs he developed, generating lens group and element layouts often unlike any previously designed lenses.

For this lens, the resulting design involved five concentric sleeves that were moved by a series of nested cams. The complexity of the design required that each lens be individually calibrated by an engineer during the production process. This may explain the varying results achieved by modern users of the lenses, some of which may have gone out of adjustment to some degree over the last 30 years.

The unique and complex design for this lens resulted in U.S. Patent number 3,975,089, granted to Ellis I Betensky and assigned to Ponder & Best, Inc. on 17 Aug, 1976.[5]


  • Badging: Vivitar Series 1
  • Manufacturer: Kino Precision
  • Manufacture Date: ca 1974
  • Focal Length: 35-85mm
  • Aperture Range: f/2.8 - f/16
  • Diaphragm Type: Automatic
  • Diaphragm Blades: 6
  • Filter Diameter: 72mm
  • Minimum Focus: 26cm (10.1 inches)
  • Mounts: Canon FD, Konica, M42, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus OM and Pentax K
  • Elements: 12
  • Groups: 9
  • Weight: 722g (26oz)
  • Accessories: slip-on hood
  • Example Serial Numbers: 22006272, 22603595, 22708158
  • Original Stock Number(s): unknown



  1. John C. Wolf, The Vivitar Guide, 35-85mm f/2.8 Series 1, page 38, ISBN 9780871650658
  2. Hicks, Roger and Schultz, Frances The Lens Book, page 57, ISBN 0715301497
  3. Hicks, Roger and Schultz, Frances The Lens Book, page 53, ISBN 0715301497
  4. Vivitar ad, Popular Photography, September 1975
  5. US Patent 3975089 - Zoom Lens