Want to help preserve the history of an American camera and lens company? Let me tell you a story…
I’ve been using some of my spare time in the last few years playing with vintage cameras and lenses. I search for interesting vintage items at estate sales and online. I recently came across a very unusual lens, the Vivitar Professional 180mm f/2.8. It’s large, heavy, very good quality, and completely unknown. It was attached to a Pentax Spotmatic camera that I picked up for a few dollars and no particular significance was placed on the lens (it’s just an old Vivitar, right?) There was no trace of this 180mm lens to be found online until I started posting queries and information about it. No printed Vivitar price list or lens resale list that I’ve consulted had any record of it.
I took my mysterious Vivitar lens to Don’s Photo Equipment to see what they thought. Their conclusion was that I had either a one-of-kind prototype or a custom-made lens. The serial number suggests I have copy #2, so it’s highly likely that at least one other copy existed at one time. The lens is badged “Vivitar Professional” which is itself a rare thing. Only one other lens is known to have been made with that badge, the Vivitar Professional 135mm f/1.5, a lens designed and built for NASA in the 1960s, a small quantity were also made for sale to the public (some say as few as 30 were made). A little online research has turned up at least 3 existing copies of the Vivitar Professional 135mm f/1.5 that occasionally sell on eBay when one owner gets tired of it and passes it on to a new owner. It appears the 180mm may be even less common.
I hope to find time to shoot a series of test images with the lens soon. For now, I do have photos of the lens itself as well as one sample image I shot with it during a recent model shoot on the Texas-Pacific Railroad Bridge south of downtown Dallas (check out the rest of the photos from that shoot too!)
As I seached for info on my Vivitar Professional 180mm I realized just how little is known about Vivitar. German lens companies like Carl Zeiss or Japanese lens companies often have huge websites devoted to them and numerous books written about them. But there is almost no historical research to be found on Vivitar. I’m trying to remedy that by putting some work into the Vivitar pages on Camera-wik.org. I’ve been slowly piecing together Vivitar’s corporate history from old newspaper archives and scraps of info gathered from patents and other government filings. I’m also compiling a comprehensive list of lenses and other products they marketed. They sold a large number lenses designed and manufactured by a dozen different companies. Trying to piece together the lens families and an accurate lineage of each lens is proving to be quite a challenge.
And this is where you can help out in preserving this piece of America’s photographic history! I need two things: 1) Vintage photography magazines from 1938-1978 with lens reviews and Vivitar advertisements (e.g. Camera 35, Modern Photography, Popular Photography; Vivitar also advertised extensively in Playboy and Popular Science in the latter part of the time period). If you’re reading this and have any old camera magazines with Vivitar info from that time you’d like to get rid of, let me know. I’ll put them to good use, including scanning any public domain advertising and making it available to vintage camera researchers on Camera-wiki.org. 2) If you have any old Vivitar lenses of any kind that you were thinking of dropping off at Goodwill or the Salvation Army, send them my way instead. I’ll photograph them, review them, and add the data to Camera-wiki.org. And afterwards, I’ll give them to the photography group at Dallas Makerspace where they’ll be used as loaners for local photographers.