Vivitar 20mm f/3.8: A really wide-angle

Back in the late 1970's and early 80's, if you wanted a lens with a wider angle of view than, say 24mm, you had to look to the original equipment manufacturers such as Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Olympus and such. Only they had the technical ability and financial resources to provide such lenses. Most people did not require such lenses, so the main audience was with the professional photographers. Since they earned money from providing new and exciting images, the cost of buying expensive lenses could be justified.

Vivitar Corporation was not a manufacturer but a re-brander of other manufacturer's equipment. Vivitar's people would spec a product and then shop the orient for someone to build the product. Sound familiar with what goes on today? Same thing.

The good folk at Vivitar knew that hobbyists love all things new and denied to them. A really wide-angle lens that was affordable was something lacking in the general market. Never mind how sharp it was, what people wanted was just the ability to get the whole Grand Canyon in one shot.

The result in this case was a fabulous 20mm f/3.8 optic. Much wider than a 28mm or 24mm lens (things get geometrically wider with a couple millimeter's drop) and priced at only $81 out of a New York City camera store in 1976! That's over a $300 optic in today's money (still not bad).

As you can see, the lens is not compact. That front end takes 82mm filters and forget about a lens shade. The OEMs could hone the optical formulas to produce the same angle of view lenses without the bulk. Vivitar opted for economy, hence the bulk of glass to bend the light.

I love this lens for a variety of reasons, but mostly for its ability to focus down from infinity to under 6 inches. Super wide-angle view with close-up abilities. Wow. That's what photography used to be about; happy hobbyists exploring the world around them with fresh perspectives.

I got this guy for less than $50 at an ailing camera store. It was a Minolta MC/MD mount type, not suited for any Maxxum or Sony autofocus camera use. I guess manual focus  = bad, autofocus = good. Whatever, all the better for me and my collecting mania.

This well-built lens is going on my Minolta XD-11 with some fresh Kodak film inside. Maybe I'll post a few examples soon.


  1. Just bought one off ebay. The only thing i know that is different is the Dof ring and distance scale is in red. Most of the others are green ect. The scale also seems to be much more accurate, so I'm not sure if my model is different in any why.? any info would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Not sure, either. The red distance scale was used on other lenses in their line for a while. Vivitar also used many sub-contractors to make their lenses. Could be a flavor of their building methods. Vivitar tried to lenses to almost any camera body then made. This is about the era of Vivitar's T4 and TX interchangeable mounts (like a Tamron system). Perhaps it had to do with moving in that direction. I'm just guessing at this point. Either way, enjoy the lens, it provides very interesting perspectives.

  3. By an odd coincidence, I just got one of these old Vivitars in Nikon mount, in a bag of three lenses I bought in a local antiques store (the other two lenses were Nikkors, a "2.8cm" f/3.5 from the early '60s and a 20mm f/4 from about 1974). I haven't tried it yet beyond confirming that it mounts on my old Nikon FE. My Vivitar looks slightly different from yours, only in that the text around the front lens element is arranged differently (it says "AUTO Vivitar WIDE-ANGLE" all together, in that order) and it doesn't specify the filter size. Serial number is a little before yours: 2220xxxx. While I was trying to find out about this lens, Google led me to your blog, which I think I will start reading since you have interesting things to say about old cameras.

  4. My grandfather just recently passed away and we found this exact lens in one of his boxes. It actually is in a special case made for this specific lens. Is this something you or anyone else is interested in purchasing? If you are interested, just email me at THANKS!

  5. I had a lens for sale - posted on Aug 9th. Please note the lens has sold. Thank you!

  6. I just found myself a Vivitar 20mm lense, and it fits onto my Nikon FE body, but for some reason it does not want to focus onto anything?? Why is this?

  7. You must focus it yourself.

  8. Only for highly technical images the use of very expensive lenses makes sense. For general, experimental or fine art use anything goes. No need to be hyper-annal, go and produce something interesting with whatever you have.


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