Autofocus Nikon F

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by ben_hutcherson, Dec 30, 2017.

  1. This really isn't about the camera so much, but rather about the lens. None the less, I thought the F the best camera on which to play with the lens :)

    As most folks know, autofocus really started hitting heavily in the 1980s, with active systems(either IR or ultrasonic) showing up P&S and Polaroids early in the decades and passive focusing making its way into SLRs by the late 1980s. Like most things, both systems have their advantages and disadvantages, but ultimately passive AF won out and-to my knowledge-all current production AF cameras either use a phase detect or contrast detect passive system.

    In any case, AF came last to SLRs. For Nikon users, it arrived in the F3 AF in 1983, N2020(or F-501 to anyone outside the US) in 1986, and in the professional F4 in 1988. All of course used a passive phase detect system. The N2020 and F4 both primarily used the in-body motors coupled to the lens, while the F3AF used in-lens motors. The F4 could also operate F3AF lenses(both of them) and the extremely expensive AF-I lenses(super-teles with integrated focusing motors). The latter became significant about 10 years later when Nikon started moving virtually all their lenses to in-lens motors, and the F4 continued to be able to operate them.

    There were, however, solutions for folks already invested in manual focus bodies, and this is one of them. Vivitar released at least one lens(maybe a couple) with an integral phase detect AF system and focus motor. The example I have is a 28-70mm zoom lens. It is powered by 3 AAA cells located in the side of the lens barrel.

    Here is the beast mount on an F. Just to keep things interesting, this is the oldest F I own-a 6.4 million SN body from about 1961. I bought it both for the serial number and the presumably original 5.8cm f/1.4 it came with, although unfortunately the body was "hacked" later in life to accept the FTN finder(this is something any buyer of an early F needs to look for, and of course adjust the price accordingly).


    In any case, the lens is fully compatible with this body-although it's difficult to see, this is an AI-s type lens with with a metering fork installed. As such, it is fully compatible with any camera that can work with non-CPU lenses.

    I can't find a lot about the lens and I'm not sure who made it for Vivitar. The optics seem decent for a 1980s zoom, and given that this was likely an expensive lens when new I suspect that they used Kiron or one of the other better makers.

    The AF is not TTL, but rather works via the large sensor off to the side. This is one of the failings of the lens in my view-it's impossible to tell just WHAT exactly you're focusing on. When I was playing with it while taking the photos, I put the split-image on a chest of drawers across the room and hit the button. When the lens beeped, the drawer wasn't in focus-instead it had decided to focus on a closer light stand.

    In any case, operation is a straight-forward if a bit slow. The aperture ring works like any Nikon lens, and zooming is via a tab on the underside. There are two switches on the top of the barrel. One is marked ON and OFF/MACRO. The "on" position is, of course, self explanatory. The "off" position allows the zoom ring to be moved into the "macro" position for closer(manual) focusing. I can't see any way to disengage the motor and gears, so manual focus presumably should ALWAYS sound like you're fighting the gear train. The lens also has a switch marked "S" and "C" for single and continuous AF.

    Once the lens is on, AF is started by pressing the large button on the side. It does not exactly focus fast, and as a primitive phase detect system it needs a decent amount of light as well as some contrast. The lens will hunt a bit, but once it has achieved focus at least in "S" mode you will be rewarded with a typical 1980s electronic beep and the red light on the front of the lens flashing.

    There is also a PC socket on the side of the lens. From what little I've been able to dig up, it seems as though this can be used to start AF, although I'm not sure how exactly.

    To me, this was an interesting little $15 curiosity I tacked onto a KEH order. I have seen a few of these for sale. All that I've seen have been in F mount, although I suspect that other mounts are out there. The fact that they DO seem to turn up in F mount is interesting to me, though, as for other "hot" Vivitar lenses(like the 35-85 2.8 Varifocal that I love) the F mount version seems to be the most difficult to find.

    In any case, that's what I know about the lens, and I'd be interested in seeing any other information other folks may have.
    marc_bergman|1 likes this.
  2. Interesting lens. I have a Canon T80, which has autofocus lenses with a similar bump on the side.

    (As with most 35mm SLRs, the price is low these days.)

    One thing that I noticed in using it, it has a tendency to decide to autofocus right
    before you take a picture, and so be nowhere close to in focus.
  3. I think Vivitar also offered a 70-210 with AF built in. I think it was a bit more streamlined. Also Tamron had a similar tele zoom with AF. Worth getting if found cheap. Just the thing to use with SLRs with dim focusing screens. I think Modern Photo or Pop Photo tested these lenses.
  4. Mike, it was 75-200/4.5. I've had two, both bought from Porter's (remember them?) when they were closing out the line. The first example's AF was miscalibrated. The lens focused itself but not at the desired plane of best focus. I sent it back to be serviced, the store sent me another example. Its AF worked properly but the lens was a dog. I'd hoped to use it on a Super 8 cine camera for tracking birds and such. It wasn't sharp enough to use and the AF was too slow. IMO not worth the money if free.

    Vivitar also made a 200/3.5 Series I SCAF lens based on their 200/3.3 Series I. The 200/3.3 tested well so the 200/3.5 should shoot well but I don't know how well its self-contained AF will work.
  5. I call them 'GOITER' lenses.
    they were the early state of "motor in the lens" AF.
  6. After reading your Post seems like a real waist of time and Money
    I have a Nikon F with F-36 Motor Drive, DSCN0328.JPG DSCN0328.JPG ScannedImage.jpg Manual Prism Nippon 35mm f=1:2.8 Lens: Desert Lizard in Cat's Milk
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2018
  7. How so a real waste of time and money?

    The lens cost me $15 and was an add-on to an order I was already going to make so I don't count shipping in it.

    The autofocus is still interesting even if it's slow and buggy.
  8. Ben, just a quick note here as to the possible builder of that lens. For the most part, Vivitar indicated the manufacturer of a lens by the first two numbers of its serial number. If you do an internet search on "Vivitar serial numbers" you'll get hits. The four most popular (and common): 22 = Kino Precision (aka Kiron), 28 = Komine, 37 = Tokina, and 09 = Cosina. All four of these builders made Series 1 lenses for Vivitar, so they are generally regarded as being the best.
    marc_bergman|1 likes this.
  9. My little Vivitar gem is a 55mm f2.8 Macro that will focus from infinity to 1:1 in a M42 mount. Found in a pawn shop for $25. Had a had to get a M42 mount body because of that. (Although I could use it adapted on my digital E-410 and Pen F film camera.) Finally found a working Fijica ST605n for $20, so all in all not too bad a deal for macro. I would love to find the Vivitar 135mm f2.8 Close Focus. Rare and useful, and most folks selling them know that.
  10. The Vivitar f/2.8 Close focus (62mm front filter thread -- the only one apparently) is indeed a gem of a lens. I was unbelievably fortunate when I came across mine. There used to be a true camera shop here in Houston (which suddenly closed its doors about a year ago, sad) and one of the things I liked to do when I went in there was to browse through their "junk" boxes. Now, not all of the stuff in the junk boxes was real junk -- it was just priced as if it was. But I'd found some cool stuff in those boxes before (like a Gossen Luna Pro SBC for $5 that worked perfectly), so I always gave them a good look-see. Well one day I was there and picked up a Vivitar 135/2.8 out of one of the boxes and was just cranking on the focusing collar while chatting with one of the employees there. But then I began to notice that I was continuing to crank and crank and crank on this collar and it was revealing all this macro information. Hmmm, I thought. So I asked, how much for this lens? "$5," the guy sez, so I figure, well heck, it's bound to be worth five bux with all those fancy ratio numbers and all. So I pays him the money and takes it home. Come to find out soon after that this lens is worth a very tidy sum. Boy was I stoked. Took it out and shot a bunch of flower photos with it, and I'll tell ya what, it's as close to any macro lens I own in terms of sharpness and contrast. I sure do miss that ol' camera shop.
  11. If you can find 'em cheap the Vivitar 24 and 28 mm f2 lenses are worth getting. Same available in Kiron trim as well.
  12. I would certainly buy that lens for $15.
  13. Also, with all due respect, I'm not sure if I'd try to prove my point by posting an overexposed photo that's either out of focus or motion blurred(or possibly both).
  14. I bought a Tamron integral AF 70-210mm zoom shortly after they were introduced. It had 'interesting' image quality, I believe due to the beam splitter prisms in its construction.

    Unfortunately it went wrong after a couple of years use, and now sits in a drawer as a collection of parts awaiting (never to be performed?) re-assembly.

    The image quality was peculiar inasmuch as it was sharp, but lacked contrast. "Characterful" is probably the kindest description!

    "If you can find 'em cheap the Vivitar 24 and 28 mm f2 lenses are worth getting. Same available in Kiron trim as well."

    My Kiron 28mm f/2 has spent more time dismantled having its iris degreased than it ever has taking pictures. 'Nothing to write home about' would best sum up its image quality. It's easily beaten by a 28mm f/2 Ai-S Nikkor.
  15. Oh Ben, did you mean to reply to Miss.Annete? I said if I ran across the lens you have for $15 I would certainly buy it.
  16. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    Anyone remember the F2 Auto Aperture fitting EE?
  17. Please see your PM.
  18. I'd love to have at least one of the variations of those :)
  19. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    I was in camera sales when those came out - the Nikon Salesman came in to show it, along with some lenses. Ingenious, but had me rolling my eyes, always was able to pick my own apertures. Even the red & green indicator lights on the F2S seemed a bit much compared to my F Photomic TN. Shows how your perspective changes. Don't imagine they made a lot of the EE - don't believe I've ever seen one for sale.
  20. It was my plan back in 1977 when I bought my first camera the F2AS. I planned to add the MD2/MB-1 combo and the DS-12 EE control. But I never bought either. I bought the F3HP and the MD-4 instead for less money than the MD2/MB-1. I never bought the DS-12 either.

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