Monday, November 7, 2016

Lens manufacturers of the 1980s

I entered the photographic trade in 1984. Initially working for Dixons, which was still a pretty serious photo dealer having only just stopped selling processing chemicals. In 1985 I worked for an independent photographic dealer who sold everything from low-end compact cameras to Bronica, Contax and Nikon. We even sold the Zenit Lomo when it was launched, in their little yellowish plastic boxes - just £20 at the time, probably 100% markup on trade price. I should have bought a pallet load of them and put them in storage.

We were also second-hand dealers which allowed me to try out all sorts of lenses and cameras we did not stock ourselves.

This list is based on lenses I handled during the period 1984 to 1986 plus or minus a couple of years. I have tried to order them roughly in descending order of quality, although this is difficult as some made a mix of good and bad lenses.


The Tamron lenses felt well made and looked industrial. Their design was angular, rather like  Leica or Contax. Their quality was above Tokina and with the appropriate “adaptall-2” lens mount their 70-210mm zoom came in at around £129. Their selling point was that you could change mount when you changed camera. This was a faff for dealers though as you never seemed to have the right mount in stock, no matter how many drawers full you had. You could probably find a Fujica or a Topcon mount, but woe betide anyone asking for a lens in Minolta or Olympus fitting.


This was usually the higher end offering at most independent photo dealers in the 80’s. Their Telephoto zooms tended to be around the £99 price point and were reasonable performers. If you went cheaper than this then image quality usually suffered.


Like the Chinon cameras these were sold exclusively by Dixons. Although their SLR bodies  were Pentax K or M42 fitting they made lenses in other fittings too. Dixons stopped stocking these after they introduced the Miranda lenses, except in Pentax K fitting as part of a multi lens kit with a Chinon body. The Chinon lenses were solid performers. They even made a 50mm f1.2 which sells for serious money today.


These were sold exclusively by Dixons following their acquisition of the Miranda trade mark. They were produced in Canon, Minolta, Pentax K, M42 and Olympus mounts. Probably made by Cosina (who also made the Miranda branded SLR cameras for Dixons).


Although Cosina made lenses for lots of manufacturers their own lenses were much rarer and tended to be in Pentax K mount to suit their range of SLR cameras. Some of their telephoto zooms suffered from chromatic aberration, usually evident as green fringing. Others were fine, so test before buying.


Vivitar marketed lenses manufactured by Cosina, Makinon and Chinon amongst others. Some were good, others not so good. Their SLR camera bodies were made by Cosina.


A mixed bunch of lenses from the same far eastern sources as Vivitar. I owned a 135mm f2.8 which was outstanding and probably originated with Chinon.


This was an unfortunate brand. The original Helios lenses were made in Russia (e.g. the 58mm 2.0 made by KMZ and Lomo and fitted to the Zenit SLR’s). The UK importers TOE wanted to import the full range of good quality Russian lenses but the Russians would not allow it. As a result TOE imported mediocre quality lenses from Japan badged as Helios. The 28-70mm was particularly poor, but looked equally spectacular with its huge objective lens and 62mm filter thread.


Sirius lenses were low priced and the quality was not great as they seemed to pander to the “one lens does everything” craze of the later 80’s which saw lenses like the 28-200mm become popular. The Sirius lenses were popular with independent dealers. They were mainly manufactured by Cosina and Samyang.

Sun Actinon

These were budget priced lenses sold through Sangers Photographic Wholesale, who operated the ”Image Photo Centre” brand used by a lot of independent photographic shops.
The 80-200 sold for £49 compared to the Tokina 70-210 which was £79. It tended to suffer from zoom and focus creep.


Another budget priced lens distributed by the filter manufacturer. I never handled these, but they appeared to be very similar to the Sun Actinon lenses and might just be the same lenses marketed to dealers who were not customers of Sangers.


Prinz was Dixons own brand prior to them acquiring the Miranda trade mark. It was designed to sound German. Early Prinzflex  SLR’s were rebadged Zenit’s, later ones were rebadged Chinons. The Prinz brand continued in parallel with Miranda for a couple of years and was used at that time for lower end items like 110 cameras, basic flash guns and a few lower quality lenses, notably the long 400mm and 500mm T mount lenses which were of poor quality. Rating based solely on those T2 lenses as they had stopped making anything decent by the time I was handling them.


These were budget priced lenses sold by Dixons, possibly exclusively. Mostly made in Korea, possibly by Samyang. They were often the lowest priced lenses you could buy. The 28mm was oddly constructed and was almost as long as a 75 or 80mm telephoto. Quality was probably on par with the Sun Actinon lenses but the construction felt poorer.