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Kiron Lenses by Robert Monaghan PDF Print E-mail
Interesting article about Kiron Lenses by Robert Monaghan
Kiron Lenses from early 1980s
F/l f/stop Comments
1052.8review |gallery
28-1053.2macro (varifocal)
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30-803.5macro (varifocal)

Kino Precision Optical Corp. was one of the more than twenty Japaneses third party lens makers in 1984. Their lenses were originally also imported under the Panagor brand, then by Vivitar.

In the early 1980s, they began direct marketing of an independent lens line in the U.S. under their new Kiron brand name. They were also producing some of the popular Vivitar lenses at the same time in their factories, reportedly including some of the Vivitar Series I optics.

Did you notice the past tense in the above history of Kiron? That's because Kino Precision Optical Corp. has returned to the relative anonymity of most Japanese third party lens makers. You can still buy their lenses, but not under their own brand name (i.e., as Vivitars).

However, some Kiron lenses were evidently their own designs, rather than just copies of the Vivitar lenses, as the specifications and costs differ significantly from Vivitar lenses of the same period.

Kiron 28-210mm f/3.8-5.6 zoom

This 28-210mm f/3.8-5.6 Kiron zoom lens remains one of the best 7:1 long-zoom lenses made (through the early 1990s). Unlike its imitators, this Kiron long-zoom uses a special helical focusing mount to extend its close-focusing range to an exceptional 3.5 feet at the 105mm portrait lens setting. Close-focusing distance rises to five feet at 50mm and eight feet at 28mm, so you may still want to keep that 24mm f/2 Vivitar lens handy!

Another nice feature of this Kiron zoom is that it has a macro setting of 1:4 at the long end of its range, i.e., at 210mm. Usually, these macro settings are often at the short or wide angle end of the long-zoom range. This macro setting at the long end means you can keep your distance from skittish bugs and critters, or shoot macro shots through museum display cases, and not have to get very close to do so.

Like most of its brethren, this lens is heavy (28 ounces) and big (5 inches). Although it is a bit slow at the long end (f/5.6 at 210mm), you can use standard 72mm filters rather than the more costly and unusual 77mm or even 82mm filters on some competing long-zooms. The lens was $360 list when introduced in 1985 (or $550 in 1998 dollarettes).

Kiron Zoom Averages vs. Prime Lenses
Setting/lens center
28mm Kiron5345
28mm f/3.5 Nikkor6242
105mm Kiron5550
105mm f/4 macro5549
210mm Kiron5751
200mm f/3.5 AF Vivitar5749

From looking at the above table, you can see that the Kiron lens beat the 200mm f/3.5 prime lens, matched the 105mm f/2.8 macro prime lens, and beat the nikkor in edge performance (where a prime is supposed to blow away a zoom lens). In fact, the Kiron lens got only excellent ratings in corner sharpness at all apertures and settings tested. In the center sharpness tests, the Kiron super-zoom lens garnered 17 excellents and 4 very good ratings.

Usually super-zooms fall down at the telephoto end, but the Kiron 210mm setting was all excellents on sharpness in center and edge tests. Distortion was also low (1.08% at 28mm vs <1% for Nikkor, and 0.63% at 210mm vs. 1.77% for the Vivitar AF lens). The Kiron zoom had light falloff of only 0.6 stops at 210mm versus 0.5 stops for the prime 200mm f/3.5 AF Vivitar lens.

Unlike many zooms, the Kiron 28-210mm zoom has its macro setting at the 210mm setting. This arrangement provides a longer four foot distance from skittish critters. Center performance at 1:4 macro was all excellent, and edge performance ranged from very good (3) to excellent (3).

So where does the Kiron and most super-zooms fall down? The answer for most super-zooms is that at their 28mm setting, they have a hot-spot or a relatively high light falloff (e.g., for Kiron zoom of 1.1 stops versus 0.2 stops for 28mm f/3.5 nikkor). The close focusing distance for the 28mm f/3.5 nikkor prime is under a foot, versus 8 feet for the Kiron super-zoom. The super-zooms are also heavier and slower (at f/5.6 for Kiron zoom at 210mm setting).

What is surprising is not that the Kiron 7:1 28-210mm superzoom has these faults, but that it performs so well against prime lenses in sharpness and contrast (also high contrast throughout range). The macro setting may not equal a prime macro lens performance in the corners, but the center is excellent and the overall performance very good for a zoom pseudo-macro setting.

Personally, I have and like this lens for its convenience. I like to have a zoom lens as a backup of all my prime lenses too, in case one or more fail or get stolen. But since I am aware of this super-zooms limitations, I usually bring my 24mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor with me and a fast normal or macro 50mm lens (usually with a fisheye adapter attached). Since Kiron is poorly known and out of favor, I only had to pay the $75 US asking price for this lens to add it to my camera bag.


Kiron made several interesting fast f/2 prime lenses at both 24mm and 28mm in a variety of mounts. Only Kiron and Vivitar reportedly made a fast 24mm f/2 lens prior to the mid-1980s, with the Kiron being a later 1980s design listing for nearly twice as much as the Vivitar 24mm f/2 lens.

Kiron's 105mm f/2.8 tele-macro lens is also sought after, but listed for $439 in 1984 (nearly $700 in 1998 dollarettes).


Kiron 28-85mm Varifocal Macro Zoom Review (Modern Photography 1981)
Kiron's varifocal 28-85mm f/2.8-3.8 zoom rated 34 out of 36 excellent ratings for center and corner sharpness (and the two holdouts were both very goods) at 28, 50, and 85mm. Contrast rated as all highs at 28mm, all but one high at 50mm, and mostly high at 85mm (center).

Quote: Based on our lab and field experience with the 28-85, we're happy to say that it performs splendidly - better than any lens in this focal-length range we've tested so far...

The lens close focuses to 1:4 macro shots without the need for macro buttons or special settings. Both the 28mm and 50mm settings were superb by f/5.6. Pincushion distortion was under 1.25%. Light falloff at 28mm was a relatively high 1.4 stops at f/5.6, but only 0.3 stops at 85mm.

Here is an example of a Kiron varifocal mid-range zoom that is very sharp and very contrasty, while delivering its best performance at the wider and faster 28mm end of its range.



 Their lenses list prices were generally also higher than most other third party and imported lens monikers. For an example, the Kiron 28mm f/2.8 lens introduced in 1980 listed for $175 while the new 1980 Tokina 28 f/2.8 was only $110 US.

Today, the Tamron or Tokina brand name is much better known and respected than Kiron. A Tokina lens is likely to command more of a premium than the lesser known Kiron lenses that listed for 50% more. In other words, Kiron lenses today are often a better buy, since they often sell at a deeper discount as a lesser known brand name.

Looking at their more extensive zoom line, we again see their relatively slow zooms often positioned near the top of the early 1980s price points. Interestingly, they also produced some varifocal macro zooms. As we saw above with some Vivitar Series I varifocal zooms from this period, this compromise helped wring higher quality out of these 1980s lens designs.

Similarly, their Panagor 55mm f/2.8 macro lens from the early 1980s was $275 when the Rokunar 55mm f/2.8 macro was only $120. Only the Vivitar macro lens from the late 1970s was comparably priced.


Back then, you had to pay a substantial premium to pick up one of these Kiron lenses. Today, you can often buy these lenses at a discount, since the brand is poorly known. My experience has been that these lenses justified their high prices with very good optics and even better mechanical construction.



Cult Classics in Third Party Lenses by Robert Monaghan



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