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Customer Review

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars the last hurrah of a species gone with the wind, August 14, 2011
This review is from: Vivitar V3800N Manual SLR Camera with 50mm Lens & Case (Electronics)

If you prefer or tolerate used equipment, find and obtain a respectable camera from the 1980s or 1990s. If you prefer new equipment, the Vivitar 3800N is a decent choice, but not as good as the best mechanical SLRs in their heyday.


I bought this camera in order to re-enter film photography. I had my own darkroom kit since middle school. I love technology and in 1997 bought one of the early consumer-oriented digital cameras (it came with a 2 megabyte compact flash card). After some years of digital photography I decided that there is much to say about film photography. I wanted to leverage my investment in K-mount lenses, and because I prefer brand-new, I bought what seems to be the last of a dying breed: a purely mechanical SLR.


The Vivitar 3800N is a steal considering how complex the mechanism is. And I'm satisfied because I got my money's worth. But that's the point -- it's not very well built.

Hate to say this folks: this camera is cheap. The serial number is a sticker on the bottom plate (not stamped into the metal). The rubbery material that covers most of the back plate is sure to deteriorate over time (it's sticky). The multiple-exposure button is located right under and in front of the shutter dial, and it's easy to press by mistake. (To be fair, it's a mere distraction, because pressing the multi-exposure button won't due any harm, because the button only works when it's pushed in while the film winder lever is advanced to charge the shutter.) The mirror is hardly damped and makes a big clunk. Engaging the self-timer immediately raises the mirror which stays up until the focal-plane shutter opens and closes.

None of these issues are big deals -- the camera does work. It sports a vertical travel metal focal-plane shutter, and a diagonally split image rangefinder surrounded by a microprism ring area. If the Vivitar 3800N were sold in the 1960s, it would have commanded considerable respect. But film cameras evolved to T-rex levels in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Compared to the mechanical cameras of that era, the Vivitar represents the lingering remnants of a bygone tradition. Perhaps Pentax will consider a limited revival production run of the K1000, KX, or MX. That would be something worth paying a bit over the Vivitar 3800N.


I got the "kit" package, which includes a flash (the worst I've every held in my hands), a multi-exposure toy cap (hmm this could be a conversation piece), a UV filter (nice), batteries for the internal exposure meter (not needed for the camera's operation), two cases (a camera case and a kit case; haven't had a SLR case in 35 years), a roll of monochrome film, and a 50mm f1.7 lens. I got the "kit" package because I was curious. Knowing what I know now, I would've bought only the Vivitar 3800N body if I could have.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 30, 2012 1:28:23 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 30, 2012 1:30:04 PM PDT
Jonker says:
It's also a lot cheaper than the "Nikon" FM-10, which is no build quality champion either. I'm glad it's available. But when you can buy for less (sometimes way less) than $100, say, a Canon AE-1, an all mechanical Nikkormat, a cheaply built but abundantly featured 90s autofocus Nikon, why play around with Vivitar?

Posted on Aug 3, 2012 2:02:30 AM PDT
I really hate to bad mouth a manufacturer. However, as far as SLR film cameras go, forget it with Vivitar. I know too many people who are still kicking themselves for investing in them. I will say that Vivitar does an excellent job with their Thyristor Flash units. I have one I purchased new in the late 1970s and it is still working beautifully. Vivitar lenses really are not bad. Not great, but not bad. Their zoomers are fairly decent if you can live with a little distortion and minor flare. Again, it depends on the size of your wallet. Thanks for the excellent review. Very informative and educational.


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