05 July 2018 (updated 19 May 2019)

One of the pleasures of vintage lenses is the history they carry with them. I recently bought a used “Vivitar 19 mm 1:3.8 MC” lens in FD mount, and immediately started wondering about its origins. Who made my 19/3.8? Where? When? After some research, I think I have the answers.

The Vivitar 19 mm f/3.8 MC.

Vivitar 19/3.8


This lens were sold by the American company Vivitar, but Vivitar didn’t actually manufacture lenses, but rather commissioned them from a variety of manufacturers mainly in Japan.

The serial numbers of many Vivitar lenses encode the manufacturer and the date of manufacture, so let’s start there. The serial number of my lens is 99102023, but to put this in context I gathered a list of the serial numbers and mount types of other examples. All of the serial numbers I’ve found start with “9”, which indicates that this lens was manufactured by Cosina, a Japanese camera and lens manufacturer which was founded in 1959 and is still going strong today.

This makes sense; Cosina also sold a “Cosina 20 mm 1:3.8 MC” lens that looks identical to the “Vivitar 19 mm 1:3.8 MC”. The difference in labelled focal lengths might just be a difference in rounding.

Place of Manufacture

My lens is marked “JAPAN”, but more precisely Cosina has its factories in the Nagano Prefecture.

Date of Manufacture


For serial numbers with eight digits, the second digit is often the last digit of the year. However, the decade is ambiguous. So, let’s see if we can figure out the range of years over which this lens was manufactured.

We have the following:

Putting this all together, it seems likely that the lens was introduced in 1983 or shortly thereafter, was probably manufactured for at least a decade, was definitely being manufactured in 1990, was still being sold and possibly still being manufactured in 1996, but probably not manufactured after 1998.

The second digit of my lens’ serial number is 9, so I’d guess my lens was manufactured in 1989.


For Vivitar serial numbers with eight digits, the third and fourth digits are often the week number of manufacture. However, the third and fourth digits of my collection of serial numbers only range from 01 to 12, which strongly suggests that these are month numbers rather than week numbers.

The third and fourth digits of my lens’ serial number are 10, so my lens was probably manufactured in October.

The Origin of My Lens

All of this leads me to believe that my Vivitar 19/3.8 lens was manufactured by Cosina in Nagano Prefecture in Japan, probably in October 1989. By the standards of some vintage lenses, it’s still a youth!


I thank the members of the DPReview Adapted Lens Talk Forum for a stimulating discussion on the origins of the Vivitar 19/3.8 and for contributing serial numbers and mount types. I especially thank Hank Dietz for the idea of using the mount type to restrict the year of introduction.

List of Serial Numbers and Mount Types

The following table is a list of Vivitar 19/3.8 serial numbers and mount types gathered by searching the web and contributed by members of the DPReview Adapted Lens Talk Forum and the Flikr Vivitar 19mm f/3.8 MF Group. Some contributors elected not to share the full serial number, just the first four digits.

Digits 1-4Digits 5-8Mount

I believe the mount types are:


© 2018 Alan WF