User Report: Vivitar 250-SL

A Difference of Opinion

“It was crap then, and it is crap now”, states an article found elsewhere on the internet. I strongly disagree. I have had only positive, memorable experiences with my Vivitar 250-SL (and similarly made 220-SL). In fact, I often choose to bring along this camera over my Nikorrmat 35 mm SLR cameras…I just love this camera. But as is the case with anything regarding self expression, my opinion is subjective.

Why do I love this camera? Let me explain.


Upon first glance, the Vivitar 250-SL appears quite unremarkable. It is quite unremarkable. In the hand, the camera feels heavy. It is. The camera lacks a pop-up flash. Thank goodness it does (I cannot stand those flashes). The camera is in essence, void of any bells and whistles–unless the battery check button counts. No frills here.

The top panel is spartan, providing only the bare essentials such as the shutter button, shutter speed & ISO/ASA dial, film advance lever and rewind crank. (copyright The Wilderness Journal 2018)
Shutter speeds range from B (bulb) to 1000th/second…perfect for a majority of landscape work. Also notice the shutter release lock lever and cable release threads visible on the shutter button. The camera is void any program or automatic modes. (copyright The Wilderness Journal 2018)
The Japanese crafted Vivitar 250-SL provides the user a stainless steel tripod socket (which is perfectly centered in line with the lens). (copyright The Wilderness Journal 2018)
The front of the camera is sparse, aside from the mechanical self-timer and light-meter on/off switch. The Vivitar 250-SL accepts practically any M-42 screw mount lens. (copyright The Wilderness Journal 2018)
The Tamron 28mm lens is a great compliment to the Vivitar 250-SL. (copyright The Wilderness Journal 2018)
The back panel of the camera features a battery check button. Aside from this button, the back of the camera is void of any other buttons. Only the viewfinder is remaining. (copyright The Wilderness Journal 2018)


Reliable. Steadfast. Consistent. Nominal. Perfect: just how a well-maintained mid-1970’s all-metal Japanese SLR should perform. Once acclimated to the camera, I found the camera to operate efficiently. Loading the film on the take-up spool is relatively easy (I recommend practicing with an old roll of film before using a new, expensive roll). The shutter release button is solid, allowing a certain amount of hesitation before the shutter trips. The film advance lever is smooth and well placed for the thumb. Switching shutter speeds via the dial is intuitive. I can discern no major difference between the operation of this camera to say a Nikkormat FT-N or FUJICA ST-701.

Best of all though, that shutter release lock! I cannot even begin to fathom why ALL SLR’s did not come with this feature (manufacturing costs?). Given that the cost of film photography is not by any means inexpensive, a shutter release lock is a necessity. In my experience, I waste 2-3 frames a roll with film cameras lacking this lock. The lock becomes invaluable, when constrained to 24-36 exposures per roll of film.

Image Quality

35mm SLR’s are unique in that the quality of the final image is largely influenced by everything else except the camera body itself. Given that the camera is working properly, image quality is left to the choice of film, lens and development/printing/scanning.

Image quality is largely a result of film choice, and how the film is developed and scanned. The lens also plays an important role. (copyright The Wilderness Journal 2018)

However, a camera body can influence the outcome of the final image in regards to clarity (sharpness). A well-balanced, sturdy body will prevent any possibility of camera shake during an exposure. A firm understanding of exposure also aids in image quality (depth-of-field, shutter speed, aperature, ISO/ASA).*

In the Field

The Vivitar 250-SL performs admirably in the field. As a landscape photographer, it is important that a camera can withstand freezing temperatures, scorching sun, high winds (During high winds, the reassuring heft of the camera on a tripod maintains a tack-sharp focus, preventing camera shake, throughout the entirety of the exposure) and even becoming saturated by rain and/or snow. This camera has withstood anything I put it through (including being dropped in sand numerous times).

Many reviewers of this camera note immediately how loud the camera is once the shutter is tripped. This ‘loudness’ is often deemed as a negative quality to have in a camera. I agree and disagree. If one is hoping to use this camera for candid images, I would find a different camera (digital with the sound turned off). But for landscape photography and general everyday use, the ‘loudness’ of the camera is of little consequence. I find the sound of the mirror inside the camera body moving reassuring. It lets me know the exposure was successfully completed.

Sample Images

The following images were captured with Ilford XP-2 Super 400 film and a Tamron 28mm lens. The images were edited to the final product-sepia images- via Microsoft Windows 10 photo editing tools.

Maple Bay Natural Area (copyright The Wilderness Journal 2018)
Maple Bay Natural Area (copyright The Wilderness Journal 2018)
Maple Bay Natural Area (copyright The Wilderness Journal 2018)
Lake Michigan, Leelanau County (copyright The Wilderness Journal 2018)

Final Thoughts

I love this camera. It just works. I have no other film SLR that has provided such consistent, reliable results. I knew this camera was special the moment I picked it up. I feel inspired to work at my craft, to continue to grow as a photographer. A camera that makes one happy also captures the most personal, moving images. A camera must connect with the user, such as this one has with me.

As can be seen in the images of the camera above, this camera is by no means in ‘mint’ condition. Aesthetically, the camera is scratched and dented. The viewfinder framing plastic is chipped, and the mirror inside the camera body has specks on it. Despite these flaws, I am always ready to load a roll of film inside, grab my hiking boots and gear, and head out to destinations unknown.

Highly recommended for the avid landscape photographer.

* Image quality is very subjective: myriad other factors are at play. This post seeks to address only a select few. Thoughts expressed in this post are of my experiences alone. 

Want a Vivitar 250-SL of your own? Click the link below.

More on the Vivitar 250-SL below.



9 thoughts on “User Report: Vivitar 250-SL

Add yours

  1. I agree with you….. I like my new Vivitar 220/SL! It is well built, and solid, and for $28.00, with a Vivitar flash unit, it’s a great deal.
    Very nice review! Thanks


    1. You are very welcome Don! I am very fond of the older Vivitar line of cameras. They just work…and with no gimmicks. If you are able, I would love to see the pictures you capture with your 220-SL.

      Thanks for reading my review. I am glad you found it helpful.

      -Adam K.


  2. My first SLR, a 250SL from Thrift Store($15.00). Seems to work fine although my past camera experience was strictly rangefinder/split image patch. Have to get used to the SL’s diff patch. Another issue the meter on/off switch is a real bear to turn on, takes effort and not sure on(no click) until visible in VF. OK tho. Last, not sure what modern batteries best, SR44 seem ok but any better ideas welcome. Thanks for positive review. Now better appreciate the SL.


    1. I also found the meter to be a bit hard to work with. Typically though, I don’t use the meter inside the camera. I often gauge exposure from experience. However, I have read many reviews about an app one can get for their smart phones–those would be worth looking into. Also, external meters can be found for decent prices as well. 🙂


  3. Newbie question, my 250 lens is Vivitar 50mm 1.8 Auto. On the barrel, it has small switch for Auto or Manual. Not sure what that means since the 250SL is a purely manual focus and exposure control camera. Can you enlighten me? Also, very pleased so far. Solid cam with some nice xtras such as a battery check, shutter release lock and fashionable black body. Your write-up really helped me understand this thrift store buy is a real gem. Thanks.


    1. Hi James, I am stoked my write-up was of assistance to you. Sorry for the delayed response. In regards to the lens, AUTO was at times included on lenses so that they could be helpful on other cameras that poses the M-42 screw mount (some of which could work with the AUTO setting). I believe this was a move made when the industry was beginning to work with some Aperture-Priority function.

      And yes, that shutter-lock is brilliant. Even my fancy Nikons and Fujica’s of the time did not have that feature. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

      I would love to see some images from your Vivitar!


      1. Appreciate response. Thanks.

        Linda Wilson 🤓 “🎶Keep a song in your heart!” 🎶 (Lawrence Welk) P.S. We are not a product of our circumstances; we are a product of our choices!



    2. The auto-manual switch refers to the iris diaphragm in the lens. In manual the aperture you select on the lens is set all the time. To open up the aperture for focusing you need to turn the aperture ring yourself, then turn the aperture ring to your shooting setting. In automatic the aperture is wide open for focusing until you take a picture, and a plate inside the camera pushes a pin on the back of the lens to stop it down to shooting aperture. Old SLRs like the original Contax S of 1948 didn’t have the plate. You needed the manual setting on the lens.


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