Vivitar V3800N for Five Bucks

I think I purchased the Vivitar V3800N because I felt sorry for it.

Have you ever purchased a camera out of pity?

I know, this sounds a bit strange.

I reasoned, “If I don’t purchase this camera, it’s going to end up lost or in the trash.”  A terrible fate for a camera less than 10 years old with full manual capability.

On August 13, a Saturday, I dropped in on about 6 garage sales in Edgebrook, IL, and found a Vivitar camera in a black leather case. I picked it up, opened the case, tested it a bit, and guessed it was manufactured deep into the 1990’s.  Certainly not a classic.  (I later found they were still selling new as late as 2005.)

“I don’t know much about your camera.  I collect older ones and this one’s newer.  I normally pay ten dollars for my cameras.”

The seller and I chatted a while.  Her husband had used the camera for a photography class and had good results.  I really didn’t need another camera, but it seemed to be in good condition.

“I’ll offer you 5 dollars for the camera.”, I said.  I was half hoping she’d put up a struggle so I wouldn’t need to buy it.  Honest, it wasn’t a low ball offer, I already had two untested Vivitar SLR’s sitting at home.

She said, “I’ll take it.  It’s better than nothing.  My Dad collected old radio tubes and transistors.  I’m glad its going to a collector.”  (Apparently I was definitely looking 60 years old this day.)

Is my Five Dollar Vivitar V3800N worth Three Hundred Dollars?

I don’t think so, it couldn’t be.  Individuals and companies want such ridiculous prices for cameras.

One reviewer on Amazon said the Vivitar V3800N is basically the twin to the Nikon FM10.

I highly recommend the V3800N. Indeed, Nikon thinks so highly of it that they sell it as the FM-10

If the Vivitar V3800N is the twin to the Nikon FM-10, and the Nikon FM-10 sells for $308.95 new on Amazon, how much is my Vivitar worth?  Basically, I can dream all I want about this being a bargain.  B&H Photo is selling this camera for $199.99.  eBay completed listings show this camera has sold for about $50 on average.

Until I shoot it and it proves otherwise, it’s a five dollar camera.  To tell you the truth, I purchased this Vivitar SLR because it felt good in my hands at the garage sale and I had the feeling that if I didn’t purchase the Vivitar it would end up in the trash somewhere.  Bad ending for a seemingly operational camera.

Here’s a taste of what a Vivitar V3800N can do with ASA 400 speed film.

Vivitar V3800N, Industrial Park Walk

Vivitar V3800N, Industrial Park Walk

Vivitar V3800N Technical Details

My non-technical technical summary:  This is a metered camera.  The camera needs a battery for its light meter.  If you have the battery, if the light meter is working, you will see a green light in the viewfinder when you have set an acceptable aperture and shutter speed.  It goes red if the balance between aperture and shutter speed will produce an underexposed/overexposed photo.

Ten of my shots on this roll of film were using my light meter.  We’ll see how that goes.

The final shots of this roll came after I inserted a battery into the camera and it worked.

Read Mike Butkus on the Internet for his Vivitar V3800N manual.  Use his PayPal feature to send him some money for his good work.

The Vivitar V3800N is fully manual.  A battery powers the light meter for the camera.  Some cameras (my Ricoh XR-10 for example) need a battery to take a photo.  The Vivitar V3800N works with or without a battery.  Nice way to be.

Provenance or History

Nothing fancy.  As the seller said, her husband purchased the camera for a photography class.

I do enjoy the history of my cameras, sometimes they don’t have much of a story to tell.

My Repairs for the Vivitar 3800N – None


I don’t have a battery for it but I do have my Gossen Pilot light meter.  So I’m really testing three variables:  the Vivitar 3800n, old ASA 400 film, and a Gossen Pilot light meter.  I call that fun.

At a later date I will purchase a battery to see if the Vivitar’s light meter still works.

In mid-roll I purchased two inexpensive batteries for the camera.  I like the way the meter works and it seems to agree with my old Gossen Pilot meter.  If the meter is correct, it gives you a nice solid green light.

My Vivitar V3800N and a dash of Lomography

I do know that my Vivitar 3800n has some film loaded in it.  I’m going to shoot away with this old 400 ASA speed film and see what develops.  If the previous seller has any photos on the roll, I’ll never publish those photos to the Internet.  I’m curious to see how old film can perform when developed.

I believe people call it lomography when using old film or quirky cameras.  The camera seems fine, the condition of the film is unknown.

Nice features of the Vivitar V3800N camera.

  1. It just feels good.  It has a nice weight and a nice balance to it.
  2. There’s little camera shake at lower speeds.
  3. f22.  The Vivitar has a tiny f22 aperture.  This encourages me to shoot with extreme depth of field.  (tiny aperture, objects outside of focus more in focus).

The camera feels good but I won’t know my results until the film is developed.

  • Perhaps a dozen exposures “inherited” from the previous owner.  They will never be published, anywhere.
  • Some exposures were taken using a 30 year old light meter of unknown accuracy.  Kind of like rolling the dice.
  • Last exposures taken with a new battery bringing the camera’s light metering system to life.  The Internet has some complaints about this camera’s light metering system when brand new.  So this is going to be a fun test roll.
  • The light metering system does seem a bit skittish:  sometimes a green light, sometimes under/over exposed.  It would be nice if the metering system through the viewfinder indicated the aperture and shutter speed, but it doesn’t.

First Roll was a Failure

I can’t blame the Vivitar V3800N.  When I finished the roll and took it to Costco they said they couldn’t develop the film.

It’s not C-41.  You need special processing for this roll.

Too bad.  I wasn’t about to spend extra money to develop a roll of film.

I guess that’s the risk you take when try to finish a roll of film that’s already in a “test camera”.  I wonder if I will ever do that again (OK, maybe).

2nd Roll for the Vivitar V3800N

Thanks goodness for Costco.  It cost less than five dollars to develop film for my five dollar camera.

The Good – Decent Photos when the Light is Even

My church photos came out decently.  I focused on the end of the railing in the bottom right of the photo.  Nice bokeh of the church door in the background.

Vivitar V3800N, Church Railing with Bokeh

Vivitar V3800N, Church Railing with Bokeh

Pretending to be a sports photographer at a Schurz High School football game was fun.  The frosh-soph football team plays alongside Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago, IL.  Just pull to the side of the street and watch the game.

Too bad I wasn’t good enough to set the shutter speed to 1/125 or 1/250th.  I think I had it at 1/60th.  I was thinking aperture when I should have been thinking shutter speed.

Vivitar V3800N, Blurry Halfback at Schurz Football

Vivitar V3800N, Blurry Halfback at Schurz Football

The Average – OK Photos when the Light is Uneven

If you’re good at photography you know that you need to bracket your photos when photographing dark/bright uneven shots.  I’m learning this too.  Even as I took this photo I was wondering,

How will the camera deal with this uneven brightness.

Well the Vivitar V3800N gave me its own answer.

I’d be happy to give you great photos if you would take a photography class and learn how to always bracket when your exposures in doubt.

Anyway, here are a few OK photos from the camera.

I know, this photo looks pretty mundane, not very exciting, but it means something to me.  I’m learning from my mistakes.

  1. Exposure.  Is there any way I could have minimized the blinding light in the photo?  I guess I could have changed the aperture and taken 3 different photos.  How will I do this next time?
  2. Boring.  What would you add to this photo to make it interesting?  Do you know the answer?  PEOPLE.  If I had photographed a person on the softa, underneath a tollway overpass, next to a train, hidden from the street, that would have been an interesting photo.
Vivitar V3800N, Tollway Overpass in Park Ridge, IL

Vivitar V3800N, Tollway Overpass in Park Ridge, IL

Will I use the Vivitar V3800N camera again?

Probably not.  The photos are decent and the camera seems to work well enough.  But I have a lot of cameras to choose from when I take photos.

But if this was my only camera, it would be fine.

This Vivitar V3800N is destined for eBay or Craigslist for an aspiring photographer.  Thanks for visiting What is a Film Camera today.



Vivitar V3800N for Five Bucks — 2 Comments

  1. Good, relaxed entry. I use a V3800N and actually like it quite a bit. Unlike you I have recently started using mine pretty much exclusively as I am trying to learn more about photography. I also intend to construct a little journal that discusses my own experiences with the camera and provides a record of how well it holds up over time with regular use. Anyway, good job and I enjoyed reading your account.

    • Dan,
      Thanks for visiting and commenting on my Vivitar V3800N.
      For $5 I cannot complain about the Vivitar much. It gets the job done.
      Hope you visit again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *