Vivitar XC-4 Review, Bad Camera or Bad Film

An old carpenter’s Vivitar camera is re-born, kind of…

Quick Vivitar XC-4 Review

It’s not a great camera, but it feels like a good camera.  If you need a camera for a high school photography class, it will work just fine.

The light metering is a little quirky (red lights are bad, green light is good).  The depth of field preview button still remains a mystery to me.  You’ll need to research it also.

But it feels good in your hands and has a silky smooth film advance.

Purchased the camera, 50mm lens, Vivitar flash, and a beautiful Marsand black case for 10 dollars (U.S.).

Vivitar XC-4 – One Nice Photo from my Vivitar XC-4

This is the the best photo out of an expired roll of film that gave me hope for this camera.  It’s just as I remember it.  The camera’s metering worked perfectly, the colors are true to my memory, and it worked.

Vivitar XC-4, Vapor Trails at Sunset, Mount Prospect, IL

Vivitar XC-4, Vapor Trails at Sunset

Vivitar XC-4 – Technical Details.

There seems to be little written on this camera on the Internet.  Mike Butkus has a Vivitar XC-4 manual at his website which is useful.  Consider making a donation to his website if you use his manual.  He’s the major provider of old camera manuals on the Internet.

My simple review.

  1. On/off shutter lock.  The camera has a dependable shutter lock on the top of the camera near the shutter speed dial.  Lock it for when you travel.  When you’re ready, unlock to take a photograph.  Practical.
  2. Light metering lights.  I’m not a big fan of the the red/green light method for light metering.  When you depress the shutter, if the viewfinder has red lights, there’s a problem.  Green light means take the photo.  But in its defense, the battery for the light meter doesn’t run itself down, unlike my Olympus OM-1N.
  3. Depth of field preview button.  I’ve read the manual for this button and still don’t understand it.

Provenance or History

It was a sunny day in the Summer of 2011 in Morton Grove, IL when I purchased this camera at a Saturday garage sale.  I purchased it from an old carpenter deep into his 70’s and his daughter who was my age.  It’s a nice memory.

I enjoy garage sales, I like meeting people, and this Saturday it was clear the old gentleman had been a tradesmen, perhaps a carpenter.  He had lots of wood working tools in his garage.  But I’m not a tradesmen or in the market for saws and hammers.  I asked the question I have learned to ask:

Do you have any old film cameras in the house?

The man said yes, and the daughter disappeared into the house.  She re-appeared a few minutes later with a beautiful black leather Marsand case that was ice cold from air conditioning in the home’s basement.  A good sign for me.  Cameras kept in hot attics don’t do well over time.

It was a Vivitar and I was a bit disappointed.  I had hoped for a Canon or a Nikon.  The SLR was in good condition with a 55mm lens and a flash.

I thanked them, wished them a nice day, started walking away for ten steps.  I didn’t need a Vivitar SLR, didn’t know much about them.  I stopped after 10 steps, paused, walked back to them.

I’ll make you an offer on the camera, all its stuff and the beautiful case.  I like the case.  I don’t mind if you say “no”.  I’ll offer you 10 dollars.

The daughter listened, paused only a moment, and said “yes”.

I wasn’t out to steal this camera.  I thought 10 dollars was a decent price.  I told the daughter I would take care of the camera and test it.  That’s what this blog post is all about.  I think the elderly carpenter and I would agree that a tool doesn’t lose its value just because its old.

My Repairs for the Vivitar XC-4, None

No repairs needed so far.  The shutter speeds seem accurate.  The light meter does react to light with a new battery.  I didn’t see any crumbling foam inside the camera that would allow light to sneak into the camera and affect the film.

Vivitar XC-4 Battery

Search the Internet for this battery and you will find the SMC357 Battery as the answer.

Although its cheaper purchasing batteries on the Internet that doesn’t help when you don’t even know if the camera will power up.  You can buy a cheap battery on the Internet and be stuck with that battery.  My solution has been to visit my local battery store and purchase batteries with this verbal agreement.

If the battery powers up the camera, I’ll buy the battery.  If not, I’ll give it back to you immediately.  Agreed?

My local battery store has agreed to this method.  I’d rather pay a few dollars more for a battery that powers up my camera rather than be stuck with an Internet battery for a camera that will not power up.  Makes sense to me.

How does the Vivitar XC-4 feel?

It feels like a decent 30 year old SLR:  medium to light in weight, solid, the film advance is very smooth.

Nice features of the Vivitar XC-4.

  1. Solid, light to medium weight.  I have read Vivitar had these cameras made by Cosina.  They seem well made.
  2. Silky film advance.  Yes, it feels good when you shoot it.  It also has a hand grip on the right side so you can hold it with one hand down at your side without fearing you will drop it.  But always have a strap around your hand.
  3. Shutter lock switch.  It’s simple yet essential.  There’s a switch on the top of the camera for locking the shutter against accidental shots.  Turn the switch “on” when you’re ready to take a photograph.

Problems?  Yes.

  1. Light metering system.  You sight through the viewfinder and depress the shutter button halfway.  The Vivitar makes a quiet “clunk” sound and you see its metering through the viewfinder.  There is no mid-range acceptable light metering view.  A left/right red arrow means the camera’s exposure is off.  A green light means the light meter thinks the exposure is OK.  This light metering system seems awkward to me but perhaps you’ll like it.
  2. Depth of Field Preview button.  This button still remains a mystery to me.  The explanations I have found on the Internet for this feature have been sub-par.  Feel free to leave a comment if you have a good answer to the purpose of the depth of field preview button.

Vivitar XC-4 Sample Photos, Bad Camera or Bad Film

Testing a film camera is inherently a dicey proposition.  You don’t know if the film camera works or how well it works.  For that reason, let me introduce you to Kraneis Photography Rule #2.

If you’re serious about testing an old film camera, use a fresh roll of film.

You guessed it, I broke my own rule, again.  Perhaps one day I will learn to obey my own rules.

But using undependable expired film to test a film camera is bad practice.  If lomography is your hobby, go ahead and use expired film (some people like that).  But if you want to see if an old film camera is worth keeping or selling, give it an honest test with good film.

But this old camera that feels has the quirky light metering (red light, green light) but is built so well took a few decent photos.  I won’t torture you with all my bad photos from this camera.  I attribute the problems not to the camera but to undependable, expired film and a photographer foolish enough to use bad film, me.

Just one bad photo.  I can’t even begin to describe what went wrong with this photo other than bad film.  But notice the clarity of the tree on the left.  Knowing me, I was trying to use depth of field to capture both the tree in the foreground and the scenic shore.

Vivitar XC-4, Pond with bad Exposure

Vivitar XC-4, Pond with bad Exposure

Vivitar XC-4 Review – Summary

I still like this camera.  Yes the red light, green light metering system is unpleasant.  But it does feel good in my hands and the film advances nicely.  You could do a lot worse for $10 at a Morton Grove, IL, garage sale in summertime.

Here’s hoping the old carpenter who owned this camera had a nice day.  His old camera is safe in its beautiful black Marsand leather case in my Chicago bungalow.

I like this photo below for its faint glimmer of green in the upper left and the partly cloudy sky reflected in the creek.

Vivitar XC-4, The Creek in the Ravine, Exposure Adjusted

Vivitar XC-4, The Creek in the Ravine, Exposure Adjusted

Thanks for reading my Vivitar XC-4 review today.  If you find a Vivitar XC-4 with a 50mm lens and a beautiful Marsand black leather case at summer garage sale, buy it.

Thanks for visiting What is a Film Camera today.


Vivitar XC-4 Review, Bad Camera or Bad Film — 2 Comments

  1. I found an XC-4 at a thrift shop last year: dusty and with no lens. It seemed to work manually, except for a sluggish lag between the click of the aperture stop-down shoe and the mirror and shutter snap, so I bought it. I switched batteries from another camera when I got it home and found that it’s meter appeared to work. The door gaskets had disintegrated or turned to goo, and I have finally gotten around to replacing them. I’m going to test it with my old Ashi Super-Takumar f/1.8 55mm lens and some unexpired color film soon. While checking all the functions again today, I realized that with the lenses slider set to “A” (auto) rather than “M” (manual), when I press the shutter button on the camera body down halfway, the camera stops down the lens to take the light meter reading. Obviously, this also lets me preview the depth of field. If I want more light to refocus or reframe, I press what on other cameras is a depth-of-field preview button and the aperture opens up again! On my XV-4 that is the only time that button works, so it is in actuality a “depth-of-field UNpreview” button. When I press the shutter button down all the way, the camera stops down the lens again, and then snaps the shutter, sometimes with some passage of time between those two activities. I also find the LED lightmeter display somewhat awkward, but clicking between alternate apertures or shutter speeds makes it easy to tell what settings are on either side of the green-light-good setting, if one wants to compensate up or down for some reason.

    • Steve,

      Thanks for your lengthy notes. Perhaps they’ll help someone reading this blog.

      My Vivitar XC-4 wasn’t a good experience. But perhaps I’ll try it again one day.


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