300-400 mm lenses

Discussion in 'Pentax' started by timo_hartikainen, Jan 14, 2015.

  1. I have been thinking about adding a cheap, old 300 or 400 mm lens to my small collection. There seems to be lots of those lenses availlable, especially for m42 mount. It would be nice to hear your recommendations & to see some photos also, taken with these lenses. I'm also interested in how close you can focus with these, without any extension rings. I know that these old lenses may have lots of chromatic aberrations etc, but it's not so big deal for me.
  2. If you care about close focusing, the strong recommendation is the Tamron SP Tele-Macro SP 300mm f/5.6, Model 54B, with the appropriate Adaptall-2 mount. Focuses to under 1.4 meters for a 1:3.3 reproduction ratio. It has a "fixed rear element extension", effectively a floating element, such that it stays sharp at those distances. Well-regarded by those who know it, but not well-known. Shows up periodically at reasonable prices.
    For instance, http://www.ebay.com/itm/TAMRON-SP-54B-300MM-F5-6-TELEPHOTO-LENS-W-CAPS-NIKON-MT-ADAPTALL-/191400868847?pt=Camera_Lenses&hash=item2c90617bef, but a bit overpriced for the condition, but I've had fine experiences with that seller.
  3. There may well be hundreds of M42 lenses in this focal length range.
    For going in a different direction from John's excellent selection, consider the dirt-cheap Spiratone pre-set 400mm (I've got several in the $20-25 range - it's T-mount so easy to adapt to many different cameras). The preset is easier to use on modern digital cameras than the automatic diaphragms that have to be disabled, etc.
    This one may have been made by Tamron, although there's debate on just who and when.
    Here was the Modern Photography test of the lens:

    "Modern Tests the Spiratone 400mm f/6.3"

    Spiratone Telephoto in interchangeable T mount for most 35mm focalplane shutter SLRS. FEATURES: apertures to f/32, focuses to 21 ft., preset diaphragm, revolving tripod socket, accepts 72mm accessories.

    Inevitably when the history of the great telephoto lens explosion of the 1950s and 1960s is written, the light (1 lb. 9/2 oz.), short (13 in.) low priced 4-element Spirafone must play a major share in it. Purchasers who had no idea of owning such a long lens or any dream that it could be used hand held found the low price irresistible. Once they got the lens they found it was far better than they had any right to expect. After having advised many an indifferent photographer seeking a long lens to buy the Spiratone, we felt that if was about lime to produce a full lab test. it did better than even we had expected.
    The present production offers a nicely made satin black finish barrel with white numerals for apertures and footage plus yellow meter markings.
    The single helical front cell focusing (the negative rear element doesn't move) is only marked to 30 ft. but the 270' turn of the focusing mount from infinity to near point actually will get you to 21 If. While this may be rather far for some subjects such as small animals and birds, an extra extension tube will solve the problem nicely--perhaps not as conveniently as a close focusing lens costing five times as much but at 1/5 the price, who's complaining?

    400mm f/6.3 Spiratone No. 48873
    Aperture Center Edge
    Sharpness Sharpness
    6.3 Good Good
    8 Very Good Excellent
    11 Excellent Excellent
    16 Excellent Excellent
    22 Excellent Excellent
    32 Good Excellent

    The focusing ring is an inch wide, but the aperture control ring is on the narrow side 1/4 in. wide right adjacent to the preset aperture ring, also 1/4 in. wide. You set the aperture ring with the preset ring on ''O'' for open and then twist the preset ring to ''C'' for the actual aperture at which you wish to shoot. A little practice makes perfect.
    The tripod socket ring is quite sturdy and has a very large and solid platform. The lens is slightly back heavy if you figure the ring as a fulcrum and the lens attached to the average 35mm SLR camera body.
    In actual field use, 'he lens handles so easily that even if you have never hand held anything longer than 50mm, you will immediately be emboldened to shoot everything without a tripod. Subjects snap in and out of focus with great alacrity. While no one will claim you get the equal of a $300 lens in terms of construction quality, and there's no automatic diaphragm, the 400mm Spiratone may well be one of the most fantastic buys ever available in the telephoto area.
  4. This lens
    was sold in various fittings - I have one in a Pentax KA fit - it's great, but unfortunately I don't have the camera any more!
  5. stemked

    stemked Moderator

    IMHO there is a lot to be said for putting a little money into a lens of this focal length for quality of image and ease of use on a digital body.
    Therefore if you can find it, I would HIGHLY recommend the Sigma 5.6 APO version II (77 mm filter) as a reasonably priced lens that will deliver great photos. I even use it with a TC with very acceptable images. The version I APO are okay too, optically anyway, but they are very fragile and prone to all sorts of issues. The non-APO version I is not worth the trouble.

    Somewhere in a box I have an old 300mm Spirlatone (T mount). If you are at all interested I'm sure that I can let it go for a very reasonable price or if you just want to play with it if you cover shipping costs we can work out something. I don't think I've ever used it on a digital body. I can take an image or two and see how it looks. I recall though that it does not focus particularly close.
    I'd also suggest the Pentax 55-300, and those run in the 'couple hundred dollar' range. And if you can save up for a 300mm f4.5 F or FA, so much the better.
  6. SCL


    JDM nailed it with the Spiratone 400/6.3. I used one along with a Leica Telyt 400/6.3, and when stopped down to f/8 the results were indistinguishable except in wide open or backlit situations. I modified one to use on all of my camera bodies (including my Leica M bodies with a Visoflex) as it is so light. Its drawback is that with a maximum aperture of f/6.3 it is pretty dim unless you either have a really bright viewfinder or an EVF. I always use it on a tripod or monopod for maximum sharpness.
  7. Oh, and for those contemplating spending a lot on a modern reproduction of the Petzval lens of the classic era, note that this Spiratone under-$30 lens (on eBay usually) is also a Petzval design. ;)
  8. I own a Soviet 1000mm mirror lens a Beroflex (=extremely "no name") and a Mamiya version of the 400mm f6.4s and the 300mm Tair from Zentith phot sniper kit to nominally cover my long end.

    In the somewhat "real" world I end slipping a 2x teleconverter for my 135mm into some vest pocket and call it a day. - Unlike Douglas here I am far from being a birder or such. Anyhow there are 2 things I discovered: the 400mms are a considerable amount of bulk. The focal length shouts for monopod Shake Reduction and cranked up ISO at once, but SR can only be set for 300mm by manual focal length selection, so don't expect much...
    + When I got my first DSLR I did do a shootout and wasn't pleased with the results I got. The 400mms lacked the crispness I desire and get at least somehow from my 135mm and for sure from the 100mm macro. - FTR this was on the 6MP *istD. - I doubt that lenses get "better" if you suddenly pack a whole lot of additional pixels behind them.
    My latest "investment in the long end was an at least brand new consumer zoom in the 50 to 200something range by Fuji. Results aren't "great" - i.e. resolution does not seem to reach the pixel level, but all in all it seems on par with the slow& inexpensiuve primes with signifuicantly reduced bulk.
    I did use a 400mm during my excessive gear carrying phase as a teen. I also tried to use one when I was asked to shoot an event from a distant high point but this stuff simply doesn't seem rewarding enough to take it out.
    The also mentioned Tair didn't blow me away optically and is is a considerable amount of bulk - Unlike the 400mms its no telephoto design and worst: It would demand some cobbling & modifications - It comes usually with a dedicated gun stock. for Pentax DSLR adaption you 'll have to put some additional switches into the gunstock mechanism and a plug into the camera (soldering...) + also fix an 8mm diameter (guessed) length of tube along a screw in the cameras tripod thread to get the entire combo fixed. That way you'd be able to trigger stopping down and an instant later the exposure with the pistol trigger in the gun stock an additional button would be for metering. - the Tair has a cocking ring to open aperture and closes it via spring when the gunstock mechanism hits a lever - you can also do that by hand if you mount it on a tripod. - The beast is knob focused so practice a bit to get used to it.
  9. The non-APO version I is not worth the trouble.
    May I ask if you've actually used one? I have, as mentioned above, and I found the results compare very favorably with my present Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens. What is more, the Sigma is relatively light in weight and inexpensive secondhand, which is what the OP was asking for.
  10. stemked

    stemked Moderator

    Hi David.
    I only used the APO versions (I and II). On the other hand I saw the results from photodo and the non-APO versions scored very poorly. I'll see if I can find the results, they were on-line once upon a time.
  11. stemked

    stemked Moderator


    My search was fruitless so I'm pulling out of the deep recessions of my mind (cobwebs included). The Version I APO version scored something like a 3.5/5.0 using their evaluative system. The non-APO version scored a point less than that, it was either 2.5 or 2 out of a possible 5 score. I wish I could find the evaluation I'm talking about, but it was on their site (Photodo) about a decade ago.

    Both versios are delicate though. My APO version first got stuck in the 'A' setting (which is fine for digital bodies, the lens hood didn't stand the test of time and eventually I couldn't even focus it. And then there was the deet issue (totally my fault). A little deet on my hand and it practically melted into nothingness (exaggerated, but it wasn't pretty) Note I am not particularly gentle with my equipment.
  12. The Tamron SP Tele-Macro SP 300mm f/5.6 was a great suggestion. Otherwise, my inclination would be to go with one of the older (K or M) Pentax offerings--they're at the sweet spot in terms of quality/price IMHO.
  13. Thanks for your suggestions. I bought a Tamron 300/f5.6 (ct300) & a Tamron 200/f3.5 (04B). They were very cheap (49 EUR & 69 EUR). The 300 SP would have been nice, but I couldn't find it here in Finland. There were a few of them available in other countries, but I didn't want to pay shipping and import charges. The 200mm seems to be a very nice lens, easy and smooth to focus. I have shot a few test shots with them, both of them seem to produce quite good looking "bokeh".
  14. I'm sorry for that dead link above, I deleted the photo. My latest addition to my long lens collection is a Hoya 400/f5.6. Very nice lens and it was cheap, 79 EUR. It's sharp enough at f5.6 for me, but usually I try to shoot with f8, if there is enough light available, it seems to compensate for small focus errors, and probably it also increases overall sharpness, too. All of these old lenses I bought, create some kind of color fringing on highlight areas, but I'm just shooting as a hobbyist and need these long lenses seldom, so I haven't payed much attention to it. Hoya lens has a very good focussing ring, smooth and easy to move with fingertips.

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