500mm lenses - a cautionary tale of an obsession?

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by jdm_von_weinberg, Nov 23, 2008.

  1. First of all, if you're not familiar with these little gems, look at the nice article at http://www.photo.net/learn/optics/mirrors/index.html. I thought that it would be nice to have a 500mm lens for the occasional bird or whatever. So I found a nice old Soligor, I think it was, on a big store website, only to discover it was an FD mount lens, so I called the store and they offered me a refund and suggested that they had an even cheaper T-mount lens (Quantaray) new. So I got it. My eyes were recovering from an operation at the time and I couldn't focus it very well (not much depth of focus on these babies) and it turned out in the end to be rather soft anyhow. Then I saw a Spiratone Minitel-M for sale and got it. Much nicer lens in image quality, although it looks nearly identical to the much newer Quantaray. Very light lens and easy to carry and even hand shoot with. Focuses easier than the Quantaray and my eyes had healed as well. Then I wondered what a cheapie 500mm refractor would be like (after all the Spiratone 400mm was terrific for the price). So I grabbed a Kalimar 500mm f/8 (all of these 500mm lenses are f/8, though of course the mirror lenses are just f/8 period). Not much different than the Spiratone 400mm refractor, but pretty decent all in all, if a little long on the camera. Then I saw a Spiratone Mirror-Ultratel 500mm mirror lens and copped it, since by now I was losing perspective anyhow. It is huge by comparison to the Minitel-M, but has decent IQ. Finally, where I should have started in the first place. The local camera store had a nice non-AI Reflex-Nikkor 500mm f/8 on consignment. I made an offer which was accepted. I found that nice though the Spiratones were, this lens was something at a quantum level above the others. For reasons I am not clear about, it even has less of the donut-shaped hi-lites so characteristic of the breed. I mean, I don't know what I could have done, it was just one little mirror lens, but then another came in and then it was a brigade and before I knew it I was facing the whole Union army ... no wait, that's another story. Anyhow, I offer my story here to those of you who might learn from it and avoid my sorry fate. I beg you, turn aside from that first mirror lens. I'm sorry to say that the devil whiskey had no part in it either.
  2. What the heck, here are pictures much reduced.
  3. A chilling tale. I've experienced something similar with black Canon SLR's.
  4. I hope my ogling a 500 mm lens at the camera show didn't wind you up. The lens I looked at looked quite similar to that Kalimar... long and thin. I do like shooting wildlife and birds, and a long lens like that will give me the extra reach that I don't currently have. I also have already come to realize that a lens like that pretty well requires a tripod and a real fast film. I've gathered that from using a 200 with teleconverters. Currently, the best I have is a Hanimar 4.5/200. On its own, it is quite nice. With a Bower 2x teleconverter, it's also quite nice. It really fell off with the Prinzflex 3x. I may try it again, but stopping well down as wide open was a waste of film. Thank you for the information, it is appreciated.
  5. I've got one of those Tamron 500 f8 SP just like the one in the link you posted.
    Rarely ever use it, never liked the donuts. (It would round out your collection quite nicely ; )
  6. SCL


    I went thru a Canon 500 cat, then a Nikon and finally found the Tamron to be the best in the lot. But after a couple of years playing with it, I finally sold it for about what I paid for it. It was a fun experiment though and I did get some good pictures I wouldn't have otherwise captured.
  7. Franklin, how cruel to offer a drink to a wino ;)

    Yes, Rob, it was your ogle at the show that did "wind me up".
  8. I have shot with a Sigma 600/8 regularly for about 9 years; several of the pics in my gallery are with this lens. Sharpness is actually quite decent considering the cost. I can live with the reduced contrast also; what really bothers me is the degree of brightness falloff toward the edges, especially combined with the reduced contrast overall. Almost every pic requires correction with a vignette repair plugin, and it is difficult for those plugins to handle because it is not true vignetting; it starts closer to the center than what those plugins are made to handle.

    It crossed my mind to upgrade to the Zeiss Mirotar 500/8 (I'm a Contax guy) which I'm sure is about as good as mirror lenses get, but how good could that be? So instead I recently got the Zeiss Tele-Tessar 300/4 and plan on using that with a telextender and retiring the Sigma.

    I also have one of those monstrous 1000/11 lenses from Russia. Have never used it other than as a test roll. Too heavy to use in the field; it is in my closet in case I one day get interested in astro, or if I ever need a heavy blunt object to take out a burglar with.
  9. Of course, your collection won't be complete until you have a 3.5" Questar!
  10. My one foray into the mirror lens jungle (A Telesar 500/8) more or less ended my involvement. Alas, it is just too soft. Too bad, since it's a nice looking one, with built-in filter wheel, and one of the few other than the Nikkor that will fit under the front edge of a Photomic finder.

    Hmm, perhaps Mr. Weinberg would like to fill out his collection. It comes with a case, and has a very nice rotating tripod mount, as well as having those built-in filters....
  11. The Nikkor 500/8 (the one that close focuses to 1.5 metres) is the one that I purchased new back in 1986. I cannot recall exactly why I bought it; it just seemed nice to have at the time. With a lot more thought and research I most probably would not have bought it. It has not seen a lot of use over the years as it is not an easy lens to focus on moving subjects; even the moon.
  12. I had intended to add to my above reply with three individual photopgraphs I had taken with the Nikkor 500/8; but unfortunately the Photo Net system warned me of multiple replies, and would not allow me to upload these photographs. The photographs are not of a contentious nature nor are they offensive in any way. One is of a (partial) eclipse of the moon, the second is of a L-39 Albatross jet, the third is a portrait of 'Wicko' in his mini Mustang.

    I do NOT understand why such a system is so difficult to use! I have responded to the user questionaire; hopefully this issue of uploading will be improved very quickly. I apologise to those who will be unable to see these photographs taken with the Nikon 500/8 Reflex lens as I believe they are beneficial in highlighting the nature of the use of this type of lens. I now call upon the Moderators of this and other forums to do something to resolve the difficulty of uploading photographs/images!!!
  13. My demise was folding cameras.

    Oh, and before that, Protar Serives V.

    And a few Goerz Dagors. Oh, and Zorkis and FEDs.....

    Oooooh, my!
  14. JDM, it's not a 500 but the Reflex Rokkor 250 mm f5.6 is a gem of a lens. It's about the size of a 50mm standard lens but lighter. Of course the small size is deceptive because you still need a steady tripod to get sharp images. And when you get it right the images are both sharp and contrasty. Anyway, it satisfied my cravings for mirror lenses. (Plus, I'm using it nowadays on a 4/3 dSLR where, mysteriously, it becomes a 500!)
  15. Thanks to those who commiserated, and a pox on those who tried to tempt me still further. ;)

    I am a 500mm lens collector. It has been 38 days since I last 500'd.

    I think the 12-step program I've undertaken is helping.
  16. Brian- unlike most other <500 CATs, the 250mm Rokkor has very even illumination. Some of the budget 300mm CATs as I recall, seemed to have pronounced central hot spots. Of course, since correction of aberations varies with focus, even some of those lenses may produce acceptable images.
    A friend of mine has nothing but high praises for the Nikkor 500 and I once tried some pics through the Rokkor 500 back when the Minolta Rep. visited our camera shop and was very impressed with it as well. A cautionary note (unrelated to accumulating lenses)- the correction of aberations in mirror lenses is optimized for a particular distance between the primary and secondary mirrors. Not sure about CATs just for cameras, but for CATs that are telescopes (Questar, Celestron, Meade, etc) they are optimized for infinity focus for a specific eyepiece. That is why when you need to close focus a CAT, you might get better image quality by using extension tubes rather than using the lenses close focus. YMMV.
    FWIW, I tried a Vivitar 500mm (from S. Korea) and found it to be a real optical bow-wow. I don't know if I had a bad sample or if that's typical of a <100USD mirror optic.
  17. I've been itching to get one, but can't afford to scratch just yet... And the Devil is working over time cause I saw that someone listed a Phoenix 650-1300 f8 lens today on community based website....

    12 steps:
    Lord, grant me the serenity to ignore the lenses I cannot afford,
    Courage to pawn the ones I have,
    and the wisdom to not "just look".
  18. Al- is the Phoenix lens a 650-1300 zoom or is it a 650mm telephoto with a 2X teleconvertor?
    The only 500mm I currently have is a Tele-Astronnar preset 500mm f8 that a friend gave me. Since "the price was right" I couldn't turn it down. Seems sharp enough at f11. When I need more magnification I have a Celestron 90 which functions as 1000mm f11 mirror lens.
  19. It's a 650-1300 zoom lens looks like, it extends out so I'm assuming that it's not a teleconverter. It's currently going for 150$ US which seems like a deal but I haven't had much experience with Phoenix brand lenses... Well, any experience actually. The thing looks like a bazooka though! How's that for a walk around lens! MUUAAAHAHAHAHA!!
  20. Al, if possible, you should try to arrange some test photos with that lens before buying it. Lenses in excess of 400mm can show secondary color abberations which may or may not be objectionable. This is why a good APO zoom or tele in the 500mm range will often significantly outperform budget zooms in that range. Case in point, I remember the orginal Minolta 100-500 zoom Rokkor. As good as it was, the APO version was a lot better at the long end. I couldn't tell any difference at the short end. But if you do get one, be sure an post some results.
  21. awahlster

    awahlster Moderator

    What ever you do never ever look at one of the ultra rare Vivitar solid glass CAT's no airspace heavy as lead and sharp as a telescope (oh wait that is basically what they are only improved) I think there is a 400 and 800mm versions.

    Me I have the lowely Sigma 600mm f8ish But I do my long work with a 500mm f4.5L S.S.C. Canon FD.
  22. Yes, Mark, they are very sharp mirror lenses. I wish I had one just so I could sell it.
    Didn't Pentax make a zoom mirror lens at one time? Seems it was a limited range, maybe 500-800 or something in that range.
  23. Heck, Craigslist is to blame for mine. Found a guy locally selling Canon FD 500 f/8 CAT & FD 17mm f/4 for $50 each! I didn't get to him in time for the 17mm and have been kicking myself ever since, but most often when I get on eBay looking for one.
    The 500mm... Seriously has to be the most challenging and rewarding lens I own! I even bought my own darkroom setup so I could use the lens to its utmost potential without spending a continual fortune on it.
    Your warning came after my first drink :)
  24. Here is a shot made on Fuji Superia 200 using my 500mm Tele Astronar f8. Lens was stopped down to f11 and I used aperture priority on my old Minolta XE-5. Tripod mounted via rotating socket on lens.
  25. For comparison here is a 400mm shot of the same church. This lens is a Seimar 400mm f6.3 preset. Like the 500 it is all glass and preset. I bought the 400 in 1979 for about 60USD. The 500 was given to me by a friend.
  26. Much later:
    Of course it did not stop with the lenses listed above.
    I found a Sigma 600mm f/8 in Nikon mount, and since it wasn't a 500mm, I could figure I hadn't broken my oath to buy no more. ;)
    It's a very nice lens (post at http://www.photo.net/classic-cameras-forum/00XSrL )
    Gary Naka likes this.

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