Anyone still use the Nikon reflex lenses? (Mirror Lens)

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by Ian Rance, Jul 4, 2011.

  1. At my local shop they were selling what I thought was a nearly new Nikon 500mm lens for a low price. I have not got a long lens and 500mm sounded good. It came in the hard case with all filters unused and I guessed it was around 10 years old tops. Looking it up on the internet I found that it was from 1971 (!) and therefore is much older than I thought.
    I was a little bit sorry that it was not the recent version but it is absolutely clean and as new so it should perform as intended. I was wondering what the current feelings are about these lenses from Nikon? How do they do on digital?
    Cheers, Ian
  2. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    For a few years from 1987 I had the last version of the Nikon 500mm/f8 mirror lens. It gave me nothing but frustration and I eventually sold it to B&H's used department. My simple recommendation is to avoid all mirror lenses. You can do a search on and I am sure you can find my previous comments easily. The version you are looking into is older than what I had and is even less desirable.
    But as usual, opinions vary.
  3. I just did a search and found what you said Shun.
    Purchace in haste, repent at leisure.
  4. SCL


    I've had 500/f8 mirror lenses from the following manufacturers: Nikon, Canon and Tamron. While the Nikon & Canon lenses operated more smoothly, the Tamron beat them out when it came to image sharpness. Having said that, I'd generally echo Shun's comments. The novelty quickly wears off when you realize you really do need a tripod to get sharp pictures, the smallish fixed aperture generally means you will have difficulty focusing in other than bright daylight, and those "donuts", well you either love them or hate them. I managed to PS them out of the below photo, because I liked it so well, but given my choice, if I had to go for a cheap long telephoto, I'd go with one of the Spiratone 400/6.3 sharpshooters...easy to clean the lens, reasonable sharpness @ f8 o/b. I've cleaned up a few and they work pretty well on both film & digital.
  5. I'm with Shun - many years ago I too fell for a 500 mirror lens at what seemed a ridiculously cheap secondhand price.
    After various attempts to use it in any meaningful way, I gave up on it, and it sat in the cupboard for many years before I passed it onto some other poor soul. In short the conditions had to be absolutely right to get any good pics.
  6. I have a lot of 500mm mirror lenses (e.g., ) and I don't find the problems with them that the others here have had. The Reflex-Nikkor 500mm f/8 is a fine lens, although I have found my Sigma 600mm f/8 to be even a little better.
    Bokeh is not the strong point of any mirror lens, but it's not like you can't see it in the viewfinder if you care to pay attention.
    Perhaps people are trying to shoot them handheld - the relatively small size seems to encourage that -- but anything this long simply requires support. I find that a solid monopod works well. Anyway, I don't understand why people are so negative about them.
    I will caution that the modern, Korean-made 500mm f/8 cat lenses I've seen and own are not worth the little one has to pay for them. The Nikkor is another matter altogether. If it's cheap, try it. Maybe your experience will be more like mine (hopefully without getting more of them than anyone needs).
  7. I had a 300 around the same time. Total garbage. Don't remember who made it, it was pentax mount. I've never had even close to that much of a bad lens.
  8. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    JDM, when I had my Nikon 500mm/f8 mirror lens, I never used it hand held. In fact, I thought perhaps my tripod was too small so that I bought a huge one for it; that tripod is much bigger than the Gitzos I currently use with my 500mm/f4 AF-S and 200-400mm/f4 AF-S.
    Unfortunately, for me, the huge tripod did not solve the problem that is in the lens. I can't imagine using a mirror lens on a monopod.
    When I tried to sell it, I also didn't want to just take advantage of some uninformed buyer. You can say that I wasn't smart, but I provided full disclosure about my difficulty with that lens. Eventually the potential buyers agreed and didn't buy my lens. That was why I just sold it to B&H.
    I have commented about mirror lenses so many times that I would rather not repeat the same thing over and over. If anybody wants to read my comments, it should be easy enough to search for them on this site.
  9. Ian, when I find a "treasure" like you did and decide to drop the cash, I usually run a good test under various light and contrast conditions and then analyze the results to note it's particular strong or weak points. Then I either keep it in my collection, put it in regular service, or sell it off (rarely). Example: I ran across a near mint condition Nikkor 300 f4.5 Ais about two years ago. Now, I already knew the usual opinion that it's "not very sharp", gets too long as it's non-IF and only focuses to 12 feet, blah-blah. In the end, it's very nice, no, not the sharpest I've ever used but renders excellent portraits of ladies where a little less critical detail might be desired, and just as KR mentions, can take extreme backlighting, is virtually zero distortion and has it's place for me happily. The only mirror I ever used was the Tamron, it wasn't for me but it was a pretty cool lens, and if I had one now at a bargain, I wouldn't be sad. So enjoy your lens for what it is and find it's niche. Happy times!
  10. If you have a solid tripod, the line of Reflex-Nikkor lenses should work.
    A couple of bird photos are at

    and one moon image is at
    Having both the 500mm f8 and the 1000mm f11 lenses, I find the Nikon quality much, much better than a third-party mirror lens.
  11. I have commented about mirror lenses so many times that I would rather not repeat the same thing over and over.​
    And the same Google™ should also reveal my answers, so many times....
  12. I have had several 500mm reflexes, and the one I bought brand new was very sharp. The others I didn't care for. I have to believe it is either a disparity in samples, or alignment problems after use. The 1000mm I've used over the years is excellent (much better than any of the 500mm's). In general, I would also say to avoid reflex lenses as they are no match for the equivalent non-mirror lens.
  13. At one time, I had both the 500mm and 1000mm Nikkor mirror lenses. Nikon made a special screen for the F4 (it would also fit the F3) just for these two lenses. In my experience, that one screen made a huge difference, in terms of focus ease and accuracy. Part of the problem with mirror lenses is that modern viewfinders are typically not optimised for manual focus, much less small apertures. Perhaps a solid tripod and 'live view' mode will solve that problem. But I haven't tried it.
  14. Ian,
    I bought a 500mm/f8 lens some years ago. It was harly used and not a bad price. I do not use it much and often with a teleconverter, so need lots of light. Although not optically fantastic, or fast, it is good for those long distance shots that I can not get any other way. See attached example.
  15. Long time since I used mine, never used it on digital
    The one I had/have somewhere was a Tamron I think, not the kind of lens to be used for absolute sharpness.
    But the shallow DOF, background compression, and doughnut shaped highlights worked for me in some of my best fashion pictures.
    So I guess the best description would be ' an acquired taste'
  16. Thank you for the thoughts. Well I will run some shots off (sturdy tripod) and report back. With care I should at least get something and I am interested myself in what those results will be.
  17. THey do not do well in the heat. We had a Nikon 1000 mm mirror lens , and you could watch it pop out of focus when it heated up.
  18. They are a tool for a particular job and fun for the money. A couple of hundred bucks of fun and some filters can cost that much. Personally I would get it (I did), use it and pass it on to the next fun user ..... or cheap enough to keep. Not fun for sports and manual focussing but enjoyable with the right subject and time to get the shot.
    My effort below on a monopod with D300. Texas sunlight helps with the shutter speed and a D700's good high ISO ability would help too.
  19. The Hubble space telescope is a mirror lens so any claims that a reflex design is inherently "bad" are great exaggerations. Provided the optical engineers don't mix up their measurement units, of course.
    I haven't used any of the Nikkors but am with JDM and Jerry on the general principle: some 500mm mirror lenses can give excellent results if you adapt your technique to the peculiarities of the optics, rather than expect things to go the other way around. My own portfolio folder with examples is here, mostly shot with Minolta's AF version and Tamron's adaptall-2, and put together in PN for the specific purpose of arguing enthusiastically with the enthusiastic naysayers :)
    Both the Tamron ad2 and Sony/Minolta AF mirrors can be handheld routinely, provided you brace your elbows properly against fenceposts etc, focus carefully and use a body with stabilized sensor and/or good high iso performance. The careful focusing part usually means that I "bracket" focus by taking several shots while tweaking the focus ring across the subject, so that I can afterwards choose the ones that are spot-on. Like the Tamrons and Sony/Minoltas, the catadioptric Nikkors, Canon FD, Vivitar series 1 "solid cats" and some russian made mirror lenses also have very good reputations among reflex aficionados, but they are a bit heftier to seriously weighty & therefore less amenable for handholding (or truly impossible in the case of the Viv cats). Almost all the other brands are poorly made and can basically be declared optical junk from the minute they leave the production line.
    Here's one of my personal all-time favorites, from a trip to Brazil where no other lens design could have come with me & given me the shot:
  20. Clive that's great, even with the TC whooee, beautiful rendition. And we've been treated to some real gems here in this thread from some of these older lenses. Fantastic discussion oddly about "not the latest and greatest". Keep looking for those old diamonds.
  21. I've had an old version (non "macro") 500mm f/8 Reflex-Nikkor for several years and rate it a so-so lens. I actually traded in a Sigma 600mm mirror for it, and on balance think that the Sigma gave results with slightly more contrast. However the Sigma had quite poor build quality and the focus scale parted company with the lens barrel - turns out it was simply taped in place under the rubber grip. An easy thing to fix but my faith in the lens was shaken. The Reflex Nikkor has far better build quality, but unfortunately gives a slightly inferior image in certain lighting conditions - sigh!
    More recently I got a real bargain in a 1000mm f/11 Reflex-Nikkor. It was minus the standard rear UV filter, but I managed to find a replacement also at a bargain price. Pure luck or diligent "bargain bin" diving? I don't know.
    I'll attach a sample shot taken with the 1000mm mirror on a D700. The only other lens I've directly compared the 1000mm mirror to is a modest 400mm f/5.6 IF-ED Nikkor plus a TC200. The reflex Nikkor outperforms that combination quite easily. The main difference being the mirror lens's total lack of chromatic aberrations. Resolution is about evens, but you really have to have the right atmospheric conditions to get the best out a long lens like this anyway.
    Both Reflex Nikkors suffer from a slight lack of contrast, which I put down to a totally inadequate depth of lens hood. This could easily be solved with a bit of black paper or card wrapped around the lens, and I'll give this a try next time I come to use one of the mirrors. In any case the contrast and detail rendering can be improved in post-processing from RAW, as was done with the attached sample. Sorry about some tired old chimneys and TV ariel being wheeled out again! They were about 60 metres distant from the camera BTW.
  22. Thanks for doing that - and yes the contrast does look a little bit down. I am half way through my first roll of film with my 500 and I am trying all sorts of situations. If I can finish the roll I can share results this coming weekend.
  23. I have the later version of Nikon's 500/8 and love it for it's near macro capability (1:2.5), although I completely agree with it being difficult to use and specialized in it's application.
  24. Apropos the Catadioptric lens,I recently posted about a Minolta 250/5.6 I acquired.
    These sell on Ebay for prices averaging US$900.00 -1000.00 . Why?
    One vendor,Hong Kong based,offered a conversion to Nikon bayonet for an extra USD $99.00..
    Anyone who can offer a user experience?
  25. Apart from the compact size, why would anyone want a paltry 250mm f/5.6 mirror? There's a whole host of lenses with wider apertures and, I'm sure, equal performance that can be had for a fraction of the cost. For instance I picked up a nice Pentax SMC Takumar 300mm f/4 some time ago. The lens was ex-military but appeared to be almost completely unused. I must dig it out and try it on my Eos 5D.
    Ian, why not post some pix taken with that Minolta Cat so we can see why anyone would pay a grand for it?
  26. Apart from the compact size, why would anyone want a paltry 250mm f/5.6 mirror​
    I think that there may be no "apart from" in this case.
    I think people do want 300mm catadioptric lenses because they are so much lighter and smaller than the refractor equivalents.
    I have been trying to snag a Spiratone 300mm mirror lens for ages.
    Whatever the causes, demand is so high that even the modest Spiratone has always gone considerably higher on eBay than I am willing to pay for it.
  27. [​IMG][​IMG]Donuts are the main issue with all the mirrors. But I found it to be ideal as a comet lens because of it's inherent achromatic performance and lack of other issues that glass has. Stars are tight across the frame. The lenses light weight is another important factor.
    This was with a Sigma 400mm f/5.6 reflex lens I purchased in 1986.

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