Cool Mirror Lenses You've Known and Loved -- or at least Liked

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by mwmcbroom, Jul 22, 2019.

  1. I searched for a thread here on the general topic of "mirror lenses" and couldn't find one, so I thought I'd go ahead and start one. Feel free to post photos and comments on your favorite light buckets (a little astronomer lingo there).

    I've owned quite a few different mirror optics over the years, ranging from your typical 500mm mirror to a couple of different 10" diameter f/10 (2540mm) telescopes.

    My first mirror lens was a Sigma 600mm f/8 I bought back in about 1984. At first, I thought it was junk, but that was before I learned how to use it properly. Once I had learned what it took to take good pics with a long telephoto, I changed my mind. It was actually an excellent optic. One of the best I've ever owned, in fact. Here are some old pics taken with that lens. They are film based images, so there will be grain.

    This is actually a Kodachrome slide, but the sunlight on the water was so intense, it washed out all color. Canon A-1, Sigma 600mm f/8 mirror.

    This is a 100% crop of a portion of the above image:

    Canon FTb, Sigma 600mm f/8, Kodachrome 64:

    A 100% crop of the above image:

    Tamron 55BB SP 500mm f/8 with Sony NEX 7 @ ISO 100

    My most recent mirror acquisition -- a Meade 1000mm f/11 lens/spotting scope/telescope -- sort of a triple purpose optic. It came with a nice aluminum case, a camera adapter with T-mount, two eyepieces of respectable quality, and an erecting prism for the eyepieces. The lens has an integral fixed tripod mount.


    It takes decent pics too. The resolution is good. Under strong lighting conditions, it exhibits a LOT of purple CA, but under the overcast conditions I had when I took the following shots, the CA stayed away.

    This is a section of worn-out fencing, about 40 meters from the camera/lens:

    A pole-mounted transformer, located about 60 meters from the camera/lens. First the transformer, second is a crop of the label on the transformer. The label exhibits excellent detail.


    Okay, it's your turn.
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  2. Those are great pictures!

    I almost bought a nearly identical lens a few months ago, - I'm assuming that's a MAK?

    It was cheap but what happened instead was that it started a quest for a new telescope, - one that could automatically track celestial objects.

    What I ended up with was a Meade ETX 105, - not so different from your lens. It can take a t-mount adaptor on the back like I'm assuming yours does. It was my strong intent to take some day time pictures with it but I haven't gotten around to it.
  3. Ok, to get this thread started I'll cheat a bit. The top picture was a shot through the lens I mentioned in my previous post but not with a camera directly attached but an iPhone peering through an eyepiece.

    The second shot is another iPhone shot of the eclipse last winter through a reflector telescope on a Dobsian mount. Not a lens per se but I took many pics with it including some with an honest to goodness camera. Just don't have those pics handy.


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  4. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    Hmm... I've never known
    a mirror lens I didn't hate...
  5. I found a 500/8 NIKKOR last year in very nice shape. That was a lens I used often in the newspaper business and I didn’t waste any time bringing it home. It’s a favorite.

    Rick H.
    Fiddlefye likes this.
  6. SCL


    In mirror lenses I've owned a Nikon, a Canon and two Tamrons. The Tamrons beat the others hands down. Having said that, I've never been enthralled with the IQ of the mirror lenses I've owned.
  7. The first catadioptric lens I acquired was the Russian Maksutov MTO 500mm f/8, a very large and weighty object that arrived in it's wooden case with accompanying range of filters. I was determine to shoot hand-held with the brute, and eventually acquired the knack on the Sony mirrorless cameras. One problem I always had with mirror lenses in general on SLR film cameras was attaining critical focus in a viewfinder rendered very dim by the maximum f/8 aperture, but the electronic focusing aids available in the mirrorless cameras have greatly improved that situation, along with high ISO and shutter speeds.The Maksutov is capable of producing very high quality images, but it's weight and size make it rather less than a pleasure to use. My current favourite cat lens is the little Tamron Adaptall II SP 500mm f/8, and I'll try to post something from that a little later.

    Meanwhile, here are a couple of photographs, of and from the Maksutov.

    Maksutov MTO 500mm f/8

    Pnet lens.jpg

    Pnet Mirror 003.jpg

    Pnet Mirror 002.jpg

    Pnet Mirror 001.jpg

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  8. From the Sigma 600mm f 8.
    I have one in Minolta MD mount.
    I also have the 500mm Tamron for which I have Adaptall mounts for Minolta MD, Olympus OM, Yashica Y/C, Konica AR, M42, and Nikon AI.
    I used to have a Rokkkor 250mm f 5.6 which I bought from family camera shop stock when Minolta discontinued the lens, I think at dealer cost I paid just under 80 USD. I wish I'd kept it even though I didn't use it that often. I think I sold it about ten years ago for around 400 USD. This lens did surprisingly well when paired with my old Soligor 1.5X teleconverter, I'll have to look for some of my transparencies from this lens and scan them.
    A couple of optical "bow wows" in the mirror lens area (at least IMHO) were the 90's versions of the Vivitar 500mm f 8 and its Samyang look alike. A client of my family's camera shop wanted us to try to sell the Samyang for him. I tried it and never could get a truly sharp image. Same true of the Vivitar. To be fair I may have encountered bad copies of these lenses.
    I have a Celestron 90 (1000 mm f 11) which I think is essentially the same optic as the Meade version. Always liked the results I got with it. Mine was the astro version which has a clock drive and equatorial wedge. Bought it around 1980.
    I'll try to post some photos after I scan some of my slides.
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  9. Sharper than I expected.
  10. It goes beyond "like" to obsession:
    500mm lenses - a cautionary tale of an obsession? 500mm lenses - a cautionary tale of an obsession?
    Reflex-Nikkor 500mm f/8 lens (non-AI) Reflex-Nikkor 500mm f/8 lens (non-AI)
    Sigma Mirror Telephoto 600mm f/8 Sigma Mirror Telephoto 600mm f/8
    Zoomar Sport-Reflectar 500mm f/5.6 Zoomar Sport-Reflectar 500mm f/5.6
    Maksutov lens - MTO 500mm f/8 Maksutov lens - MTO 500mm f/8
    Spiratone Minitel-M 500mm f/8 mirror lens (T-mount) Spiratone Minitel-M 500mm f/8 mirror lens (T-mount)
    Spiratone 300mm Spiratone 300mm f/5.6 Mirror Mintel®-S

    and others.

    AND the search engine here was never spectacular before the OS upgrade, but it is now -- spectacularly poor.
  11. Well, it looks like we're off the a great start here. So far, there's a decent selection of lenses mentioned.

    Tom, I'm guessing that the Meade telescope you bought (MTX105) has a 105mm front element, which I'm thinking probably makes it about a 1000mm f/10. It should work well for terrestrial photography, I'm thinking.

    Mike, it's been my experience that the Samyang 500/8 mirror is not very good. And it's an almost certain bet that the Vivitar you mentioned is a Samyang. Samyang also produced a 500mm f/5.6 and an 800mm f/8 optic -- both shared the same barrel, just a different mirror shape. Now, these lenses -- if you get a good copy -- can be quite good. Problem is, getting a good copy because the quality control for them is not the best.

    JDM, I agree absolutely. The search engine leaves a lot to be desired.

    Mirror lenses I have owned, in the order in which I acquired them are:
    Sigma 600mm f/8 Canon FD mt
    Meade 10" f/10 (2540mm) SCT
    Cave 10" f/10 Newtonian
    Celestron C90 1000mm f/11 spotting scope
    Celestron C8 8" f/10 (2032mm) spotting scope
    Tamron 55B SP 500mm f/8
    Tamron 55BB SP 500mm f/8
    Sigma 600mm f/8 (late gray model) Canon EOS mt
    Sigma 600mm f/8 (very early model) Nikon F mt
    Meade 1000mm f/11 spotting scope/telescope/tele lens
  12. Mirror lenses (based on Maksutov design) only have the best correction of aberrations at a specific focus. Other distances are a compromise. The greater the success of the compromise, the more likely the mirror lens is able to deliver good images at more than one distance. For example, if a mirror lens is optimized for infinity focus one might get somewhat higher quality images by using extension tubes rather than using the close focus setting on the lens. YMMV of course. And I do not know if any of the mirror lenses have floating elements or such to compensate for various levels of correction at different distances.
  13. SCL


    This was part of my evaluation series of the Nikon & Tamron 500 mirror lenses from several years ago. Moon-Nikon vs Tamron Cat.jpg
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  14. The Russian 500mm MTO was my first hands-on encounter with a Cat. Not a good experience, and when a 500mm Reflex-Nikkor came along at the right price, the MTO was sold.

    Meantime, I had a 600mm f/8 Sigma that literally fell apart. The focus ring was only attached to the rest of the assembly with sticky tape - hidden under the rubber grip. Disenchanted with the Sigma's build quality, it too was moved along. I regretted it soon after, since it had better contrast than the highly-regarded Reflex-Nikkor.

    (The trick with the Nikkor, as I found out, is to use a much longer hood than the stubby little thing supplied. Otherwise stray light will get down the tube and kill the contrast. A length of rolled-up black card or paper works fine.)

    Next acquisition was a 1000mm f/11 Reflex-Nikkor. Another disappointment, or maybe I just haven't really got to grips with it yet. Plus it needs exceptional 'seeing' if atmospheric crud isn't going to ruin image definition.

    I've just, two weeks ago, bought a used Meade ETX. A big improvement on the cheap, used and abused Celestron 4.5" Newtonian - great tripod, shame about its load. Unfortunately the Meade came minus camera adapter, so it was visual observing only of last week's partial lunar eclipse. But so far the Meade has been impressive in resolving binary stars that I didn't know were binaries before. Now I just need the weather to co-operate. As always!
  15. Mike, I don't know of any mirrors with floating elements, either. But I think it's safe to assume that all mirrors are optimized for infinity focus, else where would the optimum focus be? But my personal experiences with the mirrors I've owned that I actually used a lot is that they all worked and work well at virtually all focal ranges. Even that Meade 1000mm I just recently bought. Meade being a telescope maker and all, you'd think that, if any were optimized for infinity focus it would be that lens. Yet, as you can see from the photos above I took with that lens, it did very well at closer distances. I was particularly impressed with the shot of the transformer tag at 60 meters.

    SCL, to my eyes, it looks like the Tamron just edges out the Nikon. I'm not particularly surprised, to be honest. I think the Tamron 500 is probably the best non-Russian 500mm mirror you can buy.

    Rodeo Joe, yes, I've run into the sticky tape on one of my Sigma mirrors when I dismantled it. But didn't bother me particularly. This is because I discovered years ago that this was a common build technique with Tamron. I had, in fact, repaired a Tamron AF zoom probably 15 years ago, where I had to remove the tape that kept the two parts of the barrel together. I just used a piece of blue 3M tape when I taped the two pieces back together. And that was 15 years ago, and the lens hasn't missed a lick. So I figure the lens makers knew what they were doing when they used tape, and I just haven't worried about it since. One thing's for certain, if the tape did let go, it would be easy enough to replace.

    If, when you're looking through your 1000mm Nikkor, the image is looking too hazy to you, with a strong flashlight take a look for any evidence of dust accumulation on any of the internal lens surfaces. This is a big reason for loss of contrast and an overall hazy look in mirrors, I've found. My old early Sigma is a very sharp lens, but has low contrast. Yet the optics are perfect, so I found this to be a puzzler until I shone a very bright light into the lens, at which point it revealed that all the internal surfaces were coated in a fine layer of dust. I haven't taken it apart yet, but I'll bet you a dollar that I'll have solved its contrast problem when I clean it up.
  16. Yeah, it makes sense that mirror optics in telescopes would be optimized for infinity focus. For others maybe not much difference in resolution at various distances. I've never tested mirror optics for that. I suspect that users who report lack of sharpness at close distances might be experiencing the limited depth of field that is a characteristic of any long focal length lens at close focus.
    For the astronomers in the group, my little Celestron 90 Astro had less periodic error in its drive than a Meade 2080 that had worm drive while the Celestron was spur gears. At 180x objects in eyepiece stayed almost dead center while in the Meade they tended to wander a bit. Both scopes with good polar alignment.
  17. I haven't kept up with drive technology in the past couple of decades almost it's been since I sold my Meade 10" LX3. That scope, even with good polar alignment required an off-axis guider and constant attention with the paddle when doing astrophotography. And the 10" Cave Newtonian I owned -- that thing had the simplest of drive motors driving a couple of gears to turn the scope. It kept the scope aligned more or less but I would never have tried using it for astrophotography. It was a great scope for observation, but that was it. As for the two scopes you're comparing, I wonder what sort of factor the motors play in drive accuracy. I know, for instance, in highly accurate CNC machine tools, stepper motors can often achieve the accuracy required. Perhaps the Celestron is using motors with a finer degree of accuracy than the Meade? The Celestron is a few generations newer than the Meade, though, isn't it? Far as I know, there are generations of the 2080 that date back to the time of my LX3 -- in fact there was a 2080 LX3.
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2019
  18. I have a few:
    • Nikon 500/8. Despite it's age, the focus ring is still butter smooth :)
    • Olympus 500/8. In comparison to the Nikon, the Olympus focus is STIFF, and needs a CLA/relube.
    • Vivitar Solid-Cat 600 (still needs to get cleaned up)
    I have been thinking about the Tamron SP and the Nikon 1000.

    Plus my wife's 5 inch reflector telescope.
    I've been thinking about getting a camera mount adapter to see what that thing will do :D
    But setup with the equatorial mount is CLUMSY. You astro guys know what I mean.
  19. I found some scans from the Tamron SP 500mm f8. Great mirror optic and very compact.
    donuts in foreground
    old water tank
    To compare with the Sigma 600 mirror here's a Tamron view of same tank from same postion
    While both mirror optics have the characteristic light fall-off, I think the Tamron has a little less
    One more
    lamp post with Christmas decoration
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  20. A note on the water tank photos- while both were taken from a parking lot behind one of the schools, they were taken on different days.
    mwmcbroom- In some ways my Celestron 90 and Meade 2080 might be an apples and oranges comparison. The C90 was never intended for guided long exposures as the declination slow motion was mechanical, The Meade did have an option to add a declination motor., Both could use drive correctors for right ascension corrections. Longest exposure I ever did with the C90 was to photograph Jupiter's moons (3 to 10"). Still have that scope (purchased new in 1980). Sold the Meade (purchased in 1992) around 2000 or so. Never did any long exposures with it either.

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