Sigma Mirror Telephoto 600mm f/8

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by jdm_von_weinberg, Oct 11, 2010.

  1. Sigma 600mm f/8 (the gray/green one)

    I am perplexed about where to post this.

    This post is about a lens, not a camera.

    The lens is a perfectly ordinary lens, not an "alternative" home-built or some such. Moreover, it is from the classic era, and made to fit a classic manual camera, the pre-AI Nikons. I don't feel too "casual" about it, either.
    I am not actually shooting it on a Nikon, so I guess it wouldn't be too welcome there (although there have been posts on it In fact, this lens was made with dedicated mounts for just about every major (classic, need I say) camera line.

    Here's the catch, up front, in terms of this forum. Although I have Nikon film cameras and even adapters for this lens to be used on other cameras closer to the classic manual form, I here am posting some pictures taken with the lens on a modern digital camera. I was more interested in getting a handle on the adequacy of the lens for a possible return and so went the ritualistically impure path. I really wanted to give it more of a workout than I could have done on my Nikon F or Nikkormat EL particularly with the additional complications of scanning negatives. Mea maxima culpa.
    If the assembled masses and the moderators find this to be too impure for this forum, please move it to wherever you think it might go better. Does it make any atonement that the comparison 'normal' shots were made on a Canonet QL 17? An earlier post about 500mm lenses of mine was here on the Classic Manual forum, besides.

    The lens itself is a Nikon mount, gray-green Sigma 600mm f/8 lens.

    I dropped into the local camera store on Fr?gedæg (also Fredag or Friday), and there it was, gently whispering to me.
    I had sort of promised myself that I would buy any more 500mm lenses (see my post at link, here on this forum). Shouldn't five of them be enough? Besides, I had got what seemed to be a really fine (IMHO) 500mm lens in the Reflex-Nikkor 500mm f/8, and the two Spiratones, especially the later one, were also decent lenses. So who could ask for anything more? No one would be so obsessed and goofy as to buy a sixth 500mm lens, would they?

    Except this lens threw me a curve, it was not a forbidden-fruit 500mm lens, it was 600mm! I know that it's not the size that counts. but wouldn't you or your loved one want another 100mm if you could get it?

    I have been unable to find out much about the lens. It is not black, but gray-green, as said. The actual lens looks much like the later(?) 600mm f/8 black lenses made by Sigma, and is about 110mm from mount to filter ring. Like most of these catadioptric lenses (link), it takes 30.5mm filters mounted at the rear of the lens. On this one, not screw-in, but in a drawer.

    In addition to the lens itself, there is a matching metal hood that adds about 60mm to the length of the ensemble.

    I have no front lens cap for this one. The diameter of the lens hood at the end is about 105mm, and the screw thread at the lens is something in the 92mm ± range. My "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" lid that works fine for the Reflex Nikkor is much too small for this. (It's back to that well-equipped photographic supply emporium, Krogers, with the hood in hand, I think.)

    Aside from those who will object to the camera, we all know that there is a certain other cabal here who really react badly to mirror lenses. Perhaps their mother was frightened by one when they were in the womb, but they will chime in with a screed about the awful donut bokeh (perhaps their mother was frightened by a policeman with a mirror lens?). The lack of contrast of such lenses will also be alleged. If you belong to this group, this might be the point at which you want to begin composing your response in your mind.

    The pictures below will illustrate or not the lack of contrast in these shots. These are not manipulated except for size and conversion to sRGB through "Save for Web & Devices.."

    As with the Nikkor lens, this lens seems to be less susceptible to the donut-bokeh problem than some mirror lenses. It generally shows up on any of them most often when there are strong highlights in the out-of-focus areas. Sometimes there are other bokeh artifacts, particularly an occasional "spikey' effect in foliage.

    Aside from the 'out-of-focus' areas, focus seemed unusually clear on this lens to me. Things snapped right in and out of focus, and it was usually easy in a larger viewfinder to see where focus was. Even at distance, of course, these very long lenses tend to have very small depths of field. Honestly, and too bad, it is not as easy to get a sharp focus on a moving bird as a modern AF lens would be, but this is a problem shared by all of us who love and use our old "manual" equipment. If it's something that you can anticipate, of course you can prefocus, but a grab shot of a pelican landing is tougher, darn it.

    I was very surprised by the quality of the lens. While I have and use lots of old and new Sigma lenses, this one seems to be exceptionally fine. It's easily in the same league as the 500mm Reflex-Nikkor, and if I am totally honest, I have to say that I suspect it may actually be a little better.

    Anyhow, here is the lens. First, a view as seen by my victims, and secondly the lens and hood from the side mounted on some kind of camera that will probably be unrecognizable to the more white-robed of our membership.

  2. Here are the offending pictures. Remember, I could have lied and said these were in Vektar ISO 2000 color negative film taken on my Nikonista 4F, but I am laying myself open to your mercy.

    Just to give an idea of the coverage, the first picture was taken with my "new" all-black Canonet QL 17 on Ilford XP2 film. The lens is 40mm. The picture shows the area where the local motorcyle trials take place on weekends.
    The second picture is taken from the exact same spot with the Sigma 600mm lens.

    The Canonet was handheld. I used a monopod and high ISO (for top shutter speed) with the Sigma.
  3. The second pair, are again from the 40mm lens on the Canonet QL17 and with the Sigma - in this case shooting across the "Lake on the Campus".
    At these distances getting the focus exactly where I want it is a little difficult with my old, and heavily renovated eyes. I did some "focus bracketing," but not here.
    The digital camera was a 35mm sensor size, so these are 600 at 600, so to speak.
  4. Now for the bokeh on this one.

    Here are various close and far pictures taken with part or all of the frame OOF.
  5. In addition, here is my favorite brick wall for showing lens distortion characteristics, but here photographed from a lot farther away than before!
  6. Here are some shots for the train buffs. The RR man statue is a memorial to the Illinois Central, which was really responsible for the town being here. The interior frame of the original train station is in the background. The second is the enchained IC logo (now sold to "furriners from Canda"), and the old boxcar at our reconstructed early train station.

  7. As I say, I found this lens to be very pleasant to shoot with, and I will be using it on 'classic manual' cameras in future, as well as on digital bodies.

    That's all folks.
  8. addendum
    I had sort of promised myself that I would buy any more 500mm lenses​
    a more classic example of Freudian Slip was never exposed. I meant that I "would NOT buy" of course.
  9. Interesting lens and nice pictures, but wow, that bokeh is really horrible! The background almost seems to be shimmering.
    The mods may do as they will, but I think the lens qualifies for this forum, and it's the real point of the post. Besides, there's that Canonet shot...
  10. Must be tough using this, as the DOF would be very thin. The residence hall windows come out nicely with less foreground and back ground. The lens would be excellent on architectural details decor and birds at a distance. Very interesting. Looking forward to more. Thanks. sp.
  11. The bokeh shots are all uncropped shots, like all the rest here.
    I didn't think the bokeh in the two bottom shots was so objectionable?
    I should have also mentioned that there is some darkening in the corners, which for some reason, showed up more in some shots than others. In this regard, it was less capable than the Nikkor 500mm.
  12. I don't really think of mirror lens bokeh as horrible, just different. Often one can choose to use the lens on a subject where bokeh wouldn't make a difference. The shallow DOF is really only of significance for close subjects. As you approach infinity, DOF isn't much of an issue. I have a Celestron 90 which with eyepiece and diagnol removed, functions as a 1000mm f11 mirror optic. It is very sharp, but you have to really be careful to nail the correct focus. I'll admit, I've been tempted by good prices for used Sigma 600mm f8 mirror lenses, but am put off by the fixed mount. I have too many different SLR systems. Since I don't think Sigma ever made a T-mount version, I may look for the next best option: M42. In addition to my Spotmatic, Fuji ST605N and Practica FX-2, I have adapters to allow M42 lenses to fit my manual focus Minolta gear and Pentax K gear. Thanks for posting. It's been a while since I've seen photos from the Sigma 600mm.
  13. I like donuts. And I'm kind of missing my Minolta 250mm f/5.6 mirror lens, too. I imagine, JDM, that your big Sigma is a helluva lot rougher to handhold. Tri or monopod for your pics ?
    I always wondered why there wasn't a "Lenses" forum on P.Net. With all of the adapters available it would be nice to have sample galleries from members showing off different flavors of glass.
  14. I use a monopod with a Manfrotto 222 grip head that allows a little more flexibility. I had pioneered the combination with my older 500mms, and have used it with many other long lenses, although-as I said-I tend to try to keep the shutter speed as high as I can get it without noise becoming too noticeable.
  15. Quite a lens, JDM,and I reckon that classic lenses definitely have a place here. It looks a little "hot" in the middle, but not many mirror lenses have totally even illumination. As for the bokeh, well you like it or you don't...While it's always hard to tell from these posts, it seems to produce sharp images. But overall, it's a magnificent piece of gear, and lots of fun. I look forward to seeing more samples!
  16. I bought one of these lenses in Minolta AF fit some years ago. The first time I tried to use it (with a film camera) I fell foul of the Minolta shutter lock which stops you taking a picture when a lens is not detected via the electrical contacts (I later found how to cancel this). This shot was done with a Sony Alpha 100 DSLR, effectively making it a 900mm lens. It's not ideal for moving subjects.
  17. I have basically the same lens(nikon mount) only all black. I find it to be very sharp for a mirror lens just as good as the Nikkor. It's not as good as the Nikkor 500mm f5 lens, but I too believe it's slightly better than the 500mm f8 Nikkor. The 500mm f5 Nikkor is one lens I wish I had never sold. The 600mm f8 Sigma is a very handy lens, but I find it much more at home on a good tripod. Also, the Lens came with a filter pack that included a UV filter that was suppose to be in place at all times in order to get the sharpest results. So, I kept it in the slot all the time when I used it on my film Nikons. After I got a Canon 5D I decided a Nikon lens adapter was in order for the Canon so I could use all my Nikon glass. The one thing I found out, to my surprise, was that the Sigma was sharper without the filter when used on the Canon 5D. So out it came and it hasn't went back in since. I try to use the 600mm when there isn't going to be any reflecting highlights, but most average people don't mind or don't even notice the "donut" effect like us Photonuts do.
  18. Thanks for the tip on the UV filter. I'll try it without and see. I didn't get the kit with it, just the UV filter, but I think my ND filters for the other mirror lenses (which are the same size anyway even if they have threads) will fit into the drawer on the lens. Haven't actually tried it yet. With digital, anyhow, you don't so much need to slow things down on the lens itself. One of the reasons, in fact, that I shot this trial on the 5D body.
  19. And it's certainly not a lens for fast-moving, unpredictable events. On looking at the picture below I see it is not actually a pelican, but whatever it is, it's definitely not the point that I got focused on in the rush of the moment. :)
  20. It might be such a thing that yours is sharper with the filter in. All I know is that mine is better with it out when I use my 5D. Digital is such a different beast that things, which were written in stone for a film user, are now written in sand if you switch to digital. Yes, I'm with you on the not having to use ND filters with the 5D.
  21. JDM, it appears that you have it bad. Bad.
    Best to be done with half measures. Dump the Stigma 600 and all of your 500 mirror lenses except the f/8 Nikkor, save your small monetary units too, and buy a 700/8 Questar or a 750/6 Honeywell Lumetar.
    If you must have a longer lens, look for (no kidding) a 1250/10 Celestron. Not the terrible 1000/10 C-90. The big 'un is in a different class.
  22. Dan- is that a different C-90? I have the f11 and it is pretty good. I've borrowed a Celestron 5 ( which is 1250mm f10) and found it good as well, but care must be taken to keep the secondary mirror aligned for sharpest results.
    I also have the Orion Starmax 90 (which is 1250mm f12.5 or so) While it is sharp with eyepieces it doesn't quite fill the frame for 35mm. Not a bad fit for digital though.
    One caveat about mirror optics (both Maksutov like mirror lenses and Shmidt-Cassegrain): Optical correcction is optimum for a certain distance between the secondary and primary mirrors. That's why you may get sharper close-ups using extension tubes rather than focusing the lens closer.
  23. Mike, I bought a C-90 in 1978 that was far and away the worst lens I've ever bought new. It was delivered without all of the extension tubes and without a packing list. Not knowing better I used it. Terrible central hot spot, didn't cover 24x36, and was so astigmatic that it couldn't focus window screen in both directions -- h and v -- at ten feet.
    Eventually I got fed up, returned it to Celestron under warranty. They sent me another one with all of the tubes and less wobbly focusing. Not knowing better, I used it. There was no improvement in performance.
    Thanks for correcting my error about the abortion's maximum aperture. f/11, not f/10. Failing memory, but I'll never forget how bad mine were.
    Now I have a Questar 700. You can't imagine how much better it is than the C-90. At its close focusing distance I got some shots with it that can't be told from shots taken with a 55/2.8 MicroNikkor AIS and a 105/2.8 MicroNikkor AIS at the same magnification and aperture (f/8).
    I used flash in those trials. As you'll have learned from your C-90 and Orion, long lenses punish unsteadiness severely. I found my C-90s hard to use, also find the Q700 hard to use. This last has been solved somewhat by replacing my old Bogen 3021 (the bearing surfaces between the leg sections are too short, it vibrates in torsion) with a Berlebach 8023.
  24. News flash of sorts.
    Sigma responded to an email of mine, and indicates that they think the filter diameter on this is 95mm.
    Just in case anyone was burning with an itch to know. :p
  25. OK JDM I'll give you some information:
    First: Use a good tripod 600mm is 12 time normal so don't expect it to be excellent hand held, your shakes are also multiplied by 12!
    Second: Mirror lenses usually have a bit les contrast. Normally I buy mirrors in "T" mount since there is no aperture to activate and you have to focus manually anyway.
    The design on all mirror lenses for cameras are Maksotov Cassegrain (1930's) with Bouwers Conversion (Dr. Bouwrs in 1941 or so in Nazi occupied Nederland so he hid the invention until after the war), the alteration adds a lens system in the baffle tube to compensate at least partially for field curvature, and chromatic abberation.
    Lynn ( I used to VP of Celestron)
  26. Dan- my first experience with a C-90 was with a generic prime focus adapter. It produced a central hot spot and failed to
    fill frame. When I finally got the threaded Celestron adapter it filled the frame and hot spotting was for the most part gone.
    Mine was a 1980 vintage with RA drive base and equatorial wedge.
  27. Lynn, thanks for the information, but the issues you raise had been in the post from the beginning. Still, it never hurts to remind people of things.
    As I said, I used a monopod for all the shots, never hand holding. 100% crops of the pictures I took show a very little bit of motion in a only few cases, since, as I said, I also used high ISOs so that shutter speed was normally well above 1/1000 of a second. I left the pictures posted in this thread alone, but in some other cases, I have done some sharpening, and the motion blur was relatively easy to fix.
    I already had 5 500mm lenses, and 4 of them are T-mount. Both this Sigma and the Reflex-Nikkor are Nikon mount and work just fine with inexpensive adapters on many other cameras (like Canon FD and Canon EOS, among others). The two Nikon-mount lenses are really very much superior to the others.
    I also indicated, that one could (so far as 700 pixel images allow) judge contrast for yourself. Even in full-size view, this particular lens does not show what I would call low contrast. The mirror lenses are subject to flare, of course, and the 60mm-long hood on this one was a big help.
    As for the history, the Wikipedia link I already gave on catadioptric lenses ( covers that, as well.
  28. The above mentioned C90 is a pure Maksutov as is the case with all of them, there is field curvature and chromatic aberration (the thick meniscus "corrector lens" causes dispersion - prismatic color separation) not to mention speed loss. For eyeball viewing this is tolerable, for film or digi sensor, it is really not tolerable.
  29. The 2nd lens I ever bought new, my first after returning to photography from a 10 year hiatus, was a Vivitar 500mm f8 mirror. I guess I should thank the silver halides that the experience didn't turn me off photography once and for all. The lens ended up being returned to the store in exchange for I forget what, but it wasn't a mirror lens.
    Like many people getting into it, I bought the lens to use for bird photography. Now picture your 'perfect shot' of a sparrow sitting on a twig or fence post or whatever, then imagine all those swirly donut thingys all over the background. And that awful vignetting around all your shots of birds perched on tree branches, with sky background. And that's if, and only if, the budding photographer has mastered the use of the tripod in tracking and focusing on difficult subjects that have the annoying tendency of moving whenever they sense a camera lens 'in focus' somewhere in the vicinity. And then there's that whole thing of photographing some brilliantly-plumaged bird, as you remember it, and have the shots come back from the lab and you wonder if the bird was dipped in mud the instant before you pressed the shutter.
  30. Jody et al.
    It's not actually impossible to photograph birds with a mirror lens, and I can't see that the difficulties are much different than with any other long, manual-focus lens.
    The donuts are not inevitable, either. With both the Reflex-Nikkor 500mm and the Sigma 600mm most of the images I take in a particular shoot either lack the donuts or show them only very subtlely. At times, I even find the best of the shots to have pleasant bokeh for my taste. Sometimes, too, donuts can be tasty.
    I think if your Vivitar mirror lens was one of the new "Vivitar" company lenses, rather than from the old company of the 1970s, then the lens was likely from the same Korean plant that makes things like the Quantaray 500mm mirror lens I have. It is just a very poor lens, with not only poor contrast, but simply unsharp at any focus setting. Also, there's no doubt that you have to learn how to use even the good lenses effectively. You can't just run out with the lens hand-held and snap off shots, for example. As Lynn says, this is a LOT of magnification - of motion as well as of image.
  31. I have this lens too in K-mount, though mine is a more of a metallic gray. It seems to be built well enough, has a rotating tripod foot and decent manual focus feel. Also offers 1:3 'macro', you can focus the thing down to only 2 meters...I can fill the frame with a doorknob. Trying to focus and shoot this lens handheld starts giving me a headache though with the the viewfinder image jumping all over the place. Took a few shots in my backyard with Pentax K-7 (nice but not classic) but haven't used it much since. Someday I might try a few with a film camera with brighter viewfinder.
    Here's probably the best of that batch; probably could have used a bit more light. This was taken handheld at ISO 1600 at 1/125, and I don't consider myself all that steady. Cool thing about Pentax is the in-body stabilization, though unfortunately it doesn't stabilize the viewfinder. I didn't own a monopod at that time, I'll have to try that too.
    "Wait, I came here looking for doughnuts!!!!"
    I also tried a couple of moon images but I don't think these were much better than the ones I took with my 80-320 zoom (click to see larger).
  32. rdm


    I use a 500mm f/8 vivitar series 1 mirror lens for my long work. Does anyone else like this lens?
  33. PPS- much later
    I bought a 95mm pinch lens cap and it does fit the Sigma lens proper, but it won't work with the lens hood, naturally enough. I still haven't got to the odd-ball camera supply (a local grocery store) to see if I can find a margarine lid or some such that will fit over the hood (a coffee-can plastic lid is just barely too small)
  34. rdm


    is it a metal lens hood or plastic one?
  35. dan,
    if that was for me, it's a rather substantial metal, screw-in hood.

Share This Page