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Mirror lens. Worth it?

Kevin Han , Dec 27, 1997; 09:47 a.m.

I have a 300mm lens at f/5.6. This doesn't work well with a 2x converter. Even autofocus is not possible. And the whole viewfinder gets too dark. I'm considering to get a 500mm lens. I've heard of mirror lenses and I see that their prices are much lower. Are they worth it?


Shun Cheung , Dec 27, 1997; 10:09 a.m.

This topic has been discussed many times. While I am sure that some individuals would disagree with me, but from my personal experience with a 500mm/f8 N Nikkor, I would say as strongly as avoid 500mm/f8 mirror lenses. Most of those are really like 500mm/f11 lenses. If you put a 2X tele-convertor on your 300mm/f5.6, it is like a 600mm/f11. A 500mm/f11 will give you pretty much the same problems as your 300mm/f5.6 with a 2X: the view finder will be very dark and it will be very hard to focus. And you'll need fast film to achieve a fast shutter speed to get sharp pictures. Personally, I have no problems with those donut-shaped out-of-focus bright spots, so that is a non-issue to me.

I am sure that some folks have success with mirror lenses. You could be one of those, but I wish someone had told me to avoid mirror lenses before I bought mine.

JEFF HALLETT , Dec 27, 1997; 11:30 a.m.

I will have to agree with Shun but I also feel that these lenses are suitable for the photographer who just wants some nice images to project to the family and friends or wants nice prints to keep in an album for same purposes. However if you are like most of us who want as sharp as possible for publication or just because we consider ourselves a cut above the average or more, then spend the bucks. May I recommend as an alternative, consider the Sigma 4005.6. I own this lens and have yet to be disappointed with it and I don,t need a 2x to get the shots I want. Many folks on this forum own it and seem to be happy with it too. Cost is a bit more than the mirror lens but not near what a 500 4.5 is. The 70-300 4.5-5.6 macro is nice too and about as much as a quality mirror lens.

Tom Shea , Dec 27, 1997; 12:39 p.m.

I was always very wary of mirror lenes. I thought they were simply toys. However, I recently purchased the new Zeiss (Contax) 500 f8 mirror lens. It is not as good as a good regular 500 mm lens, but it can produce very good quality images up to 8 x 10. For me, the main consideration is preventing the donut hole out of focus look of highlights in the background. I find I can often do this by ensuring that the background does not contain any ligth highlights. I do not consider this as a general use lens, but rather as a special purpose lens that is effective in selected situations.

Bill O'Neill , Dec 28, 1997; 09:55 p.m.

I once met a german photographer that was working on a project to photograph large birds in dead trees (?). He was using a beautiful 500mm f4 mirror lens that was, in itself, a work of art. He showed me some of the images he had taken with this lens and they were spectacular. Contrasty, sharp, and, as far as I could tell, devoid of rude do-nut rings. I belive he said the lens was made by Ziess (may have been the Jena facility) and that it cost him around 25,000 marks. This is the only mirror lens that I have come accross that was capable of taking images I would like. This was not your typical mirror lens. Even still the photographer had to complain that he had no facility to alter the depth of field or aperture. I will second Jeff's advice. Save up a few more dollars and go with one of the better 400/5.6's (I would suggest Tokina). You will be far happier with the results

Bob Atkins , Dec 29, 1997; 01:31 p.m.

You generally get what you pay for, and the lower cost of the typical (500mm f8) mirror lenses reflects their shortcomings. Are they worthless? No, not at all. If you want a very small, very light, inexpensive telephoto, and you are prepared to use fast film, then a mirror lens might be of use. The better ones (Nikon, Canon, Tamron) are quite decent if you don't mind a fixed aperture, "donut" shaped out of focus highlights, dark viewfinder, no AF and you don't expect to enlarge to more than about 8x10 very often.

If you don't absolutely need the small size and weight, then I don't think 500/8 mirror lenses are a particularly good buy. For most people a 400/5.6 APO lens would be better, and the 3rd party lenses of this type (Sigma etc.) aren't all that much more expensive than the better 500/8 mirror lenses.

Anthony Dente , May 31, 1998; 11:20 p.m.

I own a Leica Telyt-R 500mm mirror lense, made by Minolta for Leica. I use the lens for bird photography and have enjoyable photos, some enlargements of 8 by 10 which cover most walls in my home.

The color in these photos are lifelike and can`t complain at all. Of course one needs to have plenty of light or the lens aimed upwards, a bird high in the trees on a cloudy day, to get the best of the f8 design. Yes it does not focus eaisly with the limited light nor is it as sharp as the non mirror types. But it does show the bird with great detail enough to satisfy me. Yes you can call them sharp, but not tack sharp.

O.K. so what is the point you may ask? Well I`m not saying get rid of those expensive big hunks of glass but I think bird photography should be enjoyable and to be in the outdoors why not walk for a couple of miles to boot? Try doing that with a large Canon (cannon) or the other cannon lenses. Then after that nice two mile walk with that lense set it up with the tripod and aim it at the bird, did I mention I hand hold my camera lens combo, focus and if the bird is still there its either blind or dead. Yes I know I`ll get the shot maybe not perfect but its better than nothing. I use 200-400 speed film, yep I hand hold my camera and love every minute of it.

Terry Danks , Aug 29, 1998; 12:24 p.m.

Another topic close to my heart. I have the 500mm f/8 Nikkor and I love the thing! Is it a contender for the 500 f/4P? Of course not! However it takes some fine pictures and the new "macro" version is just so nice to use on birds. I have posted many pictures taken with it on my web site. I won't argue about whether these are AS sharp as "big glass" but they seem PLENTY sharp to me. This is no fuzzy mickey-mouse lens. I dispute especially the opinion that one get a 400mm Sigma instead. While I do not have the Sigma I do have a 200-400 Tamron. Ignoring the mediocre rep of this lens for sharpness, I still prefer my mirror. With birds it seems you can never get close enough. The extra reach of the 500 over the 400 makes it the lens of preference for me. Yes it is a stop slower and you can't stop it down to increase DOF. Heck, it is already f/8 and 500mm to boot! How many 500's are stopped below f/8 anyway? Nice when you can do it but usually a higher shutter speed is more important, no? I also LOVE being able to carry the thing about all day. It is almost magical in its compactness. The 200-400 Tamron seems a ponderous beast in comparison. Now all that said, it seems impractical to expect to use it much with a TC, especially a 2X one!

nelson davis , Mar 08, 1999; 04:02 p.m.

Mirror lenses I have had experience with and can recommend. Vivitar Series 1 450mm F4.5. Very sharp lens from edge to edge with plastic aspherical front element. Unfortunately depth of filed is shallow as one would expect, but the lens is very fast and convenient. The lens was only in production for about 1 year and is a very rare item indeed. It was made in 1985 and is enclosed in a water resistant rubber casing. There was also a dedicated 2x match made teleconverter sold as an optional accessory for this lens. The old Zoomar 500mm F5.6 is also a very decent lens. Large and rather heavy by modern standards though. There is a lot of variation in mirror lenses. Higher quality is usually reflected in higher initial cost. Any additional comments?

Dan Todoran , Jun 12, 2008; 08:56 a.m.

Lenses Versus Mirrors Just one question : why the astronomical survey is made thru MIRRORS thelescopes; dark, long thimes for exposure, etc Simply the image is the most sharpest possible, NO aberation, ASO Whit an # the quality of the mirror is a must So a cheap mirror lens = poor image quality If you lok for quality is neat 100% possible thet the price of an mirror is biger to an regular

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