Cheap 500mm options, best of the worst

Discussion in 'Nikon Lenses' started by daram, Aug 7, 2018.

  1. daram

    daram TPF Noob!

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    I'm looking for the cheapest possible suggestions for acceptable 500mm lenses. I'm aware that options such as mirror lenses, those long, typcially fixed f8 lenses from companies like Opteka, and teleconverters are frowned upon in forums like this.

    But, living in Montana, I'm desperate to photograph some of the abundant wildlife that can be found in nearby wilderness areas. I recently bought a used Nikon D5100 and Tamron 70-300mm zoom and have been researching options to extend range.

    So, anyone with experience with the above (bad) products willing to weigh in (beyond the "don't waste your money, save up and get the ...") stock replies? I'm sure my options will be used, old, manual focus and so on, and I'm fine with that -- just wondering if anything is out there at all for less than $300. Thanks.


     
  2. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    I bought a used roughly 1973-75 era Nikkor 500mm f/8 catadioptric for $135 about a year ago. This is a lens that was probably priced at about two to three months' apartment rent back when it was new; this was never a cheap or second-rate lens. This is not the newer, smaller version, but rather the older, rather larger model.

    Optics are pretty good. Using Lightroom, I have created a preset that removes the vignetting perfectly, with one-click ease. Honestly, the light fall-off from catadioptric lenses was always an issue, pre-digital. On a color slide, light fall-off or vignetting, was a PITA, and basically, made this type of lens not very useful for full-image work. Now? NOT an issue!

    Focusing is a bit tricky by eye, but the 'electronic rangefinder" inside the Nikon viewfinder, the so-called "green dot" focus confirmation system, well, that works pretty well. The lens is not too terribly heavy.

    Mirror lenses are short, and because of that, movement of the front element creates a small degree of movement, less than with a 3x longer true 500mm long focus lens (I have one of those too, $99, pre-set, f/8 as well), and this type of mirror lens is pretty easy to shoot hand-held with acceptable results. Optically, it is sharper and has higher contrast than the 500mm long focus lens I have.

    A long focus 500mm is more or less, 500mm in overall length; a "telephoto" lens is a lens with an effective focal length that is shorter than the specified length. The long-focus, slow-aperture, preset lenses are okay, but I find mine much harder to use than the 500mm Nikkor catadioptric.

    The older Nikkor 500mm f/8 mirror lenses are usable, eminently usable, especially under bright lighting conditions,and low in cost.
     
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  3. daram

    daram TPF Noob!

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    Thanks for taking the time to reply with such a detaile response. Very helpful!
     
  4. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    _DSC_1386_SOOC_Edit.JPG

    _DSC_1534_SOOC_Edit.JPG

    _DSC_1797_SOOC_Edit.JPG

    DSC_7808_500mm Nikkor-3.JPG

    DSC_7925_500mm Nikkor.JPG

    DSC_7996_500mm Nikkor.JPG Here are some snaps from my first two outings, testing out the 500mm f/8 Nikkor from the mid-1970's. Full-frame camera shots; a DX-sensor camera would have an even narrower angle of view using this long of a lens.
     
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  5. daram

    daram TPF Noob!

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    Very cool. Obviously works well if you know what you're doing! Thanks for sharing.
     
  6. ac12

    ac12 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I also use a 500/8 mirror.
    I selected it because I do not shoot a LONG lens enough to justify a $1,400 Nikon 200-500 lens. The Nikon 500/8 mirror costed me about $150, so 10% of the 200-500 zoom.

    You MUST practice to learn to focus with a manual focus lens.
    It is not as simple as one may think.
    - One reason is that the screen of a DSLR is not optimized for manual focus lenses.
    - Another is f/8 can be somewhat dim, making it harder to focus.
    - Moving subject can be DIFFICULT to impossible to track focus. This is depends on how fast the subject is moving towards or away from you, if it is changing directions, and your ability to track focus. I can track focus SLOW moving subjects going in a predictable path, like a ship. But I cannot track focus on fast moving subjects that can stop or change directions quickly, like a tennis player or small flying birds.

    Other stuff
    - 14x magnification on a D7200 is too much for me to handhold for any length of time. I NEED a stable support. I use a gimbal head on a medium tripod. A bean bag on a solid support would work.
    - I found that I had to use a gimbal head on my tripod to track moving subjects. A ball or pan head just did not work for me.
    - At long distances, you will run into atmospheric issues that will degrade the image; stuff in the air (dust, smoke, etc.) and temperature distortion/mirage.
    - The 500/8 mirror is EASY to carry. It fits right into my camera bag. I am not carrying a 'stove pipe.' It is more of a hassle to carry the tripod and gimbal head than the lens.

    I would get a GOOD mirror, not one of the current cheap mirrors.
    I have not been able to find any reviews of the current line of cheap mirror lenses. So I do not know if they are better, worse or similar to the Nikon 500/8. I can tell you that the Nikon 500/8 has a BEAUTIFULLY SMOOTH focusing ring.
     
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  7. daram

    daram TPF Noob!

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    Thanks for the reply. It sounds like that might work, as I pack a tripod into the wilderness and might well run into some somewhat stationary wildlife on a sunny day. Do you happen to have any other suggestions for "good" mirrors -- besides the Nikon 500/8 -- (and examples of "cheap" mirrors I should avoid)?

    btw, do you know if mirror lenses act the same way with cropped sensors, actually providing the equivalent of a longer focal length because of the narrower angle of view (or something like that, terminology may not be correct)?
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2018
  8. ac12

    ac12 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I would look at
    • Tamron 500/8 SP. I think this is an Adapt-All mount, so you also need to find a Nikon Adapt-All mount.
    • Sigma 600. I think this is a permanent/specific mount, so you have to buy the Nikon version. There are 3 versions of this lens.
    A problem with older lenses is that they can be knocked around and knocked out of alignment. I've seen reports of lenses with internal haze on the mirror or lens elements. And the worst of all, fungus. Keep the fungus lens off your camera and away from other lenses, and return it for a refund.

    The Olympus 500/8 seems to get good reviews, but that is Olympus OM mount specific.

    I would avoid the current sub-$100 mirror lenses. I think they are all made by the same company, with different brandings. With the Nikon 500/8 going for around 150-200, I would not bother with these cheap mirrors.

    Do a Google search on reviews and comparisons of mirror lenses.
     
  9. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    I mentioned this above, that mirror lenses do, indeed, provide a narrower angle of view on a DX sensor than they do on an FX-sized sensor.

    I use the 500 hand-held, but try to stick to speeds in the 1/500 to 1/800 second range, or faster, if at all possible. I would concur with most of the things ac12 says in post #6 above. The lens is difficult to focus, impossible for me to use on birds in flight, but possible to use on slow-moving boats at distance.
     
  10. petrochemist

    petrochemist TPF junkie!

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    I have both 500mm/5.6 & 600mm/8 mirror lenses for my DSLR & use them on MFT too.
    Quality is not as good as a normal refractive lens, but if you boost the contrast they are usually quite good enough. Sometimes the doughnut bokeh can combine to make a very distracting background, but they are so much lighter than equivalent refractive lenses that I'm more likely to use them when not at airshows or motorsports.
    IIRC my 500mm is an Optek and has a chip at the edge of the objective (it was given to me like that). My cropped cameras don't see any added issues with it.
    I find both are borderline hand holdable on APSC, or on MFT with a focal reducer. Without a reducer I need at least a monopod to use them on MFT, and in llower light on either system...

    Years ago I used a 500/8 for motorsport (pre-focusing on the bend):
    [​IMG]BSB Brands Hatch 4 by Mike Kanssen, on Flickr

    When someone came off the lack of AF was immediately apparent:
    [​IMG]125 rider midtumble by Mike Kanssen, on Flickr

    and here's a quick close up example of the 600mm with the focal reducer on MFT
    [​IMG]Handheld mirror test by Mike Kanssen, on Flickr

    As with all long lenses atmospheric effects can make distant subjects tricky, even so handheld shots of the moon are practical (if not super sharp)
    [​IMG]Supermoon pre-eclipse by Mike Kanssen, on Flickr
     
  11. zombiesniper

    zombiesniper Furtographer Extraordinaire! Supporting Member

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    One awesome artifact of a mirrored lens id shown in the thrown motorcycle rider image above.

    That is the very unique bokeh rings you get instead of balls. For this reason alone I keep looking at getting one.
     
  12. ac12

    ac12 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    And if you don't watch out, they will multiply.
    I have 4 with #5 on the way.
     

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