Cost Effective Ultra-Long Lens Solution


Semi-automatic Mediocrity Generator
Supporting Member
Jul 16, 2015
Reaction score
Can others edit my Photos
Photos OK to edit
I currently use a Nikon 55-300 for my long shots (DX cropped body lens).

I've seen Tokina 500mm f/8 lenses on ebay for around a hundred bucks, but I wonder if the softness of the inexpensive lens would cause me to wish I'd just cropped a 300mm image from my Nikon lens.

How do I go significantly longer than 300mm on the cheap and get an image superior to the cropped 300mm image?

Even reasonable or possible? PS- I realize that the lens will be a high-aperature rating due to expense. No f/2.8 ultra-telephotos on the cheap!
If you can find a Nikon 'F' mount to T mount apaptor, you can probably find one of the host of 400mm f5.6 manual lenses (Such as this... just the first one I found, not recommending this particular one) and if you get a 1.4 or 2x TC, you can have a 600 mm f8ish or 800mm f11 for <$300.
I have an old-style long focus lens, a 500mm f/8 manual focus pre-set diaphragm T-mount lens which I payed $99 for in 2004. These lenses are still being made and sold by a number of companies, under various brand names. Minimum focusing distance is 35 feet on mine. I have not shot mine since the 6-megapixel days...not sure what it looks like on the newer, higher-resolution cameras, but my feeling is it is as sharp as the 70-300 VRF Nikkor, maybe actually better, and it's a real, long, 500mm lens. Drawbacks are hard to stabilize (super-lightweight and also long length makes for more degree of arc movement when hand-held or mounted less-than-solidly), and hard to focus on anything moving, dim finder image.

The 150-600 Tamron and Sigma lenses might start turning up used more and more once Nikon's upcoming 200-500mm f/5.6 hits the market at $1300 or so--if that lens is good, I think some users will dump their 150-600 third party lenses and go to the faster Nikkor.
Last edited:
@wyogirl - Less than $300 is cheap to me.
If you can live with the weird bokeh and fixed aperture mirror lenses are pretty inexpensive.
If you can live with the weird bokeh and fixed aperture mirror lenses are pretty inexpensive.
Yep. Donut Bokeh.

The hole in the donut is caused by the secondary mirror stuck to the back/middle of the front corrector plate.

The first is fool's gold and are rather like those ultra cheap "wide angle filters" - basically not worth it.

The second you link to is a mirrorlens which is discussed above and has the doughnut bokeh rings instead of circular ones.

A couple of quick google results (not mine) which show the bokeh effect. Some like it, some hate it, some tolerate it for the cost of the lens.
You're going to need to spend some money for a lens with that much reach. You may be able to find some used sigma 150-500s around for like $7-800

With a mirror lens, they'll probably all perform similarly. There might be some improvement in the glass coatings, but the lens alone - teleconverter aside - should perform equally well within a reasonable price (they sell sub-$100 reflectors on ebay, I have no idea how they perform or who makes them - they might very well be just fine). These mirror lenses are very simple, and from a price-resolution stand point, they are probably your best option.

The trade off is the weird doughnut bokeh, fixed aperture and fixed focal length (as far as I know). This means that the OOF region will be made up of O-Shaped elements, rather than "balls", the aperture cannot be stopped down, and the window on these are so large that you typically use rear-mounted filters since front-mounted filters would cost a fortune - let alone a full set of NDs. There is no zoom option as far as i've seen. It should be theoretically possible to have a zoom, but I have never seen one. That said, the focus distance is NOT set, and you can focus to close distance. Sigma has even made some with "macro" focus. Because they have fewer optical surfaces, I'd imagine that they'd probably work well with extension rings provided that the mirror is well aligned and of high quality.

I've always wanted to get one of these. Kalimar, Sigma and Vivitar branded mirrors can be found very inexpensive used. If you can find one on ebay for $50, might be worth giving it a try and seeing if you can work with it. If not, well, they look cool anyway.
MIrror lenses are best bought used, as are macro lenses. Why? Mirror lenses are in that class of photographic equipment that is often bought, tried, used for a month, then retired, then placed in storage, and then, years or months later, SOLD or consignment sold through a photo dealer, or on the regular second hand market (e-Bay, Craigslist,etc.). There are MANY low-cost, fairly adequate quality 500mm f/8 models, a few 600mm mirror lenses, as well as 800 and 1000mm models, with the 500 f/8 having become the common model over the last 20 years. The Nikkor 500mm f/8 is better optically than the cheapies that have been offered for a couple decades now, but is a lot more expensive.

Fixed aperture is not much of a problem now, in the digital era, since you have a Nikon with almost infinitely variable ISO setting options with decent quality, as well as an AUTO ISO option that make it dead-easy to set the desired exposure, both f/stop and shutter speed in Manual mode, and then the camera's metering system can determine the needed ISO to maintain that 1/800 second shutter speed. (1/800 is a good minimum speed for a 500mm lens; something FASTER, like 1/1000 or 1/1250 is even better, especially for action subjects and for shooting hastily). Not much need for the 2x and 4x neutral density filters included in old ones, now that d-slrs have astounding ISO ranges and super-fast shutter speeds of up to 1/8000 second in most cases. Last week I looked at a HUGE, heavy 500/8 with built-in rotating rear-mount filters, and a honkin-sized barrel for $69 in a pawnshop. It was branded as a Chinon, I think. I looked at it for about two minutes and went, "huh..." It was massive, compared with most 500/8's.

I have an old 1980's Celestron 300/5.6 mirror lens of average quality, cost $99 new in '85.

I think the doughnut bokeh is a vastly over-featured; in many situations it's hardly noticeable.

Getting to 500mm cheaply is not an easy task. Now that you have a high-megapixel APS-C camera, you might find that it's actually better to get a high-grade 300mm lens and to crop images at the computer.
Might have to keep my eyes out for the chinon. sounds kind of entertaining :)

Most reactions