Phoenix 500mm lens + TC question

Discussion in 'Lens Lust' started by David_N, Jun 27, 2007.

  1. Well, I have a need for long reach, and am on a budget that doesn't allow me to buy any main brand glass. I don't need the sharpest or fastest glass avaliable, but something providing a little quality would be nice.

    Cameta Camera has two things on ebay:

    Edit, I also found this:

    Would these provide average-decent quality? Or am I wasting my money on garbage?

    If anyone has any shots from these lenses it would be superb, but I'm not expecting anything, because I've been hard pressed to find anything online about them.

    Secondly, what is the major difference, I know nothing about mirror-lenses...? I'm assuming that from the great focusing distance difference the mirror one would be better for macro... But I need to shoot things a long way away.

  2. A mirror lens is like a miniature telescope: it uses two mirrors to fold the light path back and forth so that it packs the lens into a relatively tiny space. I don't know of any mirror lens that has a movable diaphram (ie has more than one aperture setting) and only one - a Minolta - that is AF. If a manual focus, non-CPU lens with a fixed (slow) aperture is acceptable, keep reading.

    In general good mirror lenses yield good image quality, except that the hole in the primary mirror creates problems with bokeh. There are two separate issues. One is that out of focus highlights sometimes appear as donuts. Some folks like this, most don't, but occasionally this can be used creatively and productively. The other problem is that out-of-focus parts of the image can be rendered with what could charitably be called "aggressive" bokeh. It's often bad enough that one may resort to postprocessing in some Gaussian blur - this actually works rather well, but it's yet another step in processing, and it's not a universal solution.

    You will often hear/see commentary that mirror lenses are all soft. This not true. There are actually a lot of good ones, but image quality often is far less than what's possible. Despite their tiny size and weight (my 500/f8 is literally smaller than, and weighs less than my Sigma 12-24/f4), these are, by and large NOT hand-holdable except in blazing high noon sunlight. I speak from considerable experience! When I put mine on a tripod, I was able to get quite sharp images, FAR better than hand-held, even at 1/1500th sec.

    And finally, as with anything else, there are good ones and bad ones. I have no experience with the specific model about which you're asking, but I have tried most of the other ones that fit Nikon. The ones from Nikon, Sigma and especially Tamron are all good. The cheapies that I've tried, most notably a Vivitar one, are not just bad, they're terrible.

    Here's an image that compares the Tamron 500/f8 SP with the Vivitar version of the same length and aperture:


    This not an exaggeration: the Vivitar is actually that bad. It is literally the worse "lens" I've ever seen. I should point out that the two parts of this image were NOT taken at the same time. In fact, the Tamron was taken probably two weeks later from a slightly different vantage point. However, the differences in quality should be quite obvious. If you look in the grass in the upper part of the frame from the Tamron (ie on the left) you can see both the choppy bokeh and some small highlights that have turned into donuts.

    This is an image from the Tamron in practical use:


    This one is quite sharp, and it has also been postprocessed to deal with the choppy bokeh. Unless one looks closely, you'd never tell that this didn't come from a much faster lens. (There is a small section right above the 'gator that didn't get processed quite right, but you have to be looking to see it.) Compare the out-of-focus rendition here with the image above and you can see just how weird the bokeh can get.

    As you might guess from the subject matter here, I wasn't going anywhere near that 'gator, and a long lens helped avoid the necessity (and consequences).

    The Tamron, incidently, is usually available at KEH for around $200. It is within a whisker of matching the Nikon 500/f8 Reflex-N, which typically is found for around $450.
  3. Depends on your needs + a better option

    I have the first lens you listed, the mirror lens (mine is badged Opteka, I think). I bought it on a lark (also from e-bay, for ~$50-$100 IIRC) after seeing a discussion on another photo forum in which several people suggested or bashed it in a thread about cheap long lenses. None of them posted any photos, so I bought one just to play with to see how bad it really was or wasn't.

    I was surprised, it really wasn't that tragically bad. Images from it needed a fair bit of post processing help (primarily to kick up contrast and color) but it was reasonably sharp when handled appropriately for that narrow a field of view. It does display the characteristic mirror lens donuts on OOF highlights, of course.

    Will you be happy with it? Probably not, unless you're able to keep it's limitations and your expectations in line. If you can do that, then it's probably not that bad an interim stop. You will want something better later, but you can probably resell it for some portion of what you paid (check what they've closed for used). Also, check for them in other mounts (Canon, Minolta, etc.)--if you find a used one cheap you could buy it and then just swap the t-mount adapters (which can usually be found inexpensively).

    I've only ever heard (though not seen) bad things about the second lens you list.

    I'd suggest a third option. If you're patient enough, eventually you'll find a used third party long/slow prime on the cheap. I've seen more than one Tokina 400/5.6 go for under $150, and occasionally there are pretty good deals in a little higher price range on the Sigma 400/5.6 or 500/7.2 lenses.

    I found a Tokina 400/5.6 for $125, and as a budget option it would beat the heck out of the 500/8 mirror lenses, in my opinion.


    P.S. If no one else gets you samples, I'll shoot something tonight after work and toss it up here for you.
  4. I always wanted to get a mirror lens for the boke-aji. I've played with them before but never actually put my money into it. It's too bad...they do some wicked cool things.
  5. Indeed they do. I no longer use mine for its original purpose (birds and wildlife). It's too hard to manually focus quickly and accurately. For most of the reasons listed above (DOF control, f/8, having to postprocess bokeh and most importantly AF), I spent the $1000 to upgrade to a Sigma 50-500. That's what gets the birding shots now.

    I've kept the Tamron 500/f8 - I usually use it with extension tubes in macro situations. The pace of the shooting is slow, I'm already working in manual focus mode, and I have the time to arrange the bokeh donuts in useful ways. It doesn't hurt that the Tamron focuses to something ridiculously close like 5 feet - close enough to do dragonflies - even without the tubes. Not all mirror lenses do this, incidently. The Sigma 600/f8 has a really long minimum focus - something like 19 feet!
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