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400mm Mirror Lenses (and 350mm, and 450mm)
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 09, 2021 11:16 pm    Post subject: 400mm Mirror Lenses (and 350mm, and 450mm) Reply with quote

I thought it would be good to start a thread about 400mm mirror lenses since we have some for 300mm and
500mm lenses. But there’s also some 350mm and 450mm lenses, but not enough to deserve their own thread, so why not add them into this one.

I’ll just start with a listing of all the ones I’m aware of.

350mm:

* Tamron SP 350mm f/5.6 from the 1980s
* MTO 350mm/5.6, made from 1956 to 1959, originally in Exakta mount, usually found converted to M39 or M42.


400mm:

* Tokina 400mm f8 from about 2019-2020 onwards, still available.
* Kenko 400mm f8, in two versions; unsure what the difference is; also recent, and perhaps the same as the Tokina?
* Minolta Vectis 400mm f8, one of only two autofocus mirror lenses I’m aware of; late 1990’s
* Makinon 400mm f/6.7, which I also have seen branded Aiistar and unbranded; part of Makinon’s 300/400/500 trio; production date not clear to me, but perhaps 1980s?
* Sigma 400mm f/5.6, part of Sigma’s 400/600/1000mm trio; produced 1982-?
* Pentax 400-600mm f8-12 zoom, only of only two zoom reflexes I'm aware of; produced 1984-1999

450mm:

Vivitar Series 1 450mm f/4.5 from early 1980s

Anyone know of any others?


Last edited by xaprb on Sun Oct 10, 2021 1:02 pm; edited 2 times in total


PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2021 1:49 am    Post subject: Re: 400mm Mirror Lenses (and 350mm, and 450mm) Reply with quote

xaprb wrote:
. . .
Anyone know of any others?


Does the Pentax 400-600mm zoom qualify?
https://www.pentaxforums.com/lensreviews/SMC-Pentax-K-400-600mm-F8-12-Reflex-Zoom-Lens.html


PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2021 12:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, let’s include that one too, and thanks! It’s so funny, I’d recently emailed someone about this topic and included that one, but forgot it for this thread. One of only two zoom-reflexes i’m aware of, the other one being the 500-800mm Soligor/Cambron/Zykkor.

I’ll edit my first post to reflect later additions so people reading this thread don’t have to read through the whole thing; I’ll keep it kind of a table of contents.

So, there’s a good list… now discuss!

I’ll start: I like mirror lenses a lot, but I really like 400mm mirror lenses. I shoot mostly on a Fujifilm X-S10 which is an APS-C crop sensor. For me, 400mm on that sensor size is perfect for a lot of wildlife, like birds and butterflies and so on. 300mm makes me want to get closer, 500mm is too hard to handhold and I find my keeper ratio creeping down due to shake. But at 400mm, I get a good tight field of view and I can handhold in most light that I am usually out and about in. And with a 400mm mirror lens, I get a much smaller and lighter lens, so it’s much easier to carry. I have a bunch of 300mm and 400mm refractor lenses and wow do they get tiresome to carry and hold while I’m crouched in the brush for an hour trying to get an angle on a waterbird without scaring it.

I have copies of various lenses mentioned in this thread, in various conditions and states of optical clarity, and I’m still learning to use them and form opinions on their quality. For me, the handling of a mirror lens is more important than usual. A refractor may be a little easier or more difficult to focus, etc, etc but a mirror’s ease of handling seems to make a bigger difference to me. If the focus isn’t sufficiently damped, for example, I just have a super-hard time managing because focus has to be JUST right or the shot is blown. And there's weight, and balance, and so on. It makes a big difference to how severe the shake is.

And, sharpness aside, some mirror lenses seem more forgiving than others. Lots of people before me have commented that mirror lenses have a thinner depth of field than equivalent refractors. This is partially due to the larger front element, which theoretically creates the depth-of-field effect of a lens with a larger aperture. Also partially due to the out-of-focus blur, which tends to double-render contrasty edges; so there’s no smooth fading from in-focus to out-of-focus. Things are either sharp, or violently unfocused. But aside from that, and this is subjective/speculative, I feel that some mirror lenses are just easier or harder to see when they're in-focus. I use the viewfinder magnification in my camera to focus, and on some lenses, I'm sure I've got it in-focus and then I look at the resulting image on my computer and it's not. I think some mirrors might render the transition to out-of-focus more harshly.

I'll illustrate with a couple of shots from my copy of the Tamron SP 350mm f/5.6. The first caused me to nickname this my "lizard lens" because the depth of field at ~10m is only as wide as a small lizard is thick. (This is a common five-lined skink, in the eastern USA). The second is a great horned owl from a bird walk yesterday (very exciting!), in the shade of a giant oak on a dark morning with light rain falling. Don't be fooled by the way it looks; I post-processed it a lot to brighten it and improve colors. A testimony to the Fuji's high-ISO performance, which always impresses me. I like this lens, although I think it could be sharper, focus better damped, and I think I'll remove the tripod foot since it's overly bulky and I don't use it. I like that it has a hood that reverses and screws on over the barrel for storage. My copy is a bit hazy inside, and rather than clean it, I have opted to shoot for a while and see how it does; I think it needs to be cleaned, though, since strong backlight near the frame causes a lot of veiling flare even with the hood (I positioned myself near the trunk of the oak to block the sky, and it made a big difference to contrast). I think removing the haze from the mirror and the inside of the front glass element might help both sharpness and contrast. Unfortunately this lens is uncommon-to-rare, and even harder to find without any haze for some reason.


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2021 12:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

MTO 350mm/5.6, made from 1956 to 1959, originaly in Exakta mount, but usualy found converted to M39 or M42.

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2021 1:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow!


PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2021 11:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I took the Vivitar Series 1 450mm f/4.5 out for a long walk today. At the beginning it was heavily overcast, early-to-mid morning, and when I returned, the sun had thinned the cloud cover and was even shining through weakly at times. I was in search of a bald eagle that flew over our house, headed for the river, I thought. I never saw the eagle again, but I took enough photos with the lens to form an opinion of it.

First of all, my copy appears to be in great shape, but it's not performing very well optically. I got a photo of a point light source a couple miles away, and it renders with streaks radiating out from it. I saw this recently on my Minolta 800mm mirror lens as well. Most of the photos I got were very soft with extremely flat colors and contrast. I wonder how much better it could be if it weren't suffering from whatever causes that problem. (I haven't yet tried the suggested diagnostic steps on my Minolta.) It does seem to be better at short distances, however, this could also be a trick of my imagination.

Physically and mechanically, it's very bulky and pretty heavy. It should reward this with stellar image quality, in my opinion, or it's not a good tradeoff. It's a rear-focus lens that moves the corrector group instead of changing the spacing between the mirrors, theoretically enabling better image quality at all distances instead of being optimized for just one distance. It's easy to hold the lens in the palm and fingers of my left hand and move the focus with my left thumb and/or one left finger. But it's got a long focus throw and is a tad stiff, so it's not magically easy.

Theoretically, also, it's a bright lens. But when you measure the front opening and the central obstruction, calculate the area, and calculate the diameter of a circle with that area, it admits no more light than an f/5.6 lens. It can't be a true f/4.5 as a result and my feeling from using it is that's correct -- it's probably an f/6.3 (T-6.3?) in reality. I should have been able to get shutter speeds up or ISO down more than I could. It's just not that bright.

Here are some of the better and/or more important and/or more revealing images I got today. I was disappointed at how little detail I could get out of the hawk (the hawk is a tight crop; other images are full size from my Fuji X-S10). True, I missed focus slightly, but still. There just wasn't much there to work with. All in all, I had much higher hopes for this lens. Alas!


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 11, 2021 4:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

xaprb wrote:
. . .
I’ll start: I like mirror lenses a lot, but I really like 400mm mirror lenses.

Thanks for sharing your perspective. I applaud your enthusiasm!
By comparison, I'm merely a mirror lens dabbler. Most of my experience is with 500mm f/8 lenses.

xaprb wrote:
. . .I feel that some mirror lenses are just easier or harder to see when they're in-focus.

All the mirror lenses I've tried have been difficult.

xaprb wrote:
. . . The second is a great horned owl from a bird walk yesterday (very exciting!)

Yes, a nice capture of a beautiful -and fearsome- animal!




BurstMox wrote:
MTO 350mm/5.6, made from 1956 to 1959, originaly in Exakta mount, but usualy found converted to M39 or M42.

Pleasing photos, BurstMox!




xaprb wrote:
I took the Vivitar Series 1 450mm f/4.5 out for a long walk today. . .

Hmm. Yeah, it's disappointing when a lens doesn't live up to expectations. But you did capture some beautiful landscapes.


PostPosted: Mon Oct 11, 2021 4:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Following up to my experience with the Vivitar 450/4.5, I happened to notice there’s one in apparently pristine condition on eBay right now. The seller posted two sample photos and they’re no better than my results. I’m prepared to believe this lens just doesn’t offer much resolution or contrast, unless someone demonstrates otherwise ;-)


PostPosted: Tue Oct 12, 2021 5:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great thread describing all your experiences, particularly with a Vivitar 450mm f4.5! I have a Perkin Elmer 680mm f12 in not so brilliant condition, that also doesn't perform that brilliantly. Contrast *incredibly* low sadly, although you have to remember even among mirror lenses the central obstruction on this is pretty massive, so I don't mind.

The size is really quite persuasive. In a day of no cropped digital sensors, it would've been great.

I have a Vivitar 800mm f11 sollid cat that performs similarly poorly, but we knew even back in the day from mtf charts that was just the case with these things.


PostPosted: Wed Oct 13, 2021 7:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

xaprb wrote:
Following up to my experience with the Vivitar 450/4.5, I happened to notice there’s one in apparently pristine condition on eBay right now. The seller posted two sample photos and they’re no better than my results. I’m prepared to believe this lens just doesn’t offer much resolution or contrast, unless someone demonstrates otherwise Wink

Or maybe those on sale are the bad ones. I have 2 makinons 300. The one is ok. The other I don't dare to sell. Behold: Pristine mint bad lens for sale. Gud price.. I also bought a like-new vivitar 70-150. Same story. Usually each new owner will try to get rid of a bad purchase ASA he realizes the flaws. Mine can be had for free but nobody wants them... Laugh 1


PostPosted: Wed Oct 13, 2021 7:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

BTW xaprb, you're not acquainted with the lady in #5 by any chance, are you? Wink Nice pic...


PostPosted: Mon Oct 18, 2021 12:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Phalbert wrote:
xaprb wrote:
Following up to my experience with the Vivitar 450/4.5, I happened to notice there’s one in apparently pristine condition on eBay right now. The seller posted two sample photos and they’re no better than my results. I’m prepared to believe this lens just doesn’t offer much resolution or contrast, unless someone demonstrates otherwise Wink

Or maybe those on sale are the bad ones. I have 2 makinons 300. The one is ok. The other I don't dare to sell. Behold: Pristine mint bad lens for sale. Gud price.. I also bought a like-new vivitar 70-150. Same story. Usually each new owner will try to get rid of a bad purchase ASA he realizes the flaws. Mine can be had for free but nobody wants them... Laugh 1


My experience with two Makinon 300mm resembles yours.


PostPosted: Mon Oct 18, 2021 12:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

xaprb: Thanks for starting this thread.

I too will start with the Tamron SP 350, a very good lens. The SP 350 ranks right up there with the best mirrors I've seen and used.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 18, 2021 12:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Sigma 5.6/400 is a sleeper. It's a surprisingly good mirror and is less subject to copy variance than the Sigma 600. However, like the 600, it can suffer from mirror surface issues. The most common is a deterioration around the outer edges of the mirror where it appears an adhesive has caused the problem from behind. Still, it will perform well without any indication of that flaw impacting its use. I have three copies, all good performers.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 18, 2021 3:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bravo, Woodrim! Wonderful images.

A mirror lens was perfect for capturing those alligator scales trailing off into the distance....!

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 20, 2021 11:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Minolta Vectis 8/400 quickly became my favorite mirror. There is some vignetting in the corners on full frame.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 21, 2021 12:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Like 1 Woodrim you consistently get stellar results from these things. Greatly appreciated. I would love to try the Vectis if the adapters ever come back on the market.


PostPosted: Thu Oct 21, 2021 12:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

jamaeolus wrote:
Like 1 Woodrim you consistently get stellar results from these things. Greatly appreciated. I would love to try the Vectis if the adapters ever come back on the market.


Thank you. The adapters were available last year (or before?) but sold out again. I do believe they will be introduced again very soon. I also anticipate Vectis lenses increasing in price from the dirt cheap they are today. The 400mm is not cheap and it is very rare, so will likely increase even more in price.