View Full Version : 500 mirror lens

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03-15-2011, 03:16 PM
I was wondering about getting one of these. but i've seen mixed reviews about them. For instance how they are not as sharp, and lose some quality of the image compared to other lenses.

like i said i've only seen reviews online just wanted to hear something from someone that has used ,or tried these out for more than just a test.
are they worth using? or would a 70-210 with 2x tele work just as well?? Thanks

best regards

03-15-2011, 03:24 PM
They often do have a "soft" feel even when absolutely focused. The "dohnuts" in specular highlights that are out of focus are odd to most.
There were a lot of "off brand" lenses made.
I have "heard" that Vivitar and Tamron made the better off branded ones.
I had the Nikkor 500 at my disposal for years... never reached for it much, and only remember a couple memorable images made with it.

03-15-2011, 03:34 PM
They're called "cat" lenses or catadioptric lens. The advantage is that they're shorter because the focal length is "folded" inside the barrel and they're lighter too boot. I've see images with them and they're reasonably sharp. The disadvantage is that you can't adjust the f stop because there's only 1 aperture. You can use neutral density filters to "stop" down the lens. The images from these lenses have very distinct circles of confusion.

03-15-2011, 03:38 PM
Forgot to mention that the "off brand" lenses were not worth the $119 or $199 they asked for in the early 1980's when they were sold during the SLR craze. So I wouldn't think even one of those Cambron, Focal, Sears, Soligar, etc etc would NOT be worth any sum of money today.
If you must have one snag a Vivitar Series 2, or, Nikkor, Canon, Minolta, Pentax.. not sure if some of these lines had one.

03-15-2011, 04:04 PM
Go with brand news with this style lens.

Mick Fagan
03-16-2011, 06:12 AM
I have the Sigma 600 f/8, it is not brilliant, but it isnít a slouch either. I bought mine second hand about 22-25 years ago and used it extensively to shoot kangaroos.

It was the only way I could get a 600 mm lens, I paid $180.00 AUD for it.

I made many a memorable slide with this lens, and squillions of colour negatives, from which I made some quite good prints.

You donít mention what camera system you are using, but if you are in Nikon land then a reasonably cheap way to get a relatively quality lens kit is the Nikkor 300 Ais f/4.5 with internal focusing, couple this with a Nikkor 1.4 converter of the correct type and you have a reasonably compact 450mm focal length lens with virtually no degradation of image quality. This is the route I would go today.


03-16-2011, 06:35 AM
I have a Tamron 500 f8 with a Nikon and a Leicaflex adapter and have had it for years. Like others said it is not the sharpest knife in the drawer but it is a 500mm. The rotating tripod colar and rear filter set came with it plus a decent storage box.

The lens does give acceptable results for what it is. I rarely sell off lenses so I still have it. I get it out about once a year in the spring. I've been baiting tree branches with fruit and seeds trying to get a nice set of bird images. It is good for that kind of work because I can prefocus and wait. Biggest problem there is I hate to wait.


03-16-2011, 06:58 AM
The Minolta AF 500/8 s actually very sharp, certainly compared to all of the other cats though of course it has the usual donut bokeh.

03-16-2011, 07:56 AM
I too have a Sigma 600 for a contax mount. I use it on safari and let the automatic shutter speed determine the exposure. This worked well to late evening until the speed dropped to below 1/500. bean bags were a great help. Doughnuts are a problem only when there are specular highlights; water and man made sufraces. No such issues in the grasslands of east Africa.
One other advantqage is the slightly lower contrast of the lens with the central obstruction of the reflecting mirror, under high contrast situations.
Your best lens is the one you got.
Hand held, $90, short, light, built in B&W filters, easy focus which snaps in and out of focus
For me it was a great choice

03-16-2011, 07:58 AM
If you go the Cat route, make sure it comes with it's filters. At least in the case of the Nikkor's, the filter is a required part of the optics.
As I recall, the lens was supplied with a clear filter and some ND's.

Unless it's stuff you already have, I'd avoid a teleconverter with a zoom, if you're concerned about sharpness. The result probably isn't any better than a Cat prime, and might well be worse, depending on the specific lenses you'd be comparing.

The nice thing about Cats is the lighness. Hand holding a straight tele of 300 and longer is challenging without extra support of some kind, but a 500 mm cat is much easier to handle, and realistically do-able without extra stuff.

03-16-2011, 05:32 PM
You donít mention what camera system you are using,

I'm use either a pentax k1000, or OM-1.
May other concern was weight, as I've have a 2x tele, and a zoom for the om1. its alot of length and weight to hand hold.
The image becames quite a bit darker with the tele on; Prob has to do with the F-stop increase right???

Also i'm just shooting birds right now, and my 70-210 zoom works alright, there are times i just can't get close enough. Hence, my interests in a 500 Cat lens, compactness, and more magnification ( :) i learned some new terminology)

Thanks for all the advice.

Gerald C Koch
03-16-2011, 06:01 PM
I think the problem that some people experience with this type lens is caused by the fact that they are easy to hand hold. There is a specific technique involved to assure sharpness when handholding any long lens.

Jeff Kubach
03-16-2011, 06:57 PM
I have thought about getting one, but after looking all the possibles I didn't want one.


03-16-2011, 07:24 PM
IMHO all of the above is true to some degree. I have a 500mm Porter's cat. As said, it may not be the sharpest, but it does a good job. Using it on a tripod, it compares favorably with my 450mm Soligor Petzval design. Mainly, it's easy to carry and use. I'm not unhappy with it.

03-16-2011, 07:39 PM
I' too have a Sigma 600mm F8 mirror lens to suit Canon FD mount which I fit to my Canon EF body using an optical adapter. As Mick says, it's not brilliant but no slouch.

Andrew K
03-17-2011, 01:03 AM
I've owned a Canon FD 500mm mirror, plus a couple of different Russian 500mm lenses (and a 1000mm), and for sharpness the Russian lenses win hands down. How sharp? Not as sharp as a 500/4.5L Canon, but much sharper than any manual focus zoom lens I've used with any teleconvertor (and I've owned all the Canon teleconvertors).

If you can find one the old Vivitar solid cat lenses were also very good.

Personally I would look out for a fixed 400mm lens - I've used a Sigma f5.6 400mm with good results - much sharper than azoon with a TCV..

Another alternative would be an old Pentax 500/4.5 screw mount lens with an K mount adaptor. I've seen them priced pretty reasonably..

I just had a quick look at KEH - they list a few 500mm mirro lenses with T Mounts for under $70.....

03-17-2011, 01:24 AM
for an example- here's a shot with a Tamron/T mount.


As I recall, this was with the lens supported on a post. View is a bit soft, but it does the job. My experience with store-brand mirror lenses was very bad though I still have a 300mm something-a-tar I got cheap at a swap meet

03-02-2013, 01:02 AM
I owned a 500mm Nikkor Cat a number of years back and found the lens far too soft for my liking (I ended up giving the lens away); my other telephoto Nikkors (300, 400 and 600mm) are IF-ED glass so maybe my basis of comparison is unfair. That said, I did find the "donut effect" interesting, but not something I would use on a regular basis. From time to time, however, I have been tempted to give a try out to the 500mm Nikkor Cat ("New") to see if any improvement is evident in the last release of the design...

03-02-2013, 12:10 PM
I suspect that alignment is an issue with inexpensive cats. The Vivitar solid cats were reliable, although the t-stops(equiv. f/stop corrected for transmission) were in the zoom range. I have an old Russian MTO which is quite contrasty and sharp, but it is only light compared to a refractor of the same spec.

03-02-2013, 02:32 PM
I have nothing to add to this thread, other than to note the irony of a thread started by "Labrat87" about lenses referred to colloquially as "cat" lenses, posted in the "Wildlife" sub-forum :p