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I've recently seen these Rokinon/Opteka mirror lens with whooping focal length (like 500mm, 600mm, 800mm, 1000mm) at a cheap price. And I have seen some of their same pictures in Flickr and vendor sites. But the only thing is that they usually starts from smaller aperture (f/5.6 and upwards)

Now what I was wondering, as they are cheap with quite good IQ - are they good for any bird photography or wild life photography in proper daylight?

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1  
Where's this "quite good IQ" - most of the cheaper lenses mirror lenses seem to look like crap to me. –  rfusca Mar 11 '12 at 3:20
    
you can search in flickr :) –  Hasin Hayder Mar 11 '12 at 3:27
3  
Not all Rokinon are of the same quality. While the 8mm fisheye, the 80mm f1.4, etc that are often positively reviewed in photo magazines are manufactured by Samyang the super telephoto and the mirror lenses are not. –  Jakub Mar 11 '12 at 4:05
    
I am, as well, here looking for the same answer. Thanks for the opinions. I Just came across to this site and I'm very thankful. –  user11122 Aug 14 '12 at 2:40

5 Answers 5

up vote 26 down vote accepted

There are several related questions here.

  • Are mirror lenses good at all (opinion)

  • Are mirror lenses good for wldlife shots in daylight.

  • Are cheap mirror lenses value for money.

Relevant: I own a Minolta 500mm AF f8 "Reflex" lens- the only model of AF "mirror" lens ever made AFAIK and one of the better quality ones around. I think that as long as you accept its known limitations of fixed aperture, fixed focal length and different than refractor-bokeh then it's utterly marvellous.

(1) Are mirror lenses good at all (opinion)

It's largely a matter of what you think of their Bokeh - aka out of focus background.
MiKe W says "The out of focus background will be poor. Horrible donut-shaped bokeh".
This is partially only selectively true and partially a matter of taste. Bright point sources outside the depth of field range do create "donut" shaped images which are characteristic of mirror lenses. View many many examples across the range here. This can look downright nasty - ie dominate the image unintentionally , or be an intended part of the "image as art form" OR can be entirely pleasantly acceptable. The latter is entirely a matter of my personal opinion and I am aware that some people will never accept that a donut element in the boken is acceptable. This is a matter of opinion and, as in most things, where the law does not disallow it, opinions are free and allowed. Such people are, by definition, "bokeh donut snobs" (just as people who insist you MUST ONLY EVER drink long blacks are coffee snobs) and the argument is not worth having from either point of view. If you like the result and people who you hope will like the result do like it, then the result is fine. If you want to win competitions that are judged by donut hating boken snobs then the donuts are not fine.

BUT about 10 minutes serious playing with a mirror lens will show you that in most cases strong and explicit donuts can be avoided inmost cases by controlling image content.

Along the way you get images like the one below whose bokeh is a clear product of a mirror lens if you know what to look for. But most people would look at that image and see narry a "donut". If you do and you don't like the effect then you are entirely entitled to your opinion, you're a bokeh donut snob, nothing to see here, move along please. Image used with permission:

enter image description here

Here's an excellent page on the Reflex-Nikkor C 500mm f/8 catadioptric lens. Some excellent examples, and he loves it. Donut bokeh snobs need not apply.

Apart from the above, all mirror lense are fixed aperture, fixed focal length and, except for the Monolta / Sony 500mm, manual focus. If that is not acceptable then they are not acceptable to you. Also light weight and very compact.

(2) Are mirror lenses good for wldlife shots in daylight.

That's easier.
As long as f5.6 or f8 is acceptable then yes.
Especially if you have a D700 :-).
I find my 500mm mirror lens is useful in many cases. I travel overseas reasonably often on business. I take an 18-250 f3.5-5.6, a 50mm f1.8 and my 500mm f8. The latter gets least use of the three BUT when I do use it I am very very pleased to have it.

One of mine. YES you can see the donuts. I like it. DBS's will not.

enter image description here

(3) Are cheap mirror lenses value for money.
This is definitely subjective but, in my opinion IN SOME CASES the answer is, sadly, no. The quality of all lenses is of course variable and of course somewhat governed by price, but I have seen some cheap mirror lenses whose quality of image was worse than you'd get from an entry level kit lens. Which is not good enough. I'm not familiar with brands, but you can assess IQ independently of the above factors and decide if it's adequate. Also, look at the many images in the samples from here which is the same as above. This is simply Google image search using
mirror lens donut bokeh
orhere using mirror lens bokeh.


Also see this excellent page which discusses what causes bokeh to appear at it does and what constitutes (they say) good and bad bokeh. From there -

enter image description here

Used with permission.


My 500 mm Minolta 'reflex' and the Moon:

Note that the image is "upside down" to what Northern hemisphereites will be used to because we stand on our heads here on the bottom of the world. Think about it - as the Moon tracks more or less along the equator, North & South look at it from the opposite sides. A person living on the equator can see it either way or at 90 degrees or any other angle depending on how they choose to face as they look up.

2200 x 1500 version of photo below here -

Moonshot - non NASA style - Sony A77 / Minolta 500mm f8 mirror, 1/350th, ISO 200

enter image description here

This image is in fact saved on stack - exchange / Imgur at the same resolution as via the link above, and is downloadable at this resolution, but is displayed on this page at lower resolution.

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2  
I probably sound snobby, but none of these examples here would persuade me to get a mirror lens. Mainly they lack sharpness and contrast. Regarding the bokeh, smooth and creamy is generally the ideal as it keeps attention on your subject rather than the background. There are cases when more aggressive bokeh can be a positive, even shaped bokeh or donut bokeh, but nervous, busy is generally a bad thing, even in standard lenses. I'd rather save money for a used standard lens that has the reach I want, but other people may disagree, and that's ok too. –  cadmium Mar 14 '12 at 19:02
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@cadmium - Each unto their own :-). The Flamingo was just one of 4 that I managed to find at the moment and I liked it. The MOON shot I'm happy enough with. Of course far better can be achieved, but the ability to carry a 500mm 665 gram lens in a small daypack with several others (or a LARGE pocket) makes the result unachievable by heavy metal. FWIW 69 Dyxum user reviews rated the 500mm Reflex as: Sharpness: 4.38, Color: 4.39, Build: 4.64, Distortion: 4.83, Flare control: 4.41, Overall 4.53/5. Very acceptable. Mine cost $250 used. I like it. overall: 4.53 total reviews: 69 –  Russell McMahon Mar 15 '12 at 5:18
    
I believe Sony also make an auto-focus mirror lens for their Alpha-Series (well, since sony bought minolta, it's kind of the same lens, but it is still in production). –  Fake Name Aug 4 '12 at 8:15
    
@FakeName - Yes & possibly no. When Sony took over Minolta's camera business they initially continued the mirror lens which is the same as the one I have. But when I last looked at a "Sony Style" web Shop site a few montns ago the mirror lens was no longer advertised. | I just checked now and they list tr on the site BUT say "no longer available". Maybe they hope people will buy their 500mm f/4 instead :-). GBP11,500! here –  Russell McMahon Aug 4 '12 at 10:44

Here's an example of mirror bokeh that I think works. This image was contrast-enhanced in Photoshop -- you'll never get this much contrast out of a mirror lens!

(This is a scan of 35mm film.)

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Something not mentioned so far: vignetting. I'll go out on a limb and say all mirrors exhibit a certain amount of vignetting -- certainly more than a comparable refracting lens.

This might be a problem, or it might not. Shooting a bird or a plane in the sky makes it quite noticeable; shooting a bird in a bush, not so much.

Beyond that, I'll say the bokeh doesn't bother me as much as relatively poor contrast and sharpness. A very good (read expensive) mirror lens will rival a mediocre refracting lens in sharpness and contrast, but won't come close to a refractor of similar price.

I have several mirrors, and they do serve a purpose. I've even taken prize-winning photos with them. They can be great if you work within their limitations. But don't be blind to those limitations.

I have some comparisons of numerous telephoto lenses -- including four mirrors -- on my website. The $1,000 Zuiko (list price, more like ~$500 used) was far above the other mirrors, but the ~$150 (used) Vivitar gives it a run for the money.

The sharpness of the Zuiko 500/8 is outstanding, rivalling decent refractors, but the contrast leaves a lot to be desired. I only use it on sunny days with high-contrast subjects, and have no regrets. But I carry the extra weight and length of a refractor when I know I'll be in a low-contrast situation.

Also not mentioned: for some reason, mirrors don't get along with attachments. Any sort of filter -- even a skylight or UV -- seems to make image quality go to crap. I can't explain that optically. So forget about compensating lack of a diaphragm with ND filters.

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Vignetting is not probably a big issue with crop sensor cameras, since most of those lenses are designed for full frame. –  OH6KVU Aug 14 '12 at 11:48
    
OH6KVU, my intuition tells me that vignetting would be less of an issue on cropped sensors. You're essentially cutting the corners out, where the vignetting is most apparent, no? –  Jan Steinman Aug 15 '12 at 14:07

I have an old Nikkor 500mm F8 mirror lens, and I've loved it for 30 years.

Yes, its a fixed F8. Its fine for sports and I would expect long distance wildlife.

Its light and easy to hand hold, but you have to be shooting at 1/250 or faster.

I find the color and contrast to be more than acceptable.

I use it on my Canon 50D, the Canon doesn't seem to notice that it can't do any auto-anything on it. This photo of the moon was taken with the Nikkor mirror 500 and my Canon. http://www.flickr.com/photos/the_old_curmudgeon/5279467702/in/photostream

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Sorry, but that moon picture actually looks pretty poor sharpness wise. –  Olin Lathrop Mar 14 '12 at 23:53

For the price some of them aren't bad. You can get good reach at a cheap price. However, they have many disadvantages

  • The out of focus background will be poor. Horrible donut-shaped bokeh
  • Many of these lenses have poor contrast and color
  • Fixed aperture, so can't control depth of field

You will find good images online taken with these, but I think overall these lenses tend to be low build quality and average IQ.

Advantages are that they are cheap and relatively lightweight.

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Another advantage - They have no chromatic aberration. –  Fake Name Mar 11 '12 at 11:29

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