Mirror lens you can buy new
How it works: Folded loght path keeps mirror lens compact
Light from subject enters corrector lens, at left, travels to main mirror, is reflected back to secondary mirror, is reflected again through a hole in main mirror to field-flattener lenses, then through any filter in place, and finally to film or sensor at the focal plane.
Yes, there is an excellent autofocus 500mm f/8 mirror lens: the 4 5⁄8-inch- long Minolta AF, weighing 23 ounces, and focusing to 13 feet. If you have a Minolta Maxxum, you're in luck. But you'll need more than luck; you'll need around 500 bucks! Worth it? I think so.
Sigma and Tamron also produce outstanding light, compact, manual-focus mirror lenses. The Sigma is a 600mm f/8, weighing 23 ounces, and focusing to 79 inches (approx. street price: $380). The 500mm f/8 Tamron weighs 23 ounces, focuses to 67 inches (1:3), and has a street price of about $435, including its adaptall mount.
And now comes what must be the best bargain in new mirror lenses ever. The 500mm f/8 Phoenix (made in South Korea by Samyang) is 11 1⁄2 ounces, 3 3⁄8 inches long, and focuses to 67 1⁄2 inches (1:2.7), though it's not too sharp that close. It comes with a soft pouch and three rear screw-thread filters for…$100!! That's Adorama's price. But you can, of course, check with your favorite local dealer, who can probably order it for you if it's not in stock. You'll also need a T-mount lens-to-camera-body adapter, $15-$16; for Leica Rs, $20.
I did promise you 500mm f/8 lenses for $69, didn't I? How's your sense of adventure? When 500mm f/8 lenses fell out of favor, many were traded in or sold, and have remained paperweights on the used-equipment shelves of major camera stores such as Adorama and B&H Photo. The inexpensive ones often bear U.S. importer- or store-brand names such as Cambron, Sakar, Kalimar, Rokunar, or Soligor, and can vary in price from $60 upward. All each needs to be functional again is a T-mount screw-thread adapter. Yes, there are manual T-adapters that will allow manual focusing on Canon, Nikon, and Minolta autofocus cameras. (If you need to unlock a Minolta Maxxum to use the T-adapter, send me a self-addressed, stamped envelope and I'll mail you the directions on how to do it.)
Trying to locate used 500mm f/8 lenses on store web sites can be quite wearying. It's best to call the store's 800 number, and ask for the Used Equipment department. You'll likely be transferred to a salesperson standing near the lenses, who can describe them to you and offer some advice. But remember, as I've said, these are high-precision optics. They can easily go out of wack. And you don't want one that's been dropped from the top of the Empire State Building, handled carelessly, or has been an optical dog since birth in the lens factory. See my directions on how to buy this type of lens and how to use it.
I hope the three photographs I've shown will inspire you to get into the tele swing with a 500-600mm mirror lens. I shot all handheld, both with and without some bracing, at speeds from 1/30 to 1/125 sec. Whether you wind up with a $500 Minolta Maxxum AF lens or a $69 marvel, you can make great pictures with these remarkable little tele babies, and have a lot of fun doing it. Good hunting!
What used mirror lenses might you find?
Here's a sampling of my lifetime collection, rare and not so rare, clockwise from 12 o'clock: Swift Lynx Catadioptric Spotting Scope, Spiratone 500mm f/8 Mirror-Ultratel, Questar astronomical-terrestial telescope, Vivitar 450mm f/4.5 Series 1 VMC, Sigma 400mm f/5.6 Mirror Telephoto, no-name 500mm f/8, Cambron 500mm f/8 reflex, no-name 500mm f/8, Tamron SP 500mm f/8 Tele Macro, Minolta AF 500mm f/8 reflex, redesigned MTO 3M-5A 500mm f/8, and Questar 700mm f/8. Center: original Russian 500mm f/8 MTO in wooden box with filters.