Vivitar 500mm f/6.3 DX Series 1 – The Mighty Mirror – Review

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Buy a new Vivitar 500mm f/6.3 DX Series 1 Mirror Lens here and a Hoya 95mm UV filter for it here.

Vivitar VIV-500-6.3 500mm f/6.3 Mirror Lens

Vivitar VIV-500-6.3 500mm f/6.3 Mirror Lens

Key Features:

  • Compact, Ultra-telephoto Lens
  • Advanced Reflex Mirror Design
  • Super Spectra Coatings
  • Aluminium Alloy Construction
  • Manual Focus, Fixed Circular Aperture
  • Compatible with Most SLRs and DSLRs
  • Camera-specific T-mount Adapter Required (Bought Separately here – Nikon F Mount, Canon EOS, Sony-Minolta Maxxum, Pentax K)

A lightweight (1.4 lb – 651 g) manual focus, multi-coated, catadioptric (reflex), fixed aperture “Super” Telephoto which, despite the “DX” label, can be used on full and small frame DSLR (APS-C / Micro 2/3rds) sensors as well as on regular 35mm film SLR’s. On a Nikon DX (1.5x) or Canon APS-C sensor (1.4x) crop factor, that’s an effective 700-750mm! Make sure you are a good 15+ meters from your subject unless you want to shoot that Lion’s eyeball. These mirror lenses can be attached to virtually any (D)SLR or Mirrorless using common T-Adapters. My first set of images can be found at the end of this post. You deserve to see what some lens manufacturers may not want you to see and thus why reviewers (and others) often unfairly malign these marvellous mirrors…

Background:

(A Key to all the Acronyms and Terms used can be found here.)

I’m on my way to the KNP (Kruger National Park, South Africa) for a few days and this addition to my arsenal is most welcome. I took it for a spin in the few days after Christmas and would like to share my initial experiences here. This is not a Mirror vs Glass shoot-out, although some comparisons are made. My intent is to show you what’s possible with a mirror, a DSLR and a little bit of effort on your part.

Let me say this. Mirror’s are a fun, affordable way to get that elusive subject. Especially if the wildlife around you is skittish when you get physically too close. I am no overly technical lens guru. You can throw a hundred stats and figures at me. I learn the hard way – by trial and error. Of course I look at Lens and Contrast Charts, MTF Graphs and the like but the images also count.

Tamron SP 500mm F/8 Mirror Model 55B

Tamron SP 500mm F/8 Mirror Model 55B

I had previously used my father’s Tamron SP 500mm f/8 55B (Adaptall 2 mount to MD) in the early 80’s, before it and all his Minolta film gear was repossessed by an “Affirmative Shopper” from his house in ‘91. i.e. burgled. Now a collectors item – they fetch $150 US or more online. It was sadly discontinued in ‘83. Have a look at this link for other Tamron SP’s.

I took dozens of decent shots in the KNP in ‘83-’84 as well as in other locations, attached to my Minolta XG-M or XD-7, usually using Fuji 400 ASA 35mm slide film hand-held. s/s in the early mornings or late evenings was often low, 1/60th or less when nature tends to be more active and light non-existent. I had steadier hands in those days! Prints were also a bit more forgiving wrt sharpness, where today the 24″ LCD monitor at 100% zoom really shows up soft shaken images. Metering was TTL.

I didn’t own a decent tripod at the time (had a very cheap Slik and window mounts or door pods were not commercially available nor were decent commercial Bean-Bags) and in any event, when one is sitting in a car surrounded by lions, fully opening windows or climbing out to set up a tripod is potentially bad for one’s health. Exciting a vehicle is illegal in our National Parks except in clearly designated areas. Even forgetting to lock your doors can be a mistake as this guy found out… Game Park or Zoo Lions have lost all fear of humans, good for photographers but a problem for rangers. Thanks to the reach of the 500mm I took some really good hand-held up close and personal lazy yawning Lion shots (he was 18 feet (5 meters) from the car and filled the frame), I also got great shots of birds (fish eagle on dead tree, cormorants), hippos/crocs at dams and the like, resting the mirror on the edge of the half wound down window with a folded towel or t-shirt as lens rest. The car’s engine was switched off and no-one was allowed to move let alone breathe whilst taking a shot!

Minolta RF Rokkor-X 800mm/f8 – the Cooking Pot

As an aside, here is another “lens” that was in the stable. The Minolta RF Rokkor-X 800mm/f8 “cooking-pot” as my father called it. Quite a beast but still a Mirror and now a collectors item. In good condition (no fungus, front/rear lens or barrel scratches) they fetch $1000 US or more online.

I appreciated the Tamron’s light weight and admired the background donuts it produced on highlights (circles of confusion); “bokeh” is the modern term for the entire background. Whilst it was fixed aperture, MF and had a very shallow DOF, it taught me a lot about light, focus, composition, anticipation and patience. Back in the day, film and D & P was pricey and the shutter was released only when the result was a sure thing. The short Tamron “SP” was also relatively inconspicuous and a darn sight more pleasant to lug around than the equivalent glass lens. It’s great for long distance candid photography aka paparazzi style or getting entry to the sport stadium without attracting attention! It works well in bright sunny days, on the beach or in a game reserve.

Mirror’s come in a variety of brands (Sigma (long discontinued 600mm), Sony, Vivitar and brands like Bower, Cambron, Canon, Hanimex, Kenko, MC, Minolta, Nikkor, Ohnar, Opteka, Paragon, Phoenix, ProOptic, Rokinon, Rubinar, Tamron, Samyang, Soligor, Spiratone, Zuiko (Olympus)), focal lengths (250, 300, 350, 450, 500, 600, 800), and f-stops (5.0 / 6.3 / 8 / 11 or more). Most common are the 500mm f/8’s at around $100-120. Some “dealers” advertise 1000mm and 1600mm but they are 500/800mm lenses boxed with a 2x converter! (f/10 to f/22?!!) I’m thinking you can take the Cokin Z-Pro 100mm ND 2/4/8 filter kit and shoot the sun, but practically it’s going to get a bit dark in the viewfinder at f/10 or more to even try and focus on normal subjects. Moon shots at f/6.3 or f/8 work out great however.

(ETA 2011 06 16: I now have a Lunar Eclipse sequence here.)

Lunar Eclipse 2011 06 15 © Harvey Grohmann 2011

I’ve yet to find MTF graphs. Some shootouts do exist. Here’s a review of a ProOptic 500mm f/6.3 for Sony Alpha. Here’s a review of the Sony AF SAL 500 f/8, the only AF mirror out there still in production. A spin off from the original Minolta. Sigma also made an AF I believe? (Here’s a review of the Vivitar 500mm f/8 by Marc Sabatella.)

Online, mirror lenses garner LOTS of bad press. For someone on a tight budget this biased attitude is rather unfair. We can’t all afford $1000’s US for a Bigma 50-500mm OS Sigma wonder lens, the Sigma 300-800mm, never mind $6k US – $8k US for Nikon or Canon in an equivalent or similar focal length prime. Fine, if I was sponsored a 500/600mm f/4 Nikkor, or even the 200-400mm f/4 ED VRII…no contest. Modern AF has really improved the hit and miss ration of moving/flying subjects.

Nowadays, the background donuts (circles of confusion) aren’t much loved. They CAN be controlled with composition or in PP. Some ‘togs go to great lengths to create hearts or star backgrounds, vignetted, lens-baby techniques, often for portrait work, and Cokin/Hoyarex Technical Mask Inserts are available to do this, although somewhat cheesy imo. I think the distinct mirror lens donut is unique and pleasing. It can in any event be removed with masking and some Gaussian Blur in PP.

hoopla

Image Credit: by “hoopla” with a Tamron 500mm f/8 SP BBAR MC MACRO

Other reasons for being disliked are MF, very shallow DOF, fixed aperture, vignetting, perceived “low” saturation, huge (95mm) front element thread diameter making screw-in filters expensive, although the smaller rear element can be used and is usually 34mm or so but generally is used to fit various trick filters or coloured filters for B&W work, but still leaving the front element exposed to wear and scratches if you don’t protect it. Don’t buy a cheap $20 US (glass or UV) filter. You do the mirror ‘lens’ no justice and may just add to haze/poor contrast blaming the lens! Atmospheric haze as you know is already a problem when shooting long distance and a UV/Haze/CPL filter will help reduce this. In the Digital Darkroom haze and other cons above can be mitigated. I’ve yet to track down a hood for it but you could just as easily make one from black card. If you do find a factory made hood, please drop me a comment with the URL. (ETA: November 2010 > http://www.lenshoods.co.uk/ )

Pros: Lightweight | Short Overall Length | Well Balanced on most solid bodies | No (discernible) CA (Chromatic Aberration) | Price | Reach | Sports | Easily Post Processed | Fun to use | Teaches you to understand DOF and light in an automatic world | Did I mention price?

Cons: Manual Focus | Manual Exposure | Hand Held Shutter Speeds must be high, above 1/500s to prevent camera shake | Very Shallow DOF and thus Small margin for error. | Possible Vignetting easily fixed in PP | Their modulation transfer function shows low contrast at low spatial frequencies but can be corrected in PP.

As far as it being maligned, maybe (glass) manufacturers want to sell you a prime or a super telephoto, at some pretty steep prices due the sheer size/quality/cost of making that glass and the associated expense in polishing and coating it. Or maybe it’s too much like hard work for the average DSLR photographer as they need a T-Mount adapter and, with the exception of Canon AF-Confirm ring adapters and the Sony SAL mentioned below, you must have good eyes to focus and know your light. (Or get an Exposure/Spot Meter that reads 1°-5° AOV) Practically in the bush you don’t have time to spot meter except through camera. You can do a WB with a grey card in the camp or off green foliage but light changes rapidly in Africa, well anywhere really. Almost all of today’s mirror’s are MF. Only the Sony Alpha SAL 500mm f/8 Reflex AF (at about $900-00) has the benefit of AF and, on a Sony body, any mirror brand that fits has the benefit of their SteadyShot® INSIDE image stabilization built into the camera body. At that price you might be better off buying a true FF Zoom Telephoto 70-200mm (105-300mm) , 70-300mm (105-450mm), 50-500mm (75-750mm), 300-800mm Sigma, preferably in f/2.8 or as big f stop you can afford, except for the cost, size and weight factor…

Glass alternatives (4.1 lbs (1.8 kg)) would be the Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3 EX DG HSM Autofocus Lens ($1,100 US excluding Lens Hood $110 US and Hoya 86mm UV Filter $85 US!) or the older Sigma APO f/5-6.3 170-500mm (255-750mm) ($600-$1000 US on eBay), which not only give you zoom capability, but AF and aperture control as well, in addition to a stop or two of extra speed, and you should get a filter and hood included in the price.

All super/ultra/telephotos will suffer from atmospheric thermal turbulence. i.e. Haze in extreme distance shots.

Mirror lens photographers are currently a select breed but have a look at the Flickr Mirror Lens group, this Flickr Catadioptric group as well as this Flickr Vivitar Series 1 group. There are discussions on the other major photo sites like Photo.net and DPReview.com. This review by Wayne Grundy is also worth a read.

My Initial Review:

Some cameras do not have Lens CPU Data Menu options. Meaning you will have to adjust your ISO and M Mode Shutter Speed Manually to achieve a good exposure.

I spent some time searching the Nikon D90 manual to confirm that their is no Custom Lens menu, in M Mode, where you could tell the camera that a manual non-CPU lens is attached and is an f/6.3

A failing (deliberate?) I believe in the current Software Revision (v1.0). It expects a CPU lens with chip/contacts to inform it of the lens’ capabilities. The D300, D300s on up to D700, D3, D3s, D3x, D4 (ETA: D600, D800, D7000) have the option to add a manual lens and tell the camera what f stop it is via the Custom Lens. Perhaps protecting the more “Pro” bodies sales.

A, P and S modes (as other preset exposure modes) prevent the camera from firing in the absence of lens/chip contacts.

Hours searching the web proved fruitless in finding either a workaround or a T-Mount adapter (with a pre-programmed or programmable chip) that tells the camera the lens is an f/6.3 or WHU. There happens to be Olympus/Canon EOS M42 mounts that have a “user-programmable” AF-Confirm chip that can be customised, and I wonder why something like this hasn’t been developed for the myriad of manual lenses out there for all mounts now that DSLR is so popular? If you know of a solution please Contact Me.

Quality Soft Bag with draw string.

No matter, adjusting your s/s and ISO has the same result, so Manual Mode here we come… the only Con being that you cannot use the exposure guide in the viewfinder to maintain a good exposure. In Semi Pro and Pro bodies you can.

I removed the lens from it’s well made, padded lens bag with draw-string. There’s no serial number stamped anywhere on the aluminium barrel.

The 95mm Hoya UV(0) had already been attached, so I then removed the rear lens cap and screwed the Bower T-Adapter for Nikon that came in the box from B&H to the rear thread of the lens.

Firmly but not too tight.

This adapter has an outer and inner ring, threaded to one another, with the Nikon F Mount behind it and a small red dot to assist you in matching it to your body.

The inner ring is held by one tiny screw that later, with regularly interchanging lenses on the camera, came loose with the nett result that the mirror had lateral play on the mount. Tightening the screw helped but I trust a drop of lock-nut on it would solve that problem.

Fingertips around grip, a tight fit.

Fingertips around grip, a tight but workable fit.

I then carefully attached the lens+adapter to the D90, balance is good and it’s very light.

There’s very little space for your right hand finger tips to fit between the rear of the barrel and the D90’s finger grip. Not that the D90’s grip is inadequate but that f/6.3 is rotund!

My fingertips did fit…just. That’s OK as this lens will mostly be used on a mono/tripod or a gimbal. (EDIT: SEPT 2010 > I used a Manfrotto 393 gimbal on a Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod to get sharper images). The times that I did walk around with it, I didn’t feel uncomfortable, and it’s not heavier than a regular zoom when using a broad neck strap. I would imagine if you added a 1.4x converter that the added O/L would make it easier with the obvious loss of 1 extra f/stop. A 1.7x or 2.0x might be a bit dark but I’ve done it on the Tamron with my MD 2x converter on 35mm film SLR’s. Fair results for postcard quality were obtained initially, and A4 would also be acceptable. (ETA: Later I found after becoming proficient that I could shoot steady enough to print to A3.)

Short and light, adequate grip on the focus ring.

Unobtrusive. Short and light, adequate grip area on the focus ring.

Camera (+battery+8Gb SDHC card+Nikon neck strap) and mirror lens +Hoya 95mm UV(0) + front lens cap weigh in @ 1500g (1.5 kg or 2.2 pounds). Lighter than some zooms and most primes!

On firing up, the D90 of course displayed “F – -” on the LCD instead of “F6.3″ meaning it cannot determine the lens’ F-Stop. No lens to body contacts remember? The combo is light allowing me to walk around for an hour without tiring of it. Looking through the viewfinder, things look slightly darker than on a normal glass lens of similar FL, even on a bright sunny day. This darkness is exactly as if you were to stop down your glass lens to check DOF to f/6.3. It’s more than adequate in broad daylight, however, better than the f/8 version of this lens which would be slightly darker. The loss of one-or-so f-stops is due to the rear facing mirror on the front lens blocking some of the light. I’ve read elsewhere in reviews that mirrors absorb light. This is untrue, mirrors don’t absorb light. Light is reflected but at a lower intensity or spectrum and there may be minute imperfections where infinitesimal amounts are absorbed. Black objects on the other hand absorb light and this is converted to heat. Read here for a simple explanation and here for another POV where Photons and Quantum physics explain light “absorption”.

Light path in a Schmidt–Cassegrain

Light path in a Schmidt–Cassegrain. Image Credit: “Schmidt-Cassegrain-Telescope” by Griffenjbs – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Schmidt-Cassegrain-Telescope.svg#/media/File:Schmidt-Cassegrain-Telescope.svg

Don’t forget to switch your camera to manual focus using the Focus-Mode selector (p59) and “M” on the Mode dial (p6). In other modes the D90 won’t respond. See p230 in the D90 Manual for a list of compatible MF Nikon lenses. Install the Free PhotoCommission Toolbar and links to all Nikon Models PDF Manuals can be found there. It’s easier to search a PDF than the printed instruction manual.

When focusing, the outer rubberised ring grip is large, easily accessed, and the result is smooth and well dampened, albeit a bit fast/minute to achieve focus, and then just as fast to lose it again. Time will tell if the rubber is well made and doesn’t deteriorate over the years. Manual focusing is indeed an art, especially with non-stationary subjects, with such a shallow DOF. The barrel moves forward by 15mm from focus range 2m to ∞ (infinity) and also rotates just over 90°. I would prefer having either heavier dampening or more travel to achieve minute focus control. I mention the rotation because you might be interested in using drop-in filters. CameraFilters.com have got 95mm step-down rings but I’m afraid 95mm is just too big as you will need to get two rings to get down to the Cokin/Hoyarex Holder size of 70mm OD. My Hoyarex system will be visible on the outer edge of the frame. I suppose you could crop it out but composition can get tight at 5° AOV. Are there other filter systems out there that are made for this big a lens OD?

The green circular focus indicator (p9, 38, 60) in the D90’s viewfinder flickers constantly. I haven’t yet been able to get it to settle down. Might be the mirror’s very shallow DOF. I’ve found that manually “back focusing” slightly gets me the best crisp result on the D90. Would love to get hold of a FX Nikon or APS-H Canon to test it on.

If you recall the old film 1/Focal Length rule. In order to get decent hand-held exposure and prevent wobbling, a minimum of 1/800th of a second s/s is needed especially on a DX (small frame sensor) for sharpness. On FX 1/500th should be OK. This is entirely possible as I will demonstrate with some examples below. In broad daylight I used ISO 800 to ISO 1000 on the D90, more is needed in shady, overcast or night conditions to maintain that high shutter speed (if hand-held). I find a rule of thumb is ISO 800 and s/s 800 or ISO 1000 and s/s 1000 to start with in bright light. It’s then a simple matter of adjusting s/s or ISO with the Sub-command or Main-command dials on the D90 to over/under expose. Thankfully everything is recorded in the RAW/JPG file’s EXIF for later reference barring (F Stop, focal length and lens mnf)

This type of lens is ideal for wildlife portraits (especially when they are stationary like a herd of Elephant, for Hippo’s surfacing etc, on a tripod, bean bag (less so a monopod) or sitting at a dam with a sundowner in hand, waiting for the odd animal to pop in and slake it’s thirst or surface. With practice you can get pretty proficient with a mirror. See the shot of the Glossy Starling at the end of this post. That took all of 1 second to set s/s, focus, take the shot, between the time it landed on the branch and before the bird took off again.

Lens specifications:

I’ve added the Vivitar 500mm f/8 (launch price $120-00, now appears to be discontinued) in [red brackets] for comparison. Note that the f/8 version is almost half the weight of it’s 2/3 stop faster f/6.3 brother.

Filter Size: 95mm(front), 34mm(rear) [Rear-mounted screw-in 30.5mm]
f/Stop Range: f/6.3
[f/8]
Minimum Focus Distance: 6.6′ (2.0 m)
[5.6′ (1.7 m)]
Angle of View: 5°
[5°]
Groups/Elements: 6/7
[6/7]
Lens Coating: Multicoated (aka Super Spectra)

Frame: Aluminium

Pouch: Padded, included
Adapter: T-Mount (Available for all brands/mounts)
Length: 4.7″ (119.5mm)
[3.4″ (86mm)]
Maximum Diameter: 3.8″ (98mm)
[3″ (76mm)]
Weight: 1.4 lb (651 g)
[11.6 oz (330g)]

Commissioned Wildlife, Sport Photog’s and the Paparazzi can afford the traditional zoom (Nikon’s 200-400mm f/4 VR ($6000 US) or telephoto glass versions (Nikon’s 400mm f/2.8 VR ($8800 US)) (Sigma’s Bigma 1 and Bigma II made for their own SD14 / SD15 DSLR spring to mind, not very practical IMO however unless you are a sports photog static on the side of the pitch), need AF etc with carbon fiber tripods or macho mono-pods to go with them, but alas I’m not getting paid a few thousand clams per ‘Paris Hilton caught in a compromising position on a secluded beach’ shots every week…not that I’d want to!

So at $120 (June 2015) and add a decent Hoya 95mm UV ($92 (Dec 2009)) to protect the front element, shot planning, the Digital Darkroom, the Mighty Mirror is a great alternative to those $1000-$8000 primes.

Initial Image Results:

1A. Water Thick Knee (Dikkop) © Harvey Grohmann

Whilst it’s obvious I overexposed the original (highlights), I placed it here to show step 2: what’s possible in PP (next image below) even if you don’t get the exposure 100% right from the outset. Use another body and lens if you can to get a reading and start from there if you haven’t got a hand-held exposure/light meter that can be set to 1°-5° AOV. Image 1A was taken without a meter. That’s the problem with chimping a small DSLR 3″ LCD monitor. Due to their 920k+ pixels, they make everything look fabulous…yet it’s OE. Shoot in RAW if you can, and edit as much in RAW. Newer  sensors continue to have better dynamic range, especially if Full Frame where photo diode densities are not so high and they have better light collecting abilities than on DX/APS-C.

A 1/1000th might have been better to start with than the 1/500th, especially if you plan on stacking the images later (in the case of Isolated Landscapes). I used the D90’s Mirror Lock Up feature and an ML-L3 IR Shutter Release. Mounted on a wobbly 1984 Slik aluminium tripod! (EDIT MARCH 2010: I’ve since invested in a Manfrotto 190XPROB, 804RC2 3way head and a Manfrotto 393 Gimbal).

Edited in PS

Image 1B: Cape Dikkop – 2 minute edit in PS – Cropped and saved for web, jpg, Max Quality Minimum Compression

Image 1B took <2 minutes of my attention in PS (it shows!):

Cropped to 1024px wide
Brightness reduced 5%
Green Saturation -40%
Red Sat +5%
Burned eye/beak +20%
Curves Black +5%
USM (Unsharp mask) +20%
SFW (Save For Web -Maximum Quality)

The Vivitar and D90 actually picked up great in-shadow definition on the birds’ chest and right face. I used Active D Lighting – High | Noise Reduction – High.

The head and shoulder is blown unfortunately and nothing I can do there in PS, except lengthy cloning. Notice the donuts (circles of confusion) in the background. If you don’t like them, compose better or crop them out or “curve, mask and Gaussian blur…”. Image 1B was not touched up with filters like Noise Ninja or Topaz deNoise etc.

Image 2A: Plover – Original Image – ISO 400, 1/800th, f/6.3 – Resized in PS to 1024px wide – SFW, jpg, Max Quality, Minimum Compression

Image 2A is correctly exposed from the onset, or only sightly OE. All I have done here is transfer it from the data card to my PC via Nikon Transfer and upload.

From there I opened it in Nikon ViewNX and exported an 8bit TIF. Then opened it in PS and SFW @ 1024px wide x 680px maximum quality.

The characteristic donut circles of confusion can be seen in the BG.

Whilst it looks very green, this is not a lens characteristic. We have had over 200mm (almost 8″) of rain in the past 2 weeks. Everything is clean and super green! The image is clear and sharp and if you look carefully at the blades of grass you can see the shallow DOF quite clearly.

The D90’s pixel density is very good when compared with other sensor of it’s era (and even some later sensors)

D90 — 32,986 pixels/mm² (12.3 Mp on DX 23.6 x 15.8mm CMOS) (Aug 2008)
300 — 32,986 pixels/mm² (12.3 Mp on DX 23.6 x 15.8mm CMOS) (Aug 2007)
300s – 32,986 pixels/mm² (12.3 Mp on DX 23.6 x 15.8mm CMOS) (Jul 2009)

D3 — 14,063 pixels/mm² (12.1 Mp on FX 36.0 x 23.9mm CMOS) (Aug 2007)
D700 – 14,063 pixels/mm² (12.1 Mp on FX 36.0 x 23.9mm CMOS) (Jul 2008)
D3x — 28,435 pixels/mm² (24.5 Mp on FX 35.9 x 24.0mm CMOS) (Dec 2008)
D3s — 14,063 pixels/mm² (12.1 Mp on FX 36.0 x 23.9mm CMOS) (Oct 2009)

Later models, better dynamic range.

D7000 – 44,002 pixels/mm² (16.2 Mp on DX 23.6 x 15.6mm CMOS) (Sep 2010)
D7100 – 65,739 pixels/mm² (24.1 Mp on DX 23.5 x 15.6mm CMOS) (Feb 2013)
D7200 – 66,012 pixels/mm² (24.2 Mp on DX 23.5 x 15.6mm CMOS) (Mar 2015)

D4/D4S – 19,293 pixels/mm² (16.2 Mp on FX 36.0 x 23.9mm CMOS) (Jan 2012-2015)
D800/E/810 – 42,130 pixels/mm² (36.3 Mp on FX 35.9 x 24.0mm CMOS) (Feb 2012)
D600/610/750 – 28,203 pixels/mm² (24.3 Mp on FX 35.9 x 24.0mm CMOS) (Sep 2012-2014)

Image 2B: Plover – Original Image – ISO 400, 1/800th, f/6.3 – Cropped and Resized in PS to 1024px wide – SFW, jpg, Maximum Quality, Minimum Compression

Image 2B was cropped from the original and I applied 20% USM for a better web experience.

On my 23″ LG IPS LCD, the original is tack sharp but the moment you put it on the web, even in Maximum Quality JPG, boom there goes the definition (going from 300ppi to 72dpi). Beyond that there was no PP done in PS.

I would have adjusted saturation and contrast, maybe curves and USM to make it more appealing if entering a competition but this is darn good as is.

I was extremely patient sitting for about 1 hour in a camp chair and the tripod and IR shutter release, constantly looking and focusing till I got the “look” from the Plover. You can use Live View but it’s a battery eater and focus confirmation is less accurate.

I noticed no obvious vignetting on over 100 shots so far, even when enlarging the images to 200% in PS and scanning around the edges. I didn’t expect any vignetting. I’ll take a white only and grey only shot when I get round to a technical review. However on a DX cropped sensor you only see (use) the middle 2/3rds of the lens’ sight picture. On a full frame slight vignetting has been reported but is easily adjusted.

Image 3A – ISO 400, 1/1000th, f/6.3 – Original Image – hand-held, as from camera, resized to 1024px wide, SFW jpg Max Quality

Image 3B – USM 20%, SFW jpg Max Quality. My very active son. Pre-exposed and constant focusing. Pretty good for hand-held I’d say!

The Vivitar 500mm f/6.3 DX Series 1 is a serious contender for your attention, especially if you have 1. limited budget and 2. weight restrictions when flying and wish to (must) carry your gear on as hand luggage. Modern semi-pro and pro DSLR’s can now go right up to 128,000 ISO and higher in expanded mode. High ISO NR and sensors are getting better by the year. Even in failing light, f/6.3 is usable, especially with a choice of up to 6400 ISO on most modern DSLR’s, albeit with some noise that can be combated with software noise reduction or in camera High ISO NR. In ‘83, the fastest 35mm film speed available (to us) was Kodak Ektachrome or Fuji at 400 ASA. Later a Kodak Gold 1000 ASA became available and I never used it besides one test film due to grain. A 1600 ASA was available up till 2007! Very few retailers here stored film in a fridge at 13° C and often 35mm film was ruined before you took it out of the box…resulting in blue images. Not the lens’ fault!

Image 4A – Glossy Starling – ISO 400, 1/800th, f/6.3 – Original Image – hand-held, as from camera, resized to 1024px wide, SFW jpg Max Quality

Image 4B – Less than 1 second to focus, expose & shoot between landing & take-off! 5% USM, SFW jpg Max Quality. Not bad for a hand-held, manual focus/exposure!

The Mighty Mirror is, I hope, going to make a resurgence, at least in the amateur or semi-pro markets, thanks to DSLR and PP techniques and positive blog reviews like this! If you are a Pro sports photog/journo or the like, the risk of missing the shot because of bad exposure or missed focus, then of course, get a fully Automatic Super or Ultra Telephoto, if you or your employer can afford it.

There’s a lot of choice in mirror lenses out there, and whilst I’m not sure by whom Vivitar have subcontracted their lens production to, (I suspect Samyang) other than it being stamped “Made in Korea” on the barrel, I’d hazard a guess that all brands these days (except perhaps the Sony) come from the same factory, there’s an off chance that based on price fluctuations between brands for the same spec/lens, there are different quality requirements per brand, mostly on the quality of the mirror coating used or the housing.

Mine is superb. Go and get one. Thanks to my father Georg for the Christmas gift.

ETA: Some shots taken after the original review only PP; Curves, USM.

African Darter - Lake Panic, Kruger National Park, South Africa - © HarveyG Photography

African Darter – Lake Panic, Kruger Nat. Park, South Africa – © Harvey Grohmann

Klipspringer on H1-1 between Pretoriuskop and Skukuza, Kruger Nat. Park

Klipspringer – H1-1 between Pretoriuskop and Skukuza, Kruger Nat. Park © Harvey Grohmann

When Vivitar Corp. came out with their first Series I mirrors (Solid Catadioptric) they contracted production to Perkin Elmer (of NASA space telescope fame). Later they were made by Olympus

This lens was not supplied to me by the manufacturer or a retailer for testing. I wasn’t cajoled or paid to write this. It is my privately owned lens and I have no affiliation with Vivitar.
ETA: By early 2012 this page has been hit thousands of times from a link on Samyang Isreal’s web site

Nikkor, between ’69 and ’71, built a monster 2000mm f/11 catadioptric. It has a 1° 10′ picture angle!
I’d be keen to get my hands on one. Anyone know where they are gathering dust? 🙂

Please support this site by clicking the links below, I earn a small % from your purchase. Thx!

Buy a new Vivitar 500mm f/6.3 DX Series 1 Mirror Lens here and a Hoya 95mm UV filter for it here.
Perhaps I’m biased, but at $120 (listed at $180 in 2010) vs over $1000-$8800 (lens only), I think I am entitled to be.

I intend doing a comparison with a Sigma 150-500mm OS HSM or the latest Sigma 150-600mm OS HSM Contemporary or the 150-600mm OS HSM SPORT in the future at 500mm as an indicator of what the next step “up” would be, financially. I have however found the older Sigma 170-500mm APO f/5-6.3 DG to be soft at 500mm and now only zoom to 450mm with it so it will be an image only based comparison.

Sigma lens comparisons and models here.

A Key to all the Acronyms and Terms used can be found here.

Text and images © H Grohmann. Names, brands and technical data referred to are the © or ™ of their respective owners and/or companies. Go to gallery to see the African Darter displayed in the text in a larger format as well as other work.

If you got through the review without falling asleep and found this review useful, please link back to it from your site or blog and I’ll reciprocate to yours, or leave a comment and tell me where you are from and how you got here 🙂 Thanks!

Gear I use:
Bodies: Nikon D-SLR’s / Lenses: Nikon, Sigma, Tokina, Vivitar /
Filters: Hoya UV & Polarizing / Flash: Nikon Speed-lights / Bag: Lowe Pro /
Tripods & Heads: Manfrotto / Batteries, Grips, Timers, Triggers: Phottix /
Plug-in: Topaz Labs for Noise Reduction, HDR.


24 Comments

  1. Brad Downey January 21, 2010 5:25 am  Reply

    nice review thanks , I have a 500 rokinon 6.3 on the way I’m sure it will be a test of my skills

    • Harvey G January 21, 2010 7:28 am  Reply

      My pleasure Brad. Hope you have lots of fun with it! Let me know how it goes and send us some test images or put them on the Flickr Mirror Reflex Lens Group!

    • Bob Taylor November 4, 2011 6:59 am  Reply

      After you get your Rikinon lens, let me know what you think of it. I am very serious about buying one also. Bob

  2. Stephen P January 21, 2010 7:42 pm  Reply

    Thank you for this excellent article.

    I think much of the disdain for mirror lenses stems from the fact that they are extraordinarily difficult to use, especially without in-camera stabilization, and also because the results are easy to criticize for being soft.

    Nevertheless, I’m very happy to have one in my kit. That, despite the fact that I’ve read some user comments about this lens that would make one think it’s one of the worst lenses ever. And by some standards perhaps it is.

    My 500mm/F8 mirror was made in Japan by Kenko and badged Spiratone initially, and Cambron later on. At times, I’ve been able to get good results with the lens mounted on my Pentax K10D, where it provides an equivalent focal length, by my math, of about 776mm.

    All this in a package not much bigger or heavier than the 18-55 kit lens.

    I believe the complaints about the crispy-creme OOF specular highlights came along later, and are simply a convenient way to bash a threatening dog, rather than giving him a chance to hunt.

    Arguments about soft focus are valid, but only when compared to very expensive, very heavy, long glass, which may indeed give excellent results, but which will also grind you into the ground if you’ve got to lug one around for very long, especially if you’re trying to carry or do something else.

    All in all, a catadioptric mirror lens may prove to be a good lightweight, inexpensive, potentially powerful addition to any serious photographer’s kit, pixel peepers notwithstanding.

  3. Harvey G January 25, 2010 9:30 pm  Reply

    Thanks for your comments Stephen! It’s not your average photog that uses them but with a little practice anyone serious enough can… The Flickr groups prove just how good you can get. Great work!

  4. Harvey G December 30, 2010 7:22 am  Reply

    Robert, thank you for your kind response. I am glad that a few people are finding it useful and interesting. I have read and responded to Marcs blog entry some months ago. Very informative indeed. I will be adding some more 500mm f/6.3 images soon! Happy New Year!

  5. genotypewriter July 6, 2011 5:22 am  Reply

    Thanks for the review and +1 for mirror lenses. You’ve done a very good job with this lens. It certainly looks better than one Vivitar 500/8 that I have but I didn’t know this until I saw your post.

    Like Stephen P said, the learning curve of the mirror lenses is most likely what put a lot of people off. Plus the low quality cheap mirrors out there probably had a say too.

    Fyi, on Canon, these (manual) lenses can be used in shutter priority without any electronics. So you can dial in the shutter speed you need to keep the lens steady and the camera adjusts the ISO (in auto ISO) to get the correct exposure. I find this very useful for dynamic/handheld scenes.

    • Harvey G (Photocommission.com) January 25, 2012 4:42 pm  Reply

      Not sure why I didn’t respond GTW. Nice to know about the Canon Auto ISO feature. Will do an addendum.
      Thanks mate! Harvey

  6. muin August 26, 2011 8:15 pm  Reply

    performance plus price tag sounds unparalleled no doubt,but the unit price for viviter 500 lens is not clear in the review. would u pl make the price clear, and specify any sell-outlet in Bangladesh, if possible. meanwhile, lots of thanks for the rich article. muin.

    • Harvey G (Photocommission.com) August 31, 2011 9:57 pm  Reply

      Hi Muin, thank you for your comment. For your convenience I have highlighted the section you seek in Red at the end of my review. I am not familiar with Bangladeshi sales outlets I’m afraid. I am sure that a Google search would help you find brick and mortar stores or even an on-line store near you however my link takes you To B&H in New York and they have a great reputation.

  7. Sang Rudloff April 19, 2012 8:42 pm  Reply

    This camera is totally awesome. Physically, it’s beautiful plus it fits my hands. It’s less than big, it’s not heavy, plus it looks professional.

  8. Hillary Polivick April 20, 2012 7:46 am  Reply

    Look, this is a good camera. Doesn’t have all the features other Nikons do, nevertheless they cost much more.

  9. Photocommission.com » Red Knobbed Coot Splash July 8, 2013 7:25 am  Reply

    […] details: Nikon D7000 | Vivitar 500mm Series1 f/6.3 Mirror (Review Here) ISO-2000 | f/6.3 | 1/800s | EV -0.0 | Program Mode: Manual | AF: Manual | Bean Bag Post Processing […]

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