Recumbent Review: The Mighty Reflex-Nikkor C 500mm f/8

WARNING! This post includes photos featuring annular bokeh, which may offend and nauseate some photographers. Viewer discretion is advised.

About the Recumbent Reviews

Welcome to the the third in the series of Recumbent Reviews!

This series of articles will examine photographic equipment and accessories from an ordinary user’s point of view. You’ll find none of that snooty “I’m an expert so my opinion is the final word” guff you get from the professional reviewers you’ll find elsewhere on the interwebs. Here we’ll break new ground by throwing out a lot of opinion seasoned with speculation with a side order of silliness and whimsy. Ranting and raving are all part of the local colour!

Hopefully you’ll enjoy yourself while learning all about stuff that will help you take better pictures while draining your bank account.

Here's my personal Reflex-Nikkor C 500mm f/8. Note its name, "Hubble Jr.".


The Reflex-Nikkor C 500mm f/8 is another one of those oddball lenses that I’ve bought. What puts this lens in the strange category is the fact that it is a stubbly, manual focus, ultra-high magnification telephoto that is really light. It’s all done with mirrors!

Nikon stopped making mirror lenses in 2005 so you’re not likely to be able to find one new, at least not from your local camera store. I got mine used off of eBay.


Way back in the day when I had long flowing hair all over my head that was even more abundant and nicer than Fabio’s ever was, I was becoming increasingly interested in photography.

I got my start years before by worshipping my dad’s SLR, a Minolta SR-1, and the wonderful images he captured. Then I ordered a tiny camera from the back of a comic book, and then I got hold of a couple of Instamatics and a fully manual 16mm still camera. Then while in high school in the ’70s, I got to the point where I wanted something a little more capable — an SLR.

A couple of guys at school whose photos and photographic knowledge I admired all had Nikons, so when I got my first summer job I ran down to the camera store and bought an Olympus OM-1. I’ve always been The Quiet Rebel.

I bought the OM-1 for a couple of reasons… it was touted as being great in low-light situations and I was interested in taking photos at night and of bands performing either indoors or outdoors after dark with only the stage lighting as a light source. The Olympus lenses were said to be excellent, and the OM-1 was considerably less expensive than Nikon’s cameras were.

I was anxious to pick up a “real” camera but I was also a realist. That first job was at one of Montreal’s amusement parks, Belmont Park, which was really far away from where I lived so before I bought a camera, I ran out and bought a moped as soon as I possibly could.

Travelling by moped cut an entire hour off my commute time each way and it would prove a lot of fun during my free time! Once my transportation was taken care of and as soon as I squirreled away enough cash I ran down to the camera shop and bought the Olympus. As it turned out, there was a bus strike that summer so a lot of Belmont Park’s employees couldn’t make it to work but since I had reliable transportation, I was working fifteen or sixteen hours per day, six days a week so dough was rolling in and I could afford to buy additional lenses and a nice flash unit.

As is the case with most any teenager, I heard about a lot of different things going on around the city and had the freedom to check a lot of them out. There were many opportunities for great shots.

The ’70s was a great time for photography, with the advances in electronics and materials sciences permitting better films, more features on the cameras, and better lenses. The Reflex-Nikkor C 500mm f/8 was one lens that was born in that era. Even though buying one new was financially out of reach for me at the time, I kind of regretted not buying a Nikon just on the off-chance that one day I’d be able to afford one, or one of the many other exotic Nikkors.

Mirror lenses are just so damned cool!

What’s a Mirror Lens?

This is a cross-section through a Reflex-Nikkor. The front element is on the left and all refractive lens elements are shaded blue while the two mirrors are shaded white. Photo courtesy

Mirror lenses or, more properly, catadioptric lenses, are lenses that combine conventional ground glass lens elements with curved mirrors. I have only ever heard of this design being used in telephoto lenses and telescopes, the most famous being The Hubble Telescope. They generally offer a lower weight-to-magnification ratio than do conventional lenses, tend not to distort the image, and have excellent colour transmission characteristics.

Light reflected from the object being observed or photographed enters the lens in the diagram above from the left, passing through the glass lens (tinted dark blue in the illustration — the mirrors are light blue), and then it bounces off the rear primary mirror toward the small secondary mirror fixed to the rear of the front lens element, and is again reflected back toward the eyepiece or camera through several lens elements placed in a hole in the middle of the rear primary mirror.

Having the light “folded” by mirrors is what makes these lenses so small and light for their magnification.

Here's what the front of Hubble Jr. looks like. See the small circle in the middle? That's the back of the secondary mirror that bounces your image back toward the innards of your camera.

The Pedigree

Here’s a brief timeline of Nikon’s 500mm mirror lenses:

  • 1961: Nikon began selling mirror lenses with the introduction of the Reflex-Nikkor 50cm f/5.0.
  • 1968: The f/8 version replaces the f/5, becoming more than one stop slower but this new model is much smaller, features coated optics, closer minimum focussing distance, and improved image quality.
  • 1974: The f/8’s optics are updated with Nikon’s new multicoating (therefore the “C” designation in the lens’ name), improving image quality further.
  • 1983: The “C” version is replaced by the “N” version. This lens is even smaller, with better lens coatings, and focusses to an incredibly close 5 feet, allowing for a maximum magnification ratio of  1:2.5! This high maximum magnification ratio earns the lens Nikon’s orange band on the barrel, signifying macro capabilities. This version of the 500mm Reflex-Nikkors offers the best image quality.

This lens is solidly built... even the screw-in lens cap is made of metal!

Note: Nikon also made 1,000mm and 2,000mm mirror lenses.

For more information, visit Nikon’s international website. They have 47 stories  about the developement of select lenses and cameras in the section “The Thousand and One Nights“. The story of the Reflex-Nikkor 500mm lenses, with mention of other Nikkor mirror lenses, can be found therein.

Why Some People Hate Mirror Lenses for Photography

Well, where do I start? Some people are so dead-set against them and spout so many reasons to avoid them that one has to wonder if these critics are really vampires feeling threatened by the lenses’ mirrors.

  • Too Small and Light to Dampen Vibration: The first thing is that they are incredibly light compared to a lens of conventional refractory optics of the same focal length and magnification. For example, my Reflex C weighs only one kilo (2.2 pounds) compared to Nikon’s current AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4G ED VR’s hefty 3.88 kilos (8.55 pounds).  This makes the mirror lens easier to lug around and you can even use them without a tripod, but any vibration at all causes the camera to shake, blurring the image. This vibration-induced image degradation can happen even when you’re using a tripod with your camera’s mirror locked in the up position.
  • Fixed Aperture: Because this is a mirror lens, you cannot adjust the aperture — you’re always shooting at f/8 with this particular lens. Some people don’t like this restriction imposed by the catadioptric design. Most digital cameras were designed to be used with relatively fast autofocus lenses so a slow manual focus lens like this is a bear to focus accurately. Even if you have an old film camera that was designed for manual focus lenses, the slowness of the lens sometimes confuses the optical focussing aids.
  • Vignetting: These lenses sometimes cause the center of the image to be brighter than the edges.
  • They’re “Soft” Lenses: Nikkor mirror lenses tend to produce soft, low-contrast images… the older the version of this lens, the softer the image will be.
  • Donut Bokeh: Probably the biggest problem people have with mirror lenses is the bokeh. In fact, to some people donut bokeh is the deal-breaker. Because light enters the front of the lens and there’s a small secondary mirror in the center, the bokeh is rendered as donut shapes instead of the generally-accepted-as-ideal soft circular bokeh. Even when there are no specular point sources that are out of focus, the lens tends to impose a pattern on out-of-focus backgrounds.
  • Bad Luck: There’s a rumour floating around that if you drop a mirror lens and break it, you’ll get 14 years of bad luck because there are two mirrors inside. I don’t know if this is true but I doubt it… I just made this one up.

Here's Hubble Jr. between my Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S and the international standard 355 ml can of Coke. I conservatively estimate that the Reflex-Nikkor C would hold 800 ml of pop were it hollow.

Why I Love My Reflex-Nikkor

If you’ll bear with me, I’d like to make my point primarily by addressing others’ criticisms of this lens and others that share the catadioptric design.

  • Too Small and Light to Dampen Vibration: Yup, they’re small, light, and even tripping the shutter can cause enough of a vibration to  blur pictures (I’ll give you some tips on how to increase your chances of getting good images with this lens farther down in this post). That being said, my Reflex-Nikkor, which I affectionately think of as “Hubble Junior”, is compact enough so that I can carry it around in my gadget bag with all my other lenses and the total weight for the whole thing is around 20 pounds. With what I carry in my bag, I can cover everything from 180° down to 1.66° and can achieve better than a 1:1.36 magnification ratio. Hubble Junior is small enough that if there’s enough light I can very comfortably use it without a tripod for those times when there’s something I want to get a shot of but there’s a possibility my intended subject will drive, fly, or run away in the time it takes me to set up my tripod. Even if Nikon’s newest 500mm has image stabilization, holding a fifteen inch long, eight-and-half-pound monster (not including the camera) for any length of time is going to cause my scrawny arms to go into spasm. To me photography as a hobby should not be something that requires time with a personal trainer and a gym membership. These are not called “Recumbent Reviews” because I’m the type of guy who is willing to break a sweat in the pursuit of my art!
  • Fixed Aperture: This is true of all catadioptric lenses — there’s just no way to put a diaphragm at the proper optical spot. Mirror lenses tend to be pretty slow anyways so stopping down wouldn’t seem practical even if possible. I don’t have too much to say countering this shortcoming except that with such a high magnification lens with so little depth of field maybe fewer choices are a blessing in that the results are predictable… you just cannot overestimate your depth of field.
  • Vignetting: First of all, when I hear this “criticism” I rack my brain trying to think of a lens, catadioptric or otherwise, that does not exhibit some fall-off toward the edges, especially fully open. Frankly, I find that most of the time a little vignetting is a welcome thing and have at times added vignetting in Photoshop to help draw attention toward the center of the image (or away from the edges). Your image editing software might already have a filter to correct vignetting if it really bothers you.
  • They’re “Soft” Lenses: Yup, Hubble Junior’s a softy, alright. It also has next to zero spherical aberration, chromatic aberration, and coma. The guys who poo-poo mirror lenses are the same guys who give you numbers on how you can digitally correct these other aberrations in lenses that they love but a little softness and low contrast become major drawbacks when it comes to using mirror lenses. A little easily-corrected softness and low contrast are a small price to pay for virtual immunity to these other aberrations.
  • Donut Bokeh: Sometimes there’s just no way around having donuts floating around in the background of your picture. They can certainly be distracting sometimes but, hey, that’s life — sometimes the picture just doesn’t work out. No matter what equipment you have, there’s a downside. A cellphone camera is great for quick snaps of you and your friends inside a car on a road trip but lousy for making giclee-quality prints. A technical camera is lovely for landscapes but not so hot for shooting sports. What I say is celebrate the donut! Work with it and you’ll get used to it and maybe even come to love it, like that one droopy eye on your spouse’s face. Donuts are not something to cause repulsion, they’re the mark of something singularly special!
  • The Cost of the Alternatives: Let’s get real here… a used Reflex-Nikkor C will set you back somewhere near $300 and its N series younger sister maybe twice that. The current AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4G ED VR has all the bells and whistles like autofocus, image stabilization, the highest quality glass and coatings, and adjustable aperture but it also comes with a Canadian price tag of $9,000. So the choice is yours… buy a $300 used mirror lens and add two minutes to your workflow correcting softness and low contrast in your image and deal with annular bokeh, or you can spend 30 times that amount for a new AF-S Nikkor 500. This is clearly a case of dollars to donuts! For a guy in my income bracket, there just isn’t anything to discuss here but if you’re a pro who needs this kind of magnification and autofocus so you’re sure to get razor-sharp images every time, by all means go for the AF-S. Maybe you can put it on your expense account or write it off your taxes or something.

How to Get the Most from Your Reflex-Nikkor

  • Make Sure It’s a Nikkor: First of all, beware of professional reviewers who don’t like mirror lenses in the first place who then tell you which kind to buy. In my mind that’s a little like getting dumped by a woman and then getting a call from her offering to set you up with one of her single friends. She doesn’t like you enough to spend time with you herself so what kind of gremlin with a white corsage will be sitting in the coffee shop waiting for you on your blind date? Listen to people who own mirror lenses and look at their pictures. Ask them questions about how they took the picture and what they did in post processing. Get your hands on one before you buy if you possibly can. Avoid third tier lenses you never heard of until you googled “mirror lens”. Second tier companies’ mirror lenses might be as good or even better than my Nikkor C, but I just don’t know. I can only comment on what I own and use myself and I love mine, in spite of its shortcomings.
  • Steady Your Camera: As I mentioned earlier, you’ll need either short shutter speeds or a solid support for this lens. The Reflex-Nikkor C comes with its own tripod mounting foot, and I suggest you use it. Pre-stress you tripod’s  legs by flexing them outward once everything’s set up, use a cable release, and use your mirror lock-up function when shooting static scenes. Some people suggest using sandbags, but I’m not sure if you’re supposed to rest the camera and lens on top of them or drape them over the camera and lens when they’re fixed to your tripod. You might also want to experiment with different shutter speeds. I found that on the tripod I had problems around 1/30 second but at 1/60 or 1/8, not so much. I’ve also had trouble at 1/125 second. It might have something to do with how the vibrations propagate in my particular camera/lens/tripod set-up or I may have not been careful setting everything up onto the tripod. Try hanging your gadget bag from the tripod, too. Bump up your ISO setting as high as your tolerance for digital noise will allow you — this will let you use a higher shutter speed.
  • Focus Accurately: Focussing is really tricky with this lens. First of all, you’re probably using a digital camera that was designed primarily to be used with autofocus lenses. The focussing screens of most modern cameras were not designed with slow or really fast manual focus lenses in mind. In the old days before autofocus, SLRs had focussing screens with microprisms and split-screen thingies built-in to help you focus. Many of you whose first camera was a digital might not even know what I’m talking about. I was having a lot of trouble getting properly-focussed images until I bought a special focussing screen designed for fast or slow manual focus lenses. I got mine from KatzEye Optics. Even with a special screen it’s really tough to get bang-on focus without a lot of practice. If you’re going to try using a long mirror lens with the screen that came with your digital camera, I suggest getting used to the lens by taking shots of stationary objects first. Focus in and out and you’ll see the area that’s in focus moving along the ground… do this until you have the in-focus part at the base of what you’re trying to shoot. When shooting something that’s moving, try to predict where your subject is going, focus on something that it will pass, and wait for your subject to arrive at that spot. Whether or not you have a special focussing screen, if you’re going to try focussing while using the camera handheld, good luck! Your best bet would be to brace the camera up against something, focus, and then try to frame your shot. Just be forewarned that at this magnification looking through the viewfinder of a handheld camera with a 500mm lens mounted, especially if it’s a “cropped format” like my D300 is, what you see through the eyepiece will look like something out of a really bad earthquake movie!
  • Fixing Vignetting: If you really want to, there are a lot of software fixes for this “problem”. I have an excellent program that is primarily for correcting lens distortion that will also correct vignetting. It’s called PTLens and you can try it free on ten images. If you like it, you can buy it for $25. You don’t need to tell them HoaiPhai sent you because I don’t get a dime for referring you to their great product. By the way, you’ll find a bunch of Hubble Junior’s photos below and I didn’t correct vignetting or any geometric problems in them but I did enhance contrast and sharpness in most if not all of them. I also tweaked the colour in a few, just like I’d end up doing had I used any other lens.
  • Fixing Low Contrast: The first thing I do to tweak a needy Hubble Junior image is to go into Curves, select a point on the line in RGB mode, and enter the following numbers… Input:15, Output: 0. Move the points on the line until you get what you want. If you’re intending to print the image, experiment with what value works best with your printer and paper. If you’re uncomfortable using Curves, just play with the Contrast and Brightness sliders… these are just suggestions, not The Eleventh Commandment!
  • Fixing Softness: One thing you can do to avoid a soft image in the first place is to make sure there is not anything between the lens and your subject because it will be rendered completely out-of-focus and will soften everything. But these lenses do tend to be soft even in ideal conditions so when I feel the image needs some help I apply an unsharp mask as the final step before printing or saving in a web-friendly format. Here’s what I do… I convert the image to the LAB colour space and apply the unsharp mask only to the “Lightness” channel and use the following settings… Amount: not more than 50%, Radius: 1.2 pixels, Threshold: 1 level. Having said that I’m sure some Adobe-Wan Kenobi out there is going to say that I’m doing it all wrong. I’m not proud — I’ll gladly try your method in my constant pursuit for excellence.
  • Donut Bokeh: Sorry, you cannot avoid this weird bokeh completely but you can minimize it by making sure your backgrounds are smooth fields without high-contrast detail or specular highlights. You could try filling in the donut holes and blurring the devil out of them in your image editing software, but that’s just silly. Embrace the donut! Maybe I’m biased because donuts are such an important part of the Canadian tradition and diet.

The Verdict

If you want an easy to use lens or you need a lens that will focus fast and accurately for sports photography or something, the Reflex-Nikkors are not for you.

In my book, this lens ranks as “Legendary” on the HoaiPhai Scale of Camera Stuff Approval, even though it’s devilishly hard to use. It was well worth every penny I paid for it. Here are some of my reasons why it gets such a high rating…

  1. They’ve been around for ages and it took me decades to finally get one.
  2. The magnification is incredible — I find this useful and a lot of fun.
  3. It’s light enough to go with me wherever I go.
  4. I’m very pleased with the images it makes and the donuts are just part of its charm.
  5. It’s hard to use and I’ve enjoyed learning the hard way how to use it — I find it very satisfying getting good results after having worked a bit to get to know this lens.
  6. It’s by far the cheapest route to getting a quality super telephoto.

The Field Test

I think I’ll let the pictures, and their captions, do the talking from here on in…

Peach blossom buds. Notice the evil donut bokeh in the background? Cool, eh?

More peach blossoms. This lens can lend an eerie softness to a photo that I personally feel can be quite appealing but others find appalling.

The Goldfinches' date-night dinner.

A duck hangin' at Port Dalhousie.

Seagulls at Port Dalhousie (more donut bokeh!)

Note the strange patterns on the background caused by the way the lens renders out of focus stuff? I think it's kind of funky.

Another example of a moody mirror lens shot.

I saw this at the Conservation Area in Niagara-on-the-Lake... I think it's a heron.

A sparrow with some building materials.

Toronto (in the background) as seen from St. Catharines (in the foreground). It's actually about 50 km across the water.

Here I added a TC-200 teleconverter to get the magnification of a 1,000mm lens (that's 1,500mm 35mm-equivalent on my D300). That's Toronto, by the way, taken from Grimsby about 50km distant. You cannot see the lower floors of the buildings because of the curvature of the Earth. Skydome, the white structure seen to the left of the CN Tower in the previous picture, is totally "submerged".

Taken from Lock #3 on the Welland Canal.

Here is a guard post in the Korean DMZ. Taken from a distance of about a kilometer in the rain. If you zoom in on the original, you can see two South Korean soldiers watching their North Korean counterparts. This is a great lens for watching people who are watching people...

...or you can just use it to watch people.

Hope you enjoyed this post. Let me know what you think about mirror lenses!

If you liked this Recumbent Review, check out my others where I discuss the Nikon SB-900 Speedlight, the Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S and the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200mm 3.5-5.6G ED VR.

About HoaiPhai

I'm up late digging up the dirt. View all posts by HoaiPhai

37 responses to “Recumbent Review: The Mighty Reflex-Nikkor C 500mm f/8

  • Redneckprincess

    Amazing pictures…does it take you a week to write a post, you rock it buddy 🙂

    • HoaiPhai

      Glad you liked the pictures! This post took me a week! It’s been crazy at work for me (I was scheduled to come in “one day” for 17½ hours, have 6½ off, and then come back in for 8 hours) and my wife has had her schedule reduced. I don’t work on the blog much when she’s around… don’t want to have to spend time in alimony court. And for the past month or so I’ve been talking about an hour per day to my 8 year old grandniece in Korea to help her with her English. And, yes, this post was rather “involved”… a lot of words, I did spend time looking around the internet looking up facts and criticisms of the lens, and then the time getting the pictures together and converting them to blog-friendly format. I’ve had little time to myself and this week aside from my usual 40 hours at work, I might have to put in a few extra hours and Mrs. HoaiPhai wants a new fridge but was unimpressed by my initial choice so it’s back to square one. I’m also about a week behind in reading other peoples’ blogs, but I haven’t forgotten you! I’ll be trying to catch up soon.

  • Martina

    Now, this is a loong post….I’m totally ignorant when it comes to cameras and photography generally speaking. 😦
    Those pictures look great!

    • HoaiPhai

      Ha-ha! Too long, eh? I’ll have you know I cut some things out and I avoided some really technical stuff that I originally wanted to put in! I was thinking of adding a system to my long blogs to direct people to parts that would be of interest to them so they could go directly to the basic facts or the technical details. At least you know my style well enough to skip through to the pictures that I usually put at the end!

  • :Punchie

    OFFTOPIC: Your post brings to mind a story by the U2 concert photographer BP Fallon.

    He spotted Annie Leibovitz using the same exact mega-thousand dollar Nikon camera that he uses and approached her with the (awfully broad) question, “Annie, can you explain to me how to use this thing?”

    Leibovitz, who apparently doesn’t suffer fools gladly, blew him off in the coolest way. She said something like, “I have no idea myself,” then reached over and turned his setting dial to AUTOMATIC.

    • HoaiPhai

      I’m no Annie Leibovitz, photographically or otherwise, but even I have some fun stories, one of which even incorporates the “auto” switch. First of all, my camera was not the top-of-the-line Nikon model, even at the time I bought it but was considered professional equipment (the model I have was replaced by another a couple of years ago and the last time I checked mine was considered a back-up camera for pros). Anyways, a customer where I work had Nikon’s current best camera, along with a $1,000 + pro lens, around his neck so I asked him if the camera was, indeed, a D-3 and how he liked it. He told me that, yes, he though it was a D-3 and liked it fine but the auto-focus wasn’t working and he intended to bring it in for service. I looked at the camera he was holding and told him to flick a switch from “M” to “S”. Problem solved!

      Thanks for the link to the book… it looks like a good read and maybe Santa will bring me a copy.

  • jennygoth

    you certainly know about your cameras and are passionate about images which are lovely and crystal clear have a fantastic weekend xxjen

    • HoaiPhai

      Thanks for the compliments. I don’t know a lot about cameras in general but do know a bit about my own camera stuff and that it’s possible to squeeze effective images out of what some consider “inferior” equipment. You’re certainly right about me being passionate about pictures… mine and others’. I loved the cemetery ones you posted a while back. Thanks for dropping by!

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    Hi, I found your blog really interesting! would you mind to follow my blog as well? This is my school project! Thank you!

  • Mike Lilly

    Wow, I had no idea such a lens even existed. And your samples show that it’s certainly a viable photographic tool. 500mm has to be tough to work with, even with the more modern versions. As a fellow cost-conscious shopper I’d be inclined to go with the mirrored version as well, especially when you consider the fact that my wife would throw me out on the street if I spent 10K on anything other than a car.

    Now what about the 1000mm and 2000mm versions?? That’s insane!

    • HoaiPhai

      Yeah, it’s really hard to work with. I’ve taken a fair number of shots handheld, like the “bottom” photo on this post, but even with split-screen and microprism focusing aids of my focusing screen or my camera’s digital focus confirmation feature it’s hard to deal with because I cannot hold it still enough to use these features — I just look for increased contrast in the overall blur and trip the shutter when the subject is in frame and hope for the best. On a tripod, it’s a different story. I have a ball head tripod and it’s difficult to frame the subject because once I get the subject in frame and release the traction release, it shifts where the camera is pointed by about a third of the field of view unless I’m really careful. If I could do it all over, I would have bought a video head which would make life a lot easier for those tight framing situations.

      The 1,000mm version is not that much bigger than the 500mm but it has filters on a turret that you can select clear, yellow, orange, or red for black and white photography (remember, these lenses were born in the Film Age). The 500s come with 39mm filters of the same colours that screw in on the back side and are behind the mounting flange and inside the camera when the lens is in place. Most of the 2,000s were white, and they are huge with a handle on the top so your pair of Sherpa bearers can feed a pole through to carry it on their shoulders. It also has a mount that looks like a pedestal… the whole thing looks like a small naval searchlight.

      The fourth-to-last photo was with the 500mm and a 2x teleconverter so it’s almost like having a 1,000mm (but the real 1,000 would be faster and yield better images). My camera’s a 1.5 crop job, so that picture of Toronto from ~50 km away was as though it was taken with a 1,500mm lens on a full frame camera.

      The telescope manufacturer Questar makes lenses that you can put your camera on, too. I don’t know what the photographic purists would say about the image quality but the cops use them for surveillance. Charles Bronson’s character in The Mechanic used a Questar 3½ inch (that’s about 1250mm in photographic lingo) to get some recon on the first guy he kills. You can see this sequence beginning at about the 3 minute 15 second mark.

  • ceceliafutch

    Gorgeous photos. Great article…what I read of it. Very informative. I’ll be back to finish it later.

    • HoaiPhai

      Thanks for the compliment! Yes, I tend to write too many words. When I was in school and they had us write essays of a certain number of words, most of my classmates saw it as a goal to achieve but I always considered it my limit!

  • The Hook

    You have a gift, that fortunately, you have decided to share with all of us. Thank you, you crazy animal!

    • HoaiPhai

      Thanks! All of the pictures in this post were taken in our neck of the woods (except the one of the Korean DMZ, of course). A lot of people around here set traps to try to catch raccoons using peanutbutter sandwiches as bait… maybe thay’d catch more of us if they baited the traps with $9,000 Nikkor lenses instead!

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  • Stephen Hill

    I enjoyed this very much ! I have a Nikkor 500 mirror lens that was my dad’s. I used it in the past with a F2, but haven’t done anything recently what with the digital thing. I recently purchased a entry-level Canon DSLR at the thrift store for $7.95 !!! I just ordered an adapter to go from Nikon lens to Canon EOS body. I am excited to use this lens again. It’s great to hear someone celebrate this lens instead of condemning it. Loved the article. Thumbs up !

    • HoaiPhai

      I thank you for reading the post and actually commenting. This post and my “review” of the Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AIS consistently get the most traffic but so few people comment.

      I love this lens and am very, very tempted to get it’s bigger sister, the Reflex-Nikkor 1,000mm f/11. A couple of weeks ago I bought a DR-6 magnified right angle viewfinder eyepiece and it’s really helping my focus better with the 500mm and the 50mm f/1.2 (at wide apertures). The 500’s bokeh can be distracting and disruptive but it can also help generate moods ranging from playfulness to the sombre or mysterious.

      Did you get the adapter yet? How are you liking actually using the lens?

  • Simon

    Thanks for your review. This lens seems to attract very mixed opinions. Based in part on your efforts, I bought one, and I love it. $200 at adorama got me a lens that I can get images that were previously completely impossible. Sure, you have to learn to use it. I still blow the focus on half my shots of “near”, i.e. about 50′ away, wildlife, but the other half are so rewarding it’s great. And the objections that have been stated many times about low contrast, and the curious hotspot in the middle are irrelevant, since these days, you can just create a preset in LightRoom (or action or whatever, depending on your software) and with a single click, the effects are negated. Definitely a great piece of glass that rewards someone willing to make the effort to learn to use it. For anyone who isn’t willing to make that effort, fine, just spend the thousands required to by an AF lens if you like, but don’t complain about this one!

    • HoaiPhai

      I’m really glad you’re not disappointed in your Reflex-Nikkor after having considered what I had to say about it in this humble blog! Did you get a “C”or an “N”?

      Blowing shots due to bad focus used to bother me until I realized I am shooting digital now and a few missed shots don’t take much of a bite out of my ~350 exposure “film”. I started out by making sure the diopter on my viewfinder was set correctly and did a little “focus bracketing” and taking several shots to increase the chance that I got my intended subject in focus. I also found that by racking the focus before taking a shot I could see the plane that’s in focus moving, helping me better place it where I wanted it. The KatzEye focusing screen helped, and since writing the post I bought a DR-6 right-angled viewfinder magnifier, which did significantly increase focusing accuracy with my Reflex and my Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S, but was a bit disappointed that for the price point you have to refocus the DR-6 on the focusing screen every time you switch from 1x to 2x magnification. Had I known this I might have looked into either the DG-2 or a third-party product.

      Have you posted any of your shots on-line? I’d love to see them.

  • Gerry Levesque

    From Gerry – Your article was very interesting and informative. I liked your photos as well. Had one of these 500mm Nikkors back in the early 80’s for a film based camera, was going to photo school at the time and it was fun and novel way to approach shooting from different perspectives. Only had it about 6 months before everything I owned got stolen, so I didn’t have time to really develop a lot of skill in using. Now that I’m getting back into photography in a more everyday life I’m exporing the variety that is on offer. The lense featured would be fun to play with and as you have stated is relatively cheap to acquire. At the moment I’ve got a Nikkor 80-400 zoom lense that I use as often as I’m able. I do appreciate the products that have been devloped over the years and reading review and blogs like yours to inspire and guide me to better use what I’ve got to work with. Bravo, please keep posting quality content, and know that it has an effect in the larger community. Much appreciated, thanks.

    • HoaiPhai

      Thanks for the kind words, Gerry. It’s sad that people use reviews to limit their photographic experience by ruling out mirror lenses, for example, because the reviewer considers one aspect of the item a problem. Frankly, I kind of enjoy the quirkiness of some of my imperfect equipment — the moody images I get with this Reflex-Nikkor and my 50mm f/1.2 just wouldn’t be as compelling as a literal rendition of reality made with an optically perfect lens. Your 80-400 sounds like a honey and you probably don’t need the extra 100mm but you might have fun taming the bokeh to work for you. Have you ever read 1,001 Nights? It’s a series of articles on some of the classic Nikkors.

      I really appreciate hearing from the people who read my posts. This post and the one on the 50mm f/1.2 are my top two most popular posts but so few of those who read them take the time to comment—thank you! Please keep watching my blog… I intend to write about the Micro-Nikkor 105mm and the Samyang 8mm f/3.5 fisheye in the coming months.

  • Eric D

    Your ‘lone leaf’ photo even has doughnuts on the in-focus bit. Cunning.

    I love for her (?) use of doughnuts !

  • Brett

    I just purchased a Nikkor N 500mm f/8 and can’t wait to try it on my D300. There’s is a great article by Thomas Pindelski on adding a CPU to this lense, so I have orderd that as well (US $30). Thanks for the great review.

  • Shea

    You mentioned you use a focusing screen with the 500mm f/8. Could you share your experiences? I was thinking about buying a K3 type screen for my D700 from, but I’ve heard that split screens will go black with some f/8 lenses or under non-optimal light conditions. Have you seen something like this, and do you think a focusing screen enhances your focusing ability with this lense? Thanks!!!

  • Shea

    This is a great value lens. More people should read your review.

    You can easily shoot the 500mm f/8 C lens handheld at 1/1600-1/2000. Just set the shutter speed, use AUTO ISO, and you’re set. At that speed, camera shake is not an issue. Ignore the Ken Rockwell review on this point. Of course, you need substantial light to shoot under these conditions.

    Focus isn’t that hard, either, though shooting a moving target is obviously more difficult with any manual focus lens.

    One thing I haven’t read anywhere: shooting through certain types of glass windows can distort the image in a way I haven’t seen with a regular refractive lenses. It’s impossible to obtain a sharp image shooting through the windows of my apartment, for example. Make sure you test it outdoors before making any hasty decisions.

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