Mirror lenses......?


WHY even bother using these lenses, just check out the internet. I couldn't find just one simple positive story!

Are these lenses total CRAP??? JUDGE FOR YOURSELF!!!!!

 Warning: long range telephoto imaging is addictive! Read at your own risk....


This pic was made with my Maksutov 1000mm. The birds where about 30-40 meters away. Just click on the image, and you'll get a larger one. I guarantee you, that it can easily be printed on A3+ format, and maybe even more, possibly the lens offers even more on a D2x...

Their great two advantages: price and weight, made me buy one, despite the negative stories.

         Maksutov tech:

Focal range           : 1000mm (film eq.)

image angle           : 2,5o

Diafragma              : 10 - fixed

focus                    : 8m infinity

weight                  : 1,95 Kg





The great brands all offer fine modern lenses, unfortunately they are unaffordable for most hobbyists. Shooting nature and sports require long range teles, at least a 300 or 400 mm, just look along the sports fields...

Then you will also notice their enormous dimensions.

These combined factors would prevent me from taking such a lens out into rough terrain anyway...



Mirror lenses were invented in the 40's and 50's.  Then they were extremely popular, Suddenly it was possible to take 500mm-shots from hand!, they could be easiliy taken along, and photographers were less prominent at the scene. Reporters valued them for these reasons.

Dimitri Maksutov, a Russian scientist, developed this new piece of tech. The first one was a 500mm in a wooden box. It is a collectors item nowadays... The image quality was impeccable, and was based upon the "Cassegrain-Principle".

The lens made it's way to the west, and became very popular.

So the western and japanese manufacturers started their own developement, and came up with a cheaper design, the "Catadioptric-Principle".

Soon, a steady range of mirror lenses rolled into the shops, from very expensive to extremely El Cheapo's.

Many were sold, and, in the 80's, they suddenly dissapeared...











What happened?

A little tale fron "THE PARANOID TIMES":

Once upon a time there was a professional photographer who had a lot of competition. He figured, that to cut out some of his competitors, he had to make the equipement-costs very high. So he invented an OPINION..

The opinion was, that mirror lenses were bad, and useless.

The photographers loaded with money followed his opinion, and soon the cheaper equipment was banned for esthetic reasons.  Anyone using mirrors was mocked, until they upgraded, or left the scene.

Of course, I made up this tale myself, but some thoughts keep lingering...

Wat's so bad about them? Why were they banned really? How come this general opinion?

It turned out, that they indeed had some disadvantages and peculiarities. So to eliminate them, just spend a few thousand bucks for a PRO-lens.  It was just to obvious for me. I had to examine and evaluate evey argument. And this is the result of my findings:


First of all, I find it necessary to point out, that long range tele work is a very hard and specialized part of photography. Even wind, high temperature haze, and unclear conditions  can make shooting a crime. The first pics are, even with the best glasswork, mostly discouraging. Just practice, practice, and........


CON 1:  small FIXED aperture,  F8  or less:

True, but take a 500 5.6, include a 2x converter, and you get... F10!. AND, there ARE 5.6 mirrors too! Yes, the aperture is fixed, but I don't care, because I reckon I need all the speed I can get, so I would use a normal lens at the widest aperture anyway. Also the blessings of digital photograpy come in handy, simply use the ISO settings to adjust the lighting needs.

It is possible to shoot from the hand with a 500mm mirror, and I had a report of someone with a Sony Alpha camera, who got great pics at 1/60th with his 600mm Sigma mirror, thanks to the image stabilizer. He sent me a pic, it was great, but I lost it, sadly. It seems that the combination of a camera with image stabilizer and a mirror lens is an almost ideal one!

Every tele with a range over 300mm should be supported with a sturdy tripod, by the way. (see update below)


CON 2: The Donuts:

In the unsharp part of the image appear "strange" ligt rings. It is an effect of the mirrors, it is indeed present, but also somewhat controllable by the choice of composition. Avoiding bokeh reflections elininates most of them, and should there be a desire to eliminate the remains, a Photo editor, used with knowledge of course, does wonders! Just see these 1000mm examples:

Donuts visible, I don't care

Removed with Photoshop

What I do, is to make use of masking with feathering, and the applying more or less Gaussian blur, also if necessary repeating the process with a shrunken mask. (or a redefined one).

It is impossible to remove everything, but adding a bit darkening, if possible too, makes the problem even smaller.

Also I link to a German site (ITS-Online, see below), he addresses this too, but in German...


CON 3: bad colours:

In film, this is a problem indeed, but again, the digital age comes to the rescue! Use, and/or tweak the white balance settings of the camera, and you're done!


CON 4: Vignetting problems:

This is a quality issue! Not a basic design flaw! My Rubinar is supposed even to fill the negative of a Mid-format Mamiya. So, not true! Bad mirrors HAVE been made though, so only buy the best ones! They cost much less than the cheapest long tele anyway!


CON 5: Poor contrast: 

I am starting to repeat myself, but again the digital workflow makes the day! And after the contrast adjustment has been completed, it turns out that mirror lenses can yield high resolution images!


CON 6: No auto focus:

Not entirely true, I know of a Minolta that has!. Furthermore we used to do without it, remember it, you geriatrics? I do, and have re-learned it in the digital age.  On my Nikon D70, I have no metering either, so I have to re-learn how to adjust shutter speeds by examening my motive more seriousely. The histogram function tells me if I had it right, so some pre-tweaking is in order.

I find this connects me very well to my images, It makes me take a shot with great care and concentration, just like in the old days. IT's great FUN!  I shoot in RAW, this gives me total image control.

A german commercial photographer, Stefan Krause, shares my opinions. You can read it (in German) here:


Also MIRROLENS.BLOGSPOT.COM is interesting.



As with everything, some have been crafted with great care, and others are not even worth mentioning.

These 3 are in my opinion one of the best....

Nikon 500mm

Sigma 600mm

Maksutov 1000mm

....Also I heard good things from the Tamron SP...

Sadly, many fine Mirror lenses are being used as dust collectors, or even as door stoppers!!

The digital age has made a revival of the mirror lens possible!

Especially recommended for those on a tight budget, and with time to spare. I can understand, that professionals can't afford to lose a shooting opportunity, and therefore are bound to speed, and thus fast, expensive lenses, but the results made with a good mirror lens are very fine as well!

In spring 2006 I was shooting birds on the muddy beaches of the Waddenzee, and, lying in the mud on my belly, I realised, that, if I had a pro lens, I would not even have considered going there!

I HAD GREAT FUN THERE, I 'll tell you that!!!!!!



I had some troubles getting sharp images from the 1000mm Maksutov under poor lighting conditions (below 1/125th). So I bought a Manfrotto Lens Support 293, and, later, a Manfrotto 359 too.

I found myself laying heavy bags and so on top of the lens-camera combination, but nothing helped.

I have a friend and colleauge photographer, Gerard Kingma, (click on his name to enter his site),  He borrowed me his super sturdy PRO-Gitzo tripod hardware, and even that was just not enough, although it helped a little......   

Imagine someone getting desperate! By then I had made my setup almost unmovable. In nature photography flexibility is essential, so this was not going to cut it.

And then I discovered, maybe less is more, looking at the photographers using a monopod.

This thought saved the day, my setup is the following:  I mount the Maksutov directly onto the  manfrotto 141RC head, but I DO NOT FASTEN  the TILTING and PANNING grips. This way I must stabilize the movement with my hands and thus part of my body weight. Use of a tripod instead of a monopod gives me a reference point, and so, now all problems are solved!!!!




A pretty straightforward task really, not difficult at all. By unscrewing the front "optic ring" you can take the front glass out for cleaning.
The back opens up, by unscrewing the whole rear part (which also holds the lens mount), turning counter-clockwise, after taking out the (in my case 1) locking mini-screw.
The thread is pretty long, so keep turning!

To remove the main mirror, the silver ring (which holds the pressure ring) must be unscrewed, also counter clockwise. also locked by 1mini-screw.

Cleaning is done with warm water, dish washing soap, and then rinsed with warm water and dish-washer liquid (for shining). CAREFUL, make no scratches!!!!

The lens elements are in the long black center tube. This also can be unscrewed.

The only real catch here, is to use screwdrivers that fit excellently. The quality of the screws itself are mediocre, and the can break if you are rough...