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The 500mm Mirror F8

September 19, 2006 by David Perry  
Filed under David Perry, Web/Camera Tech

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Now that the 5191 crash events have settled down, the 911 anniversary is over, and there is a little bit of breathing room between sporting events, I’d thought I’d let the newer members of the photo community see why I always have a dinosaur in my gear–that is, a Nikkor 500mm f8 reflex mirror lens made in the mid-1970s. It’s very lightweight, and it works on the same principal as a mirror reflex telescope. The lens belonged to my late friend, photographer, and photofinisher extraordinaire, Paul Lambert. I’ve used it for about three years now.
On the day of the Comair 5191 crash, there was no time to grab a shared “pool” 500mm f4 auto focus lens from the office, so when I found myself assigned, quickly, to run over to the Campbell House hotel to photograph victims’ families arriving for briefings from Comair, I pulled out the 500mm f8 mirror. The media were kept about 100 yards from the front door (as you can see, below). Also, you can see a full-frame outtake I shot from the press position we were given. An 80-200 zoom just wouldn’t have been enough.
So, while the 500 f8 mirror lens has a lot of limitations (outdoor use only because it’s so slow, and it’s only aperture is f8, AND it’s manual focus), this old dinosaur can be handy.
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Reflex

Reflexside

The reason this old lens works on modern cameras is that since it has only one aperture, no electronic couplings are needed to “feed” information back to the camera. Just put the camera on aperture priority, and set a plus 1 exposure compensation. The reason for the plus 1 compensation: without the feedback from the lens, the camera defaults to “thinking” there’s a f5.6 setting on the lens. Of course, you can also shoot with manuel settings.

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