The title of this post is supposed to be funny but I suppose you’ll need some background on it. I recently located and purchased another “old” lens made by Minolta. It’s a 500mm f/8 Reflex lens. Reflex lenses are unlike a normal camera lens in that they don’t use complex arrangements of refractive glass elements in the optical design. A Reflex lens is, in it’s simplest form, composed of two mirrors. Light comes in through the front of the lens and bounces off of a large donut-shaped mirror at the back of the lens. The bounced light then hits a smaller mirror that is positioned forward of the rear mirror and in the center of the lens. This light then reflects back toward the back of the lens, through the hole in the rear donut mirror, finally landing on the camera’s sensor. The effect of all this light folding is that it creates a powerful telephoto lens that is both lightweight and short; it’s basically a handheld telescope. One of the limitations of this type of lens is that they lack any sort of adjustable aperture. This lens is f/8 and that’s all there is to it. This makes it a pretty slow lens. Now do you get the joke of my title? Slow Reflexes. Moowahaha. Ok, I thought it was funny when I first thought of it… you had to be there.
Anyway, here are some photos of it mounted to my A7. Really pro photos huh?
Prior to this lens, I have only tried one other Reflex lens and it was a waste of the material from which it was made. This created a long-lasting impression on me that all Reflex lenses are junk on cameras. Recent reading though has piqued my interest in this one made by Minolta back in 1989. The reviews are mixed but there are some folks out there who have good things to say about it, stressing the importance of patience and care when using it. Because of its slow aperture rating of f/8 you really need to be in darn good light in order to get a fast enough shutter speed to overcome any motion blur. In my experimenting I found I could get reliably sharp images while hand-holding it when I used a shutter speed of 1/750th second or faster. On a tripod, the only thing to consider is the speed of the subject you’re photographing.
Here is a handheld shot of my grumpy cat, Chester.
No complaints here! At full size it is absolutely razor sharp!
I always like to test a lens to see how it reacts to being faced toward the sun. Some lenses will surprise you with how poorly they handle this. Here is my test photo – the sun is just out of frame to the left of the birds:
Yet another sharp photo and it’s free of weirdness. These birds were sitting at the top of a tall tree about 200 yards away.
My next test was to see how well it does with the out-of-focus areas and I wanted to see how it rendered skin tones.
I had the camera mounted on a tripod and I used the timer so I wouldn’t jiggle the camera when the shutter was released. The color I have no issue with. The out-of-focus area is acceptable but you’ll notice in the upper right corner that some of the highlights take on a donut-shape which is characteristic of the Reflex lens. I wouldn’t call it a distraction in this image but if those highlights had been brighter, the donuts would have been a lot more defined. Just something to consider when I use this lens.
My second oldest daughter got her first SLR camera the other day. Thanks Dad! She and I went out to the lake this evening with our cameras to get in a little practice. It was cold, foggy and drizzling rain. Perfect weather to learn in! I brought with me the Reflex lens and a very sturdy tripod to see how I could use it to make photos outside the bounds of typical use for this kind of lens.
Mounted to the tripod, I used a shutter speed of 1/6th second. Using the ten second timer on the camera, I set the camera to fire and took off running towards the tree. With the flashlight of my iPhone, I selectively lit this mushroom and the side of the tree. The shroom was on a tree in the forest at the edge of the lake. The background is the water which was much brighter. I exposed for the lake so that it wouldn’t wash out my background and used the iPhone’s light to balance the foreground to the background. It took a few shots to get it right.
Here is another example of this technique. This time it was much later and the sky was all but dark. This exposure required a 6 second shutter. The long shutter gave me a lot more time to paint in the light with my iPhone. I love how deep blue the foggy evening sky turned out.
So far, the photos I’ve shown using this 500mm lens have not really put to use the benefit of such a long focal length. I could have stood closer to the subject and shot these with my 100mm f/2.8 and gotten a similar result. Here are some shots that would not have been possible without the long reach of this lens.
That tree was probably 150-200 yards out, and the forest in the background was over a quarter-mile away. The tree was on the other side of a lagoon that I couldn’t get to without waders or going for a very long hike.
I really like this next photo. Such a peaceful, simple image. For this shot I got my tripod as low to the water as I dared. The tips of grass sticking out of the water were about 80 feet away, along a point of the shore I couldn’t access due to the dense brush along its edge.
I like this next image for it’s simplicity and the shape it takes in frame. Once again, the long reach of the 500mm helped get me close to a subject I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.
As my daughter and I were packing up to leave, I saw this bridge off in the distance with a few cars crossing it every minute or so. I set up for one more shot just as the rain was starting to come down harder. It’s not a sharp image due to the rain and fog but it has a good feel to it and that, to me, is what matters most.
I’m pleased with the lens. Not only does it perform well, but it forced me out of my comfort zone of shooting with lenses in the 28-100mm range. It took a little bit of squirming to the think up new ways to find compositions using a lens with only a 2-degree field-of-view. I found the exercise to be invigorating and a lot of fun. Though it certainly won’t be my walk-around lens, it is a nice tool for expanding the scope of images I can make and, for that, it has earned a spot in my camera bag.