5 Frames from a 500mm – A Whole New World

I found a ‘reflex’ telephoto lens from Tamron, f8 and now I cant think about photography in the same way.

Ive been looking for a 500mm or higher for a while and biding on a few, just for someone with more money to bid higher than me. Then after months of searching I found a ad for a Tamaron 500mm to Canon FD mount, his ad seemed annoyed at another person not paying and wanted to get rid of the lens asap. So it was up for 500kr (£50) buy it now. I did not hesitate and clicked buy it now!

I have this lens on my Canon A1, its looks amazing small but large at the same time. I can hold it in my hands and get fairly stable view through the viewfinder, shaky, ish but still more than understandable and not needing a tripod.

I have also had the lens around my neck for about 3 hours and had little trouble. I notice it’s there but whilst taking photos it’s a nice break for my neck.

The Canon A-1 has a aperture piroity mode, so stuck it on f/8 and kept an eye on the shutter speed to make sure we where shooting above 125. I was using Kodak t-max 400 and we are entering the summer months here in the North of Sweden, so it’s a little chilly still in the air but 24 hours of sunlight.

Let’s start with layering.

With a telephoto lens like this, you can do crazy stuff with your backgrounds to make them more interesting, like this floating sanua is about 1.5km away from those trees and the observational tower on the hill is around 15km away. With a 50mm that would be a dot. This lens just adds it to another layer of your image. Not taking away from your main subject but adding supporting character’s to make your photo look better.

Street photography

We all love the idea of taking pictures of people in candid situations, like this professional lady walking her bike through town. But this sort of photography can make some of us nervous about getting caught or having awkward interaction, even though they probably wouldn’t care. But with a 500mm lens I have to be 30/50 meters back so I’m not cropped into there faces. Downside to this style is people move and finding focus is something I have had will need to train myself to do. Especially as the viewfinder is shaking quite a lot… but, I get to do street photography and no one cares.

New angles

With this lens, I have found I get to look at the world differently, and a lot sharper than before. This is an art piece in the one of the parks in my city and no lens I had before could get this angle, most are from below and a lot wider angle. With this lens I can cut out a lot of the noise from the around the picture and show the viewer (and myself) a picture I imagined the first time I looked at this tree with bird boxes on it. I can really focus on what the subject is and then start to think about what else I want add to the photo.


Of course now I can take pictures of animals without them being scared of me and leaving. This also works with animals that want to come up to me and makes it harder to shoot. They should be far enough away not notice you and come for cuddles. Again animals move fast and focus will take time, lucky this little guy kept coming back to the same spot for me.

I can take pictures of things really far away. I was impressed I was able to get such a close photograph of this plane. Just makes me wonder what I will find next that is so far away that I will get to shoot next.

Side note – apparently this makes bokeh balls turn into donuts… I think I love the sound of that but I didn’t find many in the photos I took with this roll. But I have seen pictures and I don’t find myself offended.

In conclusion, this is another tool I have been happy to add to the toolbox. It does so many things that my current lenses don’t do. Im in love with how it can flatten a scene so I can get so much information into a shot. Mainly because I live in a place where its mainly trees so I need to find objects 20km to add into my pictures. It can also travel with me without taking up a lot of space.

If you find a nice reflex lens going for cheap, it’s my opinion that you will not regret it.

While writing this article a 1000mm appeared at my local secondhand shop and after being talked down from buying it, I went back and picked it up. I am intending to write a article about it soon once I have processed the film, right now I’m learning towards getting rid of it to someone who has patients and a sturdy tripod… but I also wonder about saving it for when I can see the moon again…


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10 thoughts on “5 Frames from a 500mm – A Whole New World”

  1. I love mirror lenses. Donuts are fun when there are bright spots in the background. I used the 500 f/8 Nikkor in several versions, the 600mm f/8 Sigma, the 250mm f/5.6 Minolta which is tiny, and recently a 300mm f/5.6 from an exotic brand that was not big. The results are always interesting in images, but do not overdo it. Lack of contrast, vignetting and low definition are always problems. In reality, to get the best, you have to make use of short distances. Personally, with mirror optics, I often take photos with the focus deliberately shifted, which gives a painterly effect with maximum exploitation of the donuts. It’s not really comparable, because the size is very different, but between a 500 reflex and a classic 500, the classic is of a much higher definition.

  2. “I didn’t find many in the photos I took with this roll”
    Well they are definitely there. In general, the donut bokeh is not as extreme as some people would make out, but I’d point out:

    In the photo with the bird-boxes, you have a number of distinct planes. – over on the right, above the half-way line you have some foliage that is closer (and more out of focus), which shows the characteristic ‘hoops’. If you look at the floage that is further away, there are some specular highlights which are showing up as ‘c’ shapes, with the open part of the c pointing towards the centre of the frame.

    In the shot with the lady with the bike, you can again see some circles in the furtherst trees, and you might notice a sort of double line in the mudguards and wheels of the furthest bikes. Again the secular highlights (at the tree/sky boundary) are showing up as little c’s.

    Of the last two shots there is not too much to give away that a catadioptic lens was used – mainly because neither feature much that is regular – these lenses are very good against clouds as they just tend to make clouds look a little bit ‘angrier’.

    The one that surprises me is the first one with the floating sauna. I would not have guessed that this was taken with a Cat, despite the range of focuses from near to far.

    If your film stock will allow it, you can also use a teleconverter with these lenses – I’ve quite often shot with a 500 with x2 converter, giving an equivalent 1000 f/16 lens – I’d guess your 1000 would end up as something like a 2000 f/32…

    Good to see people using these lenses – they are very useful and in these days of bokeh obsession are often rejected when actually they are excellent tools (with their obvious restrictions).


  3. I love the photo with the woman and her bicycle. The way the lens compressed the scene really put the focus on her and made her stand out. Great article and photos about a type of lens I didn’t effect know existed! Thanks so much of enlightening me.

  4. Great job Robert!

    I bought my own 500mm mirror lens long ago… just before a retired Air Force Colonel (and captain of Stratofortress nuclear bombers) gave me tickets to a military-only air show. The lens’s first outing was, therefore, on a Canon AE-1 used to practice high-speed panning shots of things in the air.

    The show’s surprise finale was a Stealth bomber that zoomed out of the hills behind us and flashed over our heads (bursting our eardrums in the process). I managed to fire off three shots before it disappeared out of sight. And they were (perhaps) TOO good! For when I showed the Colonel my air-show captures, he leafed quickly through them, until he came to one Stealth belly grab.

    He asked to take the print, because he saw something that he didn’t recognize… and wanted to find out what it was. Never told me what he learned. And I didn’t ask.

    These little powerhouse lenses can reveal mysteries too!

  5. I know that i will be consider a hater of some sort…but that is not my intention. Briefly, I think that all of the photos look as if they were indeed taken with a $500 lens. And that may be OK with some or for the many who cannot afford expensive lenses.
    For quality photographs you must use quality glass.

    1. Most of the time, photography is about tradeoffs in getting a picture. Do these lenses produce shots that look like they came off the JWST? Of course not. But the reach of the lens and its compact design are, for many of us, worth the slight decrease in image quality. You just need to understand its limits and work with them.

  6. Good indeed to see mirror appreciation. The Tamron 500sp was one of my favorite buys to pair with older digital sensors- plays exceptionally well with the Nikon D2H..

    The fixed aperture is such a great creative anchor as you can enjoy focusing and framing in a manner that’s easy to break from with most lenses. The comments above about the painterly effect is so very true.

    Do you know about the rear changeable filters on this lens? Useful for black and white shooting.

  7. Love mine. I bought the same lens (in a Nikon mount) with a little crack in the outer edge of the mirror for $25 a few years back. The crack just ends up creating a little extra light diffusion towards the edges of the frame and provides some wonderful character. Particularly with giving a spooky feel to isolated subjects. I recommend picking up an adapter if you have a mirrorless cammera too, as it’s been so much fun adapted to my Sony! Some of my favorite flower photos have come from this combo.

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