It has become difficult to negotiate the city (of Mumbai). The traffic and the pollution. I was in desperate need of new knowledge and an unexplored recreational activity. All of the urban recreations had become un-pleasurable.
And I had run out of ideas.
Late in the September of 2009, I walked into a used-camera store to check out his latest inventory. I do this on occasions. “Do you want a Mirror Lens? I have one with FD-mount – the mount that your Canon AE-1 Program uses”, said the shopkeeper. It was the first time that I’d heard of the Mirror Lens. “Let me get back to you”, I said. “Very well – I’ll give it to you in its original casing for only two thousand five hundred rupees!”
That afternoon, I looked up Mirror Lenses on the Internet. Photographers had put up shots of the moon on blogs and photo communities.
Manufactures market the Mirror Lens as ‘ideal for shooting wildlife and sports’. But user reviews of Mirror Lenses on the Internet aren’t so flattering:
Because this lens is a reflex design, out of focus bright points will exhibit a donut shaped look to them. This is a typical characteristic of a reflex design. However, normally the “donuts” are perfectly round, but not in the case of this lens where the “donuts” are almost oval in shape. This characteristic throws another stone at the image quality for me.
Unfortunately the design results also in some significant disadvantages like
no aperture so it’s not possible to control the depth-of-field.
the mirror reflections eat contrast
the overall sharpness is usually quite mediocre
The manual focus fixed-aperture mirror lens can’t be beaten on size, weight or cost, but it’s certainly second in terms of convenience and overall performance when compared to autofocus refractive lenses with variable aperture. If I was going to attempt to climb Mt Everest or run a marathon carrying a 500mm lens, I’d go for a mirror. If I was planning to visit Yellowstone in the fall, I’d still drag my EF500/4.5L along with me. On a limited budget, it’s a tough call.
- I know for a fact that most zoom lenses are not sharp at higher focal lengths. I had a Canon 90-300mm lens that produced decent images until about 200mm. At 300mm though it was not sharp – to say the least.
- Prime lenses are expensive. It did not make sense to invest in a Canon 400mm or 500mm lens then simply because I couldn’t be sure I’d enjoy photographing birds or be good at it.
- All of the affordable zoom lenses work at a maximum aperture of f/5.6 at 500mm. Most Mirror Lenses have a fixed aperture of f/8. But Vivitar makes one that works at a fixed aperture of f/6.3 – only 1/3rd of a stop under as compared to f/5.6.
- It is small. And light.
- I knew for a fact that I wasn’t going to be happy just watching birds through binoculars. I had to photograph them. If I must discover this new recreation and gain new knowledge, I need to get my hands on a Mirror Lens, I figured.
And so I tried to find the Mirror Lens having an aperture f/6.3 in the local stores but failed. In fact none of the stores sold Mirror Lenses at all. I ordered the lens and a T-mount for Canon EOS from the United States of America.
Once the lens arrived, it was a hassle finding a 95mm UV-filter and lens-hood in Mumbai. I finally found one on ebay India – a brand new one! Omax – a company based in Delhi manufactures them and sells them on ebay. Omax charge nine hundred and fifty rupees for the 95mm UV filter – almost five thousand rupees cheaper than the ones sold in America!
I haven’t found a lens hood though. So I make one using black chart paper and tape. Ugly but effective!