A few months ago, I picked up a used Canon lens that I remembered seeing many years ago that I wanted to try with the Fuji X-T1. It is a fixed focal length, 500mm f/8 FD-mount reflex lens that has proven to be a little challenging, but also is ridiculously fun.
The old Canon lens I bought is amazingly well built with a drop in filter holder at the back, a rotating and locking tripod collar, and built in lens shade which is a nice touch that you only can seem to get with the old Canon and Nikon designs. The more modern reflex lenses available from Rokinon and such are simpler with lower levels of build quality. Focus on this Canon lens is buttery smooth and feels like a nicely engineered helical focus.
Speaking of focus, this is a manual focus lens only. Every reflex lens lens I’ve ever seen has been a manual focus lens, probably to reduce cost. But technically, there is nothing that would prohibit a camera manufacturer from developing an auto-focus version of this lens. I think Sony actually made one some years ago, but the reflex lens design fell out of favor for some time which I think was a mistake as there are a number of advantages that I’ll outline below.
While there are some definite pros and cons to lenses of this design, it also makes for an ideal travel lens to pack a big focal length into a very small space as well as a not too shabby birding lens provided there is enough light available. To look at how it works as a travel lens, I took this lens with me to Greece including Mykonos and Delos and the Bay Area recently and shot quite a bit with it in those places. This is important because many of us are trying to reduce the volume and weight of our camera gear, especially when traveling and being able to pack a 500mm lens easily into a small pack that you can shove under an airplane seat is wonderful indeed.
Having smaller lenses are also important for birding as many areas that you might want to capture images of birds are not close to where you can easily park your car and the lens needs to be light weight and portable. For instance, the image of the male black chinned hummingbird above was made after hiking through very dense foliage, early one morning up in the Rocky Mountains. I don’t think there are many other 500mm lenses that I’d like to carry along a hike like that. There will be a fair number of bird images that will start to appear here on Jonesblog in the not too distant future that were made with this lens. So I’d say that for travel and birding, I’ve been pretty happy with it.
The lens design is a catadioptric design which effectively uses mirrors to fold the optical path, making a much shorter tube length than it otherwise would be with a totally refractive design. There are some advantages of this design including freedom from any chromatic aberration which is why many telescopes have used this design going back to the early 1800’s. The primary disadvantage of this lens is that you cannot use an adjustable aperture on them, thus the fixed f/8 aperture.
Ring, or doughnut shaped bokeh caused by the central obstruction in the optical lens is the other main drawback from this design making specular light sources rings of light in the out of focus areas. Some folks like this effect, others do not.
This image with a house finch at the feeder demonstrates the ring bokeh in the background. I framed the image to specifically demonstrate the effect in the background. Given the increasing power of image processing chips in cameras, I wonder actually if this optical effect could be mitigated or modified in camera? It should be possible…
This image demonstrates the bokeh in busy, high frequency backgrounds without point sources of light to illustrate what the out of focus quality looks like in other environments. Bokeh appears a little harsh, perhaps busy and not as smooth as with diffractive optics, but I don’t particularly find that unattractive.
The detail and sharpness possible with these lenses is amazing. Images coming out of this camera are much sharper with more detail than I expected and can be illustrated by looking at the fiber in the bill of the house sparrow above. Again, specular highlights are a bit sharp, but using overall scene metering rather than my typical spot metering might be helpful in balancing exposure there.
With less harsh light, exposure is more balanced and again, amazing detail is present and as seen in the 100% crop, amazing detail and resolution can be seen in the feathers.
In order to use these lenses on a modern mirrorless camera, you are going to need a converter. Thankfully, there are a number of companies that are making converters from Metabones (who also has a Speed Booster model which gives you an extra exposure stop) to companies that make simple and inexpensive non-optical adapters. I’ve tried both the Metabones Speed Booster and the non-optical Novoflex adapter and each have pros and cons. With a lens converter on my Fuji X-T1, vignetting or falloff is present and with the Metabones Speed Booster, there is strong vignetting present, but it buys me an extra stop. Though with some cropping as you might be doing with far off objects, you’d be cropping the vignetting out and you can also do some correction in software. With a standard FD to Fuji X-mount adapter, there is just very minor falloff.
The trick to using this lens successfully is to use it on a modern, mirrorless camera with a higher ISO setting to overcome the f/8 limitations and also to use focus peaking, demonstrated in the gif above to rapidly find focus. For far off items, the focus zoom feature found on many camera types is also quite useful and on the Fuji X-T1 is particularly well implemented.
The other concern that I found with the Canon version at least is if you are interested in using screw in filters on the front element, the Canon is probably not your lens as I am unable to find any filters that fit this odd, 82.5mm diameter. There is a Nikon version of this that I think has 82mm filters which are expensive, but also available.
a 500mm lens in a very tiny, light weight package.
Actually, really good, sharp optics!
Close focusing distance.
Fixed aperture at f/8.
Very narrow field of focus.
Manual focus only.
Odd, doughnut shaped bokeh.
Weighing up the pros and cons, I’m pretty happy with this lens and will be hauling this around for travel. Look for more imagery with it in the near future here.
16 Replies to “500mm Reflex Lens”
I just got hold of one of these that sat in a box unused for maybe 30 years. Mint – but the tripod mount won’t budge when release is pressed. Eh, so what. Anxious for Spring and trying it out. New toy, new toy, new toy.
Oh, cool. Where’d you manage to find it? I’ve been pleased that it works quite well on both crop frame and full frame sensors.
eBay – buy now. Funny, suddenly the tripod mount button unstuck and swivels around now. Test shots on some bluebirds – peak focusing saves the day. I do mostly B&W though and will have to wait and see if it’s able to do anything for me there. Tripod with cable release not as sharp as tripod while gripping with hands.
Can’t wait to see your images.
Three year after you wrote in your blog I have done the same, bought a “near mint” Canon FD 500/8.0 for my Fuji X-T2 and written about it on my blog, in Swedish :-). https://www.wbi.se/?p=7707
One concern is the drop down ND filters. It seems impossible to find on eBay. Guess the solution has to be some Square filters on a filter holder in front of the lense.
Hey, glad that you found a near mint lens. Yeah, the drop down filters are a problem. Though I’ve not really looked for drop down filters on eBay or anywhere else. It was good solution at the time, but when the market dropped these lenses, largely because of how technically challenging they were to deal with using film, my guess is the filter solutions went away. There may be some interesting solutions in the astronomy communities however. I’ve meant to look into this, but have not had the time yet.
Drop in filter is a godsend for these type of lenses with large front glass. I’m not sure if there are any other that used drop-ins as everything I have seen has rear threaded filters, meaning take lens off camera to put in a filter. With drop-ins it does the magic in no time.
Have found this article as i am looking at one right now and I think I’ll go for it, a mint condition. As I already have full set of filters form Canon’s 400 / 4.5 SSC lens, I won’t need another set.
Like the way this is written BTW.
just found this thread. 2021.
Have just tried my lovely canon reflex 500 that previously used on old AE-1.
Bought the lens 26 years ago at a little second hand camera shop , very cheap.
Have used it on an older 450d to test and then my 7d.
Had forgotten how good it was!
Thank you for interesting writing.
I my self put my Sigma 50-500 on mostly storage because of the size. Among 20 lenses I bought, I found 3 very sharp: Minolta 500/8 and 250/5.6, Olympus 500/8. Than 3 ok sharp: Tokina RMC 500/8, Zoomar 500/5.6 and Nikkor 500/5. All are adaped to Pentax K.
With Pentax AF x1. 7 I get a Nikkor 500=850mm8.5 and a Minolta 250=425/9.5, useful sharp.
For a mirror lens a good sunshade is very important always to use. I know this Canon 500/8 is a very good lens, but its larger than similar Minolta and Olympus 500/8. Yashica/Contax/=Tomioka give nice contrast and colors but can vary in sharpness. For mirrorless camera Canon FD mount is easy simple and stable to adapt.
About rear mounted filter.
The glass thickness of a rear or inside filter will be a part of the focal length. This might give problems to focus infinity, but problem is much less on a long focal telelens, but depending on how infinity is sat. Most mirror lenses can focus passed infinity to compensate for temperature changes.
Like on earlier Sigma 24mm 2.8 Filtermatic. If using no filter you got a closer focus and no infinity.
I just got one on ebay. It looks fine, although all mirrors show some dust or fungus, and I can wiggle the part where it’s attached a little bit – is that normal, or should I get that tightened?
Second question, that ring has two silver buttons. The big one opens the ring so I can rotate the mount – does anyone know what the little silver button does?
Hey Patrick. I don’t know about the wiggle. One of the buttons is for the foot as I recall to let that rotate. The other one is to unlock the mount.
this is a good lens
all you need to do is use a little skill and you will get good results i have use this on full frame with a 12 mm extension tube (ie) no vignetteing and on 1.3 and 1.6 format canon bodys with a fd to eos converter i got good photographs sharp and in focus using live view or just viewfinder
Have a go its worth it