Mirror Lens


I mounted the Soligor 500mm mirror on the Sony A700 using the Minolta AF-Olympus OM Bower adapter. The Soligor is a T-mount lens, but I’ve been using it with an Olympus T-mount for so long, the ring is hard to get off. I just mounted the Minolta AF mount adapter right on to the lens and then mounted it on the A700.

The light was poor, and since I was shooting in Manual Mode, I was using ISO 200. The slow shutter speed I was using was no help. Even though the image stabilization helps out, I’d recommend that with the 500mm lens, a shutter speed of at least 1/250, even with the anti-shake.

The bokeh from the lens did not show the characteristic mirror lens “donut” shape, but that’s probably because the diffuse light from the overcast sky did not cause any bright spots or highlights.

The pictures aren’t great, but I hope to do better the next time. Keeping in mind that the Soligor C/D 500mm behaves like an apparent 750mm lens, the possibility of being able to hand-hold the camera is in itself pretty remarkable.


Backyard Critters- Soligor/Sony A700
Backyard Critters – Soligor/Sony A700
Backyard Critters- Soligor/Sony A700
Backyard Critters – Soligor/Sony A700
Backyard Critters- Soligor/Sony A700
Backyard Critters- Soligor/Sony A700
Backyard Critters- Soligor/Sony A700

Photographed with a Sony Alpha 700 dSLR and Soligor C/D 500mm f/8 mirror lens 1/80 at f/8, ISO 200m White Balance at Cloudy.


text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners. Thank you for visiting olympuszuiko.
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A while ago I had written about the advantages and shortcomings of cheap super-telephoto lenses and mirror lenses – while similar lenses are still being manufactured and available new for about $120 or so from Ebay, there are a lot more older super telephotos from the 70’s still available for between $30-$60 – these lenses are acceptably sharp, since they were designed for slide film. These old lenses are a veritable smorgasbord of alphabet soup, and range from OEM lenses to well known brands like Vivitar and Spiratone to one-person importer offerings like Jack Gershon’s Albinar and genuine lesser known lens manufacturers like Toyo.

Here are the related Posts:
Cheap Super Telephoto Lenses Part I
Cheap Super Telephoto Lenses Part II
Learning to love your Mirror Lens

I recently purchased a Toyo Five Star 500 non-mirror long tube refractive lens.. it was in mint condition, and priced reasonably so… anyway I was curious about the lens, and wanted to test it out and see how it stacked up against my Soligor C/D 500mm f/8 fixed aperture mirror. I also have a Spiratone 400mm f.6.3 Zuiko 300 f/4.5 and Vivitar 300mm f/5.6 from the same era, so I thought it would be interesting to compare them. I’ll write about that at some future point.

About the Toyo – they were an independent lens maker back in the late 60’ sand 70’s who marketed lenses under the Toyo, TOU/Five Star and TOYO Five Star brand names. There’s not much information about them, but you can find anything if you dig deep enough. The Toyo name is pretty common, and applied to several diverse industrial and consumer products including automotive tires, so sometimes you have to take educated guesses based on sparse company history.

I found a thread on photo.net suggesting that Toyo lenses were made by Toyoview, a division of Mamiya, but I don’t think that’s correct. Toyoview does make a variety of optical stuff for view cameras and are still around. However, I believe that all the Toyo lenses were made by Toyotec – they are a conglomerate with a optical lens division that has been producing lenses since 1967. Their optical lens division has changed names a couple of times in the mid-seventies, from Toyo Seiki Kogyo to Aichi Lens to Toyo Kogaku Kogyo. Their history can be found at Toyotec.com. Obviously, they are still in business, and apparently doing quite well in the digital world, manufacturing CCDs and lens elements along with a range of other services.

First impressions – the Toyo 500mm f/8 looks very similar to the Spiratone 400mm f/6.3, down to the lettering and markings, except for the fact that the 500mm is considerably smaller than the 400mm. The Spiratone 400mm’s f/6.3 aperture is gained by having a larger front element – the Spiratone takes 72mm filters while the Toyo Five Star 500mm takes 67mm filters, so that’s very good. By contrast, my Soligor 500mm C/D f/8 Mirror lens takes hard to find, expensive 77mm filters. Luckily, they guy I bought in from threw in a Skylight filter and a 77mm Rokunar Polarizer. Not the best, but hey, it was free. I prefer the 72mm filter size any day, since I can easily get step-down adapters to fit my other lenses if need be. I love the Soligor C/D mirror, but the filter prices are another story.

Overall, the Toyo Five Star 500mm f/8 lens is smaller and shorter than the Spiratone 400mm f/6.3. It’s all metal, and as was common at the time, it’s a T-mount preset lens. Focusing has to be done wide open, and manually stopped down by turning the ring below the aperture ring from O to C (Open – Close). The aperture settings run from f/8 through f/32. Now that’s a big advantage over the mirror lenses, but the mirrors are very compact by comparison and easily handheld. To handhold the Toyo lens, I’d need to have a shutter speed of at least 1/500 (rule of thumb 1/focal length, remember?)

Long super telephoto lenses 300mm and above generally come with an integral tripod mounting ring – that’s a good indication that they are hopeless to handhold. I don’t mind the slow speeds – I generally shoot at f/8-f/16, and being able to maintain a decent shutter speed for hand held photography is a challenge.

Sports photography applications generally call for fast lenses, since freezing action reliably in varying light conditions needs shutter speeds of 1/500 second and above, which means shooting wide open since a shallow depth of field is acceptable. If you’re into landscape photography, depth of field becomes more important. Nature photography combined with the occasional landscape shot is a challenge if you’re an amateur and can’t lay out the big $$$ for that mmmmmmmm 300mm f/2.8. Being on a very limited budget, I’m always open to cheap super telephoto options, and it’s all the better if one can hand-hold the lens.

So, working backward…. In order to hand-hold the Toyo 500mm, I would have maintain a 1/500 shutter speed. Assuming a bright sunlit day (so we can apply the Sunny f/16 rule, I would have to use 400 ASA film at the very least and set the aperture at approximately f/8 with a polarizer ( maybe go down to f/11). This would give me a hand-held shot, but risks underexposing the whole scene.

On a bright sunny day, slight under-exposure actually improves the picture, rendering bright colors more accurately – the light scatter causes colors to be slightly washed out. However. .. under-exposure can also make subdued colors muddy and ruin the picture.. when in doubt, or when dealing with a sun-shade situation, a 400 ASA is usually sufficient, but on occasion, an 800 ASA film may be indicated. The 1/500 shutter speed setting will now provide a slight (about 1/3 stop???) underexposure. If you’re in a cloudy situation, or in open shade, remember to either open up the lens to f/8 or increase exposure time to 1/250. It helps to play around a little to get the hang of it.

In actual practice, I’ve found that Fuji 400 ASA film was adequate at 1/500 sec in bright sunlight. I used a Maxxum T mount adapter to fit the lens to my Minolta Dynax 800si. Since the Toyo is smaller (and a bit shorter) than the Spiratone 400 f/6.3, it is marginally easier to handhold. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, though… the results will have to speak for themselves. Here are some of the pictures…

Note: To convert a Minolta Maxxum to manual operation ( and allow the shutter to fire) – mount the lens on the camera with the T mount adapter, and then hold down the mode (button with portrait) and AEL buttons simultaneously while turning the camera on. “OFF” will show briefly in the display – this means that the camera will not keep looking for an electronic signal from the lens, and just fire when the shutter release is depressed. Same principle applies when mounting Zuiko lenses on a Minolta using a Bower Maxxum-OM adapter.

For the following pictures, the distances ranged from 75 feet to 125 feet – with this series of pictures, I was trying to:

#1 establish that the 500mm Toyo Fivestar lens could be handheld, and
#2 that I could use it on the Minolta Dynax 800si with a Maxxum T-mount adapter, and
#3 Whether the lens resolution was worth a damn – pine needles and fence wire is always a good test

The fence gate and tree trunk show the ability of the Toyo 500 to reproduce texture. I like this lens.. cheap, well built, easily available, Universal T mount to fit on my Olympus OM or Minolta Dynax 800si, and fairly sharp at the edges. What more could I ask for? This definitely qualifies as a “Cheap Awesome Lens”. I’ll post another set of pictures I took with this lens fitted on my OM-2 with a Olympus T-mount.

Toyo FiveStar 500mm – 125 feet
Toyo FiveStar 500mm – 75 feet
Toyo FiveStar 500mm – 200 feet
Toyo FiveStar 500mm – 75 feet
Toyo FiveStar 500mm – 75 feet

Photographed with a Minolta Dynax 800si and Toyo Fivestar 500 f/8 lens. 1/500 second at f/8-f/11.
I’ll have some pictures of the Toyo 500mm f/8 setup on a Minolta 800si up soon…


text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
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I always appreciate an opportunity to use my Soligor 500mm f/8 Mirror lens, and like most other mirrors, it has a “close focusing” ability that’s often marketed as “Macro”. The fixed aperture setting (f/8) imposes a few limitations, of course, but the ability to handhold a 500mm lens outweighs the disadvantages any day. I didn’t even have to go far… this beautiful Yoshino Cherry tree was in full bloom right outside my brother-in-law’s home in Gaithersburg MD. I walked around taking a few photographs, trying very hard to relax and keep my hands steady. I used my Olympus OM-2 camera, with 400 ASA film.


Yoshino Cherry -500mm Soligor
Yoshino Cherry -500mm Soligor
Yoshino Cherry -500mm Soligor
Yoshino Cherry -500mm Soligor
Yoshino Cherry -500mm Soligor
Yoshino Cherry -500mm Soligor

Photographed with an Olympus OM-2, with a Soligor 500mm f/8 mirror lens and Fuji Superia 400 film. 1/250 second at f/8.


text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
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A while ago, I had discussed the advantages of mirror lenses as cheap long focus lenses, and more importantly, the fact that they could be used in hand held photography. In the same post, I had explored alternative lens configurations that were available at reasonable cost, which would enable an amateur photographer like myself the opportunity to experiment with super-telephoto lenses.

The choices I had that were available in Olympus mounts were considerably varied, and although all the lens and teleconverter combinations would provide a reasonably fast, cheap lens in the super telephoto range, none of them were suitable for hand-held photography. There are some other alternatives I had not really explored since they involved even older lenses, from the 60’s and early 70’s, specifically, universal thread T mount lenses.

These were the old days, before the development of modern multi-coated optical glass and computer aided design. The long focus lenses from back then are really something – they are solidly built, heavy, and have come fitted with a tripod ring so as not to damage the camera mountings. These lenses were made by Cambron, Tele-Astranar, Lentar, Spiratone, and of course more familiar companies such as Tamron, Vivitar etc. Some of them were sold with a particular manufacturer’s mounts, but since camera mounts changed a lot back then, many lenses were made with something called a “T mount”.

Tamron introduced the T mount back in the late 1950’s as a potential “Universal” lens mount. The reasoning was very simple… The T mount is a threaded screw mount, similar to the Pentax M42 screw mount, but with finer pitched threads. The Pentax screw mount is a 42mm diameter screw with a 1mm pitch (M42x1), while the T mount has a 42mm diameter 0.75mm pitch (M42x0.75). The lenses were threaded at the back to take an adapter for a specific camera mount – Nikon, Canon, Olympus, whatever – once a customer bought a lens, it would be fitted with the adapter of their choice and that was it. There was no need to stock many lenses with different mounts – the dealer only needed to stock up on different mounts. If a camera manufacturer introduced a new model with a different mount, a new adapter became available. In fact, some lenses were only released with a T mount – a good example is the famous Vivitar Series 1 600mm Solid Cat (Solid Catadiotropic Mirror lens – what a mouthful)

Theoretically, if you had the right adapter, a lens could be fitted to any camera. The T mount also became the standard for bellows, enlargers, telescope adapters, microscope adapters etc. This happy state of affairs existed for many years, until variations of the T mount started appearing that were incompatible with one or the other lens ie, T2, T4, TX and pretty soon, everyone went back to making their own proprietary mounts. But the story does not end here… Due to the huge number of lenses that were made for the T mount, and the easy availability of adapters for different makes of cameras, T mounts never went out of favor – they are still widely available cheaply on Ebay and elsewhere.

What of the lenses? The big issue with older 3rd party lenses was that they were usually built cheaply, and that the lens elements would shake loose in their mountings after a while. Like everything else, not all 3rd party lenses were built the same, there are lots of solidly built ones as well, We just have to be choosy. There’s plenty of choices, and we don’t have to settle for one with a hazy element or fungus or even bad cosmetics. Back in the days when the T mount was common, everyone shot color slide film. Slide film is very finicky and not as forgiving as color print film (common negative film) and does not have as wide a range, so the lenses had to be good (at least fairly so), or they would never sell.

Even the cheapest lenses had a large sweet spot in the center of the lens, and when stopped down, they could provide excellent results. Now, I am not advocating that we compare it against a razor sharp professional Nikon OEM lens which probably costs 10 times as much. Rather, we should judge the lens on its own merits, and the low cost. Also, sometimes, razor sharp may not be necessary, especially if we are just planning on a small print, or just to post online – besides, when did film resolution ever match the resolutions possible with a lens? If we are not satisfied with the edge resolution, we can always crop it out. It should not be an issue at f/11 or smaller anyway.

T mount lenses are available in every focal length, but since this post is about super-telephoto lenses, I will discuss 2 famous representatives of cheap super-telephoto lenses from the T mount days – the widely available Spiratone 400mm f/6.3 and the Vivitar 300mm f/5.6. Both still easily available all over the place.

Spiratone was a camera dealership very much like Ponder & Best (Vivitar) and the brainchild of S.F (Fred) Spira. He ran a store in NYC, and they were famous for a wide range of affordable equipment. Fred Spira is also the author of the well regarded “The History of Photography: As seen through the Spira Collection.”

The Spiratone 400mm f/6.3 lens was most probably made for them by Tamron. There were several labels of this particular 400mm f6.3 lens, all identical, which implies they came from the same production line. They were branded as Spiratone, Tamron, Tele-Astranar, Cambron, Howard Sterling and probably a few others. I guess Tamron was trying to break into the US market back then, and didn’t mind having their brand diluted by all the other 3rd party names. This lens has an aperture range from f/6.3 to f/32, and is pretty sharp stopped down to f/11 or smaller. Of course, for smaller apertures, the exposure would make a sturdy tripod a necessity. On a bright sunny day, a hand held shot at 1/500 and f11 using 400 ASA or faster film is a distinct possibility.

There’s more pictures of the Spiratone 400mm f/6.3 along and the 60mm close-focusing extension tube here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Here are some examples with the 400mm Spiratone

Spiratone 400mm f/6.3
Spiratone 400mm f/6.3 – Preset Aperture setting rings
Spiratone 400mm f/6.3 – T mount threaded end
Spiratone 400mm f/6.3

The Vivitar 300mm f/5.6 is an early Vivitar 35mm lens. As we all know, Vivitar (Ponder & Best) used to contract out their lens manufacturing as well. Everyone is familiar with the famous Series 1 makers – Komine and Kino Precision, but Vivitar contracted out with Tokina (aka Asanuma) and others — including OLYMPUS – yes, Olympus Optical Co. The Vivitar 300mm f/5.6 was one of the lenses made by Olympus (at least, the ones with serial numbers 6xxxxxx.

We certainly can’t fault the lens in construction – The Vivitar 300mm f5.6 is built like a M1A1 battletank. The Spiratone is solid too, but not as heavily built as the Vivitar 300mm. Mark Robert’s website has a list of the other manufacturers and the serial number codes. Check under the heading Photography. He has a bunch of lens mods and Pentax information as well.

Ever since I came across this bit of manufacturing information, I had been on the lookout for a Olympus made Vivitar lens. Common sense dictated that any such lens would have to be pre-1972, before Olympus entered the interchangeable lens SLR market in earnest with their OM series cameras. Any T mount lens that they would have made as a Vivitar contractor would have to be between 1965-1972, BEFORE they introduced the OM bayonet mount. Additionally, it made sense, as it would have been good practice for Olympus in getting their Zuiko OEM manufacturing processes worked out. The lens shouts “quality” as soon as you pick it up. It’s very heavy for it’s size, and takes a 62mm filter. The pre-set aperture rings are surprisingly easy to use.

Vivitar 300mm f/5.6
Vivitar 300mm f/5.6
Vivitar 300mm f/5.6 – preset focusing rings
Vivitar 300mm f/5.6 – T mount ring for OM

Here are some compelling reasons to jump in acquire a cheap USED long focus lens or two to play with and experiment with super-telephoto effects:

# I own a beautiful Olympus Zuiko 300mm f/4.5, I would not risk it in the field ie., while hiking in rough areas etc. There’s a lot to be said for having a cheaper 300mm or 400mm that we can throw in the backpack without hesitation. A far as sharpness goes, these lenses a a little sharper than the common 500mm f/8 mirror lens, but the mirror can easily be hand-held, while these long lenses need Tripods.

# Both the lenses are sold for between $25 and $50 on eBay regularly, sometimes going cheaper if they have some cosmetic issues. These lenses were single coated for the most part. Multi-coating of lenses was still a few years away, and they usually came with a generously sized screw-on or built-in sliding lens hood. At that price, they are a real bargain, since a T mount adapter can be had for another $10- $15, and sometimes the seller will include one for your specific mount if available. Either way, its no biggie, they are freely available.

# We have excellent fast film available to us these days – 400 ASA and 800 ASA film allow us generous exposure latitude, permitting the use of filters and even a few mistakes. Hand-held is possible, but only if the light conditions permit speeds of 1/500 sec and above (WITH a polarizing filter, the light would have to be very bright, so it would have to be a very sunny day). I would recommend a tripod with these lenses any day. They are just too darn big. They come with their own tripod mounts, so why fight it? besides, it saves stress on the camera mounting ring as well.

# So what if the images are soft towards the edges of the lens? The sweet spot in the center will produce a sharp image when stopped down, to f/11 of f/16, and we can always use Picasa or Photoshop to crop the photo if needed. Due to the lack of multi- coating, the bokeh on these lenses is not as pleasing as their more recent (and more expensive) cousins.

# They can be mounted to a digital SLR with the proper adapter. On a Olympus E series DSLR, and a T-mount to Four Thirds adapter, the humble Spiratone 400mm f/6.3 becomes an enormous 800mm f/6.3 and the 300mm Vivitar f/5.6 becomes a respectable 600mm f/5.6. Can you imagine buying a 800mm DSLR lens for less than $50?

#Lastly, here are some excellent examples of what a Spiratone 400mm f/6.3 lens can do on an Olympus E-500 DSLR. I don’t think that anyone can complain about Christine’s beautiful animal photographs!

Spiratone 400mm setup
Vivitar 300mm setup

Here are the related Posts:
Cheap Super Telephoto Lenses Part II
Cheap Super Telephoto Lenses Part III
Learning to love your Mirror Lens


text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
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There’s this really interesting looking twisted old blue Atlas pine right outside my brother-in-law’s front door that no one seems to like. Its covered with droopy, trailing branches covered with stiff needles that cascade down and need to be trimmed periodically. Atlas pines are often planted as an ornamental in Maryland because of the interesting shapes it takes, but no one gives any thought to what it will look like about 20 years hence, when it is much bigger, and probably sprawled right across your front door.

The landscaper or garden center guy who sells it to you probably has no clue regarding its growth habits either. This one is particularly tough, it gets very little sunshine, since it grows on the north side of the house, and is shaded by a huge red oak tree, yet seems to thrive. This past week, the sleet froze on its needles, and weighed it down, apparently with no ill effects.

I took these pictures as the ice crystals started melting. I wish I could have had some sunlight though, it would have made for some interesting effects. I used the OM-2 with the 500mm Soligor Mirror. The mirror lens is close focusing, and these were taken from about 3 feet away. Note the annular bokeh on #2.

Atlas Pine #1
Atlas Pine #2
Atlas Pine #3
Atlas Pine #4

Photographed with an Olympus OM-2, Soligor CD 500mm f/8 Mirror lens. 1/125 sec at f/8 on Fuji Superia 400 film.


text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
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