October 26, 2010

Nikon Reflex-Nikkor 500mm f/8 N

The “Dished” lens

What does this guy mean now?  Simple this is a review about a lens that has been dished by so many reviewers, one could think that it is pure crap or something to hold food.   Maybe for some applications it is.  And for sure it is a very “quirky” lens.

First off it doesn’t really have a diaphragm to operate the aperture, as it is a fixed aperture at f/8.  So no one is going to accuse it of being fast.  It has terrible bokeh when highlights in the background are of high contrast and or backlit.  However for some applications this is a real sleeper.

Of course from the main title you already know which lens I am talking about.  Nikon’s 500mm f/8 Reflex lens.  Originally I got this lens to use when I was location scouting and for my backpacking trips.  What I was looking for was a lens that was small and light weight, but with a long reach.  In the past I had rented this lens, when I had been doing some free lance for a news paper in Santa Barbara.  At that time I was impressed with the optics and how sharp the images were coming out.  Tri-X was the film and sports was my main subject for those assignments.

Twenty-five years or so later and needing something quick I took a chance and ordered one form B&H.  This was the newest version “N”.  For the scouting jobs it worked great, mostly for car commercials or anytime I needed a long lens and didn’t want to drag around my 300mm with a 2X tele converter.  The big surprise came when I saw how close it would focus.  5 feet (1.5 meters) giving a reproduction ratio on a 35mm camera of 1:2.5.  My hiking shots were less impressive as I was using Fujichrome Velvia with an ISO of 50 and of course a light weight tripod.  It was always hard to get sharp images (camera movement blur).  Thus it sat on a self for sometime.

However later on with the use of digital cameras, I started to experiment with it’s close-up capabilities and was like the first time I used one, notably impressed.


Old fashion mechanical beauty.  Really built like a tank, I know this term has become something of a cliche, but in this case it is an accurate description.  This lens is just “solid” as Link from “Mod Squad” would have said.  All of the marking are engraved and filled with paint.  The body is anodized aluminum with that great Nikon enameling.  Focusing though somewhat dark because of the small aperture is very smooth (I mean really smooth) and at nearly two full turns is very precise.


Like I said it is not fast, so really unsuitable for a wide variety of photographic work.  One fixed aperture, so not much there for versatility.

And some really weird bokeh on many subjects (or rather the backgrounds).  However for certain things it is great, especially considering it’s size.  The lens weighs 29oz./796grams and is 4.7inches/116mm by 3.5 inches/89mm.   Getting sharp images can be a problem with either slow film or an unstable tripod.  The blessing of being small for such a long focal length is also it’s curse as the small size and weight makes it prone to vibrations.  But when one nails it they are rewarded with a very special look.  And like other quirky lenses it is something you either love or hate, nothing in between.


For bird watching or use as a short telescope it works perfectly.  For some wild looking close-ups it can be very rewarding.  Because of it’s size and weight great for backpacking.  For an all purpose super telephoto lens, forgetaboutit!  The build quality alone is something to appreciate.  It is as I have said “quirky” and not for everyone, but for those people that want something different/special this is a very interesting choice.  Also since it is no longer being made and probably never again, it will eventually become a collector’s item and deservedly so.

Here are some sample shots that I have done over the years, both digital (D2X & D3) and film -Velvia on a Nikon F100.

clockDelftFrogGold ClockRed skySeminary SATree and RoadTree Trunk and Bubblespencils

BotanicalThe SunsetThe Cow