Friday, July 27, 2012

Tamron 500mm SP Adaptall F8 Mirror Lens BBAR – is it a keeper?

I have been hungering for a long lens for some time now, going through all the possibilities that my very low budget could handle. It did not help that I smashed my camera and 70-300VR to smithereens (ok, slight exaggeration on the camera’s part) but it did help when Nikon fixed up the camera for no charge.

So I replaced my 70-300VR, which arrived today and is superb. But that’s not the kind of reach I mean. I wanted 400 or 500 mm in a format that could accept a teleconverter. That means a reasonably sharp prime.

And so I found the Tamron mirror lenses … widely regarded to be the best lenses of their type on the used market and certainly not expensive. KEH happened to have two of them, both under $100usd … which I thought was a pretty good deal. One was the B model and one the BB model, which is the newer model with the updated optics.

So I hemmed and hawed until the BB model was gone and finally just pulled the trigger on the B model. There have been pretty good reports on that one too. It is supposedly better at distance while the BB model is better close up. I figured a moon shooting hound like me would be well served by it.

And so it arrived a few days ago. And lo, and behold, it was the BB model. Go figure.

Now, the very first thing it did when I mounted it with the adaptall AIS mount I had purchased at the same time was break …


I’m not kidding. Here’s a fairly crappy close up by the X-S1.

Fuji x-s1  1600iso  f/3.2  1/8

That piece freaked me out when it fell off just as I tilted the camera down to adjust something in the menus. I called KEH and they authorized me to return it, which I still might do. I’ve read about the lenses delaminating (not sure that’s quite the right word) on these things, and since this part already separated I can only wonder.

But … I realized after a while that the hood contains the final element and so I separated the two and pulled out the offending part. Then I put it back together and went shooting.

A couple of more images of the camera and lens. Note that I am using the camera’s plate for tripod mounting in these images, but when I took it shooting, I put a plate on the lens and sot that way. More stable.

So how does it shoot? Well, the f/8 aperture is a PITA in two ways – no flexibility for exposure, and a really dark viewfinder. Makes live view almost completely unusable. But not quite …

It is not the very sharpest lens I’ve seen, but it is pretty sharp when focus is near perfect. This image shot at 2000iso from 10 feet in a fairly dark room at 1/5s. The depth of field is razer thin from this distance, so focus is a very narrow band on the check mark.

nikon d7000 + tamron 500mm BBar  2000iso  f/8  1/5  500mm  (750mm EFL)

I shot the X-S1, which was sitting about 10 feet away and this time I remembered to knock ISO down to 100. SHooting from tripod, after all …

nikon d7000 + tamron 500mm bbar  100iso  f/8  20s

Note two things: excellent detail, and strange bokeh. Mirror lenses are famous for their donut-shaeped highlights in out of focus areas. You can see a couple of those here. I don’t mind it though … it’s kind of cool.

Outside, I shot a few images at 500mm in bright light. This is where I noticed that live view was a non-starter in the sun. Too little contrast and the image coming through was too dark.

But focusing in the view finder is easy enough in good light, so I got a few nice shots.

nikon d7000 + tamron 500mm BBAR  400iso  f/8  1/800 

More funky bokeh here …

nikon d7000 + tamron 500mm bbar  400iso  f/8  1/250

Only a thin band of the chair’s weave is in focus along the left edge.

Several hundred feet away is my neighbour’s chimney …

That evening, I put on the Kenko 2x teleconverter to see what it could really do. I had in mind shooting of the moon and Saturn.

But first I took a few shots in the house. And wow! The reach and sharpness took my breath away. This battery is sitting at least 10 feet from me in its charging cradle. You can barely see that there is any writing on it at all, yet it resolves with incredible clarity …

So I head outside and am shocked to discover that it has completely clouded over. Waaaaaa!

I needed my fix of shooting this combination, so I shot it at 1600 ISO at things across the street from me. Like this shot, which is a neighbour’s license plate about 50 to 80 feet from where I am sitting. I’ve erased enough of it to protect anonymity.

nikon d7000 + tamron 500mm bbar  1600iso  f/8  2s

That image was fairly tough as I found that the image was very dim in the viewfinder. I had to use the little specular on the Ford badge as my focus guide. And it worked like a charm!

Even further away was the same neighbour’s garage, which has a pair of lanterns on it. Since I was shooting 1500mm of EFL, I was unable to get more than one lantern in the image. White balance correction really made the colours funky :-)

But note the clarity with which you can see the bulbs inside the lantern.

In the other direction, I shot the lantern on another neighbour’s front porch. Here you can see some strange coloration after white balance correction, along with some lens flare. Can’t really expect a funky lens to be perfect with the kind of high contrast image, so what the heck.

Three more shots complete my testing so far. The ubiquitous daisy image, which has surprisingly crisp edges on the upper and lower flowers. The middle one is outside the band of focus. This one is, I believe, shot at 500mm.

Then there are these two images, shot at 500mm through two panes of slightly dirty glass in a hurry. The camera was still set at 1600 ISO from another session and I forgot to change it. So with a long lens hand held at f/8 on a dull day through glass I high ISO, I could not expect much. What I got was surprisingly not sucky :-)

I spotted this little Cardinal under a chair, seemingly playing with something. It picked up this thing and flew across the pool to land on the far edge. I started shooting and even filmed it for a few moments. When I got the images onto the computer, I was a bit surprised to see that it was an enormous caterpillar …. yuck …

A little less cropped.

Now, note the clarity of its eye and the “food” … this lens has a lot of potential. So I think I’m going to keep it and have some fun with it. It will be especially productive once the monopod arrives. Can’t wait …

And now the video. The camera was shaking something horrible … so I ran Sony Vegas’s stabilization, which crops and tries to get everything in the same place. Obviously, there are a lot of transitions between “scenes” that don’t perfectly line up. But it is passable. It is very short, so watch to the end for the real gross out :-)