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07-10-2012, 09:19 AM   #1
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The great 500mm lens shootout!

Finally, the comparison that everybody has been waiting for...the Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 HSM versus the Phoenix / Samyang 500 F8 T-mount mirror lens. I don't know much about the mirror lens, except that it is apparently the result of a collaboration between two legendary lens makers.

Both lenses were shot at F8 and 500mm, exposure was 1/15 sec at ISO 200 on my Pentax K-x. My tripod doesn't do portrait orientation, so I had to improvise. Shutter was released remotely via my Dish Network 622 DVR remote control, with 3-second mirror lockup. My two munchkins were told to hold completely still during the exposure so that there would be no vibrations transmitted through the floor. Lighting was natural daylight through partially opened blinds just to the left of the subject. Focus was by hand, using the 10x zoom in mode in live-view. Pictures of the setup are courtesy of my wife's Olympus PEN E-P1 w/17mm f2.8 (at least somebody is using it!)







And now, the pictures. I shot in RAW, and developed the pictures using Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop CS5. This first set of pictures is straight out of the camera, with no adjustments made in ACR. I just opened them up in RAW, and then saved them as high-quality JPEGs. No sharpening was applied.

Please note that these pictures were taken at separate times. I took the pictures with the Samyang this morning, but I sold the Sigma a few weeks ago. I tried to replicate the prior Sigma image with the Samyang this morning, but there are some slight differences in perspective/composition.

Click on the pictures for the full size 12MP images. The Samyang is on top, followed by the Sigma on bottom (in case anybody wondered).







I think the focus was correct on the Samyang, but it's really hard to dial it in due to the softness of the lens. I bracketed several different focus increments, and this seemed to be the, um, sharpest.

And here is a second set of pictures, with the normal adjustments I would make when developing in RAW. I did almost nothing to the Sigma...just a slight increase in contrast, and a light smart-sharpening. The Samyang image, on the other hand, I basically raped trying to turn it into something salvageable.







So hopefully this will finally put the matter to rest. Although the Phoenix / Samyang mirror is basically useless in terms of image quality, it does have some redeeming qualities. Here they are as I see them:
  1. It is a lens, and it does allow your camera to take pictures
  2. It's small and light for a 500mm lens
  3. It looks kind of cool on my K-x
  4. The Phoenix / Samyang was about 600 times less expensive than the Sigma (I bought both used)



Last edited by Edgar_in_Indy; 07-10-2012 at 05:18 PM.
07-10-2012, 09:27 AM   #2
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Roflmao!
07-10-2012, 09:29 AM   #3
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Aren't mirror lenses also known for being extra crappy at close distances? It might do somewhat better outdoors shooting far away subjects.
07-10-2012, 09:33 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by vonBaloney Quote
Aren't mirror lenses also known for being extra crappy at close distances? It might do somewhat better outdoors shooting far away subjects.
I knew it wouldn't take long for the Phoenix / Samyang fanboyz to come out.

Ha ha, just kidding. I don't know much about mirror lenses, but I'll be sure to give it a go outdoors sometime. Unfortunately I won't be able to do a Shootout Part II, since the Sigma has been sold. I guess I could compare it to my Sigma 100-300mm f4...that should be fair.

07-10-2012, 09:34 AM   #5
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I actually kind of like the ethereal look the mirror gives (though the second PP'd version) though obviously the Sigma's IQ is better, it is a much clearer and nicer shot by all means, but that mirror could be used for that soft feel in specific circumstances.
07-10-2012, 09:36 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by vonBaloney Quote
Aren't mirror lenses also known for being extra crappy at close distances? It might do somewhat better outdoors shooting far away subjects.
I'd also question whether the mirror itself is clean. My Opteka is no champion but on tripod at distance certainly blows that away. I have found that these lenses scream for a hood. The best option I could find was a 3-position rubber hood (72mm) which seems to help a great deal.
07-10-2012, 09:39 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by Docrwm Quote
I'd also question whether the mirror itself is clean. My Opteka is no champion but on tripod at distance certainly blows that away. I have found that these lenses scream for a hood. The best option I could find was a 3-position rubber hood (72mm) which seems to help a great deal.
I thought about the lack of a lens hood, and that's why I have that picture frame sitting on the table beside the camera. There wasn't much direct light hitting the camera, but I went ahead and put the picture frame there so that it would be between the lens and light coming from the left. But maybe I'll fashion some type of lens hood from construction paper and try some more shots. That should look sharp.

The lens front element looks clean on physical inspection, but I went ahead and cleaned it as well as I could before shooting. I'm not sure about the mirror...should I try to take the lens apart and clean it?

Further tests will probably have to wait for another day, as my wife will be home from work soon and she doesn't put up with this kind of non-sense going on in her kitchen/living room.

Last edited by Edgar_in_Indy; 07-10-2012 at 09:46 AM.
07-10-2012, 09:51 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Edgar_in_Indy Quote
I thought about the lack of a lens hood, and that's why I have that picture frame sitting on the table beside the camera. There wasn't much direct light hitting the camera, but I went ahead and put the picture frame there so that it would be between the lens and light coming from the left. But maybe I'll fashion some type of lens hood from construction paper and try some more shots. That should look sharp.

The lens front element looks clean on physical inspection, but I went ahead and cleaned it as well as I could before shooting. I'm not sure about the mirror...should I try to take the lens apart and clean it?

Further tests will probably have to wait for another day, as my wife will be home from work soon and she doesn't put up with this kind of non-sense going on in her kitchen/living room.
I read a bit before I got my Opteka and found that older ones that have been left untended can develop a sort of white haze on the mirror surface. I saw that you said it was essentially free and I believe that model has been out of production for a while so I thought it might be relevant. I have seen some black construction paper made into tubes as hoods for these lenses that worked surprisingly well (even if they do look a bit dopey).

07-10-2012, 09:53 AM   #9
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I have read that mirror lenses are not very great, but this is still surprising. I never owned a mirror lens, but I really do wonder if this is just this particular lens or light conditions that caused such bad results.

Interesting thread, thanks. I'll just sit back and watch all the people from both camps start posting sample images that disprove the other's claims
07-10-2012, 09:54 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Edgar_in_Indy Quote
Further tests will probably have to wait for another day, as my wife will be home from work soon and she doesn't put up with this kind of non-sense going on in her kitchen/living room.
Best line
07-10-2012, 10:06 AM   #11
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Yeah, she just came home and immediately set about deconstructing my carefully assembled testing lab.
07-10-2012, 10:14 AM   #12
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The Samyang needs a LOT of light in order to deliver anything usable. It is my least favorite lens, but at least I didn't spend much money on it.

I must try the hood suggestions myself. Sounds very sensible.
07-10-2012, 10:16 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by rawr Quote
The Samyang needs a LOT of light in order to deliver anything usable. It is my least favorite lens, but at least I didn't spend much money on it.

I must try the hood suggestions myself. Sounds very sensible.
I got a rubber 3-stage hood for mine (cost around $8 total shipped) and it works very well. That mirror is supposed to collect light, blocking out stray sources of light seriously improved the contrast and clarity on mine (not that its as good as a traditional lens at that focal length but its cheap, small, and light).
07-10-2012, 10:17 AM   #14
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I think you front focus slightly with the samyang, look at the paper/cloth the statue is on, you see the front edge is actually pretty sharp or it just looks like that...
07-10-2012, 10:23 AM   #15
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A lens hood is easy to improvise since the angle of view is around 5 or less. Just get a big enough piece of card stock and wrap it around the tube and hold in place with tape or a rubber band. Junk mail flyers work well. Trim or slide to avoid vignetting.
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