Long Lens, Long Story – Photography

Vintage 400mm lens with 2x teleconverter

Vintage 400mm lens with 2x teleconverter

Christmas day (and the day after) brought me my best presents this year – bright sunshiny days.

About 4 to 6 weeks ago, I treated myself to a long telephoto lens.  It’s a 400 mm beauty.  A vintage beauty.  Most likely from the seventies (20th century – just to clarify).  An impressively long lens, in physical size – if nothing else.  A $25 lens.  Along with it, I added in a $10, 2x telephoto extender and a few miscellaneous items just to bring the total purchase price up to the free shipping minimum.

You may ask, why?  Come spring (and it will eventually come), I thought I may want to try some birding.  Also, I’ve always wanted to take a good moon shot (not the neighbor’s).  But, good long lenses are pretty expensive and I’d hate to buy one only to discover that dragging a tripod, camera and a ton of other photo gear down to a muddy, bug infested location on a chilly, damp morning to try to take pictures of ungrateful subjects, wasn’t my thing.  But for $25, I was willing to take a chance.  If all failed, I could sell it to the next unsuspecting soul for the same price – maybe even $26!

The lens arrived pretty quickly (expedited free shipping no less).  With it came the gloomy winter weather, plus the bad news.  A $25 35-year-old lens that probably cost $25 when new,  had to have some problems.  If I had known what I was doing, the problems could’ve been fixed in about 30 minutes.  The lens elements were dirty.  There was some kind of gunk on the glass (plastic).  Worse yet, the gunk was on the inside of the glass.  Inside meaning, the whole lens had to be taken apart, cleaned and put back together again.  I got through the taking apart and cleaning without investing too many hours in the project.

It was the putting back together that created the learning opportunity.  The first attempt at reconstruction went pretty well.  It was about 2 am.  I was focusing the newly cleaned lens on a table lamp across 2 rooms about 30 feet away.  The viewfinder looked pretty sharp and so did the picture on the LCD.  Success! – until I noticed the distance scale on the lens was pointing to the infinity mark.  Conversely, focusing through the kitchen window on some Christmas lights on the next block, the distance scale pointed to around 30 feet.

Fortunately it was a simple lens design (old school is always simple).  Mathematically, there were only 4 possible ways for the lens to be constructed.  Systematically trying each possibility would get me to the correct configuration in 4 tries or less!  Ten tries later I was pretty sure I had the lens put back together correctly?  Infinity was pointing out there somewhere again, not at my living room lamp.

Photography loves light.  Long lenses love light even more.  After reconstruction, all my testing with the lens was in flat winter light, producing flat pictures.  Was it the light or was it the lens?  Had I foolishly and recklessly thrown away $25 (and $10 for the extender) on this misadventure?  That brings us full circle to my sunny Christmas present and the final lens test.  Will the lens still produce drab images in bright light?

The tree branches in the test are about 30-35 feet away.  That’s about the minimum focus distance for the lens.  The day was breezy with gusts causing both me and the branches to blow around more than a bit.  Focusing a long lens under these conditions will precipitate a headache (just a word of caution).  The long lens was shot at around f/8 (the lens doesn’t talk to the camera, so no record within the image).  The shots were hand-held with elbows braced on the hood of a car.  The shutter speeds were theoretically way too slow for the length of the lens.  Image stabilization is in camera (a saving grace on this day).  As an aside, for those too young to know, vintage long lens image stabilization (not used in this test) consisted of 2, 30 pound sand bags – one under the lens/camera and one over the lens/camera – all mounted on a sturdy table.  Just for fun and comparison, pictures shot with a 50-200 mm zoom lens set at 50, 100 and 200 mm are included.  The verdict?  The lens is bird worthy.

Now that the lens is ready, come the first signs of spring, with the sweet songs of birds breaking the silence of night on those cool crisp dewy mornings in the heather covered meadows when the sun rising above the hills starts to melt away the light misty fog and the magical morning light turns everything golden, I think I’ll sleep in.

400 mm (f/8, 1/320 sec, ISO 100)

400 mm

400 mm


800 mm (400 mm w/ 2x extender – f/8?, 1/125 sec, ISO 100)

800 mm, 400 mm with 2x extender

800 mm, 400 mm with 2x extender


200 mm (50-200 mm zoom – f/5.6, 1/250 sec, ISO 100)

200 mm comparison

200 mm comparison


100 mm (50-200 mm zoom – f/7.1, 1/400 sec, ISO 100)

100 mm comparison

100 mm comparison


50 mm (50-200 mm zoom – f/7.1, 1/320 sec, ISO 100)

50 mm comparison

50 mm comparison


Tags: , ,

One Response to “Long Lens, Long Story – Photography”

  1. Moon Shot – Photography | Ain't Found A Good Title Blog Says:

    […] you’ve read the Long Lens, Long Story post, you’ll know that one thing I was looking for out of my $35, 800 mm lens investment was a […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: