An insane perspective of fireworks from 10 kilometers away, shot with the Nikon 500mm f/8 Reflex-NIKKOR lens

An insane perspective of fireworks from 10 kilometers away, shot with the Nikon 500mm f/8 Reflex-NIKKOR lens ($200-$500) by Klaus Tan (Facebook | Flickr | Instagram):

I took a trip to the eastern regions of Singapore to scout for a unique location to shoot National Day fireworks as Singapore celebrated it’s 52nd birthday.

Typically, one would head down to the Central Business District area to get as close to the fireworks as possible, but this time I headed the furthest away I could. My idea / rationale was simple: Use a Nikon 500mm f/8 Reflex-NIKKOR to capture a never captured before perspective of the fireworks, and avoid the crowds. The photograph was to include the Central Business District and fireworks in the most aesthetic way possible.

I spent two hours cycling with my trusted friend through the East, through trial and error by ascending each individual HDB block to check on the views. We combed every single building block taller than 20 storeys and finally ended up a great 10 kilometres away from the centre of action, to fit the frame. It was a success! This photograph is officially the furthest distance away from the fireworks in Singapore that night.

Some in the east may have seen what seemed like two lunatics pedalling furiously as far away from the CBD, or even peered out of their doors to see us trying to shoot fireworks. Understandably, to the human eye the fireworks were almost molecular in size. For us, the lack of a crowd and the insanity of this brilliant idea was bliss. For reference to how far we went, the CBD can be seen as the white row of lights behind yellow block number two, in the top - centre of CHU_4580.

Here, the immensely light weight and compact body of the 500mm reflex Nikkor presented an interesting challenge: Even after securely mounted to a tripod, minor vibrations due to the camera shutter would’ve made the picture blurry, the lens was simply too light! I would’ve preferred the 500mm f4 in such a scenario though it’s way more bulky.

I must admit it was incredibly hard to plan for the shot - I set the intervalometer at a 1 shot / second, and the buffer of the camera was struggling at times to keep up with the writing speed. That lead to the camera shutter slowing down to a painful 1 frame / 5 seconds at times, which meant that lots of moments were missed. The tiny aperture of f/8 meant that a extremely high ISO of 51200 equivalent had to be used, at a shutter speed of 1/20 for all the shots.

It was surreally peaceful, far from the revelry of the crowds gathered in the downtown region. Utter bliss, just the two of us on the 28th floor of a residential neighbourhood peacefully enjoying the sights without much disturbance. In total I emerged with 200 RAW files, of which I was really satisfied with these three. At the end of this experience, all I can say is, it’s worth it.

The photographs can be viewed also at flickr:

National Day Fireworks 2017

 If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

Update from Klaus on the Nikon 500mm f/8 Reflex-NIKKOR lens:

It started with an impulse purchase of the Nikon 500mm f/8 N Reflex-NIKKOR  lens to shoot some fireworks back in August. Back then I felt overjoyed, having acquired the only known copy of this lens available for sale on the Singapore market. Hard pressed for time with the fireworks two days away, I was very much at the mercy of the seller’s monopoly. Yet at the same moment, I was very certain it was an unbeatable bargain for this rarity in a pristine condition.

At around USD300, it sure was more affordable than the 500mm f4 alternatives which costed 10 times the price, but it started a month’s long worth of regret. I’ll explain why. The lens was of such a niche use that the mass market consumer wouldn’t acquire it: 500mm at manual focus and a low aperture of f8, it was brilliantly sharp, however nobody really saw excellent samples to convince themselves that it was really that great. Only lens collectors would have appreciate its novelty.

After the fireworks, I listed my lens on various local photography community pages, without much avail. The only offer that was made required me to cut loss of around USD100. No way. I spent the entirety of August and September wondering if I’d be able to recoup my investment in this lens.

Meanwhile, a guest post on Nikon Rumours I did on the unique lens (mid September) and how I shot the fireworks with it was causing a small stir amongst the community there. It was the first review of such, and many were genuinely impressed by the power of this modest lens.

Unexpectedly I get a call from this interested buyer in Singapore a week later, requesting to view the lens.

“Do you have any sample photographs taken with it?” he asked.
“I don’t have any on me right now, but you can check out this post I did with the lens that got featured on…”I hadn’t had time to complete my sentence before I was cut off.
“Nikon Rumours! Are you the guy who shot the fireworks with this lens?”
“Woah… uhhh” I couldn’t contain my excitement. I was indeed stunned.
“This is the ’N’ version right? The newer version?”

Little did I expect word of this lens’ quality would travel to the USA, by internet, and back to Singapore, read by a Singaporean who would eventually buy my lens because of my post. All this just for the sale of my humble lens.

And so we eventually met up and I sold the lens to this ecstatic buyer.

Just another exciting day in the life of a photographer!

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  • Jeffrey Knight

    Great opportunity!!!

  • Roger S

    What a great achievement! I love the composition of the photos, with the row of buildings closer to you (in the bottom third of the image) almost in silhouette and the buildings downtown on the other side of the fireworks lit up quite differently according to the brightness and color of the fireworks themselves. You had a very cool idea and carried it off beautifully.

  • yepits me

    Great job..

  • Mark Zealor

    The lens you have there is a “Red Line” 500mm reflex, which is an outstanding Macro lens in and of itself. Now you make me want to go out and try it with my Nikon D850…

  • North Polar

    I have the generation of this lens right before the macro version (used here) came out. Fantastic lens so long as you get around the weight and vibration issues.

    If Nikon made an AF version, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

  • rex360hype

    Excellent composition! Congrats!

  • David Gottlieb

    I don’t think it was insane idea at all. Very logical. And thinking out of the box.

  • Photobug

    I really enjoy reading these kinds of articles…nice post Peter. Photos are very nice and I really like understanding what went into taking them.

    • I agree 🙂 thanks

  • Captain Megaton

    f/8 is a good aperture for capturing fireworks, and there are no donut bokeh concerns in this kind of shot: the mirror Nikkor is tailor-made for this application.

    • PhilK

      You pretty much made the comment I was going to make.

      I despise the “donut bokeh” of catadioptric lenses, but when everything is at infinity, that’s no longer an issue. 😉

      I also don’t like the fixed-aperture of such lenses, but I can put up with that far more readily than the terrible bokeh of such lenses.

  • Lladnar

    Cool stuff. I had the exact opposite insane fireworks opportunity this year. About an hour of a full blown display in my buddy’s front yard, super close up. I shot with a D5500 on a tripod with the Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 for a few shots then switched to my Tokina 11-20 f/2.8 for the majority since I couldn’t tell what was going to be in frame. I used ISO 100 and shot at f/11 and later f/14 using bulb mode exposing anywhere between 1 and 3 seconds. Had well over 100 keepers. Here’s my favorites from each lens (Sigma first)…

  • BernhardAS

    Nice, thanks for sharing

  • Steve Hughes

    Lovely shots. I’m clearly missing something. Why is 1 shot per second a stretch for the buffer ?

    • Thom Hogan

      Not a D500 ;~). And at very high ISO and certain settings, buffer would have made smaller than usual on the camera he used.

      • PhilK

        OK but the camera depicted there with the 500 mirror mounted isn’t a D500. 😉

        Looks like a D7100 or something to me.

        • Ed Hassell

          According to the image statistics on flickr, his camera is a D750.

          It doesn’t surprise me that he is using a full-frame body with the mirror lens. I’ve used the 500 f/8 reflex with both and found its DX performance disappointing in comparison. It works, just not as well. The optical path incorporating dual mirrors is optimized for 35mm full-frame.

  • brtravel

    Did you try exposures longer than 1/20 in order to get a lower ISO (and more firework streaking)?

    • Ed Hassell

      Shooting fireworks against a night sky, exposure is essentially determined by aperture and ISO — time has little to do with it other than the number of bursts and the length of their trails incorporated into the image.

      Experiment with the opening volleys, starting at f/8 and a 5-second exposure. Adjust ISO until you get the intensity of the burst & trail images you want. Then adjust time to get the number of bursts you want in each image.

  • Nice looking photos. I shot Fourth of July fireworks with the 80-400 at 400 from around 3 miles away a couple years back. Did it for the same reason as you, to stay away from the crowds.

  • T.I.M

    I had several of them, it is very sharp but a pain to use….
    Find the focus point is very difficult and the bokeh is awful (doughnuts rings).
    The best thing about that lens is the compactness and lightness.
    You can find nice ones on Ebay for around $600

    • T.I.M

      I forgot to mention that it is almost a macro lens, minimum focusing is only 1.5m (5 feet) not bad for a 500mm!

    • SpecialMan

      Some of us love doughnut bokeh. Why don’t you do something completely crazy and take yours to your local donut shop and shoot to maximize the effect. Could either be hilarious or unutterably beautiful. Either way, you win.

      • T.I.M

        Nobody want to pay for pictures anymore.
        Everyone think “pictures should be free”, I’m glad I don’t depend on pictures sales for a living anymore.

        • Carla Mahl Kelly

          I’m a professional writer and that’s the new ethic about writing too. We’re supposed to give it away, regardless of the time and training required to accomplish it. Disgusting.

      • Carla Mahl Kelly

        SpecialMan, that’s hilarious! Highly creative thinking. I want a “beautiful” photo that provokes thought/emotion, maybe even teaches me something. By all means, go for it! I’d like to see the result. If I go back 30, 40 years, my favorite shots often are wide open for the bokeh.

  • Spy Black

    Are these old mirror Nikkors any good? I bought a Samyang mirror some years back and it wasn’t that great. My old 300mm f/4.5 Ai Nikkor cropped to the same view was sharper. I honestly can’t imagine this old 500mm Nikkor being any better. I’d like to have a decent lightweight (although I doubt the Nikkor is lightweight) compact mirror to try out some astro shots on something like a Sky-Watcher tracking mount.

    • T.I.M

      This is the best mirror lens you can get (orange focus ring version).
      It is difficult to use (find the focus point) and the bokeh is very special (doughnuts rings).
      But, it is very sharp, very light, small, and focus very close (10ft).

      • Spy Black

        If it has a calibrated infinity stop thst would be all I need. I wonder how it compares to qthe Samyang I had, which wasn’t that great, although very light.

        • Ed Hassell

          Unfortunately, infinity varies with temperature, like many mirror lenses. It’s an order of magnitude better than any other mirror lens I’ve used (including Samyang’s) other than a few dedicated telescopes and the Zeiss mirror lens for Hasselblad.

          • Spy Black

            Yeah, I’m wondering if I should get a decent miirror scope instead. Much easier just to mount one of these to a body though.

            • Ed Hassell

              Most mirror telescopes have a much longer focal length and are even slower.

            • Spy Black

              Yeah I know that’s a problem. These N models go for around $500, I wonder if there are any decent better modern mirrors for that price.

            • Ed Hassell

              Not that I’m aware of, sorry.

        • T.I.M

          The only one that can match the Nikon is the Yashica 500mm f/8 reflex.

          • Ed Hassell

            I’ve never tried the Yashica; however, if I remember correctly, it is also a Zeiss design.

          • Spy Black

            I love the gorgeous engineering and machining of 1970s lenses. Doesn’t matter who made them.

            • PhilK

              Ehh, there were plenty of rinky-dink fuzztars out there in the 1970s (particularly the 3rd-party lenses), I’ve seen my share. (One of my first jobs was in a camera store in the late 1970s)

              But good ones like the better Nikkors, Canon FD (prior to the plasticky ‘rotating breech mount’ versions), Rokkor, Contax, some of the Pentax etc were quite nice indeed.

            • Spy Black

              Any examples of such lenses? Any of the lenses I’ve ever seen looked great.

            • PhilK

              Tons of junky Vivitars, Soligors, Promasters, Makinons and all sorts of lousy stuff was being marketed back then. Then, as today, it was always pathetic to see some guy sporting a very expensive Nikon etc with one of those fuzztars attached to the front of it, along with a lousy ‘protection’ filter screwed into it – or even a front-screw-in tele adapter of some kind. A lot of the tourist photo shops specialized in selling such combos to unsuspecting people. (Just like today)

            • Spy Black

              I dunno, the Vivitar 200mm f/3.5 and Soligor 24mm f/2.8 I shot with as a kid looked pretty cool to me. I was that kid you saw with such lenses attached to a Nikon…

            • PhilK

              I don’t have experience with those particular lens models, but while the better Vivitar/Soligor stuff was OK (one could do much worse), they also sold a lot of dogs and meh stuff. (Since both of those companies were marketing entities, not manufacturers. They generally just re-badged something already designed by another OEM, or in rare cases, participated to some extent in the design side and outsourced production)

              It was quite rare for any of the 3rd-party lenses at the time to come close to good brandname glass, but some of the Vivitar Series One stuff was pretty good.

              In the very late 1970s and 1980s two Japanese companies which had previously just built lenses for other marques started to break that mold, IMHO: Tokina, and Kiron/Kino Precision. (The latter of which was founded by some ex-Nikon engineers. They were also one of the Series One OEMs. Their foray into self-branded lenses didn’t last long, though, unlike Tokina. Pity – the fit/finish on Kiron lenses was fantastic, and some of them were optically pretty good too.)

    • Ed Hassell

      I agree with T.I.M. The last version of the 500mm f/8(N) Reflex-Nikkor is certainly among the finest mirror lenses ever produced by any manufacturer. Over the years, I owned all three versions. Still have the “orange focus ring” Ai(S) version (not truly an AiS lens because of the fixed aperture but produced during the AiS manual focus lens period).

      Focusing is a problem with DSLR bodies because their focusing screens are not optimized for long, slow lenses. Use live view or the “focus dot” aid in the viewfinder. Also, focus using the center of the lens and reframe as necessary.

      And, on a substantial tripod, with MLU, keeping it steady isn’t a problem.

      • Spy Black

        Well as long as it has a calibrated infinity stop I’d be fine. I have a K screen in my D600 and a KatzEye in my D5100, so no major problems with focusing if I used it. I’m just curious how it would compare to the Samyang I had, which wasn’t that great.

        • PhilK

          Most mirror lenses don’t have a hard infinity stop because such lenses change focus with temperature, just like lenses with fluorite elements.

  • whisky

    well captured!

    nikkor reflex lenses continue to be entirely under rated — especially for night time photography. the modern version of this lens produces very good results, but IMO, is better optimized for near to mid-field subjects.

    if you get a chance to try it’s predecessor, the 500mm f/8.0 Reflex-Nikkor C Lens, you might find, as i have, that it’s much better optimized for sharpness and color at infinity. this isn’t to take away from your excellent captures, but hopefully will inspire you to get the most from other lenses in the nikon reflex family. 🙂

  • Stan Chung

    I don’t understand… I thought you needed long exposure times for fireworks.

    • Ed Hassell

      Since the fireworks, themselves, are essentially a bright light source, aperture and ISO determine exposure — not exposure time. Exposure time simply determines how much of the fireworks trail is incorporated into the image: short exposure, few trails; long exposure, many trails.

      Using a DSLR, I usually shoot at f/8, 5 seconds and adjust ISO to get the “intensity” of exposure I want with the first few volleys. Then I simply allow the built-in timer to take images repeated with the mirror locked up to ensure minimal vibration.

      • Stan Chung

        Uhm, i used to shoot f16 to get the longer exposure of 5-60 seconds at ISO 100-400, with a card to limit ambient light sources This lens if a fixed aperture f8, prob why, but at ISO 51200?

        • Ed Hassell

          Photographing fireworks is much like photographing a very bright light source. Distance decreases its intensity (inverse square law) — not time. It is equally bright (as long as it is turned on) from the beginning until the end of the exposure. Therefore, exposure is determined by aperture and ISO — not time.

          With a DSLR (or mirrorless digital camera) experimentation is easy. Set aperture f/8, f/11 or f/16 (doesn’t really matter – I usually go for 3 stops down from maximum aperture because of sharpness and not f/16 because of diffraction), set time to 5 seconds, then adjust ISO until you get the INTENSITY of image burst and trail you want. THEN adjust time to get the number of bursts and length of trails. The time will not affect your exposure at all for the fireworks. It WILL affect exposure of background and other objects illuminated by ambient light sources in the area.

          • Stan Chung

            Indeed, I just thought ISO 400 compared to 51200 seems there’s quite a few stops in difference. 7 stops.

            • Ed Hassell

              My guess is that he exposed for the cityscape to get some detail in the buildings.

            • Stan Chung

              Guessingthat too.

              Googling how to shot fireworks just doesn’t show any that says shoot at ISO 51200. f11 and ISO 200 comes out the most often.

              Maybe he opted for shorter times to reduce camera shake/mirror slap for the static objects.

  • SpecialMan

    Bravo—especially for using a lens that so many people like to criticize—you’ve shown that it’s one of Nikon’s secret masterpieces.

  • Ritzzuan Salim

    This mirror lens is over 40 years old. It’s like and hate relationship. It has limited capabilities. Here is the sunrise shot with my D800e and 500mm F8.

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