Cheap Telephoto Challenge - Brock Whittaker's eBay Discoveries

Brock Whittaker, a landscape photographer in Phoenix, AZ recently decided to take it upon himself to look at some of the unknown and dated telephoto lenses that can be bought on eBay for ridiculously cheap. Among those, he was able to pick up a Sigma 400mm f/5.6 APO, Five Star 500mm f/8, Sears 2x Teleconvertor, and a Generic 3x teleconverter all for $50. His findings, were actually quite impressive.


In his first attempt, Brock put the Sears 2x teleconverter on the Sigma 500mm f/8, making it an incredibly slow f/16 lens on his Sony NEX camera. And while you’d expect that the depth of field to be nearly nonexistent, it was actually still incredibly sharp, as he was shooting at a focal length of 1000mm. The images he was able to capture were of some shingles, about 220 feet away from where he was standing. As you can see below, the sharpness is great, with a pretty nice bokeh to boot, given its an unknown lens branded as ‘Five Star’.

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The Sigma 400mm f/5.6 APO performed equally as well, with a razor thin depth of field, even with the 2x TC attached. And while there is some fragmenting in the bokeh, the results are pretty stellar, given the price of the lens.


Later in the evening, was able to get some great shots of the Estralla mountain range 13 miles away from where he was standing.


Five Star 500mm f/8 w/ x3 Teleconverter Sony NEX C3 + Five Star 500mm f/8 w/ x3 Teleconverter


Vw9mgF7 Sony NEX C3 + 500mm f/8 + 3x teleconverter.


Sigma 400/5.6 APO w/ x3 & 2x Teleconverter Sony NEX C3 + 500mm f/8 + 3x teleconverter.


vcmH9cE Sony NEX C3 + Sigma 400mm f/4.5 + a 2x teleconverter


Shot with a Rokkor 58mm f/1.2 for comparision Shot with a Rokkor 58mm f/1.2 for comparision


While these photos don't directly compete in sharpness and quality with some of the newest lenses available today, they were also obtained for a fraction of the costs (Some telephotos break $8000 in price). Proving that perhaps the latest products are not always are best options, especially when perfectly capable lenses can be found for pennies by comparison.


You can see more of Brock's work on his flickr page.


[via reddit | photos used with premission]

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It's true, a simple mount adapter, and a world of great classic glass is there at your finger tips, manual of course, but why do you need autofocus when taking landscapes? I picked up some medium range tele's and zooms for a fraction of the equivalent modern ( ugly plastic) versions. a Mamiya Sekor 135 2.8f (200mm on APS-C) which gave great depth and bokeh. and an Olympus OM Zuiko 70-150 4f ( with a 2X teleconverter) both for around £25 each in mint condition, both solid pieces of engineering that you could use to defend yourself with and still shoot with afterwards!
At these prices you can afford to pick up lens virtually risk free, experiment and have fun, even if you're shooting moving objects, it will give you good practice, you can even use a chipped adapter to help you focus!

Just because everybody shoots digital nowadays doesen't mean they didn't have great lenses in "those days of yonder past".

In fact, some of the older Zeiss, Nikon or Pentacon lenses are still tough opponents for todays lenses, if you discount the missing autofocus. But if you're shooting subjects that don't tend to run out of the frame you can get really great lenses for milk money.


Modern lenses have new design features, like aspherical elements, and nano-coating. That being said, any older lenses that DID have those features will still not be cheap - such as the Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 NOCT!

And as long as those features are not visible in an 8 by 10 print, I'm very reluctant to spend an extra Grand on those said features.
Or I shoot that many pictures with this lens that the additional cost per print sold drops considerably.

Very true. I'm the guy who was written about.

That's exactly why I got into the alt lens "world". It is ridiculous that the cheapest primes for Canon are $250+, and are lacklustre in build and performance. I did a bit of experimenting with different primes, and fell in love with the old M42 lenses, and a lot of old Olympus OM lenses.

This was just another step in the process. The only telephotos I had were my AI-s 300/4.5, and Oly 200/4, so I decided to get something a bit longer. For the $50 I spent, I figured "why not", right? I was just incredibly surprised at how sharp they were. I'm certainly no stranger to the truth that older lenses can be sharper, but a Sigma from the FD days being almost as sharp as my 80-200D? Amazing.

I like the experience of some of the older cheap lenses.. I have and use a Yashica 135mm 2.8 quite a bit, and every great once in a while, I use my Spiratone 400mm 6.3.. Each one, I have less than $25 into..

I hate this, so much, trying to keep the costs down I scour Ebay for parts to make up a lens for myself then you guys post this. Overnight the lens shoot up in price and I am once again left without a lens, trying to keep it cheap is expensive. No whinging or moaning, just that the internet resellers see this as a instant cash cow. Oh well back to sticking tape, bifocals and a pringles tube.

Newsflash since I last posted pringles tubes have gone up in price to 75%, damn :-(

I own this sigma 400 f5.6 lens and its pretty good, using it with canon 5d3. AF works and everything :)

Brandon Luckain's picture

But does stopping down the aperture work?