Nye Optical 150mm f1.4 mirror lens – UV to IR imaging

As part of my work I am often looking out for unusual photographic equipment. This one is pretty special – a Nye Optical Company 150mm f1.4 mirror lens, originally designed for imaging UV through to the IR. The spectral range on this lens is described as being 180nm to 4500nm.  It’s quite a beast, as you can see here from it mounted on my Nikon d810.

The lens has a Nikon bayonet mount, but it is flush against the back of the lens, so cannot be mounted directly onto an SLR (because of the pentaprism setup). I mounted it here with a small extension tube, which improves macro capability, but loses infinity focus.  Normally the lens would be good for about 10ft to infinity, and I may well try this out on a mirrorless camera in the future with some longer range shots.

Well, what are the images like?  First, some visible light photos in my garden, with the subject about 1.5m from the camera.

Well, they are pretty whacky.  The f1.4 aperture combined with a 150mm focal length means a really narrow depth of field, and when I say really narrow, I mean it. I estimate about 2-3mm at this focus distance, so actually getting something in focus is hard enough, especially when it’s a windy day and you’re hand holding the camera (as I was here).  The backgrounds are trippy and psychedelic to say the least.  They’d be hard to fake digitally, and make for a unique signature to the images.

While the normal visible light images are cool, I was really interested in this lens for UV imaging.  It is a mirror lens, and designed for UV imaging.  Combining that with the huge maximum aperture (very unusual for a UV lens), I had high hopes for it.  End of October is not the best time to be trying to take UV images in sunlight in the UK, but in a rare break in the clouds, I found one of the last remaining Buttercups in the garden and took this on my ACS UV Nikon d810.

This has been white balanced using a PTFE tile and is a UV reflectance image.  The real give away that this is a UV image is the black centre to the Buttercup flower.  Again, depth of field is a couple of mm, and focus was on the middle of the flower.

To say this lens has some unique characteristics is probably the understatement of the year.  In this modern age of lenses so sharp you can cut yourself on their images, this is not really a contender. The razor thin depth of field make subject choice interesting.  But its ability to take images over such a wide range of wavelengths makes it a real find for the UV photographer, and the way it captures an image makes it a really interesting portrait and research lens, and I look forward to playing more with it the future.

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