TC's and Long Lenses - How well does that work?
Keywords: teleconverter, 200_500mm, sigma, 150_600, 1000mm, f11_reflex_lens, jnadelberg
Photographers often ask about teleconverters (TC) since they sound like a great idea. For a 200mm lens, you can use a 1.4x TC to "make it 280mm", a 1.7x TC makes it effectively 340mm and a 2.0x teleconverter turns it into a focal length of 400mm.
Of course, when you are using a TC you are also losing light and you will need to lower your f/stop ability by the same factor (an f/2.8 with a 2.0 TC attached turns into an f/5.6 lens). It sounds though that you can get yourself a much higher power lens on the cheap using a TC compared to buying the longer and more expensive lens. So, do these things really work?
Most photographers already know that that the higher magnification that you use, the more the image quality deteriorates. But is the result still usable? And does the image quality degrade that much for basic usage?
I have a mix of different lenses and teleconverters collected over the years and I am trying out some of them in combinations in this article attached to my Nikon D850.
Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 with TC-14E III | Sigma 150-600mm with TC-1401
Nikkor 1000mm reflex with TC-301 | Nikon Z6ii & Z7ii with TC
For teleconverters, I have the same brands as lenses, Nikon, and Sigma.
TC-14E III with Nikkor 200-500mm
The first lens we’ll look at is the Nikkor 200-500mm lens. The TC used was the Nikon AF-S FX TC-14E III. To try this combo out I went to a local bird sanctuary. The wind was blowing, and lens was catching the wind making it difficult to hold the camera still. I used a monopod to try and brace the camera for these photos. The combination of the lens and TC was able to produce sharp images. Figure 1 below shows an image taken with this combination.
But here’s a problem. When I put the TC on the lens, I lost 3D Focus Tracking. Below is a photo taken at 200mm with no TC attached and that allowed me to use the 3D Focus Tracking. Without the 3D Focus Tracking, it would've become much harder to get the pelicans in focus.
Additionally, cropped down, this image is still very sharp.
Sigma TC-1401 with Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary
With this lens, I used the Sigma TC-1401 1.4x teleconverter, making the effective focal range of the combo 216 - 850 mm. This combination caused autofocus to not work at all. Additionally, this is a very heavy combination (over 4.25 pounds) and trying to focus the lens manually while holding the camera steady proved to be very daunting.
A monopod is required, and a tripod would be even better. For the next set of images, I went to the local zoo. By the time the day was done, my arms were quite tired from having to manipulate the camera and lens with the TC on it.
Nikon TC-301 with Nikkor 1000mm f/11 Reflex Lens
This lens is large and bulky. The TC I used for it is the Nikon TC-301. Neither of these are made anymore. This is a fully manual lens, and with the TC, it becomes a 2000mm f/22 lens. This combination absolutely requires a tripod to hold the image steady, but even with that, taking pictures of anything that moves is made difficult by the f/22 lens aperture. During the brightest part of the day, the viewfinder appears so dark that you would think you have the lens cap still on. But you don’t, it’s just that dark. This lens/TC combo is so long, it’s hard to come up with a good subject. The following two images show just how much magnification you can get with this combination. For the next two photos, I went out to an overlook of a nearby bridge.
This lens/TC combination is so long and so dark you need to have a very fast shutter speed and a very high ISO value. One of the few things that works well with this lens is the moon, shown below.
Yes, you can use teleconverters with long lenses to make the lenses even longer. But it comes with a cost. You lose function, and you make taking a photo more difficult.
It is a lot better, if you can, to not use a TC, and instead simply crop. Doing so and you can retain autofocus, your image will still be sharp, and you’ll have all the functionality that your lens can provide.
Each of the TCs tested here were recommended as the appropriate one for the lens they were used on, and they still caused issues. If you want a longer lens, instead of spending the money on a TC, save up your funds and simply buy a longer lens.
There are many Nikonians using all kinds of lenses with TC's on their Nikons and are very happy with the results. The experiments made by the author in this article are never the less interesting, especially the Nikkor 1000mm with the 2X TC-301 converter. Not too many of us have probably tried that combo before.
Z6 & Z7 with TC's and long lenses
Nikon Canada Ambassador and wildlife photographer Michelle Valberg is using Z6ii and Z7ii with TC's and long lenses for birding and getting very pleasing results. You may want to see the webinar we held with her.
More to read on TC's
We have a very popular article on the technique of shooting birds in flight using TCs with many great sample images.
You may also want to see our TC compatibility list and Great value in used Nikkors
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Originally written on November 19, 2018
Last updated on January 3, 2021
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bobby van mierop (bobbyv) on November 28, 2018
The Pelican is actually a Flamingo.
Jon Nadelberg (jnadelberg) on November 21, 2018
Thanks for your comment. The point was not the weight. The point was that the TC caused the autofocus to no longer function, and with a very heavy lens, it became exceedingly difficult to focus the lens, particularly on moving objects. Also, I mention that with a high resolution camera, cropping the image works better than using a TC, which is similar to the idea of using a crop sensor camera.
Richard Robert Faris (Rrfaris) on November 20, 2018
While I appreciate your efforts in submitting an article, I feel there are some inconsistencies. In regard to the Sigma 150-600C, you make a big issue of the weight. The TC is less than 10% the weight of the lens. The lens and TC combined weigh less than the Nikon 200-500 lens on its own. You used a monopod with this and it is a shorter lens. TCs are a compromise option. The cost of fixed lenses of 600mm or more are generally a quantum leap above those you discuss and very heavy. Personally, I find a TC a useful option when travelling sometimes and airline weight restrictions can be an issue. Another option to consider when using FX cameras is to switch the image area to DX. Richard