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Teleconverters For Bird Photography: To Use Them Or Not?

Teleconverters for Bird Photography: To Use Them or Not?

I got a question last week from a reader about whether he should buy the teleconverter or not.

While I said it bluntly, he was thankful!

Sounds strange right? 

How’s that you are blunt about something to someone and get a thank you note in return? It happened the other day when I got this question from Michael and here’s what he asked.

Should I use 1.4X, 1.7X, 2.0X Teleconverters or TCs for bird photography with telephoto zoom lenses?

A very valid question and most bird photographers will be struggling to decide on this. I know I have. So, here was my answer.

Should I use 1.4X, 1.7X, 2.0X Teleconverters or TCs for bird photography with telephoto zoom lenses?

That was as bluntly as I could put it. Because, I know it’s a waste of money to buy a Teleconverter for the telephoto zoom lens. And, I wanted to save money for Michael, and for you too.

When I sent my response I was bit anxious as I didn’t know how Michael will react to that. But, he sent me the following mail which helped me relax 🙂

Should I use 1.4X, 1.7X, 2.0X Teleconverters or TCs for bird photography with telephoto zoom lenses?

Now, let me tell you something if you are considering to buy a Teleconverter for any of these lenses: Canon 100-400mm, Nikon 200-500mm, Tamron/Sigma 150-600mm, Sony 200-600mm, or any other lens on the similar range…

you should drop that idea

I am serious about it. If you put a Teleconverter (1.4X, 1.7X, or 2.0X) with these lenses, here’s what happens:

  1. First, Your lens and the autofocus will struggle (roughly) twice as much to gather light with a 1.4X Teleconverter and (roughly) four times with a 2X Teleconverter. And, remember most cameras are capable of focusing only upto a maximum sensitivity of f/8. So, if you put a 2X Teleconverter in front of a f/5.6 lens, your maximum aperture is f/11, as you lose 2 stops. Which means your autofocus stops working.
  2. And, second, this is critical, in my opinion, you’ll get lot more frustrated than what you are already. While you get to see the bird a little closer now due to increase in focal length, but everything else dramatically starts to give you trouble. First, you won’t get enough light, so you won’t get enough shutter speed, so you bump up the ISO and end up getting noisier images, and on top of all this, the autofocus just doesn’t cooperate as poor light means poor contrast. Then, what’s the point?

My suggestion to you is, don’t fight it (As, I would normally would like to put it). Just don’t fight with the reality. Accept it and move on. The Teleconverters are meant for the faster lenses (prime lens) as they can still function fairly due to their maximum aperture in the range of f/2.8-f/4.

Just to conclude this, let me tell you that a 2X Teleconverter on my 600mm f/4 prime lens gives me such a headache that sometimes I want to throw it. I am not kidding. If you get a chance, try this combination for a bird in flight shot in soft light and you’ll know what I mean.

It’s simply not worth it for most situations. You need great light, sturdy support system, good skills, and a great level of patience if you want to work with that combination. However, it’s kind of a necessary evil at times.

That’s the reason you would have seen most people tend to use 1.4X teleconverter of 500mm f/4 and 600mm f/4 lenses. That’s a common practice. I personally, don’t like to use Teleconverters unless I am forced to.

I hope I didn’t disappoint you too much by breaking it to you. Sometimes, someone has to do it, you know. Someone must tell the truth.

And, now that I am putting myself up for a big fight, with many professional photographers I believe, by working on this most controversial product—Bird Photography Settings Field Pack, I thought why not start with the Teleconverter stuff.

Anyway, I hope I saved you some research time, money, and frustration. 

One more thing…

If you already own a 1.4X Teleconverter, please use it. I don’t mean you should throw it or sell it. Just be aware of the fact that there’ll be performance degradation and work with it.

Thanks to Michael for bringing this topic.

Meanwhile, check out this in-depth article Should You Use Teleconverters For Bird Photography? 5 Key Factors To Consider if you already own a Teleconverter or planning to buy one.

Talk Soon.

Best Regards,

Prathap

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Prathap

Prathap is a professional nature photographer and founder of Nature Photography Simplified blog. He aims to simplify every photography concept to help beginners and amateur photographers.

Download his highly recommended FREE eBook "Bird Photography – 10 Mistakes and Solutions" which has been instrumental in helping thousands of bird photographers.

Download it right now to jumpstart your bird photography.

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. Pratap just vomited what some of his creed wrote or told or taught…!

    Tele converters CAN BE USED WHER THERE IS MORE LIGHT….!
    Just because POLARISERS ARE THERE, DO WE USE ALL THE TIME..,?
    Just because you have f .95 aperture do we always use only that aperture…?
    Just because the tripods and Monopods are there do we always use them…?
    NECESSITY IS THE GOD OF INVENTIONS…
    And ALL INVENTIONS CANNOT BE USED ALL THE TIMES….!!
    They are there to be used WHEN, WHERE, WHY AND HOW THEY CAN BE USED…!!

    As for image qualities are concerned using TCs there is a method called LENS CALIBERATION OR AF FINE TUNING…!

    ALL TOOLS HAVE LIMITATIONS…! BUT THEY CAN BE USED WITHIN THOSE LIMITATIONS….!!

    1. Hi,
      Wow! That’s amazing to see your comment or shall I say rage 🙂 Anyway, I think you didn’t read my article carefully enough. That’s okay. It happens all the times.
      I am glad that you spent your time to say all this. Thank you for that.
      Best Regards,
      Prathap

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