Use Teleconverters To Photograph Wildlife

teleconverters
In the good ol’ days of 35mm film, serious wildlife shooters needed 600mm and even 800mm supertelephoto lenses to get up close to their subjects. But then came the digital revolution and smaller-than-35mm sensors, which have the effect of cropping out the center of a full frame and making a 400mm lens behave more like a 600mm. Now factor in higher resolution (for even more crop-ability) and lower noise at higher ISOs (permitting photographers to work with slower lenses), and you can see why it’s easier than ever to get up close to wildlife.

Rather than investing in a $12,000 supertelephoto, I suggest investing a few hundred bucks in a 1.4X or a 2X teleconverter.

Teleconverters, which are also known by the name “tele-extenders,” extend the reach of a telephoto lens by optically multiplying the focal length. A 2X teleconverter doubles the focal length of your lens; a 1.4X teleconverter multiplies it by 1.4. The former makes a 300mm lens act like a 600mm. The latter makes a 300mm perform like a 420mm lens. The best of these teleconverters maintain the microcomputer connection between lens and camera, meaning autofocus and auto-exposure controls still work.

teleconverters
Teleconverters are available from Canon, Nikon, Sigma, Sony, Tamron and other manufacturers.

So, what’s the catch with teleconverters? They do tend to slow down the focusing of a lens, and they typically sacrifice at least one full stop of light. Longer converters may sacrifice two full stops of light. And, you’re putting another set of optics between your lens and your subject, so you may see a small impact on image quality. But, for amateur wildlife enthusiasts, this impact is likely inconsequential—and certainly not worth a $12,000 premium for a pro-caliber supertelephoto.

The challenge of losing a stop of light might seem like a bigger deal, but in practice it’s not so troubling. Instead of shooting at 1/250 at ISO 100 and ƒ/11 on a normal sunny day, you might open up to ƒ/8 or even ƒ/5.6. But, remember, this is the era of high performance at high ISOs, so it’s no problem to boost your ISO in order to compensate for the reduced amount of light delivered by the teleconverter. When you factor in the added benefits of crop sensors and higher resolution, there has never been a better time to use teleconverters to get you up close and personal to wildlife subjects.

One thought on “Use Teleconverters To Photograph Wildlife

  1. According to Canon, the pictured extender is compatible with only a few of the fixed focal length L-series lenses 135mm and above, as well as a few of the L-series zoom lenses (exceptions appear to include, oddly, the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens).

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