Extenstions & Teleconverters

Amplifying Native Range

Adding a teleconverter (TC) or extender (Ext.) to a lens, either to increase the reach of a telephoto (TC), or to increase the magnification of a standard lens to give it macro capability (Ext.), always results in a corresponding loss of image quality. The user is, quite literally, exchanging ‘quality’ (best resolution) for ‘quantity’ (more reach and/or magnification). Sometimes this difference can be quite noticeable, removing the benefit; however, with judicious selection, sometimes the results of amplifying the existing capabilities of your lenses can be quite good. Therefore, I try to be judicious in my usage of both TCs and extenders, preferring not to use them at all … unless I feel the trade-off will actually improve my result, rather than compromise it. That said, here is what I utilize:

Nikon AF-S 2x Teleconverter TC-20E III

Doubling Your Reach

Nikon’s upgraded AF-S 2x Teleconverter, the TC-20E III, allows me to double my focal length, while still retaining decent (in some cases, excellent) optical quality. When placed on my 300mm f/4E PF, attached to my D500 (which offers an additional APS-C 1.5x “crop factor”), I am able to achieve an overall ~900mm f/8 equivalent focal length that is hand-holdable all day. Even better, this TC also increases my macro magnification potential as well, from 1:4 (.25x) to 1:2 (.5x). This is the best butterfly combo I have ever used, for ensuring I nail a shot, from 4-ft away.

However, in some contexts, this 2x TC can cause unacceptable image quality reduction and it can also render my AF useless in low-light conditions. However, when used judiciously, and in adequate light, this TC can give excellent results and provide a major “reach” advantage, without weighing me down. Moreover, I have also discovered that, while none of my DSLRs can retain AF when attached to my 800mm f/5.6, I can use this adapter on this behemoth lent, with my Z7, and I do retain AF 😎 This gives me an effective 1600mm f/11 lens, where I can still nail AF, which is critical when trying to “fill the frame” with small, wary birds.

See @ Nikon: Nikon AF-S 2x Teleconverter TC-20E III

Nikon AF-S 1.4x Teleconverter TC-14E III

Nikon’s upgraded AF-S 1.4x Teleconverter, the TC-14E III, is an excellent way in which to increase focal length, while still retaining excellent optical quality. This TC is pretty much glued to my 300mm f/4E PF, where when combined with my APS-C D500 camera (which offers an additional 1.5x DX “crop factor”), I am able to achieve an overall ~630mm f/5.6 equivalent focal length. Even better, the TC also increases my macro magnification potential from 1:4 (.25x) to 1:3 (.33x). Both amplifications offer tremendous field benefits with only a negligible amount of image quality reduction. I have repeatedly and consistently found this lil’ teleconverter to be an indispensable tool for my hiking.

See @ Nikon: Nikon AF-S 1.4x Teleconverter TC-14E III

Nikon AF-S 1.25x Teleconverter TC800-1.25E ED

Special companion for the 800mm f/5.6E

This teleconverter only comes with the Nikkor 800mm f/5.6E FL ED lens, and is specifically calibrated for it, creating a “1000mm f/7.1” reach in the process, while maintaining optimal sharpness. All this sounds exciting, and has its applications, but I tend not to use it much. For one thing, in low light, the f/7.1 aperture makes focusing difficult—and, for another, the f/7.1 aperture itself isn’t typically where I like to be anyway, from a bokeh standpoint. That said, with adequate lighting, even an 800mm lens sometimes doesn’t give me enough reach, and this TC gives me just enough extra “boost” (200mm), without minimizing the image quality too badly.

See @ Nikon: Nikon AF-S 1.25x Teleconverter TC800-1.25E ED

Kenko Auto Extension Tube Set DG

12, 20 & 36mm Tubes

Unlike a teleconverter (or TC), which actually has internal glass that magnifies your existing lens, an extension tube is hollow. This creates space between the lens and the camera, which allows you to come closer than usual, to small subjects, thus producing a kind of ‘vicarious magnification’ that such closer proximity allows. Typically, while TCs are used on telephoto lenses (to increase focal length), extension tubes are used on ‘normal’ lenses (to turn them into makeshift macro lenses)—or on existing macro lenses (to increase macro magnification even further).

Truth be told, I have many macro lenses, with varying degrees of magnification, so I never need these on my macro lenses. The real benefit of these tubes, to me, is turning my fast (f/1.4E) portrait lenses into macro lenses, which allow world-class rendering to my flower photography in a way that’s not possible for standard macro lenses to achieve.  This Kenko set of extension tubes has long been The Standard in the industry, and they can be used singly, all-together, or in various combinations, in order to achieve varying degrees of magnification.

See @ Kenko: Kenko Auto Extension Tube Set DG

Meike MK-Z-AF1 Macro AF Extension Tubes

11 & 18mm Tubes

While Kenko has a new set of tubes out for Nikon Z-Mount, they’re $219, and there are only two of them, whereas there are three extension tubes for the F-mount. The 3 Kenko F-Mount Tubes were expensive enough, at $129, so the thought of paying $220 for the Z-Mount set ($110/tube) was a joke to me. This made me look into the Meike MK-Z-AF1 11mm and 18mm Extension Tubes for my Nikon Z as a budget alternative, which are only $39 for two. Certainly, for only $40 a pair, it was worth the chance.

So I gave the Meike versions a try and I am glad I did! The build quality and function of the Meike extension tubes compare very favorably to Kenko. The AF works perfectly and the feel is absolutely similar.

Further, the 2 Kenko Extension Tubes are only 10mm and 16mm, while the Meikes are 11mm and 18mm, so the Kenko version not only costs 5.5x more money than the Meike version, they don’t even provide as much magnification!

As an owner of both brands, there is absolutely no reason to buy the Kenko extension tubes @ 5.5x the price, when the Meike build quality and performance is identical, and their tube sizes offer greater magnification.

See @ Meike: Meike MK-Z-AF1 Macro AF Extension Tubes