Sometimes I get in the mood to do big technical tests on gear and lenses. I have a few of those in the works right now but for this one I’m going to keep it simple. Teleconverters have a fairly bad reputation and my first foray into their use was with my original 70-200 2.8 L IS. I picked up a 1.4x II thinking that it might be useful for getting me near the 300mm mark on the cheap. Long story short, I tried it a couple of times and then swore never to put a teleconverter anywhere near my beloved 70-200 ever again. Then I sold the 70-200 2.8 and swapped it for a 70-200 f4 L IS. The newer f4 IS was much sharper than its older 2.8 cousin so I tried the 1.4x on that and was a little more impressed, though by that time I already had a 300mm f4 IS , so the 280mm reach of the 70-200 + 1.4 TC was a bit redundant. I also tried the 1.4x on the 300 f4 and was a little disappointed with that combination. So my initial experiences with teleconverters were very mixed and I never found a combination that I would be happy using in anything less than an emergency. Apart from the degradation of the image quality, there was also noticeable decrease in auto focus speed and accuracy. But what about the legendary 300mm f2.8 L IS ?
This past winter though I swapped out my 300mm f4 IS for the legendary 300mm f2.8 L IS. A lot of people call this one of the best lenses ever made, and when you see the resulting photos it’s hard to argue with that. One of my main reasons for upgrading was the supposed compatibility with Canon’s teleconverters. General consensus is that image quality and focus speed suffer very little with the 1.4X TC on so that gives you a nice 420mm f4. My shooting with this combination recently in Alaska confirms this, no surprise there. But one thing that I was intrigued about was the lens’ apparently impressive performance with the much maligned 2X teleconverter. I have never found any photographer anywhere say anything nice about the 2X TC on any lens EXCEPT the 300 2.8. In fact I came across several photographers who swore by the combination, calling it the most versatile long lens on the market. A brilliant 300mm, 420mm and 600mm all rolled into one ? I was pretty skeptical though because frankly the performance of the 2X TC on any other lens is pretty terrible. But the teleconverters were designed alongside the 300mm 2.8 L IS and apparently this is enough to give it enough of an advantage to make it a very usable combination. So I grabbed a 2X TC when I picked up my new 300mm and headed off to Alaska. For the majority of the time I didn’t need the 2X anyway but there were a couple of times where for one reason or another, our shooting position was quite some distance away……… Anyway I’m just going to let the photos speak for themselves. I have a couple of examples below. Both the images have been processed in Lightroom 3 and a minimal amount of sharpening has been applied, no more than I would do with any other image. Please also take into account the rest of the exposure details that I have included and the camera that was used. I think you will agree that the results are very impressive.
This is a photo taken from my shooting position for the next shot. The lines the guys are scoping out are a long way off, I wouldn’t even like to take a guess how far away.
This shot of Dane Tudor was taken with the 2xTC on the 300mm f3.8 L IS
Canon 1dMKIV ISO 500, f11, 1/1250 , 600mm
100% crop of detail from Dane’s shot
This next shot was taken at a dragon boat race in my home town of Whistler,BC. I had specifically wanted to test this combination again, this time on the 5dMKII
Canon 5dMKII ISO 1000 , f6.3 , 1/2000
The 5dMKII produces stunning photos at ISO 1000. Like I said, these are real world examples so I have run them through my usual processing which contains a small amount of noise reduction. But that would normally result in a loss of sharpness anyway and clearly this lens is not lacking that. I wholeheartedly agree with those that swear by this lens combination. This is easily the best value 600mm lens you could lay your hands on. I never thought that I would be more than mildly impressed with the 2X TC but frankly i’m blown away by its performance. I would not hesitate to use this combination. Considering my testing at the boat race was also on the slow focusing 5dMKII, I was also perfectly happy with the focus speed too. The skiing shots i took with it were stopped down quite a long way because I was worried about the performance. When I saw the results I new I had to try shooting with a wider aperture. With the 2X TC you can get it opened to f5.6 so the shot above is only stopped down marginally. Wow! One final thing to be said is that I have heard a few mixed reports on peoples experience with these TCs on this lens. Mine was perfect right out of the box, but many people suggest sending the lens in to Canon to get it calibrated to YOUR teleconverter. This can improve things a little bit if you are not getting quite such good results.
I myself have had mixed feelings of Canon’s tele’s. I used the 2.0x on my 70-200 with mixed results. Some great, some horrible, but perhaps it was just me.
Glad to hear/see how it performs on the 300mm f2.8 though. One day that lens will be in my camera bag! My buddy has the Nikon 300 f2.8 VR II lens and it’s just drop dead gorgeous and along with the new aspherical 2.0x tele it’s amazing.
Two monts ago I bought the 300mm 2,8 is. I think 300mm 2,8 + 2X is the best combination of weight and quality.
I have used the 1.4x on my 70-200 F2.8 and it was bad. It’s a shame that you didn’t have good results with your 300 F4. I feel my reach past 200mm is still not in sight.
If Canon would hurry up and release an updated 100-400 without the push pull design we would all have more options. But to be honest Ben the 300 f4 was still awesome without the TCs and I very rarely need more than 300. Its a great stepping stone if a 2.8 cant be reached for a while.
I just took the lens and 2x converter on a two week safari (Kenya) and it was the PERFECT combination. Sharp images….used a monopod and sometimes beanbags…had the most success with the monopod. Can be rented from lense.com if a purchase is not an option.
The 2x on the 300mm f2.8 focused a little slow for me for bif until it was told about a little tip on my 7d
Turn focus search off
Turn IS off
Focuses as fast as the 1.4x now… One side effect is that you may need to bump the focus ring closer to subject to get focusing to start… Not a big deal…
Nice tip Dan , thanks!
Thanks for the article – I have the combo you describe here and to be honest, I have never been happy with the IQ using it. I’m not a pixel peeper but even of a full-frame 5d Mk3, I found the images pretty bad. I thought it was IS, camera shake or maybe focusing… anyway I did some “tests” and found out that I needed to shoot at f8 – f11. At f11 the images are great and ok at f8. So, next I’m going to get a 1.4 extender as I’m thinking that the IQ will be fine open at (f4).
In the meantime I’m only really using it on my 7d Mk 2 (with no extenders) and that is fine for sport (rugby mainly).
I am assuming the mk 2 version of the 300mm offers better IQ through an extender… time to save up!
Yeah the mk2 version is much better at taking extenders. As you say, the 1.4x will also be better.
I have used my beloved Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM + Canon Extender EF III on 5DII, 70D and 7D.
I strongly disagree with those who whine about image quality degradation. Absolutely not. As an enthusiast nature and wildlife photographer; I use it for bird photography and the images are simply stunning. I bought the lens as a value 600mm f/5.6 and getting wonderful results. Looking forward to using it for wildlife safari in my next Africa tour when Covid situation eases.
I strongly recommend the combo to be used both with FF and APS-C bodies.
Thanks for chiming in! I’m glad you are enjoying it.