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Gear & Apps

70-200 f/2.8 & 2x Teleconverter VS. 100-400mm

By Kishore Sawh on July 25th 2015

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Tony is always scientific enough, actually.

There are terms and phrases you’ll hear in the hallways of photography that are ubiquitous in everyday life, and ‘bang for your buck’ is one. In these days where food prices are so high and your house price is so low, where the contents of your fridge are worth more than your home, everyone’s trying to be smarter with their purchasing power. Typically, photographers and those on their way to becoming one, are not exactly overburdened by the weight of their paycheck, and camera equipment doesn’t come cheap. But it is one of those fields where your equipment WILL make a difference.

I’ve alluded to it many times and said it outright many more, that there are just things you can do with certain gear that you can’t with others. The quintessential piece of equipment for most photographers today, as far as I would say, has got to be the 70-200mm f/2.8. Everyone’s either got one, getting a new one, or saving to get one, and it’s easy to see why. If I could have just two lenses it would be a 70-200 f/2.8, and a 24-70 f/2.8. Throw in a teleconverter and you’re set to cover the bases like Roberto Alomar (Too old of a Toronto Blue Jays reference?) A teleconverter you say? Don’t those sort of ruin good glass? Maybe. Not always.

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I’ve used good teleconverters and cheap ones, and 1.4x and 2x teles, and I tend to not favor them. If you’re into aviation photography, wildlife, or sports photography, even of your kids, you’ll want some extra reach, and then you’ll see just how much that reach will cost. The 70-200 2.8s are typically going to run you around $2k and isn’t length enough for those genres, but you’ll use it elsewhere till it dies, or you do.

Once you get to around 400mm, then you’re talking, but maybe you’re not going to use that focal length all the time. Those lenses aren’t exactly cheap either. So one idea is using something like a 2x teleconverter on your 70-200 2.8 giving you 400mm of reach at f/5.6, and at the same time giving you the great portrait lens that is the 70-200, and all round versatility – bang for your buck.

[REWIND: New Metabones Adapter, FrontBack Shutters, and Sigma 50mm Patent]

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However, if you slap on a 2x tele, will you miss the f/2.8 aperture or the f/4 of the 100-400mm? Will the resulting images from the tele be much worse than what you’d get from the dedicated longer lens? Tony and Chelsea Northrup, like us, field this question a lot and have done a dedicated test and video to find what’s really the best bet. You can and should look at the video as they divulge a good amount of info in a short time, but the eventuality of their testing is that with a good teleconverter, even with a high-resolution 5DS, your image quality with the tele is going to match that of the dedicated 100-400mm. That’s great news for you and your wallet.

Do you use any of these set-ups? What’s your favorite lens?

Check out lots more great stuff from Tony and Chelsea here.

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Pietro Ambrosioni

    I shoot a loto of motorcycle racing, almost exclusively indoor (Supercross) but I also shoot outdoor : I tried to use my Canon EF TC 1.4II several times on my EF300 2.8L IS (version I) but the micro contrast goes down the toilet and yes, the AF struggles too. Maybe I’m too spoiled by the top quality of the lens (on Canon EOS 1Ds MKII and Canon EOS 5D MKIII bodies) and I get hypercritical… After reading this article I’ll try the TC on my EF 70-200 2.8L (non IS) on slower subjects, worth a try

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    • adam sanford

      I’m not shooting action/wildlife very often, but I have a weird birding opportunity coming up. So I asked the CanonRumors birding folks (a very, very demanding crowd) about using a TC on my 70-200 f/2.8L IS II, and they said it will totally be fine…if the bird is perched on something. :-P

      Otherwise, get a purpose-built longer lens or (if that’s not possible) think about temporarily downgrading your FF sensor to crop to get a 1.5x/1.6x tele with no nasty TC contrast or AF issues. (You just might not be able to shoot in as low a light or get the same subject isolation as you are used to.)

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  2. Joram J

    So quality is close. But how do they compare in focus speed. The 100-400 is often used for wildlife and aero/aerial photography (!?) and that kind of stuff. For fighter jets you defiantly want a fast focusing lenses.

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    • adam sanford

      +1. Key point.

      With a TC, AF speed typically suffers, and some of your non-center AF points may be less effective/reliable (depending on your camera body).

      I see TCs as a nice trick to get length without paying for or carrying large glass. I don’t shoot wildlife or sports on my 5D3, so my 70-200 is all I need for length. Once a year or so I need the 2x for something, and it does its job very well. But if I was shooting at 400+ all the time, I’d go with native glass for AF speed and have a hard look at going back to crop to keep financially solvent (i.e. 600 on FF is nasty money compared to a 400 on crop).

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  3. John Cavan

    I can’t speak for everyone, but I got the Alomar reference… Anyways, a TC isn’t always a bad option when coupled with the right glass.

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  4. Colin Woods

    I’m going off topic slightly, and putting in a word for the constant f4 70-200mm. I sold my f2.8 as it was way too heavy and the f4 is fantastic. Sharp even at f4 (I’m on Nikon but I have read that the canon is great too), and way way lighter, and with image stabilization.
    I have never been bothered by converters, but I never really need that reach. If I did I imagine that the Nikon ones are pretty good.

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    • adam sanford

      My sole choice for the 70-200 f/2.8 over the f/4 was that I was future-proofing if I ever wanted to use a 2x. The effective 140-400 f/8 (with a 2x on the f/4) would have precluded me from having a working autofocus on my camera at the time, but the effective f/5.6 (with a 2x on the f/2.8) autofocuses just fine.

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