This article discusses my initial impressions using the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with the M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter.
When considering photographic potential it can be exciting to think about having an equivalent field-of-view of 1600 mm at one’s disposal. The prospect of photographing distant birds-in-flight and other types of far away subjects is enticing.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
I found it was possible to photograph birds-in-flight at an efov of 1600 mm… but it certainly presented challenges. The first was simply finding a bird in my viewfinder. Then trying to pan with it in flight is no easy feat at an efov of 1600 mm.
Finding a bird, even with the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS backed off towards the wide end of the lens, then zooming in once I found the bird takes time. Typically I found by the time that happened my focal length was close to the range when using the M.Zuiko MC-14. So, forcing myself to use the MC-20 for this type of photography seemed rather pointless.
I was needlessly giving up an extra stop of light without any benefit in reach for doing so most of the time. I was able to capture very distant birds-in-flight, but due to atmospheric conditions the usability of those images was suspect. Acquiring sharp focus on these distant flying subjects was also a challenge. Once the Olympus Bird Detection AI is loaded on my E-M1X bodies I will be in a better position to assess the practical aspects of reliably photographing distant birds-in-flight when using the MC-20.
Another issue that comes into play with birds-in-flight is the zoom operation of the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm. It is about 1/4 turn from wide to telephoto which is good… and the zoom operation is smooth. However, it is much stiffer when compared to a PRO lens like the 40-150 mm f/2.8. Rather than simply running the top edge of my index finger from left to right against the bottom of the zoom ring to extend the lens as I can with my PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8, I have to fully grasp the zoom ring to adjust it.
On the surface this may seem like a small issue. The zoom on M.Zuiko lenses runs counterclockwise to extend them. This means that when you are bracing the M.Zuiko 100-400 with your left hand, your wrist is naturally positioned underneath the zoom ring. Good technique would have your elbow in tight to your body.
From a practical standpoint you cannot execute a complete 1/4 turn on the zoom ring without raising your elbow up from your body and shifting it to the right across your body. This is a very awkward movement. I found that going from the wide end to fully extended would take two shorter twist movements of a 1/8 turn on the zoom ring. Not a huge issue, but it does take that little bit of extra time which can make a difference with some image captures. I should mention that making two shorter twist movements (or more) is also the case with most long zoom lenses from other manufacturers. This is not an issue with the M.Zuiko PRO 150-400 mm as noted in Rob Knight’s review.
The image quality when using the MC-20 with the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS was better than I anticipated. I just used my typical adjustments in post and found the results quite acceptable. There is no lens module currently available for the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS in DxO PhotoLab 4. Once this is issued, final image quality may improve.
From a practical standpoint there will be times when a photographer will want to use the MC-20 teleconverter with the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm zoom lens to get extra reach. These will likely be with more static subjects where slower shutter speeds can be used. I believe that using the MC-14 teleconverter is a much better choice for birds-in-flight.
Using the MC-20 teleconverter with M.Zuiko 100-400 zoom comes with a loss of light penalty, as well as losing some image stabilization effectiveness. Even given these trade-offs, having an efov of 1600 mm available is simply incredible. It will allow photographers to capture images that they would not have been able to get in the past. Good handheld technique and some basic skills in post are required.
The additional reach does allow photographers to capture images of birds and other animals without encroaching on their ‘safe space’ and scaring them away. Until you actually use the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS at an efov of 1600 mm it is difficult to fully appreciate what a difference this can make in terms of opening up more photographic possibilities. Again, within the light limitations faced when shooting at f/13, and the practical considerations of handheld skill level.
I did some very quick, handheld tests and found that I could consistently get sharp results with a shutter speed of 1/250 at an efov of 1600 mm without much conscious thought. With a little bit of extra concentration I could use a shutter speed of 1/160. I was free standing and not bracing myself against any solid object. With bracing or with some additional practice, I imagine that even slower shutter speeds could be used. I had the lens IS engaged. When time permits, I’ll be doing some additional experimenting in this regard so I can establish my shooting limitations with this lens/teleconverter combination.
If are thinking of purchasing the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS and using it with a teleconverter, the MC-14 would be a better choice in terms of overall functionality. If you already own the MC-20 it can certainly be effectively used within certain parameters. Only using the M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter with the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS may result in some disappointment due to practical limitations. I’m glad that I have both teleconverters so I can adapt to specific situations, and get the most out of the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS zoom lens.
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Many photographs are displayed as full frame captures. Cropping is indicated where appropriate. A lens module for the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS lens was not yet available for DxO PhotoLab 4 at the time of writing this article.
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