M.Zuiko 100-400 with MC-20

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/1250, ISO-5000, subject distance 53 metres, cropped to 4562 pixels on the width

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 571 mm, efov 1142 mm, f/13, 1/1250, ISO-5000, subject distance 37.8 metres, cropped to 4819 pixels on the width

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 473 mm, efov 946 mm, f/12, -0.7 EV, 1/2000, ISO-640, subject distance 53 metres, full frame capture

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 437 mm, efov 874 mm, f/12, -0.3 EV, 1/2000, ISO-2000, subject distance 36.8 metres, cropped to 3421 pixels on the width

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/500, ISO-1250, subject distance 21.2 metres, full frame capture

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, -0.7 EV, 1/2000, ISO-2000, subject distance 20 metres, full frame capture

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, -0.7 EV, 1/800, ISO-320, subject distance 11.8 metres, full frame capture

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/500, ISO-1000, subject distance 8.6 metres, full frame capture

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/500, ISO-5000, subject distance 10.3 metres, full frame capture

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/500, ISO-4000, subject distance 6.8 metres, full frame capture

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/250, ISO-320, subject distance 19 metres, full frame capture

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 508 mm, efov 1016 mm, f/12, 1/1600, ISO-1250, subject distance 38.6 metres, full frame capture

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.

Technical Note

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.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/13, 1/400, ISO-2500, subject distance 7.3 metres

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8 thoughts on “M.Zuiko 100-400 with MC-20”

  1. Hi Thomas

    Very useful information and thanks for sharing.
    I have just bought the Oly 100-400mm for use on my EM1X and I have noticed that I can’t get a crisp shot at all when the lens IS is turned on. Turn it off and use IBIS and I can get pin sharp images. I’m pretty certain I’ve read that the camera uses one or the other and there is obviously no sync IS with this lens.

    Have you noticed this?

    1. Hi Mark,

      I haven’t had too many opportunities to use the lens at slow shutter speeds. During an extended hike I did do some experimentation and found that turning off the in-lens IS worked better for me with my E-M1X. I find that the IBIS with my E-M1X is smoother and seems to lock down faster than the in-lens IS. So, I shoot this lens with the in-lens IS turned off.

      Petr Bambousek is a top nature photographer and in his review of the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS recommended experimenting with the in-lens IS setting. He also turned the in-lens IS off when using it with an E-M1 Mark III: https://www.sulasula.com/en/olympus-100-400-is-en/

      Tom

  2. Great shots as always. Never having used a lens built for a camera with a efov of 1600mm, I can’t comment directly. But I have tried using a spotting scope and found that in warm weather, atmospheric aberrations caused by heat waves makes any long distance shots a blurry mess. I don’t mean desert level heat waves either. I’ve never tried long distance photography in the dead of winter so I can’t comment on that either. I know you mentioned this in your article but I’m not sure that you emphasized how destructive heat waves are.

    1. Hi Lewsh,

      I don’t think that heat was the issue as it was likely too cool for that. LaSalle Park is on a small bay across from some major steel mills and other industrial/manufacturing plants. Also, there is a major 6 lane highway at the other end of the bay. I think the haze that was visible that day was due more to the air pollution etc. from the plants and highway.

      Tom

  3. Tom,
    Thank you very much for sharing your experience with the new lens. There have been many reviews, but your approach is always somewhat different, pushing the system to determine its limits. I believe that your combo is working very well in your skilled hands. We both know that a DXO lens+body correction will definitely increase sharpness …those corrections are often amazing in my experience. There is also the possibility of using Topaz Sharpen AI when needed.

    I fully agree that using this lens with the 1.4xTC will be more practical on an every day basis than with the 2x, for the reasons you mentioned. To get the most out of using it with the 2x, most of us will use it on a tripod and still be thrilled with having that capability. But light conditions, atmospheric conditions, and subject movement will severely limit opportunities.

    You are an experienced videographer. I’m wondering whether there might be some sort of leaver device that could be attached to the zoom ring so that you could rotate it with your finger.

    I’m looking forward to your next post on using this lens and to the day mine arrives. I see the 40-150/2.8 + 2 X and the 100-400 +1.4x combos as amazing and enjoyable tools to enjoy in my bird and nature photography. Stay safe Tom and thanks again!

    1. Hi Glen,

      Thanks for adding to the discussion and sharing your experiences! I was out today with the M.Zuiko 100-400 and the MC-14… article will follow in a day or two. Suffice to say that I really like this combo!

      I sold my follow focus unit many years ago so I don’t have anything handy that I could adapt. As I get more used to using the M.Zuiko 100-400 I’m sure it will become second nature.

      Tom

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