On June 19, 2019, a new Olympus dual-speed teleconverter – TC 2x, was launched. At first glance, most people would consider this as a rather unimportant event. But from a nature photographer’s point of view, it was indeed the launch of a rather interesting accessory. Just like its predecessor 1.4x converter, it works with both 40-150mm/2.8 and 300mm/4 IS lenses. Equally, it will work with the upcoming 150-400mm/4.5 IS (but we have to wait for about a year for that one). So, what makes this converter so crucial? Well, simply put it is its achievable focal length, which, in combination with a 300mm lens, is a respectable 1200mm after full frame conversion.
How is it with the focal point recalculation?
Increasingly, countless number of passionate discussions about the “real” focal length of lenses on the M43 system are often seen on the Internet. Is it necessary to calculate a focus of a 300 as a 300 or as a 600? (because the system uses a smaller chip with a crop factor of 2x). If we took into account only the counting, didn’t leave the house and talked purely hypothetically, then the 300mm lens truly is just another 300mm lens. However, these numbers are useless when you hold the “three-hundred” on the camera and the angle of view you are trying to find bird in the viewfinder is exactly the same as a 600mm. Furthermore, how useful is the fact that you can cut out the same image (as from this small chip) from a 20MP full frame, but leaving only 5MP for editing and printing? Is there a difference between a 5MP image from a full frame and a 20MP image from M43 when their cutout is the same image? Well, you bet it does. So, this is just to clarify for future, when you’ll read some of my articles talking about the joys and sorrows of photography, I’ll write/ say that the photo was taken with a 300mm lens, but I will use the focal length as 600mm after recalculation or 600mm (equiv).
How is it with the aperture conversion?
The second parameter that comes in addition to the focal length is the lens speed. That complicates things a bit. For example, in the aforementioned lens M.ZUIKO 300 mm/4 IS, the exposure time will be automatically set the same as in aperture 4, but the depth of field will be equal to its double i.e. aperture 8. As a result, you will end up with a relatively reasonable exposure at a relatively reasonable time, but bigger depth of field needs some TLC. If, for example, your main feature is ultra-fine background, then you will need to fiddle with it more than with a full frame. If however, the subtle background is just one of the many techniques that you use to create your photos, you’ll find that there are times when the greater depth of field is actually quite welcome. Such as taking macros, landscapes or wide shots of animals with their natural surroundings. Now, back to the new converter.
TC 2x and resulting focal points
Since I already explained how it is with focal length and aperture, I can now follow up with the newest arrival from Olympus. Currently, the converter offers two options. With 40-150mm/2.8 lens becomes 160 – 600mm (equiv) with a 5.6 aperture. And, if you put the teleconverter on a prime 300mm/4 IS lens, it creates a double focal length of 1200mm (equiv) with aperture 8. This is really exciting, as once the 150 – 400 lens with a built-in 1.25 converter comes to life, this teleconverter will double that to an impressive 2000mm focal point! Sadly, we will have to wait for that a bit. So, how does it work in real life?
M.Zuiko 40 – 150mm/2.8 + TC 2x
Perhaps, the use of a 2x converter to a M.Zuiko 40-150mm /2.8 lens is the most anticipated combination. Many people hope to ‘not to have’ buy a much more expensive ‘three hundred’. Honestly, if you feel that you’ll achieve practically the same results then I got news for you – no, you won’t. You will understand this especially when you compare the outputs from a prime 300 lens. And not only that, the behaviour of both lenses is different. A prime 300 without a converter will focus faster, especially in low light conditions, it will have a nicer bokeh, and a much more reliable autofocus. On the other hand, if you do not have a comparison and you don’t have this lens in your inventory, then you will probably be very pleasantly surprised how great the TC 2x works. In my experience, it belongs to the absolute top in this category of converters. I personally think this combination will come in handy for example in the mountains or when traveling light only with the wide range lenses such as M.Zuiko 12-100mm/ 4 IS, which combination is covering anything from 24 to 600mm (equiv). So, you will then be able to take pictures of landscapes from your hand and for a very long time (12mm can be kept with a little erudition even over 5s exposure), plants, insects from the size of a small butterfly to dragonflies, lizards, frogs and larger or tame species of birds and mammals. In my opinion, it’s a really great combination that doesn’t take up too much space. If, however, you want to focus mainly on animals, then I would highly recommend a combination of M.Zuiko 300mm/4 IS, which in conjunction with this teleconverter TC 2x can do wonders.
Ground Squirrel, Czech Republic, Olympus E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150mm/2.8 + TC 2x
M.Zuiko 300mm/4 IS + TC 2x
If you own your own ‘my precious’ M.Zuiko 300mm/4 IS and take pictures of animals, then you will probably agree with me that it is quite an addictive lens. It’s extremely versatile and can be used for photographing both animals as well as dragonfly or butterfly-sized insects. The TC 2x converter turns it into a ‘small beast’ or ‘painless’ or ‘I’ll-leave-it-to-you’. In fact, several properties are joined together here, producing – focal length of 1200mm (equiv.) + minimum focal distance of 1.4m + very strong stabilisation. This comes in handy, when you look at even relatively small insects through your viewfinder and reach the minimum focus distance, you are still able to take pictures of surprising details from your hand. For example, you look at a small wren in a nearby bush and it almost won’t fit in your view. It really is a whole new look to takes some time of getting used to. I feel, however, that you will find its use less frequently than TC 1.4x, which is after all not such an optical jump. TC 2x will be especially useful when you primarily want to take atlas-style pictures of shy birds or insects. But from my experience, there are also some limitations that this combination brings. For example, if you’re accustomed to looking for animals through your viewfinder, you might be surprised that finding their exact location is much more difficult, especially when the animal starts to move. The slightest movement of the lens will cause it to disappear from the viewfinder. However, you will be glad to learn that it takes a knack and after a few hours of practice it is quite easy. Higher level of difficulty starts when you try to do the same through the back display (ideally flipped out with the camera on the ground). I admit that when I was recently on Shetland, I missed a photo of a Wheateater several times just because I wasn’t able to find him. Luckily, thanks to my patience, I managed to take a lot of photos where the bird is nice and in focus. Also, keep in mind that aperture 8 will push you to increase the ISO to keep your photos sharp. The third thing to consider is the amount of brilliantly sharp photos. My experience suggests that there may be a higher proportion of unfocused photos taken purely from your hand in comparison with the prime 300 lens. Therefore, I always like to check the focus by enlarging the focus area at least 7 times and in the event of an error, simply refocus again. When everything falls in the right place, the photos are super sharp. In fact, they are unexpectedly sharp, considering such an extreme combination. This opens up a whole new world of detail that was previously solved more often by trimming. Surprisingly, the depth of field, which corresponds to about f/16, is actually quite relaxed and it is possible to work with a nice background similar to a 300 lens.
Fine detail sample
(I recommend to open in a new window and enlarge 1:1)
My impressions of the new converter are generally positive. It is also due to the fact that I do not treat it as something that will save me money for buying a higher-grade lens (it is definitely not such to date). For me this converter is an interesting tool that can be used here and there to create an interesting detail, which I would not have previously achieve or would have to scrape my teeth as I do not like to cut the photos.
What I like on the TC2x?
+ it turns a simple 40-150mm/ 2.8 lens into a very versatile range of 160-600mm (equiv)
+ from a prime 300lens you get a focal point of 1200mm (equiv)
+ its construction meets all PRO series features – high optical quality; as well as dust, water and frost resistance
+ despite it being a double converter, it is still very unobtrusive and you do not have to create a new place in the backpack for it (I have it on the 30mm/ 3.5 lens)
+ from the fine details perspective, it is truly a superlative converter 2x of the utmost quality
+ the closer you are to your main subject you photograph, the better the fine detail
+ fine detail on open aperture is excellent
+ inclination to the next aperture is superb (I personally did this only exceptionally because I was working with depth of field)
+ focusing is great under both good as well as average light
What I don’t like so much?
– AF accuracy is not always as reliable as with deploying a prime lense or with the TC 1.4 (if at all possible, I recommend to always check via magnified view of AF field)
– it is difficult to use in low light conditions – the AF speed slows down; long focus and higher aperture require quite high ISO values and long times want more practice or a tripod
– especially in combination with 300mm/ 4 IS, it is much more difficult to find an object through the tilted display with the camera on the ground.
I can recommend the converter with a calm heart, considering you are aware of its strengths as well as all its weaknesses. It can be a very handy little helper. If you plan to keep it on all the time and only occasionally take it off, you may not be as enthusiastic as when you use separate lenses and put it on only for special occasions. For me personally, huge BRAVO! It will help you to reach for photos that you might not have attempted before. Huge thanks go to the Czech representation of Olympus for lending me the converter for practical testing! Thank you.