Head to head
Which is better, a fast zoom with ateleconverter or a super-telephoto lens?
What’s more effective, a super-telephoto lens or telephoto plus converter? We take a look
Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II + AF-S TC-20E III
Effective focal length (DX) 105-300mm (210-600mm with converter) Aperture range f/2.8 to f/22 (f/5.6 to f/45) Elements/groups 21/16 + 7/5 Autofocus Ring-type ultrasonic VR 3.5 stops Minimum focus distance 1.4m Diaphragm 9 blades Filter size 77mm Diameter x length 87x206mm + 66x48mm Weight 1540g + 330g price £1800/$2100 + £350/$500 The 70-200mm naturally loses out to the 80-400mm for telephoto reach, but equals its maximum focal length once you add a 2x teleconverter. Nikon’s AF-S TC-20E III is a high-tech affair with seven optical elements in five groups, including one aspherical element. The constant-aperture design of the 70-200mm lens makes a relatively fast f/2.8 aperture available throughout the entire zoom range. However, this narrows to f/4, f/4.8 or f/5.6 when fitted on a 1.4x, 1.7x or 2x teleconverter respectively. The build quality of this lens is somewhat legendary, with a rugged yet lightweight magnesium alloy construction that’s fully weather sealed. However, the AF-S TC-20E III teleconverter doesn’t have Nikon’s often-used rubber seal around the mounting plate. Both lenses are almost exactly the same length and weight. The teleconverter is fairly small and light at 66x48mm and 330 grams, so there aren’t any issues with handling. Naturally, a small teleconverter is much easier to carry than an extra telephoto lens. On its own, this is one of Nikon’s sharpest-ever lenses, and it has a super-fast autofocus system. Teleconverters are notorious for impacting on these aspects of performance, but the AF-S TC-20E III only degrades sharpness a little and autofocus is still rapid.
Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR
Effective focal length (DX) 120-600mm Aperture range f/4.5-5.6 to f/32-40 Elements/groups 20/12 Autofocus Ring-type ultrasonic VR 4 stops Minimum focus distance 1.75m AF, 1.5m MF Diaphragm 9 blades Filter size 77mm Diameter x length 96x203mm Weight 1570g Price £1860/$2300 With its bigger overall zoom range, the 80-400mm lens delivers twice as much native telephoto reach. You can extend this by adding a teleconverter, the AF-S TC-14E III 1.4x, while retaining the availability of autofocus with cameras that have f/8 AF support. The widest available aperture is 1.33 f-stops slower than the 70-200mm lens at the short end of the zoom range, shrinking to two f-stops at the long end. After adding a 2x teleconverter to the 70-200mm, both lenses have a widest aperture of f/5.6 at 400mm. This is an upmarket lens with very good build quality but it doesn’t match the top-grade construction of the 70-200mm. It’s not weather sealed but does feature a rubber seal on the mounting plate to guard against the ingress of dust and moisture. Although it’s specified as having the same length as the 70200mm lens, this one lacks its sibling’s internal zoom mechanism and physically extends as you sweep through the zoom range from 80mm to 400mm. Even so, the amount of extension is modest. Autofocus speed is as fast as in the 70-200mm with a teleconverter attached, but not quite as quick as when using the 70-200mm lens on its own. Similarly, sharpness from the two lenses is almost exactly the same once a teleconverter is added to the 70-200mm.