Head to head

Which is bet­ter, a fast zoom with at­ele­con­verter or a su­per-tele­photo lens?

NPhoto - - Contents -

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.

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