Tag Archives: telephoto lenses

Pushing the envelope

Testing the Olympus 100-400mm with a teleconverter

The Olympus 100-400mm f/5.0-6.3 lens is a surprisingly good performer, especially considering its sub-$1500 price point. It’s not a lens that I’d even consider using with a teleconverter, because you lose quite a bit of light in that scenario. Nevertheless, I figured I’d try it out when I was in San Diego last week leading my birds in flight photo workshop.

I put the Olympus MC-14 1.4x teleconverter on the 100-400mm and happened to encounter a song sparrow at relatively close range. So I gave it a shot. At these extreme magnifications, the lack of a good optical image stabilizer was noticeable (IBIS gives better results with this lens), but I kept the shutter speed high, and hoped for the best. I surprisingly got a couple of keepers, but autofocus accuracy was reduced somewhat (not unexpected).

song sparrow
Song sparrow at 1122mm effective, f/9.0 ISO 20,000 (click for full-size image).

In the past, I might have tossed these images out… ISOs 20,000? But by using DXO Pure Raw 3 to de-noise the raw files and a little Topaz Photo AI sharpening, the results were quite usable!

Nikon 180-600mm Tests: Wildlife Images

Backyard wildlife images with the Nikon Z9

I got my hands on a Nikon Z9 to do more testing with the Nikon 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR Z Nikkor lens. With the Z9, autofocus is very fast and accurate (much faster than my old Z6). More importantly, animal eye-detection makes focusing on wildlife a breeze. You can get my wildlife and bird photography settings for the Z9 and Z8 cameras here.

I chose to leave these images un-cropped so you could get an idea of the framing. All of these subjects were within 5-10m from me. I shot all of them at 600mm and wide-open at f/6.3. Click any image to enlarge it.

One thing I will say about this combo, the Z9 and the 180-600mm have a combined weight of over 7lbs (3,300g). If you’re not using a monopod, hand-holding this lens will get tiresome after awhile. With a the Nikon Z8, you’re still dealing with a 6.3lb kit. (I certainly noticed it, although I was also at 9000′ (2743m) elevation…

Check availability of the Nikon 180-600mm Z Nikkor lens here (doing so helps support this site)

Least chipmunk (Tamias minimus) having a snack. 1/2500s f/6.3 ISO 640 (auto) @600mm Nikon Z9
Chickadee waiting its turn for the feeder. 1/2500s f/6.3 ISO 4500 (Auto) @600mm Nikon Z9
Up close with the Least chipmunk (probably about 4m away). 1/2500s f/6.3 ISO 800 (Auto) @600mm Nikon Z9

Nikon 180-600mm Z Nikkor first impressions

The lens Nikon wildlife photographers have been waiting for

When Nikon announced the long-awaited 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 Z Nikkor telephoto zoom lens, I immediately placed a pre-order. This lens is the obvious successor to the 200-500mm f/5.6E VR (F-mount) for native Nikon Z mount. While the 200-500mm Nikkor is a tremendous value and excellent lens, the new native Z lens offers some substantial improvements, notably:

  • Internal zoom design with a short zoom ring rotation (70°)
  • 4.3lbs (without collar or hood) vs. over 5lbs for the 200-500mm
  • Fluorine-coated optics
  • 5.5 stops of vibration reduction
  • Excellent zoom range from 180-600mm
Nikon 180-600mm lens in the author's hand
The Nikon 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 lens is quite a handful, but not hard to handle.

While few people would argue that a 4+ pound lens is “lightweight,” it’s certainly easier to hand-hold than the 200-500mm. Zooming while shooting is very easy with a very smooth zoom ring and short rotation distance. With the 200-500mm, I sometimes felt that I was cranking the zoom ring all the way around the lens.

Quick Compare: Nikon 180-600mm vs. Nikon 200-500mm

If there were any features I’d wished were different on this lens, it would be the tripod collar design (removable collar vs. removable foot), and better focus range limiter options. Nikon only offers full range and a 6m-∞ setting. Other companies sometimes include a short-range setting, too. Keep in mind that at 4.3 pounds (1.95kg), hand-holding this lens for prolonged sessions will still get tiring; you may want to use it with a monopod. The 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 Z Nikkor is over a full pound lighter, but also costs about $1000 more.

In my brief testing, focus seems quick and smooth, but I’ll wait to try it on a Z9 body before coming to any conclusions on speed. The lens has a 9-bladed aperture design, which should help with bokeh. There’s no VR switch on the lens; you turn it on and off via your Nikon Z camera body.

I hope to do some real-world testing of this lens very soon, but I think with its price point of under $1700, Nikon has a home-run on their hands with this lens.

Check pricing and availability of the Nikon 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 Z Nikkor lens here.

The Image Doctors #195

Renting camera gear for your next adventure

If there’s been a consistent trend in camera gear of late, it’s that the prices of lenses continue to increase. This is especially true for the big telephoto lenses, many of which use exotic designs and include features like built-in teleconverters. But when a lens costs over $10,000, that’s simply not feasible for the average enthusiast to even consider buying.

This week, we’ll discuss some options for how to acquire these big-ticket items without melting your credit card or mortgaging your home. The used market and rental companies offer some compelling ways to get your hands on expensive gear without the financial pain.

The Sheer Audacity of Size

Putting an 800mm lens in a shoulder bag?

Billingham Hadley Pro camera bag
The Olympus 100-400mm telephoto zoom lens easily fits in the small Hadley Pro bag from Billingham.

A few years ago, I was gifted a Billingham Hadley Pro shoulder bag. It’s a very well-made waterproof bag that is ideal for use as a walkabout bag for smaller kits. It’s dimensions are fairly small: 15 3/8″W x 6 3/8″ D x 9 3/8″ H. This makes the Hadley Pro an easy bag to put under an airplane seat as a personal item when traveling. I’ve taken this bag to places like Croatia and Scotland, where it was perfect for a small travel kit, like a Nikon Z7 ii and two zoom lenses.

However, I never thought I’d use this bag for transporting a super telephoto zoom. That is, until I tested it with my OM Systems OM-1 camera and Olympus 100-400mm f/5.0-6.3 lens, which has an equivalent angle of view to a 200-800mm lens on a 35mm format camera. By removing the lens collar (something I don’t need for hand-held shooting anyway), I was able to easily fit this telephoto zoom into the Hadley Pro bag. The OM-1 with 12-45mm f/4 lens attached fit as well, and I still had yet another empty compartment available to me.

Top view of the Billingham Hadley Pro bag with 100-400mm lens and OM-1 body with 12-45mm f/4 lens attached.

My colleague, Rick Walker, pointed out something else while we were out shooting together. One could theoretically pair the 100-400mm with the outstanding Olympus 12-100mm f/4 zoom and have a two lens kit that covers the entire range from 24-800mm equivalent, in a bag that fits under the seat of an airplane. Mind blown!