Telephoto Talk

It is amazing how much environment can influence tool choice. When I lived in a city I rarely used long lenses. Narrow streets and city squares are much more compatible with medium to wide focal lengths. But now that I live in a rural area with more space I find that the need for extra reach occurs with surprising (to me) frequency. Since I have the gear but haven’t really used it much, I thought it might be fun and educational to go out and start getting a feel for what long glass might add to my photography out in this neck of the woods. The exercise led to a few small revelations that will be the topic of today’s post: Telephoto Talk.

Although my “main kit” is mirrorless these days (Sony A7 III mostly), I still have a fairly solid selection of Nikon DSLR gear from the flappy-mirror days that, although large, heavy, and best suited to powered transportation, still works perfectly well. It would be a shame to leave it gathering dust in the dry cabinet (not planning to sell it … too much history). In this case the Nikon kit had the edge for telephoto experimentation because it just happens to include a 1.4x teleconverter that takes my 70-200 F2.8 zoom out to a slightly more telephoto-ish 280mm. The Sony kit stops at 200mm. So off I went with a D800 equipped with said teleconverter and lens, and a nice big heavy tripod (another reason for powered transportation).

Here, among other things, is what happened (disclaimer: not a masterpiece):

Revelation 1

The Nikon TC-14EII is, as reported elsewhere, a nice little teleconverter that causes essentially no noticeable degradation in image quality when used with a good compatible lens. You lose a stop, but that isn’t much of a problem with an F2.8 lens (in this case the AF-S VR-NIKKOR 70-200mm 1:2.8 G). The above photo was shot at 280mm. It won’t win any awards, but it does illustrate a couple of points that need to be kept in mind.

Revelation 2

Atmospheric issues can seriously affect image quality at longer focal lengths. Take a look at the crop, below, taken from between the two cruisers on the left of the image. You can see that details in the cruisers are quite clean, while the railings and columns of the bridge in the background appear “squiggly” due to heat distortion. The flagpole even further back looks like it has been bashed at regular intervals with a large hammer. This won’t always happen, and I wasn’t expecting it to happen to this degree today because it wasn’t exactly hot, but there it is. Something to be aware of.

Revelation 3

Telephoto compression can really throw your sense of depth off, but at the same time it can be a useful tool for composition. The squiggly bridge is actually a long way behind the boats, probably close to a kilometer away, even though it appears to be just behind them. The mountains appear to be much closer than they actually are too, with only the haze and reduced saturation providing cues to their actual distance. I use this effect all the time at shorter focal lengths, but here it is pretty extreme.

Revelation 4

Long lenses like tripods. I tried a few handheld shots with the 70-200 + teleconverter combination, and came up with some surprisingly clean images, but I think a tripod or monopod is pretty much essential equipment. The 70-200 has image stabilization and is quite manageable handheld on its own, but I think the 1.4x teleconverter just nudges it out of the handheld comfort zone.


For slow, thoughtful tripod-mounted work this setup has potential that I will try to take advantage of. The D800 is no slouch either, despite being an “old” model from 2012. But when I need to be mobile the Sony A7 III and much lighter FE 70-200 F4 OSS G are a better choice, even though I’m limited to 200mm at the long end (there is no equivalent teleconverter for this lens). That’s a good start. I’ll work on it some more and see if I can get my telephoto chops up to speed. Today’s takeaway: telephoto lenses really do require special care to use effectively.

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