Extending the E510 – 800mm reach hand held – wow!

Written by Gary on August 22nd, 2008

I dropped into my local shop today to help me solve a little dilemma.

Will the much touted new Olympus EC-20 2x teleconverter work well with my Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens, or will the image suffer or the AF take too long to work, and could I use it hand held at 800mm at ISO 400 in the shade?

Well, much to my and the salesman’s surprise, when I tried it out in the store and manage to rapidly focus it with AF on a man INSIDE a passing tram and take a reasonable image (although a little blurred on zooming in) of him at 1/50th sec at 800mm hand held, I knew this was going to be one brilliant combination and couldn’t resist it – so I bought it…. just don’t tell my wife!

Firstly, what would be reasonable shutter speeds to use at 800mm reach (ie. 200mm setting on the lens)?

I discovered that although I could take reasonable images at 1/50th sec very carefully hand held at 800mm with IS on, this was pushing the capability just a bit too much and much sharper results were attainable at 1/100th sec, but to be safe I decided to opt for Shutter speed priority exposure mode (the S on the exposure dial), and use 1/200th sec all the time at ISO 400.

So there I was in the city on a cold Winter’s day in fairly heavy overcast, sitting on a bench thinking, now what can I test this unique outfit on?

My shoelaces at 800mm focal length

If you havent guessed, these are the shoelaces I was wearing on my old sports shoes taken at about the 1.2m closest focus distance hand held & rather casually hand held at that!

Given the heavy shade I was in, the camera took this at wide open aperture (f/3.5) which makes it f/7 with the 2x teleconverter and 1/200th sec, ISO 400. As you can see the depth of field is extremely shallow – but that is 1:1 macro or near enough at about 1.2m focus distance and 800mm equivalent focal length reach. This image is not a crop, just resized for the web.

So off I went for a walk, and tried a few different style shots…

see here for these photos with comments on the bottom.

This is a really fun lens, although a bit big especially with the lens hood on (so I took it off walking in the city to avoid scaring people!).

Even into the light without a lens hood, flare was well controlled, image sharp, beautiful background bokeh and this can get you shots not possible before by allowing you to get closer images or to compress perspective to the extreme.

S-AF worked very fast and C-AF worked well once AF had been attained and you kept the subject on the AF point. C-AF does take a while to do the initial lock though, especially if you have changed focus distance considerably, eg. from a close up focus to a distance focus.

I am sure this will work admirably for surfing and wildlife and relatively stationery birds (birds in flight would really need the Olympus E3 body for a better reliability at capturing them).

BUT the important take away point is that this combination provides an extremely usable, portable, relatively light kit with still very good image quality at 800mm reach even in the shade.

What other camera lens combinations could achieve this super telephoto reach at effective aperture wider than f/8 so AF still works and under 3kg?

Olympus with Olympus ZD 70-300mm lens + EC-14 1.4x teleconverter = 840mm reach at f/8 but lower image quality.

Olympus with Olympus ZD 300mm f/2.8 + EC-14 = 840mm reach at f/4 but VERY expensive and big.

Canon APS-C dSLR (eg. 40D) + 300mm f/4L IS + 2x TC = 960mm reach at f/8 but that’s a bigger lens, white and Canon 2x TC’s image quality is not as good.

Canon APS-C dSLR (eg. 40D) + 400mm f/5.6L + 1.4x TC = 900mm reach at f/8 but that’s a bigger lens and no IS.

Canon APS-C dSLR (eg. 40D) + 400mm f/4L IS DO+ 1.4x TC = 900mm reach at f/5.6 but that’s a very expensive lens with DO aberrations.

Canon 1DMIII (1.3x crop) + 400mm f/5.6L + 1.4x TC = 728mm reach at f/8 but that’s a bigger lens and body and no IS, although you can increase ISO by 1-2 stops and you get 10fps.

Nikon DX camera + 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 + 1.4x TC = 840mm reach at f/8 but lower image quality and no IS.

Nikon DX camera + 300mm f/4 + 2x TC = 900mm reach at f/8 but lower image quality and no IS.

On a full frame dSLR, you would need a 400mm f/4 with 2x TC or a 800mm f/5.6 and these lenses are very big, heavy, and expensive.

This is one of the advantages of the Four Thirds system – telephoto reach with portability, and again highlights that sensor image quality is not the PRIME reason to buy into a camera system.

If it were, we would all be taking 8″ x 10″ film cameras to take social shots at parties – a ridiculous notion!


2 Comments so far ↓

  1. Geir says:

    I would need this for three kinds of images: Birds here in Norway, soccer and mammals on the African savanna, all situations were light should be satisfactory.
    Would it work with my “vintate” 50-200? If you say yes, there are sellers out there who’ll be happy today.

  2. admin says:

    I can’t see why it wouldn’t be as good after all I’m using the E510 and not the E3 so the SWD shouldn’t be adding that much to my experience. Well I don’t think so anyway.

    If you have a 50-200mm, SWD or not, I would recommend getting the 2xTC, you will find lots of uses for it and it is said to be the best 2x TC out there.