I've not been out much in the last two weeks. I've been very busy at work, and the weather and family committments have mostly put-paid to any time in the field, with a camera or otherwise. I managed to sneak about an hour and a half this morning, and decided that I'd try out my 2x teleconverter. My 1.4x converter is almost permanently bolted to my 500mm lens - I work at 700mm f5.6 more often than not - just a quick browse through the images in the gallery is proof. But I rarely, if ever, use the 2x converter. I carry it round with me each time I go out, heck, the thing even cost me nearly £400, yet it hardly ever gets a look in.
Why? Well I've never really been happy with the resulting quality. Plenty of people are though, and can get results that I would put into the "fantastic" bucket. I am sure that, as always, the limiting factor is me and not the equipment, so off I went for another attempt. The weather wasn't wonderful - bright sunshine, plenty of haze, and a stiff breeze which played havoc with the monopod. A tripod would have been sensible, but on the patch, the monopod is the way I shoot. If the 2x can't fit in with my plans, then it isn't coming out and that's that.
I was determined to give it a go, even with subjects where I could easily have taken it off and work with the native 500mm, which I know is simply superb. So 1000mm at f8, and to compensate for f8 and the slow shutter speeds I would likely get, ISO 800 - my normal working is ISO is 400. First up, a Pigeon. Only the centre point is active at f8 - another thing to learn to work around. In vertical composition I would normally select a point about 2 up - this wasn't available. Here's the result, at 1/1600s. I think it's just about OK.
Granted Pigeons aren't the most exciting of birds, but as a photographer I don't care, I'll take photos of anything. I couldn't find any Skylarks or Meadow Pipits that would cooperate, they were all miles out into the grassland. A shame, as part of the reason I wanted to try out 1000mm was to see if it could be reliable on small birds where you're always starved of focal length. OK so I could have got more on them than with 700mm, but beyond a certain range there is just no point. Perhaps this is why I've never been happy with the 2x before now, I've always been trying to get something far too distant that bit closer, and it's still just messy pixels no matter how much length you have. There is no substitute for being as close as you can. So next stop Alexandra Lake, which was very nearly devoid of life! A few Coots, a Moorhen, and some scruffy Mallards. Nevermind, we'll work with what we've got!
Don't you just love Coots?! This one was at 1/1000s at f8, and is sharp enough, but then again I was very close. Clearly the 2x is no slouch optically, you just need to limit when you use it.
Similarly, this Mallard has acceptable sharpness - ignore the massive white blob in the background, I think it's part of a Mute Swan. In previous experiences with the 2x, it's been the sharpness which has been a massive let down - those that know me are probably bored witless by my talk of sharpness, but it's got to be the most important factor. Forget composition, colour, and the rest of it. If the photo isn't sharp, it's trash from the word go.
Of 150 photos taken, I kept only 12. That's low, but the rest of them just weren't there. I had shutter speeds that theoretically were fast enough, but they were either a little soft, or unacceptably so. This is most likely poor long lens technique, combined with a monopod on a windy day, but I've never been one for shooting test charts with everything locked down, as that's not what I'm going to encounter out birding. As well as low sharpness, I also found that the images just didn't pop as much, even with my usual post-processing. The extra glass of the converter appears to cut out depth of colour as well, or at least that's my perception. I still think it's a useful tool, but unless I get a lot better, then I doubt any of my photos at 1000mm are going to find their way into the galleries. I know I can do a good job with 500mm and even with 700mm, but 1000mm is - for now - a step too far.