Use A Teleconverter Or Crop The Image?

Think fast!

You’re out searching for wildlife – your camera in hand – when you spot some critter you’ve always wanted to bag off in the distance. Sadly, you know that your lens is just not going to be quite long enough to get the shot you want on its own.

So, here’s the question – what’s going to give you the best-looking photo, slapping on a teleconverter or just cropping the non-teleconverter image to the same size back home on your computer?

Well, that’s a good question and one that comes up on a regular basis, both on internet forums and in the minds of photographers faced with the situation in the field.

The image below, I choose to crop instead of using a teleconverter. Was it a mistake? We’ll answer that at the end of the article 🙂

reddish-egret-hunting

So, which way gives better results? Well, I decided to do a few tests that will (hopefully) put that question to bed.

For this test, I used the Nikon 300PF attached to a Nikon D810, D5, and D500. I choose the 300PF because it takes a teleconverter very well and I think it’s typical of what we would see with most quality lenses and 1.4 TCs. 

Since the cropped shots are lower resolution, I had to downsize the teleconverter shots so we could compare. Also, note that I cropped to the same size as the teleconverter – a 1.4X crop, not the 1.5X DX or 1.6X APS-C crop. I currently only use the 1.4 TC, so I can’t compare other TCs.

Also, be sure to click the images below for a full-size version (they will open in a new tab). NOTE – when the image opens in a new tab, you may have to click it one more time for the full-size image.

Here’s the overall test scene:

overall-target

The results are as follows:

First, we have the D5. As you can see, the teleconverter shot has a lot more detail so a TC is definitely the way to go here.

tc-examples-cropvtc-d5

Next we have the D810. In this case, it’s a bit closer, thanks in part I think to the lack of an AA filter on the sensor:

tc-examples-cropvtc-d810

Finally, we have the D500, which is a crop camera to begin with. As you can see, similar results to what we saw with the D810.

tc-examples-cropvtc-d500-copy
So, at least ostensibly, the bottom line here looks pretty simple when it comes to optical quality. When faced with a scenario where you have the choice of using a teleconverter or cropping, it would seem that your are generally better off using the teleconverter. In each and every test above, the overall amount of detail captured was greater with the teleconverter attached than not (to varying degrees). And in my experience this tends to hold true when dealing with good optics and teleconverters.

The grizzly shot below was with my 600mm and 1.4 teleconverter on a D4. I am very happy with the level of detail.

meadow-lookout

However…

Keep in mind that not all combinations are necessarily going to behave this way. There are a ton of variables at play here and there’s really no way to account for every one of them.

For instance, the 300PF is perfectly happy with a teleconverter strapped on, but not all lenses swing that way. Some lenses are better at taking a teleconverter; others see quality diminished to such an extent that cropping can actually be the better option. (My 200-400 was like that, it never liked my 1.4TC, although others have reported better results with that combo).

Another variable is the teleconverter itself. I’m using the Nikon 1.4TC III – one of the best teleconverters on the market. So, using a lesser optic may tighten the gap.

So, this isn’t as cut and dry as we’d like it to be.

However, I can give you this guideline. Over the years, I’ve found that big glass like the 200 F2, 300 2.8, 400 2.8, 500 F4, 600F4, etc can all take a teleconverter without too much complaining, especially those TCs of the 1.4 variety. When using those lenses, I generally tend to favor using the TC instead of cropping.

The image below was captured with the 300 PF and 1.4TC E III. Sharp as you’d ever want.

ghost-crab

Zoom lenses, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. Some of them (like the 200-500) don’t seem to mind a 1.4TC coming along for the ride; other lenses don’t tolerate the TC it nearly as well. This is especially true when you mate a 3rd party converter with a slow F5.6 zoom. (There’s a reason Nikon and Canon TCs only work with certain lenses.)

So, in the end, I recommend testing your own combinations (and make sure to AF fine tune your lens and TC combos – they always seem to need it – I use LensAlign)

Of course, that said, other limitations come into play when using a teleconverter that you really need to consider.

1. You lose your ISO advantage

The first and most obvious issue with a teleconverter is that it costs you anywhere from 1 -2 stops in ISO (1 stop in the case of a 1.4TC, 2 stops in the case of a 2X). So, it’s a penalty that you’ll need to consider, especially if the light is getting low.

If adding a teleconverter would drop your shutter speed too much (and you’re not willing to go higher with ISO), it’s possible you’d be better off just cropping. After all, I’d prefer a cropped image that was sharp to a full frame image that was not.

2. Your AF sensors don’t work as well

Many shooters don’t realize this, but the simple fact is your AF sensors won’t work as well with a teleconverter attached. From an overall standpoint, the more light getting through your lens, the faster and more reliable those AF sensors are across the board. So, an F2.8 lens will have better AF performance than an F4 lens which is better than an F5.6, etc.

Besides, not all of your AF sensors are created equal. In many cameras, when you drop your maximum lens opening to something slower than F4, some or even all of your cross sensors revert to line sensors. This can make it harder to get an AF lock than without the teleconverter attached. Additionally, and again, depending on the camera and what effective F/Stop you end up with, some of your AF sensors may not work reliably at all.

For example, Nikon likes to boast about how their cameras can focus down to F8. However, that’s not for all the AF sensors. In fact, on the D5 / D500, only 15 of the 153 AF sensors support focusing at F8.

So, if you add a teleconverter and find you just can’t get an AF lock, then maybe cropping is the better option. (Hint – if you ever have a tough time getting an AF lock, try switching to the center AF point – it’s always the most sensitive).

For the image below, I left the TC in my pocket. The light was starting to fall and I needed all the shutter speed I could get. In addition, trying to catch these guys as they pop out of the water requres everything you can milk from your AF system. So, I decided that cropping would be a better choice than a teleconverter this time:

tern-catchign-a-fish

3. Your images will have lower contrast

Finally, using a teleconverter will tend to lower the contrast in your images when compared to images taken without one. However, it goes deeper than just the final image. This reduced contrast can also affect your autofocus since your camera uses areas of contrast to achieve focus. I also find teleconverters seem to make the lens more sensitive to things like heat and atmospheric distortion than when I use just the naked lens.

So, there you go. Not completely cut and dry however I can tell you what I do. As I hinted above, if I’m in a situation that comes down to a cropping or using a teleconverter, the vast majority of the time I’ll put on the teleconverter – with one exception. If I’m shooting full frame and happen to have my D500 (or another similar crop body) with me, I’ll switch to that instead. It will give me better overall image quality assuming the full frame camera is close in resolution – and I don’t have any of the teleconverter downsides mentioned above.

In fact, I did a video that examines the question of whether you’re better off using a full frame camera with a teleconverter or a crop camera. Check it out at the link below:

Comparison Test – A Crop Camera vs A 1.4x Teleconverter On Full Frame

One final thought.

I find that many people like to think of a teleconverter as a way to pull really distant subjects into view – and then crop them heavily later on in post.

However, that tends to lead to disappointment since the lens with the teleconverter isn’t as sharp as the lens without the TC attached. Plus, when you have an animal at the kind of distance that requires both a teleconverter and a heavy crop, the air itself can start to soften your image (heat haze, atmospheric distortion etc).

For me, I like to think of a teleconverter as a way to tighten up a crop on an animal that’s already in decent range. I’m usually the happiest with the teleconverter shots if using the teleconverter makes it so I no longer need to crop at all, or if I do need to crop it’s minimal. I’m never happy with a teleconverter shot that also requires a heavy crop. The image below is one of the favorites on this site and was taken with a teleconverter to help him fill the frame a little more:

cub-in-a-tree

Oh, and what about that Reddish Egret at the beginning of this article? Was it a mistake to crop instead of using a teleconverter (since the TC image would have had more detail)? I don’t think so. I had low light with rain falling and the egret was dashing all over the place. So, I needed both shutter speed and AF speed. In the end, there’s never an easy answer – you have to keep a variety of techniques in mind and use what works best for the scene at hand.

So, there you have it. If you enjoyed this article, I think you’ll REALLY like my e-books, Secrets To Stunning Wildlife Photography and Secrets To The Nikon Autofocus System. They’re filled with hundreds of pages of information just like this. Check it out – click here (hey, it’s free to look 🙂 )

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This entry was posted in Techniques, Using Your Gear, Wildlife.

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40 Comments on "Use A Teleconverter Or Crop The Image?"

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Tom Rose
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I cannot believe it. Good sense, rationality and balance …. on an Internet seemingly full of nothing but semi-religious fanboys, equipment geeks and pixel peepers

Josh Feuerstein
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I have a D850 And a 200-500mm Nikkor lens…I am curious if you have thoughts on using a TC or switching the D850 to DX mode and shooting

martin
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Hi Steve, firstly i would like to say a very comprehensive and entertaining article. Taking into consideration that a 400mm f2.8 (for example) on an 1.5x crop sensor would have an effective FOV as a 600mm lens but would also have an effective aperture of f4 with an ISO degradation of approx 1 stop (or conversely 1 stop slower Shutter time) it would make it almost the same settings as the FF sensor with a TC. Now to the question that has been bugging me and i cannot find an answer to anywhere: Does adding a TC actually increase the… Read more »
Ghost Mannequin
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very effective post for photographer ……………..Thanks Richard. Hope u will share more post on this blog

photo retouching
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Thanks Richard. Hope you will share more post.

adroitclipping
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I think the photographer is a wildlife lover, for this reason he can take the nice shoot of this pictures. It’s beautiful photo photo for wildlife and nature.

Solaiman Sumon
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Just beautiful to see this post and informative also feeling glad after seeing your nice posting . Keep continue sharing such post . You are well-done for sharing . Keep up it .

86Christina
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Beyti Barbaros
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(I pressed enter by mistake before I finished my previous comment 🙂 I print big panoramas like 10 feet wide. Will I loose too much detail with 1.7x TC considering I can add contrast and detail to some extent in post processing.

Beyti Barbaros
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Hi Steve, can you answer this: my subjects are giant buildings, not tiny animals. New York City to be specific. I have D810 and 200-500mm. I have no concern of f-stop or ISO concern cause I’ll have it on a tripod and I can use any shutter speed I can with enough light available. I want to use TC for some situations where I take photo from as far as 10 miles. I need to reach as much as I can to have big enough image for my big paniramao

Zahid Anowar
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Mind blowing article. Gather lot of information from your article. Hope it will help me to enrich me. Thanks for sharing the awesome post.

Teddy Navas
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I have to say, Steve has an excellent ability to make the complicated simple and easy to understand. I recently purchased “Secrets To The Nikon Auto Focus System” and it’s the best and most detailed step by step instructional info I have read. I truly enjoy all your work. I would also love to purchase a book / video (Video preferred) on your wildlife editing tips. Your photos have such an amazing vibrancy to them. Even though I’m positive they are excellent captures even before you do any editing!

icps
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Hi Steve Perry. It is an outstanding post.i am also like bird photography.

Sharlin Smith
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Hi Steve Perry. I was reading your post carefully. It is an excellent post. And I must say that your photo collection is very good. Which camera have you used for this?

Choudary
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Steve, just joined the forum and to see you article first,very informative. I normally use a D200 and the D810 with swapping lenses when safe mostly 70-200F2.8, 24-120F4, 18/24-300 lenses.Can you post some ideas on the upcoming solar eclipse. Mahalo.

Photo Retouching
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Stev, Very interesting information you have shared here. really helpful, Thanks

Lisa
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Steve! It is really outstanding! Could you please share a video on this useful article. Thanks in advance!

steven goldstein
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Steve: I’m currently shooting BIF with a D7200. Is there any difference in image quality shooting in DX mode and cropping in post as opposed to shooting in 1.3 crop mode? Thanks.

Michelle Maggio
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Hi Steve, I read your e-book. Thoroughly enjoyed it. I have a Nikon D-750 and several Nikon lens. Nikon 105 Macro, Nikon 18-120, Nikon 12-24, Nikon 24-120. I also have a Sigma 120-400 Zoom. I was looking to buy the Nikon 200-500 zoom. I shoot birds, otters, and wildlife. What are your recommendations for a zoom lens?
Another question what lens of the ones I listed above would you use to take family photos.
I thoroughly enjoy all your videos. Thank you and Merry Christmas.

Stephen Young
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Sorry Steve. The question is for, you not Mike!

Stephen Young
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Hi Mike,
For bird photography do you think an Aps-c body with the nikon 300 f4 plus the 1.4 teleconverter(630m eq) will yield better results than a micro four thirds body with the panasonic/leica 100 to 400(800mm eq) at the long end? If the Aps-c is at F5.6 with the tc attached and the image is cropped from a 24 mp sensor to get the same size as the micro four thirds camera(16 mp) at 800mm do you think the end result would be comparable? Apologies if it seems like a daft comparison

Eric Bowles
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Good article, Steve. My experience is very similar to your reported results. Teleconverters do vary. When I tested the Nikon TC14E II and III on my 600 f/4 AFS VR with the D800E, I found it was not edge sharpness that made the difference but micro contrast. Tonal differences such as variations on a leaf or blade of grass were easier to see with the TC 14E III than the II. I’ve also found that my preference is for the clean backgrounds and shallow DOF of FX images over DX images until I get to the point where I really… Read more »
Warren Disbrow
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Interesting article and conclusions. I’ve found photography is always about some sort of compromise and the area of TC’s is always a subject of debate. It also seems that every new generation of camera gear changes the playing field. I love the shots that you used in your article and video, will be buying your e-book shortly!

Hank
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Also being 70, and more importantly wanting to enjoy the safari experience rather than blow everyone away with my astoundingly good photography, I took a D7200 (1.5 crop sensor) with just one lens, 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 on African safari. I rarely missed having a longer lens (there were those mouth shots of far off yawning hippos which I had to crop), but I wouldn’t want to swap lenses in that dusty environment anyway. You will get as close as 30 ft from the big cats; farther from the multi ton herbivores, but then they are that much bigger! From the “Jeep”… Read more »
Dan Brown
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I am going to Africa and will be shooting from a “jeep” type vehicle most of the time. At 72, I cannot hand hold my 500 f4 anymore. Will my 80-400 with and without a 1.4 be acceptable ? The jeep and other photographers will not allow me to use a tripod. I am planning on bringing a Nikon 70-200 f2.8 also.
I will be using a Nikon D800 and D7000. Also, should I use my wife’s D7100 instead of my D7000?

Mark
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Hi Steve,

Thank you so much for the article. It helps a lot! just a one more question, if you don’t mind, have you tried to combine the TC 1.4 III with a 200 ~ 500 mm lens on your D500? what will the results be in terms of sharpness and AF sensitivity?

steve williams
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hi steve great article ,has got me thinking of buying a nikon 200-400 mm f4 zoom ,i already have the 200-500 zoom but as its a f 5.6 i think the f4 would be better glass ,sorry forgot to say I’m using the nikon d500 any thought would be a good help
regards steve

Mike G
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Thanks for a great article. Plain English, cut to the chase explanation of a very confusing subject, at least to me. Your article was just in time for me. I am embarking on a trip where I will be able to take very limited gear, and have been agonizing if I should take my 80-400 nikon and bring a teleconverter or just bring my Tamron 150-600. My 2 bodies are a Nikon D5200 and a D7200. Both of those will come with me as well as my 28-300. After posting questions on a couple of photography forums, I made the… Read more »
James Bianco
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I have a nikon D 5200 I shoot with all vintage lenses some nikon and some minolta,sologar,.takamar and so on.I have a few tele conv. also 3xand 2x vivitar and minolta. what can you tell me about these types of setups.I wish you could write some articles on vintage lenses all types, and all makes you are always talking about high end equiptment. I can’t afford that.I shoot all manual and and those vintage lenses aren;t to bad at all.I am not complaining I just want to know your take on this, thanks James Bianco

Richard Cohen
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Steve, as always, another really excellent article..explained in detail, yet in a way that any photographer at any skill level can relate to. Thanks!