Essential Photography: Teleconverters for Wildlife

What are Teleconverters?

A teleconverter is a magnifying lens that fits between the camera body and the effective photography lens. Teleconverters multiply the focal length of the lens giving it essential reach for small wildlife and subjects that are at a considerable distance. For example, a 1.4X teleconverter (also referred to as a tele-extender) multiplies the focal length by 1.4 so a 300mm lens now becomes a 420mm lens. A 2.0X teleconverter would make that same 300mm lens a 600mm. The teleconverter adds a little extra zoom or reach to your lens, without having to crop pixels to get the same effect. Is this awesome or what?

Now The Bad

But there are two fairly significant downsides to using teleconverters. First, using one will come at the cost of overall lens sharpness. The more glass that sits between the imaging sensor and your subject, the less sharpness and resolution you’re going to experience. The 2.0X will be less sharp than the 1.4X (Nikon makes a 1.7X teleconverter, which is a nice compromise).  

A teleconverter can be an essential piece of photography equipment if you shoot small birds on a regular basis. This ringed plover required a 500mm lens plus a 2.0X teleconverter for an effective focal length of 1000mm.

Because the teleconverter extends the lens mount away from the image sensor, it also decreases the amount of light that enters the camera. A 1.4X teleconverter will reduce the maximum aperture of the lens by one full stop while the 2.0X will cost you two stops. So a 300mm f/2.8 lens will become a 420mm f/4 with the 1.4X and a 600mm f/5,6 with the 2.0X. That’s something to consider when you are working in low light environments. You must also consider that not all lenses work with teleconverters and some camera bodies will lose autofocus if your teleconverter pushes your maximum aperture to f/8 and beyond. Check your camera’s manual to be sure. Here are some helpful online guides:

Nikon AF-S Teleconverter Compatibility Chart
Canon Teleconverter Compatibility Guide (scroll down to near the bottom of the page)
Sigma Teleconverter Compatibility Page
Sony 1.4X Teleconverter Compatibility (scroll to bottom)
Sony 2X Teleconverter Compatibility (scroll to bottom)

Where to get yours?

(All links to Amazon)

Canon EF 1.4X Teleconverter
Canon EF 2.0X Teleconverter
Nikon AF-S FX TC-14E III (1.4x) Teleconverter
Nikon AF-S FX TC-17E II (1.7x) Teleconverter
Nikon Auto Focus-S FX TC-20E III (2.0x) Teleconverter
Sony FE 1.4x Teleconverter
Sony FE 2.0x Teleconverter

There is good and bad when it comes to using teleconverters but I believe they are still a vital piece of gear for the serious wildlife photographer. Experience and the specific situation will determine when and when not to use them.

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer is the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.