Closing The Distance

Let me be the first to tell you that if my life depended upon photographing wildlife, I’d be a goner.  Hands empty, I could get close enough to pet the elusive Sasquatch but the moment I raise my camera it’s like some sort of force field activates which drives away all of God’s creatures.  I first learned of my unique…gift… back in the 90’s when I went to Alaska.  Not one single photo of a bird or animal.  I could trek across the spine of Africa and if I had my camera with me I wouldn’t cross paths with a single critter.  I’ve read up on the tactics of great wildlife photographers and tried their advice but it never resulted in what I would call success.  I’ve tried hides, hiding, stealth, bait, and bribes; nothing.  I could understand if I was new to photography or never roamed where wildlife lives but this is 21+ years of failure where conditions were right and equipment should have been at least adequate.

The longest focal length, fast lens I’ve owned was the Nikon ED AF 300mm f/4.  I own longer lenses (500mm and 600mm f/8 Reflex) but under most lighting conditions they require too slow a shutter speed to prevent motion blur, they suffer from ugly bokeh, and the image quality isn’t quite up to snuff.

Enter a recently purchased Minolta MD 300-S 2x Tele-Converter.  This little $50 appendage turns my excellent Minolta MD 200mm f/2.8 into a very useable 400mm f/5.6.  Given that the Sony A7R MkII has sensor-based image stabilization, this makes for a relatively lightweight, hand-holdable setup.

Minolta MD 200mm f/2.8 and Minolta 300-S 2x Tele-Converter

 

Minolta MD 200mm f/2.8 wearing the Minolta 300-S 2x Tele-Converter

 

We have a pretty good spread of woods on our property that is teaming with all sorts of critters.  I’ve tried numerous times to photograph the birds and squirrels that live here but – as you’d expect – I come away with nothing more than boring images of backlit moss and leaves and some bug bites.  Not one to back down from a 21+ year challenge, I armed myself with this new lens combo, and headed into the bush to see if the longer focal length helps in anyway.

Whaaaaatttt!!!??  I got something!

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 200mm f/2.8 + Minolta 300-S 2x Tele-Converter

 

And ANOTHER something!!!  Apparently the distance was comfortable enough between this woodpecker and me that it didn’t sod off the instant I moved in closer to try to get a different angle.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 200mm f/2.8 + Minolta 300-S 2x Tele-Converter

 

Eventually, the woodpecker did get bored and flew away but not before I managed to get some images that had me chimping and high-fiving myself.

A few minutes later, this little guy flew into frame, settling down on the sprigs of a small bush.  I managed to fire off half a dozen images before it finally spit in my general direction and took off.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 200mm f/2.8 + Minolta 300-S 2x Tele-Converter

There seems to be something special about the distance the 400mm focal length affords.  Regarding the actual lens/tele-converter combo, I’m very pleased with it.  Wide-open with 2 stops of light loss (f/2.8 -> f/5.6), I had no problem maintaining a fast enough shutter speed and the image quality doesn’t appear to suffer in any appreciable way.  I’m sure I could pixel-peep at 1600% view and find some niggling difference but that isn’t how I judge whether a lens is good or not.  I will admit that wide-open, this combination does show some chromatic aberrations but nothing that I wasn’t able to correct in Photoshop Camera RAW.  For the grand total of about $300, I’ve now got a pretty decent entry into the wildlife lens category.

I will say that if you’re interested in getting the same setup for yourself, the Minolta MD 200mm f/2.8 can be quite a challenge to find.  Before writing this post, I did a search for any available and came up with only 2 results – one of those being in pretty rough shape.

19 February Update:  Since the original post, I’ve shot a few more images with this lens combination.

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 200mm f/2.8 + Minolta 300-S 2x Tele-Converter

 

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 200mm f/2.8 + Minolta 300-S 2x Tele-Converter

 

Sony A7RmkII w/ Minolta MD 200mm f/2.8 + Minolta 300-S 2x Tele-Converter
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9 thoughts on “Closing The Distance

  1. The 200/f2.8 has been on my list for some time, that teleconverter is a hard one to find. I fall into the category of ‘never enough Minolta Legacy Glass’. Thanks again.

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  2. Very nice shots! I got into digiscoping for a while, a great way to get some good nature shots as well. Of course, anything you post is going to be waaaaay beyond 99% of the rest of the world!! 🙂

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  3. I do see a slight increase in chromatic aberration but no loss in sharpness. F/2.8 setting(effectively f/5.6 light transmission) on the lens is certainly usable but taking it down one stop makes it about perfect. One could spend thousands more for a 400mm f/4 lens but for what I fiddle with, this suits me well. I get sharp, colorful images where my only real sacrifice is a bit slower shutter speed or a nudge in ISO. I don’t see overall image quality suffer from the additional elements.

    Cheers,

    Tom

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