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.
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!
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.
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.
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.