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In February 2009 I decided to improve the range of the telephoto lenses for my Olympus E-510 DSLR. This page documents the first stages of this search. The next stage is described in a separate page.

Summary

The results of this comparison show that neither my old 300 mm lens and teleconverters nor the supplementary lens offer any advantages over the standard Olympus telephoto lens. The supplementary lens, in particular, is a complete waste of time and money: it produces results that are much worse than when it's not used. The Olympus EC-20 teleconverter works, but it's not clear to me yet that it works well enough to justify its price. I can get similar results by cropping during postprocessing.

The requirements

The real issue was the bird bath in the garden; we often get various interesting birds in it, but my longest lens is a Olympus 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 telephoto. I needed something longer, and to make it worthwhile it should be at least 800mm. At that length, there are a few options:

  1. A real telephoto lens with autofocus and automatic exposure. There's only one, the Sigma EX DG HSM APO 300-800 mm f/5.6 , and B&H offer it for $7,199—way out of my price range.
  2. A cheap telephoto lens with manual focus and manual exposure, such as the Samyang 650-1300 mm lens I have seen around. Apart from the obvious problems of manual focus on a modern DSLR, which isn't really designed to help, this thing has no diaphragm, so you can't even stop down for more depth of field. It's claimed to be “f/8-16”, but that's dependent only on the focal length. The price is OK, but the reviews I read of it were horrible.

  3. Use a teleconverter with my existing lens. That sounds like a good idea, but Olympus teleconverters are very expensive, and the strongest one is only 2x, so I wouldn't get beyond 600 mm. It would also drop the maximum aperture by 2 stops.

  4. Use a screw-on supplementary lens, which fits on the filter thread of the lens. This maintains automatic focus and exposure, and doesn't alter the maximum aperture. They're cheap, but I've read bad reports about them too, though not as bad as the Samyang lens.

  5. Stick to what I have now, using a Hanimex Pentax thread 300 mm f/5.5 lens with 2x and 3x teleconverters, which even gets me as far as 1800mm f/33. This one has the great advantage that it costs me nothing, but the disadvantages of alternatives 2 and 3, and also the disadvantage I've already noted that the photo quality is worse than “digital zoom”, just using the Olympus lens at 300 mm and cropping.

I decided that the only reasonable alternative at the moment was alternative 4, and found a suitable-looking lens for $129 on eBay from onlinedigitalshop. Send a message stating what I want to use it with, and received a reply telling me it should be fine, so bought one. I'm still not sure that was the correct thing to do, but we'll see. It, too, can be returned, limiting my exposure to about $30.

The supplementary lens

The supplementary lens was a disaster! I've never seen anything so bad. I'll go into better comparisons below, but a friend summed up my first impressions: “It looks like the photo was taken through the bottom of a coke bottle”:


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The comparison

On 25 February 2009 I also received the loan of an Olympus EC-20 teleconverter, and did a reasonable comparison of the various options at my disposal:

300 mm

There are a number of different ways to get a focal length of 300 mm. Using the Olympus zoom by itself should give the best results, but I can also use the Hanimex, the Olympus with the supplementary tele or the Olympus with the EC-20. Here they are at different apertures. The combination with the EC-20 doesn't supply f/5.6—the widest aperture is f/11—so I've put that one last. There are two rows of photos for each aperture: first, the full frame, and secondly a detail. Note the severe vignetting from the supplementary lens at all apertures

300 mm, f/5.6


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300 mm, f/11


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300 mm, f/22


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It's interesting to note the colour difference of the Hanimex. Also, it appears that the supplementary telephoto doesn't quite deliver on its promise of 3x magnification. But that's dwarfed by the appalling quality.

600mm

I didn't use the supplementary lens at this focal length; we'll see it again at 900 mm. Here we have the Hanimex with 2x converter, the Olympus at 300 mm with the EC-20, and the Olympus at 300 mm cropped to size (“digital zoom”).

600 mm, f/11


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600 mm, f/22


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600 mm, f/45


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900mm

Now we're down to the Hanimex and the supplementary lens. This is the one place where the supplementary lens has an advantage: it's the only combination to offer f/5.6 at this focal length. But at what a price! Here the Hanimex with 3x teleconverter and the Olympus with the supplementary lens. The apertures are all over the place here, of course; I should have taken photos with matching real apertures. Each image is first full frame, then detail.

900 mm, f/5.6 with supplementary


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900 mm, f/11 with supplementary


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Somehow this combination of focal length and lens confused the exposure system of the camera. I took additional photos with corrected exposure at f/22, but not here.

900 mm, f/16 with Hanimex and 3x teleconverter


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900 mm, f/22 with supplementary


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This photo was taken with fully 2 EV less exposure than the camera calculated. I don't understand this: the photos I took yesterday didn't show this problem.

900 mm, f/33 with Hanimex and 3x teleconverter


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900 mm, f/66 with Hanimex and 3x teleconverter


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1800 mm

At this focal length, there's only one contender left: the Hanimex with 2x and 3x teleconverters. The exposure seems to be a little on the low side, but could easily be corrected.

1800 mm, f/33


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1800 mm, f/66


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1800 mm, f/132


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Alternatives

Of course, longer lenses aren't the only way to get bigger pictures; digital processing, either in the camera (“digital zoom”) or afterwards, can achieve the same effect. The picture quality suffers, but so it does with these el-cheapo lenses. Here's an example of the detail at “900 mm”, taken from left to right with the Olympus with the supplementary lens, with the Hanimex and 3x teleconverter, with the Olympus lens by itself at 300 mm and enlarged during postprocessing, and with the Olympus lens and the EC-20 and enlarged during postprocessing. It's clear that this shows a continuous improvement. In other words, the supplementary lens is worse than useless, since the results are worse than if I don't use it. The EC-20, on the other hand, shows some advantages.

The following photos compare to full frames at an effective focal length of about 4500 mm (9000 mm equivalent on a 35 mm camera). Clearly even the good ones are a little fuzzy.

 
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Olympus + supplementary
 
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Hanimex x 3
 
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Olympus 300, enlarged
 
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Olympus 300 x 2, enlarged

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