A Look at the MC-20 Teleconverter
Disclosure: I am an Olympus Visionary and as such, receive compensation from Olympus America. However, no compensation was paid for this review. I endorse their products because I truly believe in the quality of their gear.
As a person who loves photographing wildlife, one of the most important tools in my bag is my super-telephoto lens - the M.Zuiko 300mm f/4 PRO. This gives me an equivalent focal length of 600mm when compared to full frame. For many situations that can be ample reach. But there are certainly times where you want to extend that reach and really pull in your subject. That's when a good teleconverter can come in handy. Until recently there was only one option from Olympus, the MC-14, a 1.4x converter that would bring the focal length to 420mm. Over the past couple of years I have used that teleconverter countless times to extend my reach and have been very happy with it. But even with that, there are times when I want my "go go gadget arm" to reach even farther. Enter the new MC-20 2x teleconverter.
Let's start by clearly stating that this is not a review. This is me, extolling my love for what this teleconverter has allowed me to capture - images that wouldn't be nearly as impressive with just the 300mm lens on its own, or even with the 1.4x teleconverter attached. The MC-20 works with two of the lenses in the OMD PRO line-up of lenses, the 300mm f/4 and the 40-150 f/2.8. Within this write-up I am only focussing on how it works with the 300mm lens - my goto wildlife lens. There are a few details however to get out of the way for people who want to read some numbers;
Now, does the MC-20 really make a difference in the reach of the 300mm f/4? You bet! Perhaps the best way to show the difference is to photograph the moon, an object that all of us are familiar with and most have photographed at least once.
I get the concept of enlarging something to twice its size, but to actually see it is something else entirely. The difference between photographing the moon with just the 300mm f/4 and then with the MC-20 attached is remarkable. Perhaps a more down-to-earth example (see what I did there) would be to show the difference when actually photographing wildlife. Recently I was in Olympic National Park and came across some marmots. They were cooperative enough that I had time to swap out the teleconverters and take a few shots with each.
For these three images I remained in the same position and just exchanged teleconverters. Again, the difference in reach is quite remarkable. From a compositional standpoint I wasn't happy with any of these shots, so I stuck around awhile and thankfully this little guy decided to strike a more interesting pose.
My biggest concern in using the MC-20 was the loss of two stops of light, thereby slowing the lens down to f/8. In the end it wasn't really a concern at all. Typically I am not shooting wildlife in low-light conditions and given the compression of the lens I'm still getting a good, defocused background. The image of the monarch butterfly below helps to illustrate both points. Even during a heavily overcast day I was able to capture a sharp image with a fast enough shutter speed and some great bokeh.
One thing I really wanted to test was how well the image stabilization would work given that a longer focal length would amplify any camera shake. Olympus developed incredible in-body image stabilization within their OMD line-up and also included some great IS within some of their lenses that works in sync with the IBIS. I've definitely put the image stabilization to the test. The images below were all shot from my canoe, not the most stable platform from which to shoot.
Final Words and Photos
I decided to write this article because I am truly impressed with the MC-20 teleconverter. It's small, light, and built to the same rugged standards as all of the Olympus PRO lenses. More importantly it performs incredibly well, giving sharp results under a variety of conditions. It performs so well that I leave it on my 300mm f/4 and only take it off when I don't need that extra reach.
For more information about the MC-20 teleconverter check out the Olympus site.
Peter Baumgarten is a professional photographer and educator. He is also an Olympus Visionary and NiSi Official Photographer.