SONY 400MM F2.8 WITH 1.4x AND 2x TELECONVERTERS

In the past few months I have received quite a few emails and messages from photographers who have read my reviews on the Sony gear. I'm glad to see that there are people out there who take the time to really read all the information I write and to go through the images I upload. It is very nice to hear back from you, so I know that there are people who appreciate the time and effort I'm putting into these reviews. I gladly answer questions regarding the gear and also love to hear about your experiences with the gear. One question I keep getting, is how the Sony 400mm f2.8 performs in combination with the 1.4x and the 2x teleconverters. In February I wrote a review on the Sony 400mm f2.8 (read here). In my first experience I run into some trouble with the 1.4x teleconverter. This seems to have raised some concern among you. Luckily, a lot has changed in the mean time and I have had a lot of time to test this setup in the field. Here are my current findings.

Disclaimer: All images on this page are 1920 pixels broad and 1080 pixels high. The 100% cropped images are cropped down to 1920 pixels broad. If you try to view these images full size on a 4k or 5k screen, the sharpness of the images will be reduced.

The "problem"

Just to fill you in on the problem I run into with the Sony 400mm f2.8 and the Sony 1.4x teleconverter in the start of this year. I wrote:

"In combination with the 1.4x teleconverter the auto focus still nailed every single image. I didn’t notice any difference with or without the converter. On the camera display the images also looked sharp. Once I opened the images on the big screen at home, I could notice a difference in sharpness and a slight loss of contrast. The images shot with the converter definitely need more sharpening. To be honest, I’m slightly disappointed with the converter. I didn’t expect this loss in sharpness, since the Canon converters do not have this loss of sharpness with their mkIII 1.4x teleconverter."

After spending some more time in the folders of images from January and February, I learned that my conclusion was not completely right. I had assumed that the autofocus nailed every image and that the images looked soft, even though the focus was right. But in fact, there are images in those folders which are crispy sharp and are taken with the Sony 400mm f2.8 in combination with the Sony 1.4x teleconverter. The problem seems to be that the focus was just slightly off for the images which turned out soft. The images where the focus was correct, are crispy sharp. Find below one of those images.

Sony a9, Sony 400mm f2.8, Sony 1.4x teleconverter @ 560mm, f4, ISO 500, 1/1600s

On the left the full size image and on the right the 100% crop of that same image.

What exactly caused the focus to be slightly off, is not clear to me. When I used the converter, I did receive an error at some point. I think some snow came on the contact points of the converter which messed with the camera. This could have been the cause for the focus to be slightly off. But I can't tell for sure.

The 1.4x teleconverter

As I said before, some things have changed in the mean time. In March I sadly drowned my Sony a9 in the sea and needed to get a new one. Also the firmware has been updated in the mean time, which increased the autofocus performance of the a9. During the summer I didn't need the converters, but now in the autumn I did use them. In my previous post, I wrote a review on the Sony 600mm f4 (read here) where I used a lot of time to test how this lens performed in combination with the teleconverters. My finders were incredibly positive and actually surprised me a bit. I still had my experience from the winter season in my mind, where I was not that keen on the results. The new results motivated me to start using the teleconverters again on the 400mm f2.8. And luckily, the results are a lot better than from my first experience.

Top two images: Sony a9, Sony 400mm f2.8, @ 400mm, f2.8, ISO 640, 1/1600s

Bottom two images: Sony a9, Sony 400mm f2.8, Sony 1.4x teleconverter @ 560mm, f4, ISO 800, 1/1250s

On the left the full size images and on the right the 100% cropped images.

As you can see from the images above, the Sony 400mm f2.8 in combination with the 1.4x teleconverter is capable of producing sharp images. I will be completely honest with you here. Not all images turned out crispy sharp in that situation. I took 12 images of the young musk-ox bull standing in that position in the vegetation. One of these images was slightly soft. For me this is very acceptable. This is a better performance than I had with my Canon gear without teleconverters. In bursts of images, there were always unsharp ones. But this particular situation with the your musk-ox bull was a rather easy situation for the camera. The light was perfect, the subject wasn't moving and it was standing relatively close by.

A few weeks later I photographed a herd of wild reindeer on a longer distance and had to use the 1.4x teleconverter. Also here I managed to get sharp images. I didn't have much time to photograph the reindeer, since some other photographers spooked them away by walking clear in the open with the wind in the back straight at the herd. From the images I managed to take, about 1/8 looked soft. This could be due to the focus hitting the vegetation in front of the reindeer, since they were standing at about 200 meter distance. But I have the impression that the focus was more accurate when the subjects were closer. Without the converter I have never noticed this.

Sony a9, Sony 400mm f2.8, Sony 1.4x teleconverter @ 560mm, f4, ISO 640, 1/1250s

On the left the full size image and on the right the 100% crop of that same image.

To see how the autofocus tracking performed with the 1.4x converter, I slapped on the 1.4x converter when I finally had some action in front of the camera and fired away.

Sony a9, Sony 400mm f2.8, Sony 1.4x teleconverter @ 560mm, f4, ISO 500, 1/3200s

On the left the full size images and on the right the 100% cropped images.

As you can see, the autofocus didn't have any trouble here to keep the focus on the head of the charging bull. I used the AF tracking so that I could concentrate on framing the image, rather than on keeping the focus point on the animal. When I opened the images on my laptop with 4k screen, the images looked sharp. Once I opened the files on the big screen at home, I could zoom further in and noticed that the images are not as sharp as the images I took a few weeks earlier. This might not be due to the lens or converter. I took these images while laying down in the snow, pressing my gear in the snow in order to get a low enough angle on the animals. Due to the sun there was now and then some slight heat shiver in the air. In those conditions you should try to avoid to have the camera close to the ground. An higher perspective will result in sharper images. Since a sharp image but with a bad perspective is useless to me, I still went for the low perspective. Never the less, these images turned out well. They are not as sharp as the ones I got a few weeks earlier with the perfect light, but these images are very usable. I would sharpen them a bit extra before printing, but for using them on the web these are fine. Or would you disagree?

The 2x teleconverter

The following day I also tested the Sony 2x teleconverter on the Sony 400mm f2.8. Here I do notice a bigger difference. About 1 out of the 5 images is soft due to that the autofocus slightly misses. The images which are in focus, are less sharp than the images without a teleconverter and also less sharp than with the 1.4x teleconverter. But you can definitely still work with the files. I would not use them for printing, but for the social media will do fine. Just to be clear, a few years back I had the same results with my Canon gear. So this outcome doesn't shock me. I never have been keen on 2x teleconverters. Find below a selection of images taken with the Sony 400mm f2.8 and 2x teleconverter.

Sony a9, Sony 400mm f2.8, Sony 2x teleconverter @ 800mm, f5.6, ISO 640, 1/1000s

On the left the full size images and on the right the 100% cropped images.

Conclusion

It seems like I had some trouble with the gear in the start of the year, which resulted in soft images. However, the images where the focus was correct, are crispy sharp. Now with an other Sony a9 body and the latest firmware updates, the Sony 400mm with Sony teleconverters performs much better. I can't say what caused the images to be soft in the start of the year. It could have been some snow on the contact points on my converter. This autumn I had much better results. In good light conditions I managed to get razor sharp images. About 1 out of the 12 images turned out soft when using the 1.4x teleconverter on the 400mm f2.8. This is acceptable, since the number of keepers is higher than when I still photographed with my Canon gear. On the longer distance, about 1 out of the 8 images turned out soft. Without teleconverter I have never experienced this. It looks like that the teleconverters influence the autofocus performance slightly when the subject is further away. In average, I would say that the images with the 1.4x teleconverter on the 400mm f2.8 are less crispy as without converter. I had better results when using the Sony 1.4x teleconverter on the Sony 600mm f4 lens. I don't know how that is possible, because the Sony 400mm f2.8 by itself always results in absolutely crispy images. In theory this should mean that the teleconverters should result in similar quality images when used on the two lenses. The 2x teleconverter on the 400mm f2.8 resulted in softer images and the focus slightly missed about 1 out of the 5 images. The images which are in focus, can still be used but need more attention in post-processing.

If you have any different experiences than me or have something to add on this topic, please feel free to get in contact with me.

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