First Impressions of Nikon TC-14E III

It is about fifteen years ago I bought my first teleconverter, a used Nikon TC-14b for my manual focusing Nikkor AIS 300/2,8. Since then I've had the full range of Nikon teleconverters: TC-17E II, TC-20E II, TC-20E III and until a year ago a TC-14E II, which I sold after upgrading to 24MP cameras. The older TC-14E II version has been out since 2001 and finally earlier this year, Nikon decided to update it - likely to match the performance of the new generation telephoto lenses. About a week ago ...after a long wait, I got the new mk. III version - has it been worth waiting for? Yes, this is the first teleconverter I've ever really been happy with and I can use it without worrying about a significant IQ degradation on my Nikkor VR 300/2,8 lens.


What does a Teleconverter do?
Have you ever been out and about with your DSLR and wished that the lens that you had fitted could zoom in just a little more? That extra reach can be handy in many situations, but for most of us a new lens is out of our budget - so what’s a photographer to do? One solution to the problem is to consider getting yourself a TC for your lens. Teleconverters are generally much cheaper than a new lens and can multiply the focal length of your lens by anything from 1.4 times to 2 times.

The benefits of this extra reach are obvious and it extends the effective focal length of whatever lens you use it with. A 1.4x converter will give you an extra 40% - extending my 300mm to a 420mm (Cost - In comparison to the cost of buying a 400mm lens ...a TC is a much more economical way to go). Weight - I don’t know if you’ve seen some of the longer lenses around, but they can be quite huge, I find my 300/2,8 a perfect compromise between weight and speed; the new TC-14 III and my 300mm is great for hauling around in the field. Nikon make three teleconverters for DSLRs - 1.4x, 1,7x and 2x versions - keep in mind that TC's don’t work with all lenses and the new version III only work on exotic Nikkor telephoto G and E/FL lenses!.

Teleconverters vs Cropping
Of course the alternative to using a TC is to take your images with what ever lens you have and then to crop those images later in your post production phase. This is definitely the cheapest option - however in my own testing I’ve seen better results with a TC. You can get away with cropping - but if you want to make really big prints - a converter will be option to consider!.

Teleconverter on FX vs DX format camera?
Nikon makes some fine cameras with APS-C sensors, which uses a smaller sensor than a full-frame camera and therefore you have a 1,5X crop; this is great for photographing wildlife. I've had the Nikon D7100 and really liked the D7100/300mm 2,8 combo, but when I got my D610 FX I really didn't look back. I personally find the image quality of FX cameras to be much better compared with the DX format, because you get better tonal range and pixel-quality at high iso settings. My 300mm had to be stopped down one stop to get optimal results on the D7100, the D610 handles lenses and teleconverters better than the D7100, which is "hard" on lenses, because of the smaller pixels. My experience with an FX camera with the new TC-14E III, I'm convinced that it delivers a higher image compared with a crop camera; as a bonus you'll get a pronounced shallow DOF depth-of-field (better subject isolation with a FX camera).

Autofocus Speed
A consideration with teleconverters is that they slow down the speed at which your camera will focus. This will vary from lens to lens and camera, but is particularly an issue in low light. The Nikon D610 is not the fastest camera around, but the focus speed together with the VR 300/2,8 and VRII 70-200/2,8 is lightning fast and accurate, I don't feel an significant decrease in focus in good light.

Build Quality
This is a professional grade product, which is made for daily use in demanding environments and I can't find any flaws with it. Durable compact metal housing design with weather-resistant lens barrel,  I really like the handling of it and it is easy to use! - it is small and light and has a good wide grip. This TC has a tight fit on my camera and lens, which gives higher image quality, because it reduces shake. The new Fluorine coat is applied to the front and rear surfaces to repel dirt or water droplets, this is a really good thing for nature photography.

Performance
So what does the new TC-14E III bring to the table? Similar to the new “E/FL” lenses, the TC-14E III has been optically re-designed. It now features 7 elements in 4 groups, versus the 5 elements in 5 groups design of the TC-14E II, so there are more optical elements to maintain high image quality and reduce lens aberrations. 

Image degradation - a teleconverters multiply not only the focal length but also any aberrations of the lens you pair it with. As a result you’ll notice on many lenses that image quality suffers sharpness and contrast suffer - particularly when shooting into light (where flare and ghosting can be a problem). The new TC-14E III has high contrast and paired with my VR 300/2,8 lens I don't see a significant IQ degradation. Using the best quality lens possible will help keep such degradation to a minimum. One thing I noticed early on - is how good the new TC handles chromatic aberrations, which is very low and really an non issue; chromatic aberrations towards the edges of the frame are reasonably well controlled and shouldn't pose issues for most images, even with high contrast areas towards the edges of the frame.


Optical theory says that a perfect lens will be perfect wide open, and that diffraction will start to take its toll as the lens is stopped down. Some of the very best 35mm lenses show this. I'm thinking of my Nikkor VR 300/2,8 lens, which measures as well wide open as stopped down one or two stops. There may be others. But most lenses need to be stopped down to improve some of their other optical characteristics, and so like most things in life there are compromises to be made.

Nothing is perfect! - even my 300/2,8 together with the new TC-14E III has it limit in IQ, like all other converters I have worked with you'll need to stop down one stop to get optimal sharpness and high contrast, I see softness wide open and softness stopped down two stops, diffraction is the limit! Limited aperture range is the result, but I'm using my lens at f/5,6 like I've always has done. A other thing I noticed is high vignetting, dark edges is another limit seen on all other teleconverters!. My VRII 70-200/2,8 will not be used together with the new TC, because I find it to soft for my taste!. 


Minimum Focus Distance - using an TC means you can keep the minimum focus length of your lens. This can be handy when you don’t have a macro lens with you and want to get close in on a subject that isn’t far away. It won’t really compare to a dedicated macro lens, but can be handy. I photographed this image with my Nikkor VRII 70-200/2,8 lens set to 200mm at full aperture.

The Cons of Teleconverters
So why wouldn’t you rush out and buy a TC? there are a couple of costs associated with it!. Lens Speed - the first thing to consider when using a TC is the impact it has upon how much light gets into your camera. Using teleconverters means less light gets in which means your maximum aperture will be decreased. When using a 1.4X TC means you’ll lose one stop, this is the reason I use a 1.4X TC instead of the 1,7X one as I don't want to slow my lens down any further than f/5.6. Camera Shake - As you extend the focal length of a lens any movement of your camera will become more noticeable. Using a TC magnifies both your subject and any movement in your camera so you’ll want to think carefully about how to reduce it, either by increasing your shutter speed (iso) or using a tripod or some other technique to secure your camera. When using one try not to use them at the maximum aperture that your camera will allow, but stop it down at least one stop and you’ll find the results are significantly better. Also keep in mind that longer focal lengths will leave you with less depth of field to play with - so your focusing needs to be spot on!

Summary
Using a TC is a more affordable way to extend your focal length than to purchase a longer lens, however the cost can be to your image quality and camera performance if you are not working with a high quality lens. I think they are well worth using if you need the extra reach, but wouldn’t use them for every shot. I find the new Nikon TC-14E III to be the best TC I've ever used, it is not perfect optically, but no TC is that!. Images made with my Nikkor VR 300/2,8 are crisp and has high contrast, chromatic aberrations are very low and I can use it without worrying about a significant IQ degradation on that lens. Vignetting is rather high at large apertures and the aperture range is limited due to diffraction and you'll have to stop down one stop to get the very best out of your lens!. Build quality is perfect I think ...and as a nature photographer it is nice to see the new Fluorine coat applied to the front and rear surfaces to repel dirt or water droplets!. Lens compatibility is limited to exotic Nikkor telephoto G and E/FL lenses, a shame if you own an older Nikkor AF-S telephoto lens with an aperture ring!.


Rating: Build Quality: 10/10 - Handling: 10/10 - Optical: 8/10


Conclusion - Pros:

+ Very sharp and high contrast - The best teleconverter I've ever used!
+ Chromatic Aberrations are very low with VR 300mm 2,8
+ Great handling - wide grip - small - light - easy to use!
+ Tight fit on camera and lens gives higher image quality!
+ Durable compact design - All metal with weather-resistant lens barrel.
+ Fluorine coat applied to the front and rear surfaces to repel dirt or water droplets.
+ The near focus limit of the lens is maintained, great close-up possibilities!

Conclusion - Cons:

- Image quality is to soft for my liking with the Nikkor VRII 70-200/2,8
- Stop down one stop to get optimal sharpness with the Nikkor VR 300/2,8
- Limited compatibility - only exotic Nikkor telephoto G and E/FL lenses can be used!
- Limited aperture range - diffraction is the limit!
- Vignetting is high at large apertures! 
- High price-tag! 

* I will update this review with fresh images made with the new Nikon TC-14E III in near future! 
...too busy at the moment!.

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