Let's talk lenses and the Canon x2 mkiii Extender, is it worth it?
Updated: Aug 2
The Canon Extender ef 2x iii This is a multipart blog exploring lens options, the next part will focus on using 3rd party lenses! Lenses, lenses, lenses.. there are so many lenses! You'd think the easy thing to do is to stick to the brand of your camera body, which for the sake of this multipart blog, and given I'm not a Nikon shooter (Sony and other brands are also available), we'll talk about Canon and the possible third party lenses of Sigma.
I've been shooting for well over a decade, and I've owned my fair share of lenses, both pro and amateur; even 'toy lenses'. What I mean by toy lenses are the screw on attachments, or just the bat shit crazy things you can get, like the Holga Turret lens. It's a rite of passage when you first start shooting that you buy crap lenses, because this is an expensive business and you've not quite refined your tastes or abilities yet, so everything is exciting and good enough. With that said, you can still have fun with toy lenses if your aim isn't out-and-out "quality" (sharpness, contrast, bokeh etc etc), but instead creativity. As always, the camera and lens is a tool, and it's the photographer's idea, eye and execution that matters. That in its self is subjective anyway, so quality is arguably also subjective for an artistic photographer, however, probably less so for a working photographer delivering on specific print requirements.
Lens baby are seemingly thriving with multiple lenses to choose from now, when back in the day it was seemingly just a dodgy toy lens about on par with sticking cling film (Saran Wrap to our USA friends) over your lens, but I think these days they're quite sharp and decent... but who knows!? I've not used one and only seen stuff online.. and that's the problem here, and it's also the inspiration behind this blog. For every good review of a lens, there are 10 bad, or vice versa. Do you trust the pros who are sponsored to shill a brand, or the everyday Joe who hasn't really got a clue how to get the most out of the thing they're using badly, or maybe just the guy who really has no idea of quality because they've never taken photography serious enough to understand the vast difference between say an L series Canon lens when compared to a basic kit lens. Again, add in subjectiveness, and the fact you could easily take a magazine worthy image on a £100 nifty fifty Canon 1.8, and you have no clarity on the matter anywhere on the internet. You can waste hours, maybe days, of your life on research and still make a poorly informed decision.
You end up with more questions than answers! Where do you start when looking at the endless options for your specific or desired needs? Who is right? Who's paying good money to find out and giving a genuine review? Who is doing it for clickbait, a YouTube video... some content (ahem, I feel attacked by myself). Shit isn't cheap in this industry, even as a hobbyist. ESPECIALLY as a hobbyist! You can't just drop big money on something that is a bit of fun unless it's your escape from a decent paid job, or you're so stacked with photography that you can right off a lens and laugh about how a pro lens cost you less than a wedding gig one week. Photography will haemorrhage your bank account long before it lubricates it as means to flowing money in, and if you're bringing home the big bacon, you're probably shooting on 3-20k lenses for this to be of any concern anyway.
My first-hand experience So recently I've had plenty of first-hand experience of this (time and time again over the years), even after a decade (and then some) of being super tight and cautious. Choosing a new camera body is easy for anyone who's already shooting and done research. Even with limited knowledge, you can pretty much solve it with the same advice, well, questions that I will always ask people who ask me. I have probably already covered this in a previous blog, but here goes... do you want to upgrade, or do you know you need to upgrade? Aka, is your current camera body holding you back from what you want to achieve, or do you have bright lights in your eyes where you think buying something better loaded with newer technology will make you a better photographer overnight? If it's the latter, you don't need to upgrade, it isn't worth your time or money. Ironically, with the step-up to mirrorless cameras with eye auto-detect and such, it probably will make you better, but it won't necessarily make you good! If you have to ask, and it isn't more just the insecurity of looking for confirmation off people over having to drop big bucks on an item, but instead a fantasy of the unknown; then I'm sure you know the answer already really! I knew my 20d was holding me back. I knew my 7d was holding me back. And as recent as last year, I knew my 5d mkiii was holding me back. My knowledge and ability throughout that timescale was of course vastly different from each period in time, but I still knew I couldn't achieve the thing/or consistency I wanted with the body I was using.
Some lenses, on the other hand, they are made with a cheap bias on purpose so that they can cover a potential mass of customers. Sure, camera bodies have different levels to them too, but on a half decent hobbyist camera, you're taking a sharp enough and decent shot in a wide range of conditions that aren't widely against you, in fact, it's the lenses that will hold you back more often than not. With cameras, the less you pay, often the less quick and easy they are to navigate through menus and to punch in vital settings, but ultimately, they're just a little computer with cheaper camera parts that will have drawbacks outlined in great length via reviews and YouTube videos, so they're far less subjective. Cheap lenses on the other hand, you have no guarantee you're getting quality given an array of mixed opinions or poor execution, yet there are still plenty of cheap gems like the nifty 50, which make it a minefield for anyone that isn't purely an L series snob, or like us mere mortals, who can't afford to drop big bucks on major lens options; just because it would be nice to have a different tool for a specific hobby/job. Again, not to be confused with the sports photographer who isn't just rolling out with a nifty fifty as that guy or gal is probably gonna need an 8 grand 600mm prime lens to do their job, however, they may instead be sweating over a cheap 85mm lens that is just good enough to shoot decent images of their grandkids, rather than dropping a grand on some L series glass to do the same.
So... the Canon Extender ef 2x iii I've 'ummed' and 'ahhed' for the longest time over buying a Canon Extender. I used to have a 100-400L 4.5-5.6. It's a great quality lens, but it sucked in a lot of shit when zooming (if you've not seen them, you pull the zoom rather than twist it) and it wasn't cheap to clean/fix. In the end I sold it to fund a more versatile 70-200L 2.8 for its low light capabilities and usefulness at gigs given I was shooting a lot of live music. I still own that lens. Anyways, I'd seen horrible reviews of extenders, but I'd also seen some amazing reviews too... some even claiming that it can unlock even more quality in a 45mp camera based on some science that briefly made sense while I was watching the video, but I can't recall off the top of my head now. These were from Wildlife pros who use them all the time and then share their crystal images, while others in review sections state they can't take a decent photo with them. So who are we listening to? And then there are the grey area specs! Oh the specs! They only work on certain lenses. They only work with certain AF points (if any after a certain f.stop), and they only work with the centre point on certain dSLR bodies - everyone knows that you lose f.stops with an extender, but these and many more specs are confusingly not always front and centre in Canon listings (even by themselves, you have to download a PDF hidden somewhere instead), so it feels devious, and of course people are forever being disappointed as a result. I, however, did endless research, plus I have a Canon R5. It's a 45mp camera (yay better quality, unlocked). I was sticking it on my 70-200L 2.8 which is listed as compatible (but not ideal - we'll get to this), and it would also give me a wider aperture than the 100-400 RF equivalent despite the fact it limits the f.stop (at this point I'm assuming you've done a little research and know what I'm on about to wish to be here). Throw in to the mix that the R5 has 100% viewfinder coverage with it too, and seemingly, the only drawback is that it would focus a little less fast, but that's still probably faster than many kit and cheap Canon lenses anyway.
So I bought one!
I wish I didn't. I wish I respected the million red flags that were the reason of my cautious approach and years of avoiding biting the bullet.. but hey, we're on to a mkiii extender now, and they must be getting better through the years, and I have an R5.. and I don't expect it to be lightening fast focus or for the images to be perfectly pin sharp, so what can go wrong?. "It's not good on lower end L series zoom lenses. On the 70-200L it's 'not bad', but that's about the bottom end of L lenses you want to use it with" said the guy on the video with it strapped to a 600mm prime.. or something. I even queried Canon themselves for a personal response, one that weirdly had to be handed to various CS reps to get an answer for on their own equipment, and in it, I had also outlined concerns while hoping they'd offer either caution or dispel any anxiety, but instead they didn't really mention any of that in the reply and just confirmed the 100% viewfinder coverage. That isn't mentioned anywhere in writing that I saw either, so I was just privy to it (but doubted it as a result of the lack of clarity) from my endless research. I also read that the 1.4x extender was widely accepted to be better too, which also rang alarm bells! When the general consensus suggests something can be clearly better, but in fact 'should' be doing the exact same job, just at a different focal length.
My reasons and conclusion!
Well I wanted a 400mm reach because I miss the old lens I had, and now I'm also lucky enough to live somewhere where there's a free air show every year quite literally over the road from my house, plus there's plenty of opportunity to photograph wildlife locally too.. so why not? It's not something I have any intention of doing professionally, so dropping thousands on a hobby lens that wouldn't benefit me in a professional sense would be thousands I can neither justify or really afford. Double down on this because I'm going to Japan, so I REALLY can't afford to do so now, and then in turn figuring the extender would be an awesome solution with it being so small and light that it wouldn't really take up any extra space or weight when travelling, then I had plenty of reasons to take the leap.
In reality, the pros I outlined above were all minimal, if at all existent, short of the size and weight of course, so let's compare it to the aforementioned Canon RF 100-400 F5.6-8, a £700 lens new. The extender is £450 new... a decent saving. The RF lens is considered hobbyist quality, so not comparable to a 70-200L, and if I bought the 100-400 RF instead, I'd still have the same questions over it as I did the extender, but at a higher price point. Simply put, i've never used one, it costs more, and everyone has a different opinion of whether it's really good, or just not an L, so meh - so who is right? Even after the f.stop loss, slapping a 2x extender on a 2.8 lens would improve on the F/8, a pretty limiting aperture. Fair enough, we are dealing with 'cheap lenses' here, so that's the trade-off, and we can't complain too much, but shooting a small bird in a bush at f/8 means next to no separation and bokeh; just a mass of distraction.. so that's a point to the extender, right? Well, no, the extender didn't get remotely sharp until f/8, so what I gained was nothing in the f.stop stakes.
It's consistency to take a sharp image I would say was down to 30%, and I don't mean a pin sharp, OMG its a beautiful image, image, I mean a hazy but potentially good enough, but i'd be disappointed by it, image. I want to handheld shooting planes or birds, so being pushed to work the camera and my brain power to squeeze every little drop of worth, sharpness and consistency out of it is not the versatility I bought it for, so it really was in no way suited my needs. Now, on a 600mm prime, a prize piece of glass, one that it had been specifically made for, and with a camera mounted on a tripod, for a guy who's chasing the perfect light and spot for separation, sure, I guess it takes some decent images, but for the rest of us, it's just a bit, well, shit. And don't get me started on the million reviewers who seemingly only wish to compare whether it's of any worth having instead of cropping in in post - who is buying an extender to solely avoid cropping in in this day and age on a 45mp camera!? You're buying an extender so when you do crop in, you're twice as close to the subject, and it's filling more of the frame - but to answer that question too, no, no it's not, despite what they say! A sharp post cropped in 70-200 image will run circles around a hazy 100% extender image.
If you're reading this because you've ever considered the same dilemma with extenders, run, run to the hills.. I'd say buy the 100-400 RF if you have a mirrorless, but I can't really vouch for that either other than images i've seen of hobbyist shooters on Canon forums - it looks alright to be fair! Maybe I'll bite the bullet on that instead one day, even at f8, or maybe i'll have a rush of blood to the head and get a 100-500L RF at nearly 5 times the price! Either way, I fought my cheap desires, avoided secondhan,d and I bought the extender on Amazon knowing full well that I had a healthy chance of sending it back with no quarrels - so that's exactly what I did!