Compared to Nikon 500mm f/4G VR
Let’s see how the lens compares to the Nikon 500mm f/4G at similar focal lengths. With the TC-14E II and TC-17E II, the 500mm can get to 700mm and 850mm, subsequently. Here is how the two lenses compare at 700mm and 800mm:
The Nikon 500mm f/4G VR is a very sharp lens. However, with the TC-14E II, its sharpness cannot be compared to the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR. The latter is sharper across the frame, as evidenced from the above chart. And that’s not even comparing the lenses at the same focal lengths!
Let’s see what happens when the 500mm f/4 is coupled with the TC-17E II (850mm vs 800mm):
Once again, there is no comparison between the two – the 800mm is clearly much sharper. The 500mm + TC-17E II combo gives 850mm effective focal length, but there is too much of a drop in sharpness. In addition, as many 500mm f/4 owners will testify, the lens just does not couple well with the TC-17E II, due to AF performance and accuracy issues for fast-moving subjects.
Compared to Nikon 600mm f/4G VR
Thanks to John Lawson (who happens to be a phenomenal wildlife photographer right here in Denver), I was able to obtain the Nikon 600mm f/4G VR for testing. With the TC-14E II, the Nikon 600mm f/4 can get to 840mm. Let’s take a look at how the two compare at similar focal lengths:
Again, just like the Nikon 500mm f/4, the 600mm f/4 cannot match the performance of the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR. Interestingly, the Nikon 600mm f/4G VR does not seem to like the TC-14E II as much as the Nikon 500mm f/4G VR does. While the full data for the Nikon 500mm and 600mm lenses will be published in their own reviews, here is an interesting fact to note – the Nikon 500mm f/4 tested sharper than the 600mm f/4. At first, I thought that something was wrong with my testing, but then I tested the same setup over 15 times and the result came out the same. Variance in sharpness is not very big, but it is there, especially when using teleconverters.
What if one were to attach the Nikon TC-17E II to the 600mm (1020mm) and compare it to the 800mm + TC800-1.25E (1000mm)? While the 600mm is tough to use with the TC-17E II, especially in autofocus speed and accuracy, it can produce decent results when used on the latest generation Nikon DSLRs (D7100, D600, D800 and D4) that can handle autofocus at f/8. Actually, let’s throw in the Nikon 500mm f/4G VR with the TC-20E III (also 1000mm) to the mix and see how the three compare side by side:
The Nikon 500mm f/4G VR suffers quite a bit from the TC-20E III. Sharpness levels are pretty low throughout the frame, even when stopped down to f/11. The Nikon 600mm f/4G VR + TC-17E II combo is a little better but still needs to be stopped down at least to f/8 to get acceptable results. The Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR + TC800-1.25E is the champ here – its sharpness is much higher than the other two – even at the maximum aperture of f/7.1. Amazing performance for sure!