Double Stacking Teleconverters (MC-20+MC-14) as a cheap alternative to the Zuiko 150-400 f/4.5(TC-1.25x)

So ….. I capitulated and got myself a Zuiko 150-400mm f/4.5 (TC-1.25x).   I’m going to Churchill, Manitoba in November to shoot polar bears and Northern Lights and will be staying right on the edge of the ice forming on Hudson Bay, well outside the city.  This is a photo opportunity that really demands a lens like this.  Or so I rationalized.

My favourite local bird comes walking right across my position amongst the reeds. Zuiko 150-400mm f/4.5 (TC-1.25x) at 316mm, ISO 800, 1/1600 s f/4.5
The autumn colours reflected in the pond also highlight the unusual kink in the neck of the Great Blue Heron. Zuiko 150-400mm f/4.5 (TC-1.25x) at 500mm, ISO800, 1/1600s f/5.6

Zoom telephoto lenses are pretty much a necessity when shooting wildlife in extreme conditions where it is unsafe to change lenses.  However, I had been contemplating taking my 40-150mm f/2.8 and 300mm f/4 prime with MC-20 and MC-14.  Both these lenses are well regarded and likely perform better in terms of image quality at their prime focal lengths than the 150-400mm at the same focal lengths.

The following MTF curves were generated with QuickMTF.  An E-M1.2 shooting a professionally printed ISO 11223 resolution test chart at ISO1600, aperture priority, with stabilization off and mounted on a tripod.  MTF10 curves are shown in red, MTF30 curves in green.  The testing was conducted indoors.

Zuiko 150-400 f/4.5 (TC-1.25x) tested at 150mm, (upper left), 188mm (TC-1.25x engaged) (lower left), 400mm (upper right), 500mm (TC-1.25x engaged) (lower right).   The built in teleconverter appears to have minimal effect on image quality but giving extra telephoto reach at a reasonable f/5.6 aperture.
Zuiko 150-400mm f/4.5 (TC-1.25x) tested at maximum focal length from left to right: 560mm f/5.6 (MC-14), 700mm f/8 (MC-14 & TC-1.25x), 800mm f/9 (MC-20), 1000mm f/11.2 (MC-20 & TC-1.25x).   The use of teleconverters gives incredible reach for such a lightweight and compact zoom lens.  Image quality with increasing focal length does suffer but if the polar bears behave in an antisocial manner and stay far from the humans, I will need need my teleconverters.



From left to right: Zuiko 300mm f/4 + MC-14 (420 mm f/5.6), Zuiko 300mm f/4 + MC-20 (600mm f/8), Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 + Metabones Speedbooster (560mm f/4), Sigma 300-800 f/5.6 (800mm f/5.6).   The 300mm f/4 is no better and no worse with the teleconverters when compared to the 150-400mm f/4.5 (TC-1.25x) but is slower and has less reach.  The giant Sigma zoom shows better central image quality and is much faster but requires a monopod to use and is very difficult to travel with.  For birding the adapted lens AF performance speed is inadequate but for shooting lumbering polar bears it is very acceptable.




Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 lens tested from left to right: with MC-20 (300mm), and MC-20 + MC-14 (approximately 500mm).  It is possible to double stack the teleconverters and still retain autofocus ability, but image quality takes a big hit.  Aperture and focal length readings are incorrect but the body still exposes correctly.  I estimate the focal length at 500mm given the distance from the target is the same as where another test image was taken at a verified 500mm focal length.
The MC-14 (left) has an extra pin that prevents it from seating on macro extension tube adaptors. With a Dremel, you need to remove a channel of plastic to allow that pin to rotate before it can seat and lock correctly with all the electrode surfaces.  You can only use the 10mm thick extension tube as any thicker adaptor will prevent the lens from reaching focus at infinity.  With the 10mm, the MC-14 functions like a MC-17.

So it is possible to replicate the focal range of the Zuiko 150-400mm f/4.5 (TC-1.25x) with a 40-150mm f/2.8 lens and double stacking the MC-14 and MC-20 (approximately 130mm – 500mm, ∼ f/7).  Of course this setup will be much slower and with poorer image quality but will be much more compact and economical.

Photographers all have a keen innate sense for detail and as such we also demand using the very best equipment available.  But that is the key, availability.   I’ve been waiting for B&H to have inventory of the 150-400mm f/4.5 for a long time and finally found one elsewhere.  Other times the guidelines of the trip dictate what type of equipment you will carry.  On my Moose Safari last year I was afraid of dropping my camera into the lake so I used an Outex waterproof sleeve that was only big enough for the 40-150mm f/2.8 and MC-20 and very difficult to put on.  There was no opportunity to change the optical train.  Had I been aware of the ability to add the MC-14, I would have been locked into this configuration.  Armchair purists do scoff at the idea of double stacking the teleconverters but they are not the ones paddling a canoe in the absolute wilderness or venturing into the Arctic Circle.


  1. If one is already spending thousands of dollars to make a trip where you can see and take wildlife pictures… (nowadays that can be tens of thousands of dollars) why not spend the extra few thousand to not compromise on picture quality? Get the good lens before the trip.


  2. Hi Jim, Great article! – Because I also own the Oly 40-150mm and the MC14 & MC20, and occasionally do bird photography, combining the converters seems like a great solution. You wrote that combining the MC14 with a 10mm spacer makes it an MC17 – do you mean it also magnify’s X 1.7 ?
    Have you written any more info about combining the MC’s ?
    I looked for a search box on your site, but didn’t find it.
    Thanks in advance !


  3. With a Dremel, you need to remove a channel of plastic to allow that pin to rotate before it can seat and lock correctly with all the electrode surfaces.

    I carefully padded and clamped it in a cross-vice, then used a 1/8″ carbide rabbet bit in the drill press, and ran the cross-vice to take off a section of the “hump,” with, shall we say, a better looking result. 🙂

    It’s better explained in this posting that I made.


  4. I ordered the 150-400 from my local Vancouver OMDS retailer in early January and picked it up in early March. I’m so impressed with how usable the lens is. It’s very sharp and the zoom capability really helps target acquisition. I don’t even use my 300mm f4 anymore.
    In my experience the hood adds too much bulk for packing in a camera bag. I haven’t experienced any obvious loss of contrast or lens flare while using the lens without the hood, a testament to modern lens coating technology. An aftermarket 95mm lens cap lets me stow and carry the lens with as little effort as the 300mm requires.
    When used with the OM-1, it’s like shooting with an entirely different system; EVF resolution is much more SLR-like and image stabilization seems a tiny bit better.
    I shot a photo of a window washer with the 150-400mm + 1.25TC + TC-14 for a total focal length of 700mm (28x magnification) and saw a distinct loss of contrast but excellent resolution.
    On The Ropes


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