Olympus M.Zuiko MC-20 2X Teleconverter Lens - Hands On Impression

I managed to get my hands on the newly launched Olympus M.Zuiko MC-20 2X teleconverter lens, and I spent almost my entire weekend shooting with the MC-20 and finishing up this article, as well as a short video. Yes, you heard that right, Robin Wong doing video! I sure hope to do more video related content, and I feel that would benefit some folks who prefer watching over reading heavy text content. Don't worry, this blog is not going anywhere, and I will still continue to do my usual writing and sharing here. With lots and lots of photographs of course, that is not going to change.

Some disclaimers first - I am an Olympus Visionary, an ambassador to the brand, hence this is not a product review. I am merely sharing my opinion and feedback after using the Olympus MC-20 over the weekend. The MC-20 was on loan from Olympus Malaysia, it was not mine, and I have returned it after my testing. I used Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, my own camera, with the latest Firmware 3.0 updated. All images were shot in RAW and post-processed with Capture One Pro, with only minor adjustments applied. Bear in mind my findings in this article may be subjective, I encourage everyone to read multiple sources of review before drawing a conclusion.

Here is a video that I did, highlighting key features of the Olympus MC-20, and my quick thoughts using it shooting some birds in Kuala Lumpur.


Olympus M.Zuiko MC-20 2X teleconver lens was designed specifically to double the focal lengths when in use with Olympus M.Zuiko PRO lenses 300mm F4 IS PRO and 40-150mm F2.8 PRO. Currently, the MC-20 is only compatible with these two aforementioned lenses, and it will also be compatible with the announced 150-400mm F4.5 PRO lens, which has not been released yet at the time of writing. Using the MC-20, you get twice the reach of the original lens, eg MC-20 with 300mm PRO gives you a total of 600mm reach. However, there is a compromise when it comes to lens brightness, we lose 2 stops of light, that means instead of F4 wide open, we get F8.

Here are some key features of the Olympus M.Zuiko MC-20 2X Teleconverter lens
1) 9 elements in 4 groups lens construction, with one HR (high refractive) element to help suppress aberrations.
2) Full weather sealing when attached to Olympus OM-D weather sealed cameras and PRO grade M.Zuiko lenses.
3) Doubles the original focal length of lenses used, but losing 2 stops of aperture. 40-150mm F2.8 becomes 80-300mm F5.6 when MC-20 is attached, similarly 300mm F4  becomes 600mm F8.
4) Weight 150g
5) Features Olympus' own Nano coating (called ZERO lens coating) for flare and ghosting resistance

For full specification list, you may visit Olympus' official product page here (click). 







BUILD QUALITY & HANDLING

The Olympus MC-20 by itself is very small in size, and feels very light on hand (only about 150g). Therefore, this is a great solution to gain more reach without sacrificing much size, as you can attach it to existing lenses. It is so small, it does not add any bulk and can be easily stored at a corner of a bag. The MC-20 is made of metal construction, and is weather sealed.

After the MC-20 is securely attached to a camera and lens, it feels extremely solid. The build quality is excellent, using the combination shows no creaking or moving parts, everything felt together and holds tightly as if it was one piece of equipment. I expect no less from Olympus when it comes to lens build, and honestly, it did not feel like there was anything added onto the lens, unless of course you see it visually. The mounting is firm and feels reassuringly secure.


AUTOFOCUS PERFORMANCE

AF is a main concern for many, especially attaching an additional lens onto a lens on the camera, this usually degrades the optimal AF speed and accuracy. I am pleased to say that the AF performance of Olympus MC-20 in use with 300mm PRO or 40-150mm PRO is still superb, much better than what I was initially expecting. In most cases, there was completely no hesitation, the AF works almost as good as the native lens without the use of teleconverter, acquiring focus almost instantaneously, even from near focus to a subject that is in quite a distance away. Accuracy is also good, and the AF is so reliable, I never used manual focus for any of my shots, which I originally thought I may have to resort to just in case.

In fact, I personally felt that the Olympus MC-20 performs noticeably faster than MC-14, based on my experience. I did not have the chance to do side by side comparison, but my past experience using MC-14, I remember some minor hunting, which happened more frequently than the MC-20, and I distinctively felt that the MC-20 focuses more confidently and just overall quicker. I am not sure how much this could be due to the new AF algorithm of Firmware 3.0 in E-M1 Mark II, as the previous time I used the MC-14, I was not using the latest Firmware 3.0. I don't have an MC-14 to verify this at the moment, and an important note - I did not test the MC-14 on E-M1 Mark II with the new Firmware 3.0. You should not have to worry about AF using MC-20, it is surely more than sufficient.

Before we start talking about image quality, let's have a look at some sample images! I went to the KL Bird Park, and spent a few hours in there, attacking the birds and anything else that I could point my lens to.

40-150mm PRO with MC-20
300mm, F5.6, 1/80, ISO640

Crop from previous image

40-150mm PRO with MC-20
300mm, F5.6, 1/30, ISO200

Crop from previous shot

40-150mm PRO with MC-20
250mm, F5.6, 1/50, ISO800

40-150mm PRO with MC-20
300mm, F5.6, 1/50, ISO400

40-150mm PRO with MC-20
300mm, F5.6, 1/400, ISO320

IMAGE QUALITY

Perhaps the biggest worry for most people is the sacrifice in sharpness when any teleconverter is used, the longer the teleconversion, the worse the compromise is when it comes to overall image quality. This is true, especially with so many iterations of teleconverter lenses from many other manufacturers, degrading what the original lenses were capable of to something that some may even categorize as completely unusable.

Before I started using the lens, I was managing my expectations that I may not be going home being impressed by the Olympus MC-20. I was prepared to accept poor results, and started to form words in my head on how to approach this article if the image quality output is below my expectations. The original MC-14 was superb, but we never know about a two times conversion lens, that is just so much more to compromise.

When I first started shooting with the MC-20, I did struggle using it. It was my first time using an equivalent 1200mm (in 35mm format) lens, I have not dealt with anything this long before! The shooting condition was not ideal, it was raining half of the time I was in the park, and the rest of the time it remained heavily overcast, the environment was not well lit. Working with widest aperture of F5.6 (with 40-150mm PRO) and F8 (with 300mm PRO) made things worse, as there was already not enough light to work with. I constantly needed to bump up my ISO to achieve sufficient shutter speed, which in turn further degrade the image quality. It took me a while to get used to such long focal lengths and get used to the somewhat unanticipated challenging shooting circumstances.

When I managed to figure things out, when everything started to fall into place nicely, my goodness, the image quality was nothing short of impressive. There were times I almost forgot I used a teleocnverter when I inspected the images, the sharpness, the amount of details captured, was a lot better than what I expected in the first place. The amount of contrast captured, despite the horrible lighting situation, was really good. Olympus did it guys, I do not know how they did it, but they somehow managed to create a 2X teleconverter lens that does not suck. In fact, that MC-20 is an impressive little conversion lens that birders and wildlife shooters MUST have.

40-150mm PRO with MC-20
300mm, F5.6, 1/80, ISO1250

Crop from previous image

40-150mm PRO with MC-20
300mm, F7.1, 1/250, ISO200

40-150mm PRO with MC-20
300mm, F5.6, 1/800, ISO200

40-150mm PRO with MC-20
300mm, F7.1, 1/500, ISO200

40-150mm PRO with MC-20
300mm, F7.1, 1/200, ISO800

40-150mm PRO with MC-20
300mm, F8, 1/320, ISO1600


Other notes on the image quality, I did not notice any pincushion distortion, but this could be also due to aggressive software correction applied to the images (at RAW file level). I also notice very little trace of chromatic aberration. The corners are noticeably softer than center sharpness, so if you do shoot with the MC-20, it is best to center your subjects for best possible output. Basically, there is very minimal compromise when it comes to image quality, and I was genuinely surprised by what the little MC-20 can do.

If we compare directly (which I did not, there is no point seriously) against image quality of the original lenses without the use of MC-20, of course these original lenses would do better. There is no question in this. The real question is how much is the drop of sharpness of overall image quality going to be after the use of 2x teleconverter, and are the results still within the acceptable margin?

The original M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO and 300mm F4 PRO were extremely sharp lenses, perhaps "over-engineered" by Olympus, and I remember they were particularly proud of the creation of 300mm lens, that was the pinnacle of Olympus' lens making technology, and a great display of their optical design prowess. Thus, even if there was a drop of sharpness when using the teleconverters, after the conversion these lenses are still performing well and can deliver beautiful results.

300mm PRO with MC-20
600mm, F8, 1/30, ISO1600

300mm PRO with MC-20
600mm, F8, 1/100sec, ISO400

300mm PRO with MC-20
600mm, F8, 1/50, ISO1000

300mm PRO with MC-20
600mm, F8, 1/250, ISO1250

40-150mm PRO with MC-20
300mm, F6.3, 1/250, ISO400

Crop from previous photograph


CHALLENGES USING OLYMPUS MC-20

I have to admit, this was possibly the most difficult test of a lens I have done, ever in my life. As I mentioned earlier, it took me a while to get used to the supertelephoto range and all the challenges that came along with it. I want to further discuss about these points.

Firstly, hand-holding such a long lens was a world of difficulty on its own. Hand/camera shake is amplified multiple fold, and it was simply a challenge to hand-hold and to keep everything steady. While Olympus claims superior image stabilization, be mindful that the longer the lens is, the more critical your hand-holding technique will have to do. I am not a bird shooter, I don't do wildlife photography, hence I don't handle very long lenses often. Mix my inexperience using supertelephoto lenses with the unfavorable lighting condition, it was a nightmare to work with. I constantly struggled to get sufficiently fast shutter speeds, and I knew if I bumped up the ISO more I will get bad results.

Secondly, the compromise of lens brightness. We know that instead of getting F2.8 and F4 brightest aperture, which were really great to work with even in low light, now that with the MC-20, the widest aperture becomes two stops darker - F5.6 and F8. The reason I have more 40-150mm and MC-20 shots instead of 300mm, is because of the F5.6 wider opening. At F8, under heavy shade or in locations with not enough light, hand-holding the lens can be quite a pain. There was no way I could shoot a constantly moving bird at 1/20 second, even if I could steady my shot, the bird will still come out blurry. I was already at ISO1600, and sometimes ISO3200!

Thirdly, Olympus mentioned this in their official page - there is a loss of one stop image stabilization effectiveness when MC-14 or MC-20 is attached. Yes, you heard that right, the 5-Axis IS loses some of its effectiveness when the teleconverters are used. Here is the problem, at longer focal length. higher shutter speed is needed, yet we lose one precious stop of image stabilization, this results in even more difficulty hand-holding such a long focal length.


Having said that, I did manage to get some sharp results from ridiculously slow shutter speeds, as I was very adamant in shooting with lower ISO numbers to get cleaner results. I would not recommend going crazy with slower shutter speeds though.

40-150mm PRO with MC-20
300mm, F5.6, 1/200, ISO1250

40-150mm PRO with MC-20
300mm, 1/50, F5.6, ISO400

40-150mm PRO with MC-20
300mm, F5.6, 1/200, ISO800

 40-150mm PRO with MC-20
300mm, F5.6, 1/80, ISO640

40-150mm PRO with MC-20
190mm, F5.6, 1/200, ISO1600

The Olympus M.Zuiko MC-20 2X Teleconverter lens retails at RM2099 in Malaysia, it is not really budget-friendly, but I can totally see how the price is being justified.

Optically, the lens design is excellent, providing superb image quality with use on M.Zuiko 300mm F4 PRO and 40-150mm PRO lenses. While there is a minor drop in sharpness when the teleconverter is attached, the overall image quality is still fantastic, and can be amazingly sharp, detailed and rich in contrast. The compromise of losing 2 stops lens brightness is something that we have to live with using the MC-20, but under good light, I can see how the MC-20 can really shine, giving you phenomenal reach of 1200mm equivalent when used with 300mm lens. That shows the true potential of what Micro Four Thirds, specifically Olympus OM-D system is capable of.

If you are a wildlife and bird shooter, you need that extra reach, get the MC-20, it does not weigh much, and it adds that much more versatility to your already incredible lenses.

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Olympus M,Zuiko MC-20 2X Teleconverter Lens is available from B&H. 

27 comments:

  1. WOW!!! Thanks a lot for this comprehensive review, Robin. In fact, I was eagerly waiting for this since your comment last week :-)

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, insight, and in particular, the valuable image material. None of the images with MC-20 involved that I have seen to date was exciting enough to make me want to own this piece of gear. Your images finally seem to confirm what I had been hoping for - MC-20 can be a great addition to fill the gap between 210mm (150*1.4) and 300mm, as well as to get usable extra reach above 420mm. I'm especially like the results of 40-150 + MC-20. Even if it's not as sharp as the lens itself, the result is amazing. For 300mm + MC-20 the results seem to be less sharp, but as you mentioned this could also depend on the suboptimal shooting conditions. Just for the 300mm, it would have been exciting to see how 300+MC-20 compares against 300+MC14+crop.

    Great job, Robin :-)

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    1. Thanks Karsten, it was a pleasure to do the test and write about it. had a lot of fun doing the video too.
      Technically, the 300mm + MC-20 combo should be sharper, as the 300mm is sharper. The Bird Park was not an ideal place to test out the 300mm lens, it was just too narrow and the birds were too close.

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    2. For the 40-150, does the sharpness hold up with the lens set to f/5.6-11? Yes, effective f/11-22.

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    3. I have only used from F5.6 to F8 (did not have enough light to test any narrower aperture). Sharpness is still very good at that range. I won't recommend shooting anything beyond F11, unless you absolutely need the depth of field. Difraction will result in softer images.

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    4. Thanks for the update and I do understand about diffraction. For most of my shooting, there is too much subject movement to use focus bracketing even with a tripod. With the 12-100 I frequently use f/11-22 as well as comparison shots at wider apertures but due to the greater DOF, the smaller apertures almost always deliver a superior result. Also due to the breezes, high shutter speeds and ISO are the norm.

      I wish Olympus would abandon the video compromises (megapixel madness and cheap camcorder LCD) and give us a stills dedicated body: 12mp, 100+fps SAF...

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    5. Hi Robin,
      A great and inspiring review. Question, would you know how the Olympus 40-150 mc-20 combo compares in image quality to the Panny 100-400?
      Cheers,
      Rob

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    6. I have now compared the Panasonic 100-400 set at 300mm and F5.7 with the MC-20 and Olympus 40-150mm at 300mm and F5.6. The sharpness of these two lens combinations is essentially the same. I find optical stabilization on the Panasonic is better than Olympus ibis at 300mm. Strangely, the second shot on a scene is sharper than the first but sharpness is maintained on subsequent shots using both EM1 and EM1 Mk2 bodies.

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  2. For the 40-150, does the sharpness hold up with the lens set to f/5.6-11? Yes, effective f/11-22.

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  3. Robin, thanks... wonderful review. I am wondering whether you can compare this to the Panasonic 2x tele. I know that they can be interchangeable (though the f-stop display doesn't seem to work well) with oly.

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    Replies
    1. No, they are not interchangeable. You can't use Olympus Teleconverter on Panasonic lens, or vice versa.

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  4. Top notch review; thanks.

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  5. Thanks Robin for the review.
    I'm a fair way off being able to purchase the Oly 300 f4, but in the meantime I can buy this Tele converter and make my 40/150 effectively a 300mm lens. :)
    Of course this comes with the compromises you mention.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the kind words. Still, the 40-150mm + MC20 combo is smaller and lighter than a 300mm F4 lens. Of course you won't get the same quality as the incredible 300mm lens, but for what it is and can do, the combo is quite impressive!

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  6. Thanks for a thorough review. I enjoyed the video too.
    Did you get any chance to use this combo for close-ups? Olympus made quite a thing of the magnification in the press-release and I was wondering if this with the 40-150 would be a good choice for insects that are too skittish to get close enough with the 60 mm macro?

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    1. I found anything shorter than 200-400 (400-800 FF equivalent) to be almost useless for outdoor macro work so I too am interested in what Robin has to say.

      I used to shoot handheld with the 50-200 SWD plus EC-20 on my EM1 MK1. Have been considering the Pan-Leica 50-200 plus Panasonic 2x teleconverter for the greater reach. Had a prairie dog walk up to the front of my boot and got a great head and shoulders portrait.

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  7. Thanks for the review Robin, can you post comparable photos with the mc20 vs. Cropped photos without it. I found that with the mc14 it is usually better to crop because the higher iso and slower shutter.

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    1. You probably either have a serious vision problem or are viewing on a poor quality monitor. Cropping is never better than a decent teleconverter. Or perhaps you are shooting jpegs.

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    2. Correction - *Simply can not focus should be "sometime can not focus"

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    3. This is my take and always been doing it. Cropped photos taken without teleconverters..for this matter the MC-14 is sharper than those taken with teleconverters.

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    4. A 1.4 teleconverter still delivers a full resolution image, 20MP on the EM1 MK2. Cropping to deliver the equivalent magnification cuts the MP in half, 1.4 in each dimension. So unless you are viewing highly compressed jpegs, where the differences would be minimal (but would still exist), there is no way that cropping can match using a quality teleconverter.

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  8. Dammit Robin. I only just bit the bullet and decided to buy my 300mm f4 pro! Now I have to get one of these as well for my bird photography! Then by the time I get the MC-20 the 150-400 f4.5 will be out! And at some point I'm going to have to get a gimbal head! Then the EM1 miii will be out! And I still haven't even bought a flash!

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  9. Hi Robin, thanks for the great review. I'm particularly interested in comparing the 40-150 + mc-20 to the 300 f/4. I have both lenses and I currently take the 300 with me when backpacking in the mountains. It's an amazing lens and light for what it is but still heavy compared to the rest of my camping gear. I know the 40-150 with the 2x tc won't be as sharp and will also be a stop slower but I wonder how significant the difference might be? The combo would be almost a pound lighter and more compact as well... Any thoughts?

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  10. Thanks Robin. An excellent and very thorough review. I always love your "photographer" oriented reviews compared to the many technical reviews. Much more helpful especially with the many real life photo examples your provide. Don't underestimate your expertise. Your work is top notch and shows what is possible from a photographers review rather then just technical measurements. Looking at your photos I was astounded by the image quality with the 2X tele-extxender. Much better than I would have expected and looking at the slower shutter speeds you were using under bad conditions, your work was amazing.

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  11. Dear Robin, the photos are amazing. I am surprised that you used such low shutter speeds for birds as they tend to move their heads alot. Were you very close? I thought it is recommended 1/1000 for small birds and even higher for birds in flight.

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  12. Just got the MC-20 today. Ran comparisons using a Siemens Star chart. I ran comparisons in Lightroom to get the target to a similar size by changing magnification. The improvement vs the 40-150mm plus the MC-14 is small, but noticeable. The improvement vs the 300mm + the MC-14 is substantial and very noticeable. The 40-150mm plus the MC-20 gives the 300mm alone a run for the money. My verdict...If you need the extra reach, the MC-20 is without a doubt worth the money.

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    1. Thank you for your post, @evenhanded. I'm on the fence about getting a 40-150 + MC-14 or -20. I wish Robin would post original unaltered examples in his blog posts so I could make an honest comparison. Did you post your Siemens Star chart examples anywhere?

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