Bird Photography at 2,560mm With the Canon RF 800mm and Teleconverters

Bird photography can be gear-intensive when your small subjects are a long way away. But, what would it be like if you had unparalleled reach? Would it be useful or restricting?

When the Canon RF 800mm my first question was about teleconverters. Maybe it's greed, maybe it's curiosity, but I do immediately wonder how I can push the boundaries. One of my favorite aspects of micro four-thirds systems, when I have reviewed them, has been the reach that you get with the lenses. Although this is primarily useful for wildlife, I found it highly effective for surf photography too as it allowed me to capture surfers far out at sea, but also to inflate the size of the setting sun.

In this video, Brent Hall heads out to take some photographs of birds using the Canon RF 800mm, but pairing it with the Canon Extender RF 1.4x and the 2x. Not only does Hall use these two teleconverters, but he puts his Canon R5 in crop mode, meaning that with the 2x, 800mm is doubled and then multiplied by a further 1.6. This gives almost unparalleled reach, but comes with a number of trade-offs.

What is the longest effective focal length you have ever shot with? Did it work out or were the images unusable? Was it difficult to use? Share your experiences in the comment section below.

Robert K Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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Robert. All that expensive and heavy gear. I shoot with a Nikon Coolpix P1000. For a thousand bucks. 3000mm equivalent. Or 539mm if you prefer. 1500 grams total gear weight. F8. 1/200 shutter speed the cormorant. 1/400 the hawk. ISO 100. I think the results are comparable with the stills from your video. Mostly because of the teleconverters you had to use to reach these numbers of focal length. What's your opinion?


The photos that the video maker got with his 800mm plus tele-extenders are much clearer, sharper, and have far more more well-resolved feather detail than the images you posted above.

If you're pleased with the results that you get with your $1,000 Coolpix, then great! But for those who are seeking higher quality results, the gear that was used in the video would definitely be a better way to go.

Tom I don't say that my photos are better. I just say that they are comparable to the ones I see from the video maker. Robert talks about f11 and f22. I shoot at f8 at the maximum distance. Also the birds he shoot much more vivid colours than the ones I showed. Better images than mine,I agree. But with multiple cost of equipment. This fact should be taken into account as well. And bulkier. Notice also that all of them were taken handheld. No tripod. For the feather detail to be fair you should see another photo closer than the maximum optical focal length. This is an Eurasian collared dove. At 252mm. Always handheld.

F/8 with this lens on a 1/2.3" sensor is equivalent to f/45 (35 mm), so the FF lens at f/22 is optically (diffraction) in advantage. The P1000's picture on the extreme is just soft and hazy.

A full frame is always a full frame. It will produce better images. No doubt about that.

The haze is something I remove frequently. Because I shoot in RAW I do it with haze removal from RawTherapee.

I have trouble believing that the 2560mm based RF lens with a 2x extender produced the images shown in this discussion. I have a couple of Canon R5 cameras and the RF 600mm (not the RF800mm) lens. All of the reviews of these two inexpensive RF lenses that I have read indicate that you should buy the RF600 because the images are sharper than when shot using the RF800. I have shot these same Mergansers from about 400 or 500 feet with the R5 and the RF600 both in full mode and 1.6x mode without any external 1.4x or 2x extenders. They are not as sharp as the ones claimed to be shot at a 1000 feet with a 2560mm lens. I have been using high end long Canon lenses for several years along with a variety of high end Canon cameras and extenders. When you get to the 1200mm length lens with a 2x extender, deterioration can be seen. So, I do not believe that these cheap, but usable, low end RF lenses like the 600mm and 800mm can produce the images shot at 1000 feet with a 2560mm focal length lens using an RF800 based lens on a high end R5 camera. No way.

That all comes at the expense of image quality and lack of responsiveness. The P1000 needs really good light to get decent shots with its slow AF and narrow dynamic range due to the small sensor. I almost bought one until I tried it, and decided it wasn't for me.

Jason another photo on the move. At 539mm/3000mm eqv. A Griffon vulture. The AF is not the best. But I think it's decent.

with all this snooping on birds from a half-mile, they'll start to get paranoid

Using the RP + 800mm + 2x TC: these Hooded Mergansers were about 1000 ft away (Marsh at Bosque del Apache on a hazy day). To handhold 1600mm and capture any detail and motion is a thrill.

That is some pretty impressive handheld video footage for the focal length. I can barely keep a 75mm that steady.

Read my earlier reply to this image. I don't believe that it was shot as described.

I just read your previous reply, :

1. I don't believe the video creator to be a liar.
2. I believe if you are having issues with images, it's you or the gear.
3. Having a blank profile or no links to your images makes your claims suspect.
4. Hell, look at the comment right above mine.

Robert K Baggs asked,

"What is the longest effective focal length you have ever shot with? Did it work out or were the images unusable? Was it difficult to use? Share your experiences in the comment section below."

The longest effective focal length I have shot with successfully is 1280mm. I have done this two ways - with the Canon 400mm f2.8 + 2x extender on a 1.6 crop factor Canon 50D, and also with a Sigma 300-800mm at 800mm on a Canon 7D.

The above combinations gave me image quality that was acceptable for my purposes and pleasing to my eye.

I have tried to add a tele-extender to my Sigma 300-800mm, but the results were never tack sharp, and it's not going to be tack sharp, then why even take a photo?

I also tried shooting at 1456mm EFL (800mm + 1.4 extender on a 1DMk4) and 1792mm EFL (800mm + 1.4 extender on a 50D), as well as stacking the 1.4x and 2x tele-extenders on to my 400mm f2.8, and the results were just not acceptable. Too soft, and the fine feather segments were not resolved crisply and clearly, as they are supposed top be for most bird portraiture and behavioral images.

So for me, the limit for acceptably well resolved images has been 800mm focal length. When shot on a 1.6 crop body, this gives me an angle of view equivalent to 1280mm on a full frame, a.k.a. "effective focal length".

Here are the results I get, and expect, from the 1280mm EFL set-ups that I use. And 1280 is my max. The combinations that give me more reach aren't this sharp, so I do not use them. On a full frame sensor, I do not go over 800mm because my 800mm lens does not provide excellent results with either the 1.4x or the 2x extender.

Nice image Tom. Are you currently using EF or RF 800mm?

I currently shoot a Sigma 300-800mm in EF mount, on my Canon 5D Mark 4 ..... sometimes on my old Canon 6D and 1D Mark 4.

It will probably be 2025 or 2026 before I will be able to afford to switch over to the mirrorless offerings in RF mount.

IMHO it's somewhat pointless to shoot over long distance. You're getting haze, air distortions and heat waves which ultimately destroy IQ much worse than a 2xTC. TCs are great to fill the frame while shooting small subjects located NOT far from the photographer. I.e. if the shooting distance is 10m and the bird takes like 1/8th of the frame, it would make sense to use a TC to make it look bigger. If the distance is 500m - a TC won't help much. For fast moving subjects when shutter speed is crucial a TC will introduce more problems than benefits.


I agree wholeheartedly. If you're too far for a good image, then you won't be able to get a good image no matter how much focal length or pixels-on-subject you have.

There is a way around heat haze: long range shooting in sub freezing conditions. It's not possible everywhere though, but give it a try if you can.

I agree, but I would need a huge freezer for that :)

Shot today with the RF600+1.4xTC. The first pic ~6m, and the second one ~10m (different crop).
Tried to take a pic of a Black Vulture, but the bird was too far and the shot was ruined.

For comparison's sake: Canon EF 800mm F/5.6 USM L w/ 1.4x Teleconverter III mounted to a Canon EOS R6. Effective focal length is 1120. Shot at ISO 800 at 1/750 of a second, handheld, backlit, in the snow.

Yeah, it's heavy. Yeah, it's expensive. But when it comes to detail, clarity, color fidelity, and dynamic range, it's worth it to me.

Canon EF 600mm F/4 L (the original heavy one w/ no IS) w/ Canon 2x teleconverter III, mounted to Canon R6 (effective focal length 1200mm). Shot at ISO 3200 F/8 1/3000 second handheld. Subject is about 150-200 feet away.

You're a VERY strong man if you can shoot the 800/5.6 and the 600/4 v1 handheld!

I also love herons eating fish :)

I loved this article. It shows the limits of the equipment very well. If one wants to explore buying stuff this a good video to watch. I wished you showed more still images. I always used the Nikon P1000 on a tripod for such situations although birds are little difficult to shoot with P1000.

Much better I believe with tripod. Unfortunately I'm more "on the go". When I see something I raise my hands a shoot. But I think I will plan next time my shooting with tripod. The problem is there is not a fixed place where you will be sure you will see birds passing by. Perhaps only the port for seagulls.

I tried to defend hardly my choice of the P1000 against the Canon R5 but I have to admit that this was a battle lost from the beginning. It simply became clear to me by seeing your bird shots the difference in quality. Especially in sharpness. I mean, I really feel jealousy about the level of detail you can achieve with a full frame camera! It's one thing to know it in theory and another to see it in actual shots! That said the cost of FF plus appropriate lens plus teleconverters is way too higher than what I can afford. So I will try to improve my bird shooting with the camera I've got. I think with the use of a tripod and more practice I can push it limits a little bit more.

Looking at your last image with the bird on the rock, appears your camera system is capable of detail. IMO, (1) keep an eye on your shutter speed, (2) don't have so much negative space so there's more detail on the subjects, (3) and edit your images.

I agree. The first two shots you shared seemed slightly underexposed. I'm guessing if they were 1-2 stops brighter, you would see a lot more detail. If you shoot RAW, you can usually push the exposure 2-3 stops in post production to reveal a lot of detail that you'll never see when you're shooting compressed jpeg files in camera.

I'm really fortunate to be able to use these lenses for my wildlife photography because I already own them for use in my professional work. It took me 20+ years to work my way up to these lenses

While the equipment I'm using is unaffordable for most photographers, I would strongly encourage any serious wildlife photography enthusiast to rent their "dream set up" at least once. Maybe partner up with a friend and share the cost of a weekend rental.


You should be able to get excellent, sharply detailed results with your P1000 ...... if you get real close to the birds, so that you can fill the frame with then and not have to crop at all. I mean seriously close, like at a feeding station or sitting in a blind in front of a known perching spot.

Years ago, I started out with a Sony point & shoot, not very different than your P1000, and I was able to get decent bird photos with nicely resolved feather detail. But only if I could get truly close to the birds. If I needed "reach", and had to shoot birds that were far away, forget it - no way I could get professional results with that Sony in those conditions.

If you want to drastically improve your results, and not spend a gazillion dollars, a great budget option would be to get a crop sensor DSLR like a Canon 60D, and then get a Sigma 150-600mm f6.3 zoom. The 60D should be available used for a few hundred bucks. And the 150-600mm was on a special at B&H last week for around $789. Or you can find a used one for even less, perhaps.

So for just a wee bit more than you spent for your P100, you can get an interchangeable lens camera and a lens that will give you far better results. Honestly, the P1000 results are not even in the same stratosphere as what you can get with $1,200 worth of DSLR gear.

Full frame isn't really much benefit over a crop sensor. It's not about sensor size. I think that for telephoto bird photography, a 1.5x (Nikon) or a 1.6x (Canon) crop crop sensor DSLR is just as good as a full frame DSLR, in 90% of real life bird photography situations.

Crop Mode on a FF sensor does nothing to extend "reach". Objects in the FOV cover the same number of pixels whether the system is in FF or Crop Mode. Crop Mode is included as a feature to support EF-S (or equivalent lenses) which generate an image circle smaller than the dimensions of a FF sensor. The only "benefit" of using Crop Mode with lenses designed for FF sensors is the reduction in file size.

Noticed no lens hood on you RF800. Is that how you normally shoot?