dalmation pelican in mid air

Lens Profile | FE 300mm f/2.8 GM OSS

Gustav Kiburg

From photographing mammals, insects, and birds all the way from the frozen Arctic Circle to the heat and humidity of Ecuador, we trust wildlife photographer pro Gustav Kiburg’s professional judgement when it comes to choosing the right lens. Recently returned from Greece’s beautiful Lake Kerkini, home of the Dalmatian Pelicans, we sat down with Gustav to learn all about his love affair with the Sony FE 300mm f/2.8 GM OSS lens.

a dalmation pelican staring at the camera © Gustav Kiburg | Sony α1 + FE 300mm f/2.8 GM OSS + 2x Teleconverter | 1/1600s @ f/5.6, ISO 1000

At Lake Kerkini, the light and the birds certainly came in force. “It is one of the best places to photograph birds in Europe,” says Kiburg. “Thousands of species – many of them rare and endangered – stop there on their migratory routes. In winter, it’s perfect for photographing pelicans. They’re beautiful, colourful birds, especially at that time of year when the males’ plumage is nearing its peak, ready for breeding”.

side profile of a pelican in warm afternoon light © Gustav Kiburg | Sony α1 + FE 300mm f/2.8 GM OSS + 2x Teleconverter | 1/6400s @ f/5.6, ISO 2000

Using a tiny boat to get as close as possible to the pelicans, Gustav’s 6:30am starts were essential, he says: “that’s when the light is best, and it is then that the colours in their plumage look most vibrant”.

So aside from the beneficial effect of the golden hours, where do the concepts of ‘light’ start to apply to the FE 300mm f/2.8?

A fixed lens like the 300mm is usually better than a comparable zoom in quality”, he answers, “but that lens needs to be physically light enough to use – and to gather enough light through its aperture to make it useful. For the shoot at Lake Kerkini, I used the lens mounted on my Sony Alpha 1 and in conjunction with Sony’s 1.4x and 2x teleconverters”.
large orange beaked pelican with tufted hair © Gustav Kiburg | Sony α1 + FE 300mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/5000s @ f/5.0, ISO 1000

“The physical weight of a lens like this is incredibly important when shooting handheld and trying to capture birds in flight, because in those situations you can’t use a tripod or a monopod,” Gustav explains. “At only 1470g, the 300mm is something I can use for hours on end. That’s not always true of primes or zooms, and lenses like the FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS, as brilliant as they are, can have your arm shaking after extended use”.

dalmation pelican in flight © Gustav Kiburg | Sony α1 + FE 300mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/10000s @ f/4.0, ISO 2000

“As for the capture of light,” he continues, “an f/4 lens would weigh even less, of course, but having an f/2.8 aperture is vital for subject separation, shooting in low light and working with teleconverters. And while it’s a brilliant lens on its own, it’s with the latter that using the 300mm really excited me”.

“The lens is incredibly sharp too and that’s another key factor when you consider using teleconverters”, Gustav says. “Basically, teleconverters work best on high-quality fixed lenses. That’s just the physics of it. They work on zooms too, and there are benefits, but not to the same extent. So, with this brilliant lens as a starting point, I can add a 1.4x converter and get a 420mm f/4 lens or add a 2x model and get a very sharp 600mm f/5.6 lens, too. A starting lens with a smaller aperture means much slower apertures down the line”.

pelican gliding through water © Gustav Kiburg | Sony α1 + FE 300mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/6400s @ f/5.0, ISO 1000

“In practice, that means I can shoot larger animals with the lens as standard, add the 1.4x for big birds, or use the 2x for small birds and those which are a bit more wary of me”, he continues. “Along with the Alpha 1, I have a complete kit that can shoot practically any kind of wildlife, and it all fits into one small bag!”

Twinned with his Alpha 1, Gustav is convinced the quality of the pairing is almost like cheating. “The quality of AF speed, sharpness, resolution, and stabilisation, mean that it’s really the photographer who’s going to be at fault if something is messed up. It’s like the camera and lens are saying, ‘I’m ready for it – are YOU ready for it?’ So, for my part, I make sure everything I need is dialled in before I start a shoot. I know the AF settings, and the exposure I need, and I know the camera and this lens will do the rest. I don’t even need to look to see if the picture is sharp!”

pelican coming into land with its wing touching the water © Gustav Kiburg | Sony α1 + FE 300mm f/2.8 GM OSS + 2x Teleconverter | 1/1000s @ f/5.6, ISO 400

Gustav points to one of his favourite shots from Lake Kerkini: a Pelican gliding across the water, in golden early morning light, its wingtip grazing the surface, and the whole subject as crystal clear as the lake itself. “That was shot with the 300mm and the 2x teleconverter”, Gustav boasts, “and it’s so super sharp, that you can see the beads of water on his feet and his chest. This is a lens that can give me incredible quality across a huge range of subjects, and one that is so light I can spend longer and longer doing what I love”.

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Gustav Kiburg

Gustav Kiburg | Netherlands

"Bad weather is colour weather"

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