Story and photos by: Yusuf Hashim
My first SLR, way back in 1969, was the brick-like Nikkormat, which was loaned to me by my late future father-in-law. He had several cameras, and he allowed me to use it as if it were my own. The Nikkormat SLRs were moderately priced, advanced amateur level stable mates to Nikon’s premium priced, professional level Nikon F and F2 SLRs. It was an excellent and ruggedly built camera, and I had lots of fun, shooting B&W film with it, and developing and printing photos in my Camera Club’s dark room. Nikons were then the preferred choice of professional photographers. And Nikon lenses at that time, were the industry standard for workhorse glass. Extremely heavy, large and solidly built, when cornered by thugs, or in an emergency, the Nikkormat could easily be used as a weapon for self defence….
In 1974 I bought an Olympus OM-1 which at that time was advertised as the world’s smallest and lightest SLR system. Compared to the Nikkormat, the Olympus OM-1 was absolutely tiny. And it was also a fine camera. I bought several lenses for the Olympus system, and used the OM-1 happily until 1987, when I unexpectedly won an EOS 650 SLR as first prize in a corporate golf competition at the Saujana Golf Club. I scored 48 stableford points off a handicap of 18, and to this day, I still cannot understand why they shouted “Crocodile! Crocodile! Crocodile !” when I went up to receive my prize. There certainly weren’t any crocodiles in any of the infamous ponds at the Saujana Golf Club. None the less, my handicap quickly went down to 12 after that. And it took a lot of hard work not to play well, to bring it up to 18 again, my official handicap for the last 30 years. I’ve often wondered why not many people wanted to play golf with me after that, and it is one of the reasons why I became more interested in photography, instead.
The Canon EOS (Electro-Optical System) with the EF Electronic Lens Mount had just been introduced in 1987. And Canon donated the camera as a prize as one of their introductory promotional effort. Canon’s electrical autofocus system was state of the art at that time, and coupled to several pro-level fine lenses with electrical focusing systems which Canon introduced, the EOS SLR system quickly annihilated the Nikon F series as the preferred camera and lenses for professionals. For a quarter century after the introduction of the EOS system cameras, a sea of white lenses with electronic lens mount bodies, always dominated the photographers’ paddock at all sporting events. This domination by Canon continued well into the beginning of the new century when Digital SLR cameras were introduced .
I’ve been “married” to the Canon EOS (Electro Optical System) SLR system since 1987, and slowly over the last 35 years I’ve built up a collection of nearly all of the Canon lenses that I needed or wanted. My interest is primarily travel photography, human interest, street photography and a little bit of landscapes. Over the years, although I purchased almost every Canon EOS body that have been introduced (EOS 650, EOS 620, EOS-1, EOS-5, EOS 1x, EOS10D, EOS 1DsM2, EOS1DM2, EOS 5DM2 and EOS1Dx), I’ve never really needed any lenses which were longer than around 300 mm. The 300mm focal length is usually the threshold where usefulness, desire and expanded needs meet. Super telephoto lenses beyond 300mm are a niche market of primes that serve very specific purposes, such as sports, wild-life, paparazzi and bird photography. Ordinary photographers may want these super telephoto lenses, but they usually don’t really need them. And their steep prices ensured only the proes or the well heeled camera and lens collectors could afford them. When I started going to Africa in 2002 I used only my EF70-200mm zoom. When I wanted a bit more reach, I purchased the 1.4x and 2x tele-converters. They weren’t very satisfactory for wild life photography, so 1 purchased the EF100-400 mm zoom. That lens was still unsatisfactory for my tastes. In 2008 I borrowed an EF300mm f/2.8 for my third photosafari to Africa. And boy, I was flabbergasted by the photos this lens could create. Here is a picture of that extraordinary lens without its huge fiberglass lenshood.
And below is yours truly, stalking a herd of Zebras in the Nechisar National Park in Ethiopia. This photo was shot by Davie Gan, from about 200 meters away, with his brand new RM40K EF200-400L which had a built in 1.5x multiplier. My impression is, the 300 mm is very easy to shoot handheld. Attaching a light monopod to it results in pin sharp images of incredible quality.
In 2011 when I drove from Cape Town to Cairo, a borrowed EF 300 mm was also among the lenses I carried, and with it I shot some really fine images. The exorbitant price of the 300 mm lens stopped me from buying one, but after I returned from a recent trip to the tribal villages of Ethiopia, where I again used a borrowed 300mm, I was convinced that I absolutely must have this lens. It’s no longer a want. It’s now an obsessive need. So I’ve just further reduced my children’s inheritance by acquiring one.
The 300mm has excellent weather sealing qualities, and coupled to my EOS 1 DX pro body, it can be used in any weather. Here’s a splash test on the EF300mm conducted by Justin van Leeuwan. This photo is copyrighted by Justin van Leeuwen and I’m borrowing and posting van Leeuwan’s photo here simply for illustration purposes, as I don’t yet have the spunk to try this on my own brand new lens.
IMHO, the Canon 300mm f/2.8 L IS II is the first in a range of lenses that serve the purpose of getting you closer to your subjects when your movement is otherwise restricted.
For example, when you are in a vehicle on a wild life photo safari, or you are in a Mursi tribal village in Africa where every tribesman, tribes-woman, and even little boys, are armed with Kalashnikovs and AK47, and they don’t allow you to shoot pictures of them unless you pay them some money, this lens will come in handy. I found that in this type of situation, the prime 300 mm focal length is ideal to capture every exquisite detail of the beautifully decorated torsos of African tribesmen and tribes women from a good distance away. You’ve got to be careful though, because the tiny 7.62 mm bullet from a Kalashnikov can easily out-shoot your 300mm bazooka
Here’s a little Mursi boy shot with the 300mm. He’s lethal, not little. That Kalashnikov is a real gun, so I didn’t want to argue with him when he demanded 10 Birs (about RM2) for shooting this photo.
Opening the aperture to its maximum value of 2.8 results in exquisite bokeh second to none. Coupling it to the new EOS 1DX, and a light monopod, you’ll find the combo to be extremely portable. You can easily shoot handheld, capturing pin sharp images rivalling anything you’ve ever seen. Here’s the sister of the Mursi boy. Mursi women make a hole in their lower lips when they are about 10 years old. A wooden peg is placed in the hole, and over the years, a larger and larger peg is used until eventually they can insert a 15cm plate into the opening. It’s supposed to make them beautiful and be more attractive to their menfolk. Tribal legend says that these plates in their lips were probably intended to make them unattractive to the slave traders that regularly raided their villages to capture them to be sold as slaves. They also make huge holes in their ear lobes, from which they hang monstrous ear-rings made from the teeth of hippos. They use those Kalashnikovs for hunting and also for defence against other tribes who regularly steal their cattle.
Telephoto lenses have a special quality of compressing perspectives. Coupling this characteristic to their very thin zone of sharp focus (DOF) at maximum aperture of f/2.8, you can shoot some very creatively interesting photos, like this next picture of a Hamer young lady, beautifully separated from the environmental clutter around her. I apologise for being so descriptively explicit, but at 80 meters from which this photo was shot, you could actually count the number of goose bumps around her tits. That’s how sharp this lens is.
The 300mm has extremely quick and accurate auto focussing. In the next photo, I was actually trying to focus the 300mm on the nearest lady in the white blouse, but the EOS auto-focussing system on the 300mm lens must have more male DNA than female ones. It has a mind of its own, and automatically and instantly locked focus on the focal plane which had the more interesting exposed mammary glands on it. These young ladies from the Daasanach tribe were participating in a tribal coming of age ceremony, where they were parading their assets in front of several young men who were going to choose their new wives. Incidentally the dowry to marry one of them was 40 cows to the parents of the bride, and a Kalashnikov or an AK47 rifle for her little brother, if she has any. In Africa, it appears more advantageous to have more female children rather than males. Perhaps all those unwanted female babies in China and in India ought to be exported to Africa.
From within a distance of 50 meters, the 300mm is also a great lens for hand held shots of birds. Africa is a paradise for birders. On the bottom left is a photo of a Marabou stork shot with the EF 300mm at Lake Zway in Ethiopia. Just look at the details in the feathers!
And the other photo next to the Maribou stork is an Ethiopian black-faced, red-eyes, yellow-breasted yusufus-hashimus weaver bird, shot from 20 meters in the Nechisar National park. I’m very, very impressed with this lens.
And if you want candid portraits, the 300mm can also be used effectively. The photo below, of my good friend, the famous Malaysian-American artist Engtay, who works and lives in New York, is a sample of candid portraiture with the EF300 mm. The Bokeh is deliciously smooth. You can check out Engtay’s work, which sells for at least six figures HERE.
The Canon EF300mm f/2.8L Mark II is a fine lens with a sturdy metal construction and excellent weather sealing. The Mark 2 version is slightly lighter than the Mark 1, and it is said that this lens is one of the sharpest in Canon’s very extensive range of super telephotos. It has Image stabilization built in, so this allows for at least a two stop shutter speed advantage for hand held shooting. The usual norm to avoid the shakes is to use a shutter speed which is at least the reciprocal of the focal length of a lens, which for a body with a full frame sensor like my 1Dx, or 5D or 6D, would be 1/300 sec. For a body with a cropped sensor like most consumer level DSLRs, you’ll need to increase the minimum shutter speed by the focal length multiplied by the crop factor. So for DSLR bodies like the 60D or 7D, you’ll have to multiply 300 by the crop factor of 1.6, making the minimum shutter speed for hand holding this lens to be at least 1/480 secs. With the image stabilization switched on, you can safely shoot handheld at perhaps 2 stops less for the average person. In my case, I program my shutter speed to be at least 1/250 seconds. As the sensor of my 1Dx is excellent, I usually set my ISO on Auto, with a max level capped at 6400. I always shoot on AV preferred mode in order to control the DOF. And in addition, I always use a monopod with the 300mm. Apart from being a big help when carrying this lens, a monopod has increased greatly my rate of keepers.
The 300mm has a humongous lens hood which you should always keep attached to the lens. Apart from removing flare, it also protects for the very large front element.
I’ve been singing nothing but praises for this lens. So does it have any downsides?
From my personal perspective, the weight and size is not a serious problem during actual shooting. I’ve never needed to use this lens on a tripod. A light monopod is more than adequate for me. My only grouse is, this large lens takes too much space in my carry-on-board camera backpack. It tips the weight way off the allowable limit for hand carried luggage but thus far, I’ve never had any problems with airlines. It comes with its own Samsonite-like carrying case but I’ve always elected not to use it. As with almost all large lenses like this, there is always a very slight vignetting at wide apertures. Instead of being a problem, I actually like this vignetting effect. And if it does become an issue, it’s really no sweat to remove it during post processing.
This lens is also a little bit short for good wild life shots of small animals. However, coupled to a DSLR body with a good full frame sensor, you can easily crop away dead spaces, and the fine glass will allow you to blow up the subject a little bit without any noticeable image degradation. It’s excellent for sports and large subjects within a 20 to 50 meter range. With this 300mm lens in Africa, you can creep up close to animals like Zebras, Giraffes and wildebeest, but you certainly dont want to get up close and personal to cheetahs, hyenas, crocodiles and alpha baboons. Unless you are in a safari vehicle, you’d need either a 1.4x multiplier with this lens with a small sacrifice in image quality and maximum aperture.
The EF 300mm has a minimum focussing distance of 2 meters. You should remember NOT to shoot a close-up of someone’s face at very close range, because a long focal length lens like this 300 mm has a tendency to flatten perspectives. I don’t think anyone would be happy to see their ears on the same focal plane as their eyes and nose. If you don’t like your mother-in-law, shoot her face from 2 meters with this 300mm.
My final word on this lens?
You might want it, but I don’t think you really need it, unless you have some special use for it. But if you don’t have this lens, you’ll never be able to get images like in this review. In Malaysia this lens costs only just a little over RM20K. Even though you might not really need it, you know you want it.
So go ahead and give yourself a treat. Here are a couple more photos shot with this lens_ Maxby on the Left, and Dr Derrick on the Right
BUY! BUY! BUY!
News Update on 14 Feb 2014
I’m quite disappointed and angry. I took out the 300mm lens to use it today and I discovered that the 10mm screw thats used to fasten the lens hood to the lens is missing. Must have dropped off. It’s a good lens but the design of the lens hood sucks. So I am disappointed. I am angry because when I called Canon for a replacement, they dont have any stocks. Have to order they said. How in heaven’s name am I going to fasten the lens hood to the lens? I became more angry when I was told the price of the 10 mm screw was RM40 !! I think I am being screwed by Canon’s 10 mm screw. So if you buy this bloody good lens, just be careful you don’t get screwed by a 10 mm screw.