OLYMPUS 150-400MM/4.5 TC IN COSTA RICA | Petr Bambousek | Wildlife Photography
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OLYMPUS 150-400MM/4.5 TC IN COSTA RICA

OLYMPUS 150-400MM/4.5 TC IN COSTA RICA

22 Dec 2020, Posted by Petr Bambousek in Articles, Equipment, Olympus gear, Trip reports

Keel-billed Toucan, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 400mm, ISO 400, f/4.5, 1/200s, handheld

To be honest, I don’t even know where to start. At this moment, I’m not sure if this should be a sophisticated review of the new Olympus M.Zuiko 150-400mm/ 4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO lens. Perhaps it would be better if it was more about the happenings and individual circumstances on my trip to Costa Rica at the time of the pandemic? Or my review should be full of stories behind each individual photograph that will help the viewer to understand how each photograph came to be and that a stay in Costa Rica alone does not always guarantee coming home with beautiful photos? So, I decided I’ll cover a bit of everything. As you’ll see, this article will be mainly devoted to the new Olympus 150-400mm/ 4.5 TC lens. However, you will also find a few different photos that hopefully enliven this collection that would otherwise look rather monotonous. The focal lengths I used most often on the new lens were 250-500mm (which is the equivalent of 500 – 1000 on a FF). These are typical portrait photos. Every now and then, I tried to capture a different perspective as well as motives other than a bird on the twig. For example, interesting species that I met on my nightwalks, without which, my travel portfolio would not be complete.

NOTE: The landscape photos below have a longer side of 1600px, the portrait photos are 1400px. Sometimes, due to your monitor resolution, it may appear somewhat compressed. If that’s the case and if you want to view them in better quality, I recommend right-clicking on the photo and opening them in a new tab.

Mossy Katydid, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1 III, M.Zuiko 60mm/2.8, ISO 64, f/10, 1/160s, flash, handheld

MY PLAN

 

At the time of writing, we are all in the middle of a second or possibly a third wave of the global Coronavirus pandemic. EVERYTHING is different. We have been locked in our homes for almost a year and are all eagerly awaiting to see what will happen next. This has naturally been affecting our wellbeing, our daily routines and … photography. There is a Youtube recording that you can watch of my online lecture ‘Nature Photographer In Lockdown’ on how I handled this period (czech only). Those who have seen it already know that I played a sort of a prophet. I suggested that since 2020 began on my way to Costa Rica and then the events took place in a mirror order, then it’s obvious that 2020 will finish again in Costa Rica. Of course, it wasn’t just quite as straightforward. I would compare myself to a sprinter at the starting line. I was ready, knowing that as soon as it would possible, I would try to return to Costa Rica for a few days. It’s a country where my travels began 20 years ago, and where I could return literally at any time. All I needed was the official Government announcement that Costa Rica is welcoming tourists again. That sounded to me like a starter pistol and so I ran. I planned this trip as a reward for somehow enduring the hardship of the year; or as a vacation, if you will, where I do not have to deal with anything. I planned on staying in two places that I know intimately, and where I have the possibility of repeatedly returning to attractive places in the area – canoe rides on lagoons, walks in the woods, photography of birds attracted to bananas, and countless little wandering around the water in the hope that I will see and maybe take pictures of basilisks, as well as night walks in the woods. All this without any real ambition of bringing home anything new, but with a free hand to fully commit to creative work, if something interesting occurs to me.

King Vulture, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 500mm, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/250s, handheld

King Vulture, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 367mm, ISO 200, f/4.5, 1/250s, handheld

BEFORE MY DEPARTURE

 

This idyllic idea of mine was disrupted both before my departure as well as during the stay. First there were all the mandatory documents that were required for the trip. Since I got a brand new passport just a few months before that, all I needed to find out was what were the requirements for each destination that I’d pass through during my airport transit. I flew with KLM, so in my case four respective countries were in play – Netherlands, Costa Rica, Panama on the way back and the Czech Republic. Now we are getting into a big puddle of misinformation. Some info is there readily available, but once you start digging deeper you are getting nowhere. Entrance to Costa Rica was probably the easiest to determine – you need to have your insurance in case of health care related to Covid-19 (inclusive of hotel accommodation and any other related costs). The Costa Rican government offers two options, either you can use one of the government-approved insurance providers or it defines the minimum coverage you need with your own provider from your home country. The second mandatory part of the Entry process is a completed online form (no less than 48 hours prior to your departure), where you declare that you are in good health; it also checks your current travel/ health insurance (they have it very nicely intertwined). In the end, I gave up searching for a Czech insurance and booked insurance in Costa Rica (10 days for CZK 6,500). One day before my departure I filled out the form and received a QR code. You can’t enter Costa Rica without it and I needed to present it already at the check-in counter at the Prague airport. I may have gotten my QR code, but there was an unexpected glitch. The day before departure, I also filled out an online check-in for the rental car, however I almost fainted once I got to a section ‘Document Expiration’. Yes, I realised my driver’s license expired 2 months ago! You don’t want to find this out 12 hours before you leave for the airport. After a minor heart attack, I contacted my friend Jeffrey Muñoz, who lives in Costa Rica, and he helped me secure a personal driver within a few hours. That of course meant I could forget about the two planned day trips. Similarly, I had to reshuffle the whole itinerary – cancel something here, extend something there and add a little bit over here. No matter, my heart was still racing at three o’clock in the morning when I drove to the airport. Another thing that greatly affected my stay in Costa Rica was the need to organise a nasal swab and a PCR test for Coronavirus, because Panama has it as a condition for entry. Sadly, I was unable to find out anywhere if it is necessary also for a 2-hour transit. As a consequence, one entire day of my stay took place in such a way that I traveled from point A to point B for 5.5 hours. At point B, I spent 3 hours halfway back to Point C (San Jose’s lab), where I was to take the test so that it’s no older than 48 hours before entering Panama, before returning to point B again. In reality I spent from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m in the car, waiting for a car or a doctor. This endeavour resulted in two reports. First of all, hooray, I’m Covid negative. And secondly, for God’s sake, in Panama, no one actually gives a damn about a Covid test! Oh well. The fact that I missed a returning flight to Prague after 10 hours of waiting in Amsterdam is a mere icing on the cake. Just a side note, there are two KLM flights to Prague with an hour difference and very similar flight numbers. So much in a nutshell as far as the journey itself.

Great Kinskadee, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 500mm, ISO 250, f/5.6, 1/160s, handheld

Green Heron, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 500mm, ISO 320, f/5.6, 1/200s, handheld

Black-capped flycatcher, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 350mm, ISO 640, f/4.5, 1/200s, handheld

TESTING OF A NEW OLYMPUS M.ZUIKO PRO 150-400MM F/4.5

 

Whether it was the fact that two hurricanes had swept through Central America just a few weeks before I went, whether something was brewing somewhere in the rainforest, or fate was telling me again – “you’re going to have to work a lot here” – the truth was, that the frequency of animal encounters was unexpectedly low. It shouldn’t have bothered me as I mainly wanted just to relax and only create something perchance. But one detail disturbed my plan – an opportunity to rent a new Olympus 150-400mm/ 4.5 TC lens for the trip (I will not write the whole name here, that’s not possible). It’s the lens, all those who enjoy taking pictures with Olympus, have been waiting for for two years. I couldn’t refuse such an opportunity. And I’m actually quite grateful that this opportunity coincided with my trip to Costa Rica. If it wasn’t for my trip this article would probably be full of test photos of book spines in my library, shy reproaches in the fog and assumptions about how the lens could work in the field. Fate can stir everything up so nicely without telling us in advance the real intentions.

 

Resplendent Quetzal, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 316mm, ISO 2000, f/4.5, 1/13s, Peak Design Travel Tripod

Katydid, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1 III, M.Zuiko 60mm/2.8, ISO 100, f/9, 1/200s, flash, handheld

 

MY REVIEW IN SHORT

 

How did I like the new lens? I loved it.

Orange-chinned parakeet, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 400mm, ISO 250, f/5, 1/160s, handheld

LONGER REVIEW

 

Fine, I understand you probably expected a little bit more. So I’ll review it step by step trying to put it into context. But, I’m warning you, it will be long! Are you sure you really want it? What? You don’t mind? Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

MECHANICAL PROCESSING

 

When I first saw the lens, my first impression was – oh wow, it’s smaller than I expected. And when I first took it in my hands I thought – wow, that’s really light! What does this mean in the language of values? Without its hood the lens is about 32 cm in length and does not weigh even 2 kg (1875g). The hood is made of carbon, so the lens is slightly longer when in use, but the weight gain is negligible. The feeling of lightness is caused by several conditions. One of them is the lens’ perfect balance. When you place the lens’ tripod foot on your palm, it’s perfectly stable. When zooming in or out, the lens does not extend and therefore maintains the same center of gravity. This is not often addressed in reviews, but believe me, when you mostly shoot handheld, it is an extremely important parameter. When shooting with a lens like this there is a minimal strain on the right hand holding the camera, which in turn reduces muscle tremors that could affect shutter speeds.

For tripod photos, there are several crafty features:

+ It has a standard ArcaSwiss dovetail curtailing the need to use an extra plate for the vast majority of mainstream heads.

+ If you want to use your own plate, then two mount spots are available, thus making it extremely stable for heavier load.

+ The inside of the tripod foot is covered in leather, which I didn’t quite understand at first, but once you carry the lens holding it at the foot, you’ll find out how nice it is.

+ The dovetail on the plate locks every 45° so you don’t have to constantly check when you rotate the camera whichever way, just wait for it to “click” and voila.

The lens is built for handheld photography and you will understand it as soon as you point it at something:

+ As I wrote, it is perfectly balanced, which is absolutely beautiful.

+ The built-in converter is close enough to the right of the fingers holding the camera to turn it on at any time, yet far enough so that it doesn’t bother you.

+ If you grab the lens with your left hand, you naturally have your fingers on the zoom ring. Zooming works like a dream as you can just by one turn of your thumb and a middle finger turn it from 150 to 400mm and back.

+ The focus ring is extremely fine and within reach of the zoom ring, yet physically separated, so you won’t turn it by mistake.

+ All the controls are perfectly accessible right next to where the thumb is supposed to be – I didn’t use any of them though. I pre-set its full range without a limiter and AF, I turned on the stabilisation, turned off the sound and set the buttons to L-Fn. I could stick a tape over these settings like this as I can’t see the need to ever change them.

+ Using a PeakDesign strap facilitates two loops on the lens helping to distribute its weight. Throughout my stay, I wore the lens with the strap anchored on the lens and the other on the body. This way the lens stays close to the body when walking minimising unnecessary wobbling.

Palm Tanager, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 325mm, ISO 640, f/5.6, 1/200s, handheld

ZOOM AND BUILT-IN 1.25X CONVERTER

 

Explaining the benefits of this lens is probably like carrying firewood into the woods. Although in this case it’s a completely unique combination of parameters. The 150-400mm lens on the Micro Four Thirds System offers a 300-800mm equivalent focal length range. Using the integrated 1.25x teleconverter extends this further to 187.5-500mm giving you an effective 375-1000mm equivalent focal length. The constant f/4.5 maximum aperture (respectively 5.6 if the converter is activated) affords consistent illumination. The minimum focusing distance is a sweet 1.3m. But what does this mean in practice? In the field these values assure a completely unreal universal. One with which you can photograph everything from dragonflies, butterflies, lizards and frogs, through small songbirds, woodpeckers, toucans, kingfishers, herons, to wild beasts. And all this with one imperceptible zoom rotation, possibly boosted by an equally inconspicuous finger flick turning on or off the converter. Now, if you are an animal, these movements are barely noticeable and do not create any feelings of danger. It may seem that you can achieve the same results with other zoom lenses in combination with external converters. It probably works that way on paper, but the reality is a different kettle of fish. For example, just a simple mounting of an external converter – we probably all experienced this. Imagine how many seconds it will take – ideally, 2-3s, sometimes 5s. But that’s just time. The second question is how many moves you have to make. Now, compare that to not having to move the camera at all and just “click” your fingers. That’s often the difference between a picture taken/ not taken. This is not to say that it’s not possible with converters, I have myself used these on my prime 200mm & 300mm lenses. I just enjoyed the bliss and magnificent acceleration of responses of not having to use the external converters. Just between me and you, the real madness is that this lens also supports external 1.4x and 2x converters. Meaning, it is possible to actually achieve 2000mm focal length range. In all honesty, I tried it and it works. But the pure magic of being able to use a single lens is gone. Plus, I didn’t find subjects that would not cover the native focal range of 300-1000mm. If 1000mm is not enough for someone to capture an animal, I reckon it’s the right time to stop extending the focal range and start thinking about how to get closer to the animal. In the few pictures below you can see the lens’ universality. The hunting Rufescent Tiger-heron below is photographed from the same place in the context of the habitat at 150mm and then in detail at 500mm. In combination with the built-in converter, the zoom frames the final composition straight away without the need for subsequent cropping. Likewise, I used these options when photographing birds attracted to bananas. The birds’ size ranges anywhere from a few centimeters (e.g. Tanagers) to almost a meter (e.g. the Great Curassow). I must not forget to mention the ease of taking photos from a canoe. Whether moving or docked. This is how I managed to “catch up” with an elusive Ringed Kingfisher.

Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 150mm, ISO 200, f/4.5, 1/100s, handheld

Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 500mm, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/100s, handheld

MY MOST COMMON EXPOSURE VALUES

 

For those interested in numbers, I have included below an overview of the used EXIF data. Of the 4,500 photos that I took, I used this lens for just under 3,700. Of these, I almost evenly used the lens itself as well as the activated built-in converter. While ISO 200 was enough for a third of all photos taken with a new lens, the vast majority was taken at an ISO between 250 – 1250. I used a fully open aperture (with or without the TC) the most, adjusting the aperture ever so slightly at a fraction of shots. Exposure times were virtually anywhere between 1/40s – 1/800s.

LENS’ SHARPNESS

 

In my opinion, the fine details captured by the lens are absolutely excellent. This is also the reason why I practically did not have the need to adjust aperture and still ended up with plenty of detail and texture in the feathers or fur of animals. I know that image sharpness on zoom lenses is historically perceived as a compromise, however, that time is irretrievably gone and there are some great zooms on the market with brilliant texture sharpness across the whole focal range. And one of those exceptions is the new Olympus zoom. If I don’t look at the Exif data, there is no way of saying, which photo was taken with the converter activated and which one without. It does not affect the image and texture sharpness in any way. To get an idea for yourself, click on the picture below to find some photos that you can download in full resolution and without any post processing. Photos were only converted from the original RAW format to JPG with the noise reduction set to “0”. I’d say that the sharpness & fine details depend on whether your eye was able to focus or not. And this will be the last technical topic that I’ll cover – eye-tracking, and especially the hottest new thing – Bird detection AF.

OLYMPUS E-M1X AND BIRD AF DETECTION

 

On my Costa Rican trip, in addition to the new lens I also made the most of the latest Olympus E-M1X release of firmware upgrade Version 2.0. With this new function, the camera automatically prioritises detection of a bird’s eye, for focusing and tracking. How does it work? Select ‘Subject Tracking’ and select ‘Birds’ in the AF (A3) menu. Then you set the focus mode to C-AF + TR, which allows you to track the subject in the image. Finally, select the focus points area. This will prove important when there are more birds in the scene. The AF will have priority on the pre-selected section and will focus on the bird inside the AF cluster. And how does this work in practice? Well, in truth, it works awesome, good and bad. After a bit of testing, you quickly find out when the AF is engaged. Not sure how to measure it, but I would say that it definitely works at about 70-80%. Everything takes place in two steps. Step 1. Bird detection – it takes place even without the shutter button pressed halfway and you will know it’s on as you can see a white frame around the detected subject. I would say that this works really well. In the sample video below, you can see the camera easily detecting and tracking the bird and continues to focus on the bird’s head or eye. Step 2. Focusing on a bird’s eye – after half-pressing the shutter button, the white frame changes to green and tries to detect the eye, with priority. If that doesn’t work, it switches to detect and track the head or body. Success can be increased by setting up several parameters – firstly, by presetting of the lens focus range; secondly, by adjusting the AF sensitivity (setting “0” or “-1” seems to be the ideal default); and last but not least, it helps to isolate the bird from the background. For me, the AF sometimes detected not only a bird but also for example a bromeliad leaf right next to it. Due to the fact that there is no way of selecting a priority subject (except for shifting the AF range), sometimes the AF keeps re-focusing & re-tracking. During my stay, sadly the bird movement in well-known places was incredibly low, so I didn’t have the opportunity to capture toucans in flight, as I had originally planned. In the end, I was grateful that I was able to capture all three local species. Otherwise, the detection system had no problem recognising each bird species – hummingbirds, toucans, tanagers, herons. The intelligent Bird detection works on other animals too – koati or our domestic cat, that is with the exception of detecting the eye. I see huge potential for the future development of intelligent tracking. How did I use detection in Costa Rica? At first, I would use the classic AF. Only if I felt that the bird was moving too much, with one button I activated the bird detection. If I felt that it was too erroneous, I switched to a standard C-AF mode or tracking C-AF. During these tests on the E-M1X, I gradually fine-tuned 4 focus modes between which I alternated with one click as needed. The yield of these combinations was extra high and I can’t remember a situation where I wouldn’t have enough sharp photos to choose from in a given series. Below are my four AF settings, which I used periodically.

+ 1. Basic focus – S-AF – one point
+ 2. Bird detection – saved to C1 and then to the Exposure compensation button +/-
+ 3. Continuous focus – C-AF (without TR), cluster of 3×3 points on a 5×5 matrix, saved to C2 and assigned to ISO button
+ 4. In-flight – C-AF (without TR), cluster of 5×5 on a 5×5 matrix, saved to C3 and assigned to the REC button

For all of the above modes, I also re-tuned additional stabilisation settings, focus sensitivity, C-AF sensitivity, priority, shooting speed and AF limiter etc. I would say that I managed to find the perfect combination for all modes, which I saved to my computer for future use just in case. For night photography, I then used the E-M1 Mark III, where I have perfected the settings for macro and night macro modes.

STORIES BEHIND THE PICTURES

 

I hope you’ve had enough of technical data and values. However, the photos themselves are not created merely by correctly setting up the camera with the right values (this is a common mistake of many people I noticed in a number of fiery online discussions). Photos need to be proactively chased. From now on I’d like to mention a few stories of some photographs to give you an idea of what actually happens when I take the photo. As mentioned, during the trip I wanted to mainly relax, take pictures of “old acquaintances” here and there and wait out the other more complex species on my walks or canoe trips. During my seven day stay, I spent countless long hours in a canoe, hoping to photograph a kingfisher, basilisk or a heron. I lurked for hours for a kingfisher by its (formerly) favorite place – in vain. I creeped stealthily around the lagoon, trying to capture the basilisks, hoping to finally take a decent picture of an adult male for the first time before it discovers me and seeks refuge on the other shore. I sat foolishly on the terrace close to a lively bustle around bananas hoping to be able to experiment with pictures of toucans, tanagers, oropendolas and others. However, none of this happened as the toucans appeared at most twice a day, which coincidentally was exactly when I was doing some other aforementioned activity. I’d say that 85% of my stay was cloudy and sprinkled with half-hour long heavy downpours. Once, a “quick shower” lasted 5 hours, though. I think I could start teaching “rainwatching” at least in high school. During these times, it was practically impossible to take photos anywhere other than under the roof near the feeder. The problem was the absence of birds, so I really just stared into the rain for many hours. This is not very fruitful photographically, but it had a beneficial effect on my burdened mind from a year full of unexpected somersaults. At times when it was not raining and I couldn’t see any clouds with the new dose of rain, I explored the area either on foot or a canoe. Overall, I spent most of my time away from the feeders, although the variety of species was of course extremely low. However, there are some species that you will not find feeding on the bananas. At night I used to go to the jungle looking for something interesting to photograph. I slept for about 4-5 hours a day. Although the structure of the animals I had the opportunity to photograph did not change significantly, the effort required to create some photographs was unexpectedly considerable. Bearing that in mind, I couldn’t really wish for better conditions to test the new lens. I could try what it was like to have it on my shoulder and in my hands almost nonstop. I only put it on a tripod twice when I took pictures of two quetzals that flew in before half past five in the morning, when it was still pitch black. Except for two photos, all photos in this article are taken by hand.

Story No. 1: Laughing Falcon

 

Laughing Falcon, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 438mm, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/200s, handheld

For three days in a row, this beautiful snake hunter would fly in to sit on a distant tree about 20m above the ground “laughing” on. Its English name Laughing Falcon, also known as the snake hawk, perfectly describes its vocal expression. And so, I couldn’t resist and I climbed a nearby hill in the attempt to take its picture. I waited for the right dry moment just between the regular rain storms. Climbing the hill was strenuous, the grass and surrounding plants were waist high and when I got to the place where it should be visible from, I found out he was gone. I tried to find it through the tangle of branches, but he wasn’t there. So I went back the same arduous track having accepted my failure. As soon as I got down to the road, I heard “ha-ha-ha-ha-ha” right over my head. I looked up and I could see it perfectly, sitting on the same branch as always laughing at me. Oh, just you wait, you little rascal, I told myself and started clawing back up the hill again knowing exactly what branch it’s sitting on. But once I got to the hill, it “disappeared” again. But this time I wasn’t discouraged and for a good ten minutes I rummaged in the thick undergrowth back and forth under the branches until I saw it. Now, all I needed was a little vantage point in between the branches. I found it and in the right moment the falcon turned its head beautifully. Seconds later I heard thunder and I could see thunderstorm clouds approaching. I run quickly down the hill for cover, reaching into a pocket for my cell phone! Where is it?! Did I take it? I’m sure I did. Meanwhile, the storm raced towards me and the fight against time began. I scramble up the hill again looking everywhere desperately for my phone in the undergrowth. “Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha” sounds over my head again! That bastard! I can hear the raindrops approaching like a truck. I’m trying to figure out where the hell the cell phone might have fallen out of my pocket, I’m retracing all the many paths I’ve created in the grass and there it was. Phew. I’m practically flying down the road rushing to seek shelter before another downpour. My heart is pounding, the falcon’s gone, because it wishes to endure this downpour somewhere dry and I’m flipping through my photos. Phew, so there IS one. Nice. Even with his glasses. Well, that was worth it in the end. When the storm passes, I’m gonna go canoeing …

Background of the photo

 

This is the place where the laughing falcon regularly sat on a tree and watched the surroundings

The place where I lost (and fortunately found again after a mild stroke) my phone. I still don’t get it how it happened.

Story No. 2: On the canoe

 

Bare-throated Tiger heron, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 500mm, ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/250s, handheld

I’m always really looking forward to this part, even though I end up with the least amount of photos. Though, oh what a feeling. As soon as the rain stops I hop in my canoe and off I go. Over and over I’m exploring the motionless lake quiet as a mouse hoping I might be lucky and outsmart a kingfisher, maybe even a buzzard, an agami heron or maybe I’ll encounter a posing basilisk. You never know what extraordinary things might happen. To facilitate your imagining of what sightings I might have had during the 1-2 hour ride, I have carefully jotted everything down. So here is a list of what I saw: + something splashed + a young basilisk run across the water into the thicket + a hummingbird flew by + a turtle stuck its head out of the water + about 30m above my head a troop of spider monkeys followed by capuchin monkeys swang by + a very loud Ringed Kingfisher (40cm Kingfisher) flew by and sat high up on a tree + I felt as if the tree looked at me. I paddled back a bit, finding a tiger heron in the thick leaves and trying really hard to give the impression that it wasn’t there. I created its portrait and slowly went back to the place where I saw the kingfisher. But it always sees me first and flies away with a loud shriek. I realised though that although it cannot be bothered by my absolutely silent canoe, the problem was my speed. The slower the boat, the less my presence will be noticeable. Having seen the kingfisher perching about 40m from me, I tried the slow-approach tactic. I pointed the tip of the canoe at the tree with the bird, paddled twice, and just let the canoe drift, following the example of the world curling champions. It was a pretty decent estimate and the last 20m I was approaching practically invisibly. I had my camera at the ready the whole time and watched a grayish-blue splotch enlarge until the kingfisher was actually visible (albeit surrounded by shrubs). It’s getting bigger and bigger, I start taking photos and … I just slide by under it. The kingfisher is not the least bothered and doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. I put the camera away from my eye, grab a paddle, and the kingfisher skedaddles. Of course. And so does another basilisk, whose nerves crack as he got bored looking like a twig. Oh well, it’s time to hunt the basilisks.

Ringerd Kingfisher, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 500mm, ISO 320, f/5.6, 1/200s, handheld

Background of the photo

 

Kingfisher on the horizon. Charge!

Story No. 3: Green Basilisk Lizard

 

Green Basilisk Lizard, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 400mm, ISO 200, f/4.5, 1/160s, handheld

I devoted a significant part of my stay to basilisks. Intentionally, I don’t write ‘photographing’ basilisks. That’s the way it is with them. They are beautiful and you can think of a number of places where you’d like to meet them, where it would suit them and where it would be an absolute pleasure to photograph them. BUT. The basilisks have no sense for aesthetics whatsoever. You could say that they are as stupid as they are beautiful. It’s common that trees fall into the lagoons here and there after storms. Basilisks love them and often sunbathe on them. Dozens of interesting dead branches stick out horizontally of the water, which are reflected on the surface. That would be the perfect place, I tell myself. But the basilisks don’t see it that way. If they are sunbathing somewhere other than in a complete medley of deadwood, they are sunbathing completely badly with its back to me surrounded by a bunch of branches. Alternatively, they are very close to the opposite bank, which is too far from where I am. Plus, even though they can stay relatively calm, all I have to do is step inadvertently on a dry twig that cracks under my shoe scaring the basilisk off. It runs off on the water surface for a while, then swims, then sinks and fun’s over. All this is actually the better option taking into account that I actually discover the basilisk. For most of the time, the search is in vain. That’s why I’d sat on the shore for an hour (ideally just between the downpours) and just silently watched. Apart from being the centre of attention for swarms of mosquitoes, nothing really happened for a while. And yet, I managed to capture the basilisk exactly as I envisioned it. And what’s weird about it – it all happened on the first day. It should have gradually enfolded from a first, completely unsuccessful day, through seeing one here and there and being ready to give up, only to being rewarded for my diligence and stubbornness on the last day. But it was the other way around. I went to the lagoon to a place where I had occasionally seen basilisks on my previous visits, founding nothing. So I sat down and just looked around, scanning every twig and I froze. A beautiful male lies on a log over the water and bobs his head up and down. This is their territorial behavior. At first I thought it was aimed at me. But then I almost fainted. About 15m from him was a half-submerged second male with its back to me but sideways to the shore. Being aware of their innate inclination to escape at the slightest mistake, I began ever so slowly to move to a better position. They both knew about me so everything was only up to them, really. The approach was very physically demanding, because I had to, as inconspicuously as possible, slide down a steep ledge closer to the water. It took perhaps twenty minutes before I was happy with an angle offering me no disturbance in the background. I flipped the display out and tried to get the camera as close to the water as possible, holding the lens with the other hand by the tripod foot turned up. It was incredible, such adrenaline! I was taking pictures like my life depended on it – open aperture, higher aperture, normal exposure, underexposure … I was not taking any chances. Soon, I had about 800 practically identical photos on the card (18fps will do that for you in a blink of an eye). Now, all I needed was one tiny step closer to the water. I’m carefully taking the one last step to the solid shore and splash! My leg dived knee-deep in the water! I panic. Another splash and there goes my other leg. Water is everywhere, I curse a lot holding my camera over my head so I don’t drown it. Soon I manage to get to a really hard shore and I live. So, what do you think the basilisks did? Those bastards stayed in their spots! They didn’t budge one bit. They just watched me. However, as soon as I put my camera in the right position again off they were! Dammit, is this normal?! Drenched, I went to change, backing up the photos three times on the way. I really wanted to bring those photos home with me!

Background of the photo

 

90% of the encounters with green basilisk looked like this

I have had dozens of such encounters

If they are within reach of the camera, they camouflage themselves perfectly relying on their immobility

They do not understand that such a place may be good for their rest, but completely impossible for us to take pictures off

On the picture below you can see an arrow indicating where I photographed the basilisk, while the cross points to a place where there really ISN’T a solid shore

Scene with a basilisk in context (focus 150mm (EQ 300mm)) and then the euphoria at 400mm (EQ 800mm)

Story No. 4: Anole on the Road

 

 

Anolis, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 500mm, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/100s, handheld

I went for a walk because it stopped raining. I just took my camera with Olympus 150-400mm/ 4.5 TC over my shoulder and set off. I walk and walk and nothing. I hear a truck approaching from a distance, so naturally I stick to the side of the road. It’s very muddy and there is an odd puddle on it. The sound of the truck is approaching and suddenly, I get it. I’m about a kilometer from the hostel and the sound is not caused by any car. It’s yet another gigantic downpour! The vegetation is no longer visible and it’s bad. It’s like a hot tub. There is not a dry fiber on my body, the camera also got more than it asked for, and the path changed beyond recognition. It stopped just before I reached the hostel with me being able to walk the last 300m with almost dry feet. And there, in one puddle was about 8cm big anole. Even though I wasn’t in the mood to take pictures, I couldn’t resist. I put the camera on the ground, tilt the screen and take a commemorative portrait of the lizard. At home, after a hot shower and in dry clothes, I noticed that the water under its tiny paws was somewhat “bent.” That’s how the basilisks run on the water. I spent the rest of the day dry under the roof, watching more and more rain, hoping that at least for a while some bird would fly in, and this time, for a change, I would be dry.

Background of the photo

 

The path home

It’s not gonna rain. I’m not gonna bother with wellingtons

Tyrannosaurus on the road

The birds finally came that day. And for once it was the other way around, I was dry and they were wet. The days passed quickly and before I realised, my short visit to Costa Rica was over. All I’m left with are amazing memories, 4,500 photos on disk and enthusiasm for the new Olympus 150-400mm/ 4.5 TC lens. If you expect any reproach or complaints, you won’t get them from me. Optically, it’s great, incredible in range, absolutely resistant to the whims of the weather, with extra strong stabilisation allowing you to take pictures of larger insects, birds and mammals of all sizes. It’s a real rarity on the market and its utility potential cannot be justified by its specification. Yes, there are lenses that have some elements of the specs, but none combined like this. And the price? Yes, it’s high, however it correlates exactly with the possibilities that open up for nature photographers. I swapped my opportunity to get it for a 10-day stay in Costa Rica, but when the time comes, I will be happy to be on the waiting list and honored to be its proud owner. Finally, have a look below at a medley of photos that I had time to edit so far. I believe they document well an interesting variety of what I could capture with the incredible 150-400mm/ 4.5 TC lens during my stay.

Keel-billed Toucan, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 367mm, ISO 320, f/4.5, 1/200s, handheld

King Vulture, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 400mm, ISO 200, f/4.5, 1/2500s, handheld

Volcano Hummngbird, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 500mm, ISO 250, f/8, 1/100s, handheld

Resplendent Quetzal, Costa Rica, Kostarika, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 316mm, ISO 1000, f/4.5, 1/100s, handheld

Keel-billed Toucan, Costa Rica, Kostarika, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 350mm, ISO 64, f/4.5, 1/30s, handheld

Passerini’s Tanager, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 500mm, ISO 500, f/5.6, 1/125s, handheld

Passerini’s Tanager, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 400mm, ISO 500, f/4.5, 1/125s, handheld

Green Violetear, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, Laowa 7.5mm/2, ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/800s, Peak Design Travel Tripod

Resplendent Quetzal, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 400mm, ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/125s, handheld

Praying Mantis, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 400mm, ISO 250, f/6.3, 1/50s, handheld

Common Tody Flycatcher, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 500mm, ISO 320, f/5.6, 1/160s, handheld

Dragonfly, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 500mm, ISO 500, f/5.6, 1/100s, handheld

Green Basilisk Lizard, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 150mm, ISO 320, f/5, 1/60s, handheld

Collared Aracari, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 367mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/100s, handheld

AND FINALLY A FEW PICTURES FROM NIGHT WALKS

 

Green-eyed Tree Frog, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1 III, M.Zuiko 60mm/2.8, ISO 64, f/9, 1/250s, falsh, handheld

Dead-leaf Katydid, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1 III, M.Zuiko 60mm/2.8, ISO 100, f/8, 1/200s, falsh, handheld

Katydid, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1 III, M.Zuiko 60mm/2.8, ISO 64, f/10, 1/125s, falsh, handheld

Dead-leaf Katydid, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1 III, M.Zuiko 12-100mm/4 IS PRO, ISO 64, f/7.1, 1/125s, falsh, handheld

Leafcutter ant, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1 III, M.Zuiko 60mm/2.8, ISO 250, f/9, 1s, falsh, Peak Design Travel Tripod

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  • Andy

    This was hugely enjoyable to read, I could almost feel the mud and shared your excitement when the green basilisk was on that log. The lens sounds great!

    Reply
  • Sonia

    Your work is exceptional and an inspiration. It’s so interesting to read the story and effort that goes into getting each shot. I am working my way through your Olympus tutorial, a lot of great info there, thank you.

    Reply
  • Gregory Lee Donoghue

    Green Basilisk Lizard, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 150-400mm/4.5 TC 1.25x IS PRO, 400mm, ISO 200, f/4.5, 1/160s, handheld

    This photo should be in the running for a photo of the year! Great work.

    Reply
  • Abraham Latchin

    Fantastic work Petr, you really have a wonderful eye for composition!

    Reply
  • Suji

    Wonderful as ever!
    I look forward to your English translation – Google does not do a great job of it…
    For your nightshots, what do you use to trigger your handheld flash – a small optical unit or a radio trigger?
    Thanks for taking the effort of traveling in such difficult times – it certainly lifts my spirits!
    Seasons Greetings to you…
    Suji

    Reply

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