A dry wilderness – Kruger National Park November 2016

 

I spent a quick 4 days with my family in the southern part of the Kruger National Park, camping at Berg en Dal.  It was hot with the mercury reaching 48C on one day, the hottest temperatures I have ever experienced and reaching 43 C on two other days (near Crocodile Bridge).

The Kruger was still in the grip of drought which had continued into spring from the hot dry winter.  Again the Fuji Xt1 and 100-400 (and 1.4x converter) failed to disappoint.  There was  very little water and   virtually no  vegetation for the grazers.  Very sad indeed and the animals looked lean. There would have been quite an impact on species such as hippo which have had to travel far to source grazing. The summer birds were largely back and this was a major highlight of the trip with first time viewings of half-collared and grey headed kingfishers.  Two leopard sightings (one of which I totally messed up in terms of focus and so those photos are courtesy of my son Tom).

Fortunately, the day after returning home, the rain arrived and so I expect it to now be an oasis.  Hopefully the rains will continue to provide much needed relief to this Paradise.

My next trip is in April 2017. Enjoy!

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25,November,2016 · 11:46 am

Lion at Pilanesberg_ 28 May 2016

A wonderful  lioness sighting captured on the fuji 100-400mm lens…great intensity and focus as it used my vehicle for  cover to stalk its prey … before it passed  in front of my car and launched itself  after 3 male impala and a waterbuck, which miraculously and  narrowly managed to avoid capture.Love the catch lights in the eyes. Captured in the late afternoon as sun was low  (5pm winter) jpeg  ISO 200  1/100 sec at 370-400mm on the close ups,

with stabilizer enabled, handheld which was no mean feat in the dappled shade.  adrenalin pumping.

 

 

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30,May,2016 · 12:24 pm

Real world testing of the Fuji 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR and 50-140mm f2.8 WR on safari in the Kruger National Park South Africa

KNP2016_  (4821).jpgFirstly, I am not a techie lens tester but a passionate hobbyist wildlife and landscape photographer. I have had my eyes on the Fujifilm 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 lens for a few weeks since its release and had read a few reviews, but few on its usage for wildlife photography, so I have decided to give it a practical review.

The day prior to my departure for a ten day holiday to the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa, my wife, Joy, told me that I had her permission to buy the new Fujifilm 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 OIS LM WR lens for my birthday.  Wow, what  a wife…what a lens! I loaded my credit card to the maximum and headed off to the only shop that I knew would be open on a Sunday. On arrival I received a beautiful, if not KNP2016_  (4825)heavy black box.  I rushed home to unpack it with glee. I had already purchased a 50m-140mm F2.8 a   year earlier which was up until that point my favourite lens.

The following morning at 1am we left Johannesburg and headed to the world famous Kruger National Park (I have been to the park over 100 times in my lifetime and so know it well).  It is one of the  most well-known  parks in South Africa, the size  of a small country such as Israel or Wales and is  particularly known  for its  biological  diversity with numerous mammals, birds, fish  and reptiles species.KNP2016_  (3157)KNP2016_  (2454).jpg

It was my intention to really capture the essence of the place with my stock of lenses. I had recently acquired a Novoflex 400mm and 600mm pistol grip lens system with Fuji mount adaptor in mint condition at a local charity store.  I had tested this manual focus combination in my garden but whilst it had reach, it was cumbersome to manoeuvre and akin to a bazooka (it is now for sale).KNP2016_  (4987)

I was therefore relieved to have a single lens which could largely cater for my needs and the 100-400mm met that need.  I was impressed  by the build quality, though I did wish that there was  a bit  more metal on the barrel (having seen the lovely Sigma  aluminium build quality) however the lightness of the lens was surprising when mounted to my  Fuji Xt1  and vertical grip.

I prepared  my home made  Manfrotto / Monopod window  mount system (photos attached)  made from a Manfrotto window mount clamp, a stud, Manfrotto monopod and a Wimberley type head.  The contraption is fully height adjustable.  I tended to suspend the camera from the top of the Wimberley which worked great particularly for video and when using the rear view screen as well as numerous bean bags, believing that the added stability would assist where I was unable to hand hold the lens. However  with the amazing  5  stop  Optical image Stabilization, I used the  “contraption “ about  a third of the time and preferred the flexibility of hand held shooting.  This contraption fits in a Land Rover Defender brilliantly. It also fits in the Toyota Fortuner and is stable and versatile.

The Kruger Park, had until 2 weeks prior, been experiencing a severe drought, illustrated by the number of carcasses, notably buffalo and hippo, that lay alongside several roads. Areas of the   Kruger had been a dustbowl with limited grazing and the bush was very much thinned out for summer, when it is often a dense tangle.  However just 10 days prior in mid-March 2016 there were three days of solid rain, such that the main rivers flooded, some bursting their   banks, closing roads and causing general chaos.  However the rain brought life back to the veld and it glowed in resplendent green glory by the time I had arrived.  Even the red baked plains had signs of green life sprouting everywhere.  The west part of the Park seemed to still be drier than the East and the very South was like the Garden of Eden (with an abundance of herds of plains game).

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My 10 day holiday commenced as we moved from one camp to another, photographing the local sights and animals.  Photography  during summertime even  with the amazing  dynamic range of the XT1  still resulted in some very  bright days with harsh light and high temperatures.  4 of the 10 days had temperatures reaching to 43 degrees Celsius, with one particular day (while photographing two young cheetahs), reached 47 C which is murderously hot.

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The 100-400mm lens took the heat in its stride but the heat shimmer emanating from the dry ground ultimately affected some of the images.  So ideally  shooting was largely confined to the morning and evenings.  However as any  wildlife photographer will tell you, this  can be challenging as one   needs a certain amount of  luck to see the right animal  at the right time in the right location in the right light whilst you have the right lens (and with battery!).  My general preferred approached is not to sit in one place awaiting the animals to find me, but to cover as much ground as possible, passing as many of my favourite hotspots as possible.  I had confined my travels to the South of the Park. On very hot days the animals tend to take cover in the shade, making photography more challenging.  Conventional wisdom will tell you that you will have a better chance to see active   leopard in the mornings and later afternoon / evenings (normally about 5 minutes prior to gate closing time), close to sunset when the light is often extremely poor. Whilst this was the case on this trip some leopard were seen on the move at midday or early afternoon

The gear I took to the park included the Fujifilm 18-55mm lens (which is highly underrated), the 50-140mm f2.8 and the 100 -400mm. I also took a Minolta MD macro and a Minolta 50MD adaptor and Minolta MD 58mm 1.2 (I did not use any of these lenses on this trip but they are awesome in quality and  build).

Unlike previous years  where I have taken the  kitchen sink, normally  consisting of three bags, a  1Dmkii and a  panoramic  film camera, on this occasion I could go light and  easy with one  bag a Lowepro Omni  which fitted the five  lenses.  An inverter, charger and 3 batteries, some step up rings and   blower pretty much rounded off the kit. I did not use a polarizer although there were opportunities when perhaps I   should have.

Part of my intention was to test out the focusing of the 100-400mm. I was not shy to use high ISO and selected Aperture priority mode and A ISO mode set to a maximum ISO of 1600 with a minimum shutter speed of 1/60 for most of the time except early mornings. I was more than happy to shoot up to ISO 3200 but on occasions went to 6400 and 12800(which quality still amazed me).  My favourite image of a leopard in the semi-dark went to 12800 just to freeze the movement (below image).which shows soem grain . Being eyeballed by a leopard at 4m range just before sunset is a scary thing. I was amazed  at the quality of the images captured when almost dark.KNP2016_  (4880)-2

 

I was particularly  impressed by the   ability to track wildlife such as a  Wildebeest  chasing a  hyena, though I had to take a  decision to  have either three hyena or the Wildebeest in focus.  I chose the former. Shooting at  6am  in the morning when light is poor and sun is perhaps only just rising is  challenge to any lens set up.

By the end of the trip I had taken over 4000 photos.  I was extremely happy with about 500 of the shots.  I would say that about 1%   of photos were out of focus, sometimes one from a burst of say   6 and I did lose some shots on moving animals, which disappointed me from time to time but this  was often as a result of reacting too late or limitations from working in the confines of a car or   focussing on a branch behind the subject.KNP2016_  (3746)

The main issues were more with the XT1 and not the lens.  Once   you shoot a burst in   continuous mode there is a slight shifting / zooming of the image in the screen while it clears the buffer and it states “Storing” in the viewfinder and a slight lag before one can shoot again.  This is extremely frustrating with moving wildlife this resulted in certain missed  shots in delaying to focus again as the lens needed to re-acquire the animal or bird, which by this time has often moved off (particularly if evading a predator or chasing prey). So sometimes the solution was to move the dial to single shot mode and while one could not get a burst, the camera was slightly more responsive.  Practice is certainly needed for tracking  a  pronking impala unless you have clear line of sight to track it.

Sometimes when doing this it would track the background and not the animal resulting in some out of focus shots. The CL (Continuous low-speed) mode was also great particularly when using the zone mode as gave a wider area for focusing but 80% of the time I used single point selection. It can make tracking an animal moving at speed a challenge. I also faced challenges in catching birds in flight partly because the bush was dense and there were few opportunities of birds flying close to the vehicle and   so this would still need to be tested. However on static and slow-moving birds I was blown away with the initial lightning speed of initial focus but less so with the tracking ability. However with practice this can be improved if one anticipates the direction of the animal in advance. Of particular regular use was the   ability to  limit the focus  from 5m to  infinity., It really is  not that often that one is closer than 5m except where   animals  cross the roads or are close to the edges. I tended to flip from infinity mode to the 5m mode and there is a considerable time-saving in not having to rack out the full lens.  However if an animal is  within the 5m range you wills struggle to  focus until you  remember to  flip the switch to full  to infinity mode.

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The    continuous focus mode is sometimes  a bit  disconcerting as it seems to hunt  backwards and forward, but the moment the shot is taken the    object  seems to almost always be in focus. This is not an inherent fault with the lens but the challenge with terrain where branches and stalks of grass can often interrupt focus where an animal moves from an open area to an area of cover. I would request that a future model of a camera allow one to manually adjust autofocus whilst in the AF mode (like on a Canon).

I had some challenges using manual focus when it automatically zoomed in when turning the ring and then struggling to locate the   animal in the viewfinder.  This is I am sure just a camera setting issue.

I tried several different focusing means from the single focus point (used 70% of the time) to the    zone focusing (20%),  KNP2016_  (3211)but struggled in the wide due to the nature of the terrain and landscape and the somewhat random focusing on a particular object in the view frame. I would have no doubt that in open terrain that this could be a very effective means of tracking but I believe   improvements can be made. As to hand holding I was amazed at the stability noticed right within the viewfinder.

KNP2016_  (131)As a  tactic  in low  light scenarios, I would  often switch to the  50-140mm, lens which seemed  marginally sharper and faster, though I do  not think the OIS  is as effectives as that on the 100-400mm.  The sharpness and bokeh is where the 100-400mm shines.  If I had one  regret, it is that I had  not bought the  1.4x  converter,  but this will accompany  me on future trips. Shooting at a high ISO is certainly not a problem and I was surprised at how sharp the images were straight out of the camera (I shot jpegs only).  The camera and lens combinations was hard to put done and if there was ever one lens that can do it all for wildlife this is the one.  I would highly recommend  it.KNP2016_  (5147)

By the end of the holiday I had seen countless species of  birds and animals including  4 separate  lion sightings,  7 leopard sightings  and  5  separate   cheetahs  sightings (12 in total) which is extraordinary .  Birdlife included  Bustards, Korhaans, Rollers, Ground Hornbills, African Openbill, Saddlebill stork, African Hawk an Wahlberg’s Eagle, Martial Eagle, 4  species of bee eaters and 5  species of  kingfishers including ,  the relatively  tame  Giant and  Pied Kingfishers on the  causeways and  bridges.

 

I noticed that I predominantly shot at the long end of the lens but enjoyed the flexibility of being able to go wider.  I would in future want a separate camera for the 50-140mm lens rather than swapping as both have their place.  For close upset animals to the road the 50-140mm is my preferred choice as it appears to be faster and allows increased lighter gathering at f2.8. I had to blow   dust off the sensor once in 1 days, which dust presumably attached whilst changing lenses.  I shot mainly the Velvia film profile setting following   and sometimes the standard Provia setting and found the reproduction of colours to render a slightly more   vibrant look than reality, but very pleasing to the eye (notably on sunsets / sunrises).  Despite the   substantial cost to acquire the 100-400 lenses, it is transformative.  When I  compare to the  quality of the images to  my   50000 wildlife photos  gleaned  off my Canon 1D mkii, 70D and 300mm f4L and 70-200mm f2.8 Mk 1 and 100-400m L mk1, the Fuji  just blows them away. That kit has since been sold and I will never return to that heavy kit!

I am sure that other lenses such as the 7D whilst likely to have better focusing and tracking, the sheer enjoyment and lightness of the Fuji system trumped all previous experiences. I   just want to get out more to use this lens.  I believe you get what you pay for with sublime optics, a light but professional and solid package. The resistance to dust was awesome.   The 50-140 feels slightly KNP2016_  (256)  more robust and solid but the 100-400mm is not far behind.  I have attached a gallery with a number of my favourite photos from the trip. I do believe the pouch could be improved. The less came back from the trip dust free and clear of scratches but no doubt the   plastic exterior will wear over time.  I was particularly impressed with the lens hood design.  No more did I need to recover a lens hood which had rattled off down a game track or at some inopportune time next to some wild animal… the locking mechanism really works. I do however hope that they will release some metal versions of the hood sin due course (or carbon fibre).  I had  no issues with the  tripod foot and  enjoyed the smoothness of the rotation  of the tripod collar particularly  when  shifting from vertical to landscape orientation. I was able to fit the foot to several styles of   bevelled plates and the Manfrotto plate using it on a Wimberley type head and or the Manfrotto hydrostatic head and it was light enough to be manageable. I certainly do look forward to  even more improved focussing on a future XT2 however I believe  Fuji have something  worthy of its previous offerings and that can  easily hold its own with its competitors. Another area that was hugely impressive was the silent motor which is awesome when using video.  When used with Sennheisser external mic there was no camera or lens noise. I am not able to add video to  my WordPress and so  I hope the photos are evidence of what this lens can achieve.KNP2016_  (1282)

Please do contact me if you require any advice or information concerning photography within the Kruger and South Africa generally or any other questions.  Thanks for visiting my blog.Considering the weakness of the rand  to any major currency  now is the time to visit!

 

 

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16,April,2016 · 3:18 pm

Marekele National Park August 2015

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13,August,2015 · 6:27 am

Cape Vidal, Isimangaliso Wetland Park & Mkuze Game Reserve

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13,August,2015 · 6:20 am

Fanie Botha Trail, Mpumulanga – Recommended 4 day hike

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12,August,2015 · 7:44 pm

Kruger Park 2014

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12,August,2015 · 6:51 pm