Rwanda gorilla trek -- monopod allowed?

Old Nov 26th, 2007, 10:01 AM
  #1  
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Rwanda gorilla trek -- monopod allowed?

I will be visiting the gorillas in Rwanda in January, after a safari on the Tanzania northern circuit.

I know when you approach the gorillas you are required to leave all bags, etc., back with your porters and only carry your camera. Are monopods allowed in the presence of the gorillas? I would think the low light might make a monopod useful there, but if they are not allowed, I'm not sure I will need one on safari in Tanzania.
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Old Nov 26th, 2007, 10:13 AM
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Yes, they are allowed, but I found it unnecessary and unwieldy. There was low light, but the main issue was that the gorillas did not stay still. My monopod did not help one bit with that. So my monopod did nothing more than become something difficult to carry around in tight quarters.

The second day I didn't bring the monopod, and had a much better time getting around.
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Old Nov 26th, 2007, 10:17 AM
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I brought one in 1995 and had the same experience as Mistadobalina. Have not taken one since.
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Old Nov 26th, 2007, 10:27 AM
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Yeah I guess they changed that, when I was there in 05 it was no bags and nothing that looked like a stick.

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Old Nov 26th, 2007, 10:59 AM
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Sounds like it would be more trouble than it's worth.

I will be using a Nikon D200 DSLR with a Nikon 18-200 lens (f/3.5-5.6). The lens has a "four stop" vibration reduction feature, which should help with hand-held shots. I think that will be enough, but if anyone else has any thoughts it would be appreciated.
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Old Nov 26th, 2007, 11:55 AM
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OK another perspective! Yes they are allowed & my hubby took one in Feb of this year. We did 2 treks and he really thought it was worth it. A few times we were perched on a steep hillside he felt it gave him more balance when taking photos. We also went to Tnaz first and he did not use it there at all but it was no hassle as it just stayed in the luggage while we where there.
Have an amazing trip.
J
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Old Nov 26th, 2007, 12:12 PM
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Sevendown,
We did not use a monopod for our pictures, and instead shot all of our gorilla pics handheld. I agree with the majority here that the monopod would be difficult to deal with an unwieldy in that environment.

Also, keep in mind that gorillas do not always (or even often) sit still for good slow-shutter-speed shots. Holding the camera steady (through a monopod or through image stabilization) won't do you any good if the subject is moving, even a little bit.

The only way to get a sharp picture of a moving subject in poor light is to use a fast lens -- faster than the one you are taking. I would highly recommend using something faster, like the Nikon 70-200/2.8VR lens. We used a slow lens for our gorilla pictures (Canon 100-400L, which is f/5.6 at the long end), and it only worked because we got incredibly lucky and had decent light for our treks. In low light, we would have been in real trouble. Using a 2.8 lens is insurance against that happening to you, and you can probably rent one if you don't want to buy it.

Taking a faster lens will make a much bigger difference in your pictures than carrying a monopod, in my view.

Good luck!

Chris
www.pbase.com/cwillis
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Old Nov 26th, 2007, 12:12 PM
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sevendown,
A few things to consider. Image Stabilized (Canon-IS) and Vibration Reducttion (Nikon-VR)lenses are a wonderful innovation but they do nothing to stop motion blur caused by moving subjects. Your particular lens is a variable aperature lens and at 5.6 will be maringal in the low light of the forest canopy. In other words, you might end up shooting at f5.6 and at that aperature you might well find yourself using too slow a shutter speed. Another suggestion would be to instead take the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens ( a 2.8 fixed aperature lens) and in that way insure that you will be able to use faster shutter speeds. It is a more costly lens but they can be rented or purchased and then resold for almost no loss once you return. I mention this becausse I am also preparing for a Gorilla Trek and also because many people fail to realize that vibration reduction is effective only as far as stabilizing the lens and reducing camera lens movement, it is of no benefit in stopping motion blur (subject movement). If it is your only telephoto, 200mm will not be long enough for Tanzania. If you do go ahead and get the 200mm 2.8 VR lens, it will take a teleconverter nicely and solve the problem and provide you with more telephoto reach. Just my thoughts, others may have already experienced these shooting conditions and can provide other insights.
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Old Nov 26th, 2007, 12:18 PM
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Chuck, I see that we are once again thinking the same way in response to one of these questions!

Would you mind emailing me at chrisgts at gmail dot com? I wanted to talk to you about the Galapagos based on your experiences there.

As an addition to my post above, I would say that if I were to go back to Rwanda to go gorilla trekking again, I would carry both a 70-200/2.8 and 100-400, put both in the bag and then choose on the spot which to take to the gorillas based on light conditions. We took a lot of gorilla pictures at 300-400mm focal lengths, and I would want that option if the light conditions would allow it.

Chris
www.pbase.com/cwillis
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Old Nov 26th, 2007, 12:18 PM
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Hi Chris,
Our posts must have crossed, glad we said the same thing. Now there is no question but that we are correct.
Cheers-Chuck
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Old Nov 26th, 2007, 12:44 PM
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You'll likely want a walking stick that will be offered. They just sticks picked up off the ground. I suppose the monopod could be used for that purpose.
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Old Nov 26th, 2007, 01:52 PM
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Chris,
I will send an email off as soon as I add this post. I just purchased the 70-200 2.8 L IS (already have the 100-400) and I love it. Actually I think it would be great Galapagos lens.
Reagrds-Chuck
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Old Nov 26th, 2007, 03:31 PM
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Thanks. I truly appreciate all the good advice.

I know that the lens I have is not the fastest, but I am not a professional photographer and I can't see spending $1600 for such a huge lens. The 18-200 lens I have weighs 19 ounces and takes great pictures, while the 70-200 f2.8 you suggest weighs 3.2 lbs and is much larger in dimensions as well.

I went to Rwanda in 1990 with a 70-210 f4 lens and got what I considered to be fantastic gorilla pictures then. Now with my D200, the pictures seem to be even better. Although I have not been back to Rwanda with it, I did just return from Antarctica and took wonderful pictures (although the light was usually perfect).

I just don't remember the gorillas as moving so quickly that I was having trouble tracking them.

In Tanzania, remember, the 200mm lens is equivalent to a 350 lens on a film camera.

I also have a 70-300 f5.6 lens that I will be taking along, but did not think I would need that distance for the gorillas.

Since my D200 takes pictures at 10.2 megapixels, don't you think I can get by with the two lenses I mentioned and crop as necessary. Again, I'm not a professional looking for world class stuff, just good pictures. However, I have never been one to scrimp on camera equipment for money -- it's just that 70-200 f2.8 is so big for the limited use I would put it to.

I appreciate all your thoughts.
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Old Nov 26th, 2007, 04:06 PM
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Sevendown,

Whenever someone starts asking photography questions on this forum, a variety of people will respond. Some of us (myself included) are slightly crazy and willing to carry around many pounds' weight of lenses in order to have the best tool for any particular shooting situation. So when we answer questions, we assume that a "no compromises" approach is the one to apply. If that is your mindset, I can confidently say that the 70-20/2.8 is the single best tool for the job of taking gorilla pictures in Rwanda.

Is it absolutely necessary? Well, only you can decide whether the cost of the lens and its weight are worth it for the better image quality and two stops more of light. To me, it is definitely worth it. The alternative is missing shots due to motion blur from the gorillas moving around, and also having to shoot at high ISOs, which will not only make your pictures noisy, but also reduce detail and make it difficult to crop and enlarge.

That is not to say that you won't get some good pictures -- you will. We shot 4 gorilla treks with a slow lens and got probably 40-50 keepers (out of 400-500 shots) per trek. We would have gotten a lot more with a faster lens, though.

Regarding focal length: I actually think you should plan on using your 70-300 instead of the 18-200. Both are the same maximum aperture, but the 70-300 is longer, and I think you will need that reach. When I go back and look at our gorilla pictures, I see NUMEROUS ones taken at 400mm (640mm equivalent on a film camera), like these examples:

http://www.pbase.com/cwillis/image/73177108 (Ubumwe from the Amahoro Group)

http://www.pbase.com/cwillis/image/73177130 (Rwanda from the Amahoro Group)

http://www.pbase.com/cwillis/image/73283433 (Rukundo's baby from the Habinyanja Group in Uganda, 360mm)

http://www.pbase.com/cwillis/image/73283455 (Kashija from the Habinyanja Group, 400mm and significantly cropped)

We do not have a single gorilla picture at less than 70mm focal length.

My view is that having longer focal length helps with gorillas, and I disagree with those who believe that 200mm is always long enough. I don't think it is. On some treks, it will be, but on others, it may not. Again, is it absolutely necessary? No, but it will give you flexibility that you wouldn't have with a shorter lens.

Chris
www.pbase.com/cwillis
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Old Nov 26th, 2007, 04:09 PM
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sevendown,
I think you will do just fine with what you have. I tend to get a bit carried away with lenses, sort of a fetish I guess. I kind of like camera bags as well. Still just a word of caution, in Tanzania the more lens the better. Unlike Botswana, where you can get up close and personal, in Tanzania you are often limited to staying on the roads or dirt tracks (at least in the parks). Therefore the need for longer lenses. I would guess that the 70-210 lens you used on your last trip was a Vivitar 70-21- Macro Zoom. It was a popular lens and gave decent pictures for that period. I doubt you would be happy with them today. I carried that lens around the world and was thrilled with the pictures. Computer designed optics have changed the whole SLR field so much that I am astounded whenever I review my old slides. While the 10 megapixel sensor of your Nikon is quite adequate, extensive cropping is still not the solution. Should you decide to get the f2.8 lens, you can use it with a 1.5X teleextender. That combination would yield a decent 450mm eqivalent. Also, while your Nikon is a fine camera, it said to have a somewhat noisy sensor and many find it unsatisfactory at higher iso (over 400 or 800). You are quite correct about the weight of these 2.8 lenses, they are heavy. I was under the impression that porters would carry your camera gear until you were almost on site, but I'm not certain. One additional thought, there are several good online lens rental agencies and the cost of renting is really minimal should you decide to take one of these faster lenses. Take a look at chris's site, some great Gorilla pics. Also if you are familiar with Fred Miranda (www.fredmiranda.com) look at suemcc posts of Gorillas and Chimps. These will also give gou some idea of the lighting conditions you might face. Best of luck and please do let us know what you decide and how you make out.
Regards-Chuck
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Old Nov 26th, 2007, 04:20 PM
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Chuck -- I don't have an e-mail from you, if you sent it, I didn't get it. My e-mail is [email protected].

Sevendown -- here is one of Susan McConnell's recents sets of Rwanda pictures (Sabyinyo Group) from the Fred Miranda Forum:
http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/588947/0

Susan told me she had really excellent lighting the day she took these, and most were taken with a 400mm lens.

Chris
www.pbase.com/cwillis
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Old Nov 26th, 2007, 04:34 PM
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Chris, Sorry, a new email with the added "gts" after you name has been sent. I am always in awe of Susan's work. She used the new Mark III at a very high iso from what I remember. In fact it was one of the features that really blew her away about that new body. I would guess that she split her gear between several porters.
Cheers-Chuck
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Old Nov 26th, 2007, 07:33 PM
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Before I had my P&S type 12-15 x optical zoom digital, I had a 70-200 lens for gorillas. I liked the results.

Tanzania and gorillas will be a great way to ring in 2008.
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Old Nov 26th, 2007, 08:40 PM
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The 70-210/f4 lens I used 17 years ago in Rwanda was a Nikon, and I still have it. I loved the pictures it took. But it is old and the autofocus is slow, very noisy and sometimes has trouble locking on something to focus. It has been dropped and the plastic case is slightly cracked, but it still operates like always and takes the same good pictures.

My new 18-200 is a slower lens by one stop, but its increased focal length is more versatile, its autofocus is immediate and quiet, and the optics seem a little better (or it may be the new camera). It really is one of the more versatile lenses that Nikon makes these days.

So I could use my old 70-210/f4, but I know the new 18-200 will stay on my camera all the time.

atravelynn -- what P&S do you use that has a 12-15x optical zoom? I am looking for a simple camera to buy my niece to take on this safari and want a good zoom.
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Old Nov 27th, 2007, 08:41 AM
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The 12x is Sony DSC H2 and uses a pair of AA batteries. I like that so I don't have to rely on recharging, just take enough AAs.

The 15x is Sony DSC H9 with night vision that requires no flash. The photos end up black and white. The continuous shoot is really fast. There are more megapixels in this one than the DSC H2. But it takes a non-AA battery that requires recharging.

Both are easy and I am thrilled with the results. I liked the Sony feel better than Canon. But Canon and Panasonic have similar cameras.

All of them are image stabilization.
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