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Old February 22nd, 2008, 09:40 AM   #1
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Dark as a jungle: camera work in rain forest

Greetings:
A couple years ago my wife and I were guides in a jungle lodge in Brazil's Amazonia. We are going to go back with more rigorous equipment this time to video the wildlife, especially birds, which are mostly small. The problem is lighting, as a true rainforest has no open spaces in the canopy and the light is actually quite reduced, so much so that one can easily walk under the tall trees quite easily because there is not enough light to produce dense growth. It is only on the margins of rivers that you see what is traditionally called "impenetrable jungle". With this preamble I come to the question.

I am looking to take a Canon XH-A1 as the camera. I will need a long lens. According to a web article: http://dvinfo.net/canonxl2/articles/article04.php
using a 200mm EOS lens will give m the equivalent of a 1560mm. If this is true, it would work well for most work. However, will there be enough light to use this successfully?

I would appreciate hearing from those who work in low-light situations that require telephoto lenses.

Sorry for the long intro, but included it so that you would know the kind of problem that I face.

Cheers,
Richard Tkachuck
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Old February 22nd, 2008, 11:59 AM   #2
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I don't know that I can answer the light question because I don't know how dark the jungle really is, but I can clear up a little confusion about camera choices.

The A1 that you referenced has a non-interchangeable lens attached to it that cannot be removed. The zoom on it is very good, giving a 35mm equivalent of approx. 38-778mm, but only about half the reach of a 200mm EOS lens. The built in lens also has a variable aperture, which is f/3.5 at the long end. You can buy extender lenses that attach to the end of the lens and give you a greater zoom.

To be able to use an EOS lens you would need either an XL2 camera (standard def, $3,000) or XL-H1 camera (hi def, $8,000). With an adapter you can use Canon EOS lenses with either camera and the conversion factors shown in the article you linked to would apply. I would suggest rather than a fixed focal length to get a zoom. Canon has a great 70-200mm lens that has a fixed aperature of f/2.8 along the entire zoom range, making it even better in low light than the lens on the A1 or the standard lens that comes on either the XL2 or XL-H1.
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Old February 22nd, 2008, 12:16 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Tkachuck View Post
I am looking to take a Canon XH-A1 as the camera. I will need a long lens. According to a web article: http://dvinfo.net/canonxl2/articles/article04.php
using a 200mm EOS lens will give m the equivalent of a 1560mm.
Lloyd has already beat me to it, but the XH A1 does not have an interchangeable lens. The link posted references an article I wrote for the Canon XL2, not the Canon XH A1. They are not the same.

That said, the XH A1 has a relatively long (20x) lens built-in, and a Century Optics teleconverter can be added to the front of it for a 60% increase in telephoto reach.

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Old February 22nd, 2008, 12:35 PM   #4
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Dark as a jungle: camera work in rain forest: reply

Assumption is the mother of all screw ups. I made the assumption that Canon made all it high-end cameras with interchangeable lenses. Sorry.

Is there any Canon HD camera in that price range that permits interchangeable lenses. $3000 was about my limit.

Thanks.
Richard
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Old February 22nd, 2008, 03:30 PM   #5
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Hi Richard.............

The answer to your specific question is "No". The Canon H1 is Canon's only HD camcorder with interchangeable lenses.

The answer to your implied question is a little more tricky.

I've been in both tropical and temperate rain forests, and even shooting stills with a flash is a problem due to the lack of light.

SD video is really only possible with a big chip camera (1/2" sensor) and BIG lenses (by which I mean really fast).

HD video in those circumstances can only be compared to shooting a black cat in a coal cellar using only a candle for illumination.

True, you can crank the gain up to near infinity, but the resultant video is so poor that it really defeats the point of shooting HD in the first place.

Having said that, I am not saying it can't be done. A big enough chip HD camera with some of the most expensive glass imaginable on the front would probably squeak in under the bar, but you can say "Sayonara" to that $3000 budget by a factor of at least 10.

There is also the contrast problem, whatever you shoot with. Crank the optics/ gain up high enough to get a decent picture in the dark and every chink of light entering the canopy blows the highlights clean out of the water and smears.

In short, with your budget, I can't see it working.


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Old February 23rd, 2008, 08:53 AM   #6
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Many thanks...

To those who replied with wisdom and wit, thanks. Will now adjust my dreams to those species that prefer a bit of sun, of which there are many throughout the tropical Americas, and experiment with low light on the side. So will probably start with XH-A1 and wait for lotto winnings to up scale.

Really grateful that this list exists.

Cheers,

Richard Tkachuck
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Old March 3rd, 2008, 07:54 PM   #7
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What Would Be Better?

Very dim HD-video from a rainforest, or pretty good SD-video, using a Sony PD170 or VX2100? I believe these champions of low-light could perform very well in the circumstances you describe.
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Old March 4th, 2008, 05:35 AM   #8
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Richard

I have an XH A1. And I have been to the Brazilian Atlantic rain forest (not the Amazon). I didn't have the A1 at that time, and only took (or tried to take) stills with Nikon cameras.

Next time (if there is one) I would be happy to take the A1. I have used it in dusk conditions in winter in the UK and it will cope with quite low light, even with full zoom, and have also used it in dark conifer forests for red squirrels and small birds at feeders. I think it will do quite well in the rain forest. You already know the problems of finding the birds in the canopy etc.

An advantage of the A1 is that it has a fixed zoom lens, so you should not get as many problems of damp air getting into the camera, between the lens and the sensor.
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Old March 18th, 2008, 09:19 AM   #9
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Hello Richard

I visited the Amazonia side of Peru a couple of months ago and shot 30 hours HDV with Sony FX7 which is not famous for its low light capabilities. In my opinion, HDV is great for jungle, unless you plan to film mostly the creatures of undergrowth at dusk. I usually get by without using gain. Be prepared to accept lots of shots turning soft due to focusing problems, though. There is no way to focus quickly and accurately on moving targets through leaves. I hope more intelligent focusing systems, already introduced to snapshot cameras and cheaper camcorders, will be available soon for more pro'ish equipment.

Most of the birds in a jungle live in good light. Especially in the mornings, they come out to open sunlit spaces. Those species hiding in thickets are less well lit but would be very challenging to get on video anyway. Best bird shots are often from gardens near lodges where the birds come to feed and are used to people. For a fixed lens camera, a tele extender would be of help there.

Many mammals are active at dusk but you probably won't see them much in the Amazon area. They are very cautious because of the hunting by local indians. Monkeys are plentiful and in good light but also very cautious. And, Amazon is a good place for interesting insects. Many species are very big in size and can be filmed without a macro lens.

Buy lots of silicon and have a great time. It's a jungle out there.

Jyrki Hokkanen

P.S. for trip starters - judge the HDV quality for yourself
...some HDV stills from Amazonia
http://picasaweb.google.com/jyrkihok...PeruAutumn2007

...and from Costa Rica
http://picasaweb.google.com/jyrkihok...RicaSpring2007
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