Ecuador 2012

Ecuador Adventure – 2012
I’m going to be spending the next 2 weeks in Ecuador with my photo buddy Ethan Meleg.  I figured it’d be kind of fun to do an ongoing  journal/article daily, as I travel about the country. My internet access may have some hiccups along the way, but I’ll try to add to this daily. It’s going to be a great trip we think.

I’ll start by talking about the gear I am bringing, as this is 100% a photographic trip. What works for me, may not work for you. I do hope it helps some people when they’re travelling abroad.

Lets get to it.

Two companies ended up giving me some gear to use while on the trip. I am offered stuff to use and review a lot. However, I turn most of it down because I don’t really want to be a “reviewer”. I will only accept stuff I have bought, or that I want to buy. If I don’t have a desire to own it, I won’t use the product to the best of my abilities. For example, I don’t shoot video, so me reviewing monitors and mics makes zero sense. Even if free stuff is cool.

Singh-Ray Filters (
I have been using Singh-Ray filters for a long time. I purchased well over $1500 of their filters in the past. I use gear hard, and the graduated filters I had purchased were pretty beaten up and the smaller Cokin-P size. I wanted to upgrade to the 4×6 sized filters anyway, and Singh-Ray was kind enough to make that happen.

I have also always used their LB Warming Polarizers. There are two big advantages to the Singh-Ray polarizer, firstly, they are 2/3 stop faster than almost every other polarizer out there, including B+W’s KSM filters. The second is the warming effect of the polarizer, it’s so subtle but it really does remove the cool temperature that most polarizers produce. I can also add, their ring filters are built just like all higher end filters. I have killed my fair share of Hoya Pro-1 filters, when I used the Pro-1’s, the glass was held in with a retaining clip. I dropped two of them, and both came apart. I have dropped the Singh-Ray filters a lot more than that and they’re still going strong.

Gura Gear (
The second company to donate a product is Gura Gear. I have spoken about the Kiboko bags on many occasions on Canon Rumors. I bought my first Kiboko 30L, and loved it. It turns out, customers of Lens Rentals Canada also love them and my personal bag ended up getting thrown into the rental pool. I’m happy to say I now have my own Kiboko 30L again. They are simply the best travel backpack on the market if you have big lenses or lots of gear.

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The Gear! Some of which I left at home.

Camera Gear
Where to start? I’m lucky enough to have access to pretty much all of it. That doesn’t mean bring it all though. It has to fit inside the Kiboko comfortably. I travel as light as possible, zipper busting packing jobs are inefficient and silly. I use the lightest luggage products. That means a duffle-bag for the my checked luggage. It weighs less than 5lbs and holds everything you throw at it. Unlike a suitcase which can weigh as much as 12lbs before there is anything packed inside. The Gura Gear Kiboko 30L backpack weighs less than 4lbs and goes completely unnoticed by most everyone. I have just carried the bag onto a connection flight with Delta. When most other carry-on bags are being taken at the door of the plane to go underneath, the Kiboko is safely in the overhead bin with a 500 f/4L IS inside it! I will note, the only current supertelephoto lens that won’t fit in it is, the Nikon 600 f/4 VR.

I have listed all the gear I brought below, I also touch on some of the choices I had to make.

1D Mark IV
5D Mark II

EF 16-35 f/2.8L II
EF 24-105 f/4L IS
EF 70-300 f/4-5.6L IS
EF 500 f/4L IS

580EX II

Gitzo 3541LS
Wimberley Type II Gimbal Head
Markins Q20 Ballhead

Singh-Ray 82mm LB Warming Polarizer
Singh-Ray 77mm LB Warming Polarizer
Singh-Ray 4×6 2 Stop Hard Edge Graduated ND
Singh-Ray 4×6 3 Stop Soft Edge Graduated ND
Singh-Ray 4×6 2 Stop Reverse Graduated ND

Better Beamer Flash Extender
Really Right Stuff L Brackets & Lens Feet
TC-N83 Cable Release
Gura Gear Kiboko 30L
Leica 8×42 Ultravid HD Binocular

Super Telelphoto Lenses
It really came down to two choices for me. The EF 500 f/4L IS or the EF 800 f/5.6L IS. I’ll say up front I absolutely love the 800mm. It lets me never worry about teleconverters. I generally have all the length I need. There was times when I was in Kenya that the 800 was too much and I swapping camera bodies to “zoom out”. 1D Mark IV would come off, 5D Mark II would mount. That was horribly inefficient, I may as well have used a set of teleconverters. So on this trip, that’s what I have decided to do. The 500 f/4L IS won out. I didn’t consider the 600 f/4L IS because of weight, the version II may be the ticket, whenever we get our hands on one. I am also carrying both of the version III teleconverters.

Camera Bodies
There was really no choice beyond the 1D Mark IV and 5D Mark II. The Mark IV for the birds, wildlife and any time I need ultra awesome autofocus. The 5D2 will be used for the landscape stuff, as well as video. I prefer the 5D2 to the 1Ds III because it removes some weight from the bag, and I get great HD video.

Other Lenses
The 16-35 f/2.8L II is the chosen ultrawide. I only picked it because Singh-Ray sent an 82mm polarizer. I would have gladly used the EF 17-40 f/4L with the 77mm polarizers I already owned. It’s a steal of a lens. The 16-35 is no slouch either.

A general walkaround is generally something I never want, however there will be a lot of boat trips down rivers in the Amazon that will require some range. For that I chose the EF 24-105 f/4L IS. It’s small, light and has very good image quality. I like the range as well on both full frame and APS-H.

Medium telephoto is another lens people struggle with. I don’t however. After my experience in Africa, the EF 70-300 f/4-5.6L IS will be with me always. I absolutely love the lens and I’m more than happy to travel with it over the 70-200 f/4 or f/2.8 variety of glass. Its small, light, sharp, fast AF and great IS.

Even if the shot isn’t there, binoculars are key to see what’s ahead, behind and above. You can also watch a lot of behavioral things through binoculars that you can’t get with a camera. I treated myself before the trip and bought some Leica 8×42 Ultravid HD binoculars from Pelee Wings in Ontario. Buy the best binoculars you want to afford. You’ll use them for a lifetime and your eyes will thank you. Nikon, Swarovski, Zeiss, Pentax and Kowa all make great binoculars for most budgets. I recommend the Nikon Monarchs if you don’t have lots to spend. I’m not into the Canon IS binoculars, they’re a weird shape and cost too much considering the optics.

What I left at home
A fast prime, and his was a tough one for me. I really wanted to bring the EF 24 f/1.4L II, my favorite Canon lens. I had to ask myself if I would use the lens on the trip, if you have to ask, I find that generally answers the question. So it stayed.

No macro lens. We’ll have extension tubes instead, in case the need arises. A macro doesn’t leave my bag on the best of days, I had serious doubt I wanted to get that close to big jungle bugs anyway.

I was going to bring an M9 and a couple of lenses to have a 3rd camera body. However, I nixed the idea at the last minute. It added unneeded weight, value of gear and probably wouldn’t have been used all that often. Though I would have made a point to. I also don’t know how the body would do in extreme humidity and didn’t want to chance it. I’m already at a large dollar value in the bag, adding Leica easily adds $12,000 that I have to get insured.

Until tomorrow
I am currently in Atlanta on my stopover before heading to Quito, so I’ll be updating this article tomorrow.

Feburary 16, 2012
I’ll be heading to San Jorge De Tandayapa Hummingbird Sanctuary (Cloud Forest) for 2 nights. More to come from there!

February 17, 2012
Arrived to the San Jorge Tandayapa eco lodge on day 2. It was a kilometer walk up a very steep hill as the road had been washed away by the rain. I had just ate 2 bags of Doritos, so the exercise was welcomed.

The lodge itself is fantastic, the rooms are clean with an amazing view of surrounding mountains. This area is called cloud forest. It’s world famous for hummingbirds.

I’ll say up front, I am not a birder. Most of my bird knowledge is based on baseball team nicknames. Go Blue Jays.

Back to Ecuador….

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My first attempt at shooting hummingbirds.

My first goal was to get amazing shots of hummingbirds in the first few hours, that didn’t happen. They are quite possibly the hardest thing I have ever attempted to photograph. I have a new respect for the amazing photos you see of the species. It’s rare I want lessons in something, but shooting these quick, small and beautiful birds definitely require some guidance. Luckily I’m probably at one of the best places on earth to practice.

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Crimson-Rumped Toucanet

There are tons of other birds, that are a little easier to shoot. I especially love the Crimson-rumped Toucanette, it’s the first time I have seen a relative of the Froot Loops bird up close and personal in the wild.

I have spent the last two days in awe of the avian life in the area. It’s tranquil and beautiful and I’m shooting tons. I’m still waiting on that epic bird shot though.

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Silver-throated Tanager, Tandayapa Valley

More to come!