Here is the FLAAR Mesoamerica plant and animal photography team at Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo
Posted Nov. 28, 2018
Senaida (camera assistant on field trips and plant researcher and graphic designer back in main office), Gaby (camera assistant), Shaila (teaches us that kids also like to visit Yaxha), Ricardo (park ranger helps with equipment), Pedro (plant assistant and helps carry the equipment), Alex (park ranger) Teco (Moises Daniel, bird, orchid, and plant specialist at Yaxha for 16 years who also assists in carrying the equipment where 4WD can't pass), and a very happy Dr Nicholas since there are so many awesome vines, bushes, water plants, shore plants, giant trees, and photogenic mushrooms to learn about every day.
This national park is definitely worth visiting.
Our equipment consists of: Canon EOS 1D X Mark II camera, plus 5x macro and 180mm tele-macro lenses, plus 300mm telephoto. All eight are Canon lenses: we never use an after-market lens on our Canon.
Since we evaluate 35mm DSLR cameras it is essential that we have more than one brand, so we also have a Nikon D810 and Nikon D5 camera. We would like to try out Sony mirrorless cameras with their new SAL 500mm f/4.0G telephoto lens (since sometimes it's more more practical to hike long distances with no tripod; you can move the camera much faster if you don't have to set up a tripod. That said, we prefer to use tripods on 90% of our photography.
For lenses a wide variety including one Sigma, one Zeiss but alll telephoto lenses are solely Nikon for their quality:
Nikon AF-Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF-ED Macro
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4e FL ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR with its dedicated Nikon AF-S
Teleconverter TC800-1.25E ED
We have Novoflex macro and panorama equipment (but would like to evaluate the L-positioned system of Novoflex).
We have a diverse range of macro lighting: three ring lights, and several other macro light systems.
We recently added a remarkable Broncolor Siros 800 L WiFi/RFS 2 with wireless accessory for the Nikon. If you are photographing orchids, bromeliads, or monkeys high in the jungle canopy this Swiss-made lighting is essential.
We have five Gitzo tripods; we use only Gitzo since they last for decades (some of ours are over 40 years old).
Plus of course we have light reflectors (but not much sunlight under the jungle canopy). We have plant clamps and a diverse range of accessories (since we have been doing this kind of photography for decades).
If you would like to learn from Professor Hellmuth in-person, if a donation can cover the cost of a one-week field trip for the FLAAR team, you are welcome to fly yourself down and join us. The hotel Ecolodge El Sombrero is at the entrance to the park and is comfy at a reasonable cost for you. We can explain how to get to Yaxha to join us. Donations to FLAAR are tax deductible.
We also do bird photography, focused on waterbirds of Lake Yaxha and adjacent Rio Ixtinto. Plus of course there is all the archaeology of Yaxha.
Sony was champion of Mirrorless cameras for years
Posted November 14, 2018
Now, with Mirrorless cameras from Nikon and Canon (visible to the world at Photokina 2018), what is the future for Sony mirrorless?
I started with Leica (in 1961) and kept using Leica cameras and Leitz lenses until 1990’s. In those years Leica was 1000% better than any other brand.
But in subsequent years Nikon achieved professional quality, and I got a Nikon camera and 15mm wide-angle lens for less cost than just a Leitz 15mm lens. I now have Nikon D810 and Nikon D5: awesome digital technology for photographing birds-in-flight.
I did not sample a Canon until a few years ago; tried several models and now have a Canon EOS 1DX Mark II. To write honest reviews, you need to actually have more than one brand.
But any Canon camera and the Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM lens requires a fork lift truck to carry: this lens alone “weighs a ton.” So if I want to hike through the tropical jungles of Yaxha to photograph a bird or animal before it disappears, there is not time to set up a tripod. I need a camera and lens all together, ready to fire. The Canon is too heavy (even with a smaller camera, the lens is far far too heavy).
So the Sony 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS prime telephoto lens may cause me to stop using Canon cameras and Canon lenses the weight of a cement block, and jump to Sony, either an A7 III or the more elite Sony A9, or, the Sony A7R to capture 42.4 megapixels.
Click here to enlarge image.
As soon as a Sony mirrorless camera and the awesome 400 prime Sony telephoto lens is available, we can compare it with our older Nikon and Canon traditional cameras as we continue to do photography every month in Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo.
Bird photography tips on How to stop a bird in flight (with your camera)
Posted Nov. 2, 2018
This is a Snowy Egret, Egretta thula. Several are visible each month (August, September, October) that we have taken a boat tour of the south shore of Lake Yaxha (towards the islands of Cante, Topoxte, Paxte). We will be back in November, December, January and onward, to do more photography of the waterbirds of Parque Nacional Yaxha Naranjo Nakum.
To stop a bird in flight it helps significantly to have a camera that can utilize high ISO without making the photo fuzzy. It helps to have the speed at 1/2000th or up to 1/4000th of a second (which is why you need high ISO). Many birdwatchers use wide-open f/stop. I prefer at least f/8 or f/10.
It is also essential that burst speed shots does not slow down or even stop your camera processing system: Nikon D5 accepts only special memory cards made specifically for high speed. Canon EOS 1DX Mark II accepts one fast memory card but also one older style normal one. Helps to have a sturdy Gitzo tripod and a Wimberley WH-200 model gimbal head Version II.
Click here to enlarge image.
There are enough waterbirds, shore birds, and of course toucans, raptors, parrots, hummingbirds at Parque Nacional Yaxha Naranjo Nakum to stay one or two nights. Ecolodge El Sombrero hotel is at park entrance and offers boat trips for bird watching (and to visit 8th-14th century Classic and Post Classic Mayan temples and palaces on Topoxte Island). Flowers of every size, shape, and color will be waiting for you to photograph along the shore (even aquatic orchids were flowering last week).
500mm, 600mm or 800mm prime telephoto lenses are best. Of course if you prefer just to enjoy seeing the birds then your binoculars are plenty to enjoy Lake Yaxha and Rio Ixtinto.
Gitzo G1548GT Mk2 Carbon Fiber tripod, via Manfrotto (The Vitec Group)
Posted Oct. 15, 2018
Click here to enlarge image.
Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo is a beautiful peaceful place to experience waterbirds, toucans, raptors, and my absolute favorite bird: the boat-billed heron. But for impressive majesty of a bird taking off in flight my favorite is the great white heron (seen here, above). This bird is also called the great white egret.
To achieve good bird photography it helps to have good equipment: solidly constructed (not low-bid cheap copy-cat). We use Nikon D5, Nikon AF-S Nikkor 600mm F/4E FL ED VR prime telephoto lens, Wimberley WH-200 Gimbal Head Version II on a Gitzo G1548GT Mk2 Carbon Fiber tripod, boat to cross Lake Yaxha courtesy of Ecolodge El Sombrero hotel, Yaxha, Peten, Guatemala.
To reach the birds so you can photograph them, a boat is essential; thus we appreciate that Gabriella, owner of the Ecolodge El Sombrero hotel, provided the boat, fuel, and boat captain to take us across the lake to get these great photos of the great white heron (also known as great white egret). Great hotel to stay at: www.elsombreroecolodge.com/en-us
50+ years ago, while a university student at Harvard I used a Tiltall tripod and Leica cameras.
40+ years ago I switched to Hasselblad cameras and experienced my first Gitzo tripod. Today, in 2018, we have three different models of Gitzo tripods. It helps to have a sturdy tripod to hold the weight of a Nikon D5 digital camera and the 600mm telephoto bird lens.
Click here to enlarge image. Here is the Gitzo tripod and Wimberley gimbal (and Nikon D5 camera with 600mm lens) that took the bird photo shown above.
The birds of Lake Yaxha are so photogenic it really helps to have appropriate equipment. You can frame your photos for your home, office, or for giclee fine art prints for friends.
This snapshot (with an iPhone Xs) shows the Gitzo G1548GT Mk2 Carbon Fiber tripod and the most recent model of the Wimberley WH-200 gimbal tripod head II, to hold the weight of a Nikon D5 (top of the Nikon line) and Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR telephoto prime lens.
We are in Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo, making a photographic inventory (to donate to the park administrators and to Guatemalan botanists and zoologists) of all waterbirds in the park. We are also working in this lake, swamp, river, and hilly area to find and photograph pollinators and other important flora and fauna.
Consider visiting this awesome national park in Central America. I lived here for several months a year during 1970-1974 and now have returned to be here one week every month for an entire year (since different birds fly in, and different plants flower each month). We stay at the Ecolodge El Sombrero hotel, at the entrance to the park. Boats and information on bird-watching and Mayan archaeology information are available from Gabriella, the owner of the hotel (she has lived here for many decades so knows the orchids, birds, and archaeology of the entire Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo, including Topoxte Island).
Digital Photography Reviews “start” at Photokina 2018
Updated Oct. 1, 2018, First edition Posted Aug. 10, 2018
Dr Nicholas Hellmuth doing some research at Novoflex booth. Dr Hellmuth is heading the new photography project at Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo to document all the awesome plants and animals there.
Two days at Photokina 2018 (Sept 26 and 27) allowed two of us from FLAAR (USA) and FLAAR Mesoamerica (Guatemala) to learn a lot.
Dozens of brands were no longer present but if Elinchrom studio lighting booth was missing then I found everything I needed at the broncolor booth.
If Arca-Swiss was had no booth whatsoever exhibiting their over-engineered and frankly impractical tripod heads, then you can find plenty at the Novoflex booth.
I did miss the Seitz booth because I wanted to test their panorama system but Novoflex had plenty of different options. And of course all the giant brands were present: Canon, Nikon, Sony, Sigma and more.
Mirrorless cameras were everywhere, as were medium format digital options: more on all this in subsequent comments.
Click to enlarge Savage booth. We enjoyed visiting the booth of SAVAGE Universal Corporation; they continue to offer far more than their original backdrop material (which we have used and recommended for over 30+ years).
You can have as a free download our Photokina 2016 report with recomendations, comments and brands who were present. Also with photo studio equipment exhibited and digital camara reviews.
Photographing a tiny bee with a 600mm lens?
Is this possible?
Posted May 8, 2018
Where is the bee?
Photograph by Nicholas Hellmuth, April 19, 2018
While a guest at hotel Ecolodge El Sombrero, outside the nice park at Yaxha, Peten, Guatemala, I noticed that an allspice tree was flowering near the hotel restaurant. The leaves provide a tea that I am familiar with from having lived 6 years in Peten (12 months as student intern in archaeology at Tikal in 1965; 5 seasons during five years in 1970’s as founder of the Projecto Yaxha which created the national park and mapped the Mayan ruins together with archaeologist Miguel Orrego).
Pimienta gorda is sold in all supermarkets in Guatemala and in most supermarkets in USA (as allspice, a single spice with flavors of multiple spices).
Since the trees were high, and since they were on the other side of the hotel garden, I decided to use a 600mm prime telephoto lens to capture images of the flowers. Much to my surprise, when we enlarged them there was a visible bee feeding on the flowers. Graphic designer at FLAAR, Melanny Quiñonez, noticed the bee and enlarged it so you can see it. I am surprised at the quality with the lens wide open at f/4.0. This is why it helps to have a sturdy Gitzo tripod with Wimberley WH-200 gimbal tripod head II.
Polaroid is comparable; another company has bought or licensed the old name. Polaroid had a booth of acceptable size and had the best design of a bag as a handlout.
Here is the full width and height of the photo. If you click on the ENLARGE button, you can see the bee. Nikon D5 camera, AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR prime telephoto lens, ISO 1000, f/4.0, 1/1600 sec. Photo by Nicholas Hellmuth, FLAAR, www.maya-ethnozoology.org
The Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo is a great place to visit for both Mayan pyramids, temples, ballcourts, palaces, and sacbes, plus to experience majestic trees, vines, orchids, and birds. So great place for eco-tourism and birdwatching. To spend the night at the Ecolodge El Sombrero allows you to experience having howler monkeys doing their macho howling for you as a symphony with opera singer.
Photography Brands at CES 2018, Las Vegas
Posted Jan 12, 2018
Since the background of FLAAR is from the world of photography, I could not resist visiting CES 2018 to see what photography brands and products were available. Of course the real reason for visiting CES is to see and experience what will be new in the future. Nonetheless, I also still do digital photography of flowers, birds, landscapes, Mayan house architecture, cave formations, etc.
Canon and Nikon had large booths. Both Canon and Nikon booths had all their cameras and all their lenses. Although their booths at CES were not as large as at Photokina in Germany, their booths at CES were plenty big enough, and well staffed with hospitable helpful staff.
“Kodak” had two booths (in different halls); one two stories and of ample size. I say “Kodak” since many people feel that it is companies which have bought rights to the bankrupt name, but are not really the original Kodak other than the licensed name.
Polaroid is comparable; another company has bought or licensed the old name. Polaroid had a booth of acceptable size and had the best design of a bag as a handlout.
Tiffen is still the original Tiffen; they had a booth of all their brands: lowel lighting, STEADICAM, zing and lots more.
There were many booths with virtual reality equipment; the list above is for traditional photography brands. No Pentax, no Olympus, no Leica, no medium format (so no PhaseOne, no Hasselblad).
There were many booths with 360-degree cameras such as VUZE (Human Eyes).
During CES also had a meeting with a knowledgeable and experienced Photokina representative Darrin Stern, Director of New Business Development. I have attended Photokina since circa 1998 and feel there are literally thousands of people from USA, Canada and all Mexico, Central America and South America who should visit Photokina. But until there are FLAAR Reports documenting what there is to see and learn there, most of the visitors to Photokina are from Germany and nearby. We hope to change that.
CES, awesome for digital innovation, but zilch PMA@CES?
Posted Jan 3, 2018
FLAAR Reports also keeps track of digital technology trends, so will be at largest digital expo in the Americas, CES, next week, Las Vegas. Dr Nicholas will be studying 3D, VR; will also visit, HumanEyes, and much more.
I had hoped MASSIVit 3D printer company would have a booth; but did not yet find it in exhibitor list. But at least Artec 3D has a booth as do several other 3D companies.
Last time I was at CES was when PMA (photo expo) tried to wake up and survive as PMA@CES. But gradually PMA evaporated no matter what. The only digital photo related companies I found so far at CES are Canon, HumanEyes, Kodak, Manfrotto Distribution and Carl ZEISS (Zeiss Multimedia Devices).
All the more reason to attend Photokina in Cologne this autumn.
Surprised to see AnaJet in the exhibitor list since they have been missing from most sign expos since bought by Ricoh. Ricoh also listed.
I will also visit Indiegogo and Mattel.
Sun Innovations is listed; will be curious whether this is the once worldwide Russian printer and ink company of Novosibirsk.
Happy Holidays, December and January New Year 2018
Posted December 22, 2017
FLAAR Reports has two divisions; you are now on one of the web sites of the tropical Mesoamerica flora and fauna team. If you are interested in wide-format inkjet printers, we have an entire network to explain this technology: www.wide-format-printers.org
There is also a growing team of illustrators and graphic designers who do educational children’s books (to show the world the remarkable plants and animals of 2000 years of Mayan civilization in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador).
To experience remarkable tropical flowers of Guatemala, enjoy our www.maya-ethnobotany.org.
To experience remarkable animals of Guatemala and mayan culture, enjoy our www.maya-ethnozoology.org.
To see our newly launched cartoon book web site, look at our www.mayan-characters-value-based-education.org. Here you can see a video of Dr Nicholas interacting with a 350 pound tapir and her spotted baby.
After testing Nikon 200mm, 400mm, and 600mm lensesWe are considering testing digiscoping system featuring Leica APO-Televid spotting scope models.
Posted July 26, 2017
We evaluate digital photography equipment for over a decade. Now we are ready to test and evaluate a digiscoping system because even a 400mm and 600mm prime telephoto lens can’t capture a “close up” of a flower, rare tropical fruit, high up in a tree across a canyon!
Having experience with all three of these prime Nikkor telephoto lenses will allow us to more meaningfully evaluate a Leica digiscoping system. We waited since the ones available last year were not for full-frame format.
We have a Canon EOS 1DX Mark II, a Nikon D810 and a Nikon D5.
Zeiss Lens Hood problems, the Zeiss sun shade fails totally
Updated April 3, 2017
Posted January 5, 2017
I have a high respect for Zeiss lenses. The original Made in Germany Zeiss lenses for my Hasselblad ELX cameras still work today (more than I can say for these models which Hasselblad abandoned; can’t even get batteries for them any more).
But Zeiss lenses, most of them at least, are no longer made in Germany (though fortunately not made in China). Kit lenses of Nikon, Made in Thailand six or more years ago, have been cheap junk, though professional Nikkor lenses Made in Japan last for decades.
The Zeiss lens shade for my relatively new Zeiss Makro-Planar 2/100 ZF.2 100mm lens no longer clicks into place on the lens. Nor does it click into place when you try to pack the lens away.
Not what I expect for Zeiss.
Zeiss Makro-Planar 2/100 ZF.2, serial # 15825847.
It is impossible to even tape the sun shade onto the lens since this lens has to turn when focusing (since all these Zeiss lenses are manual, not auto-focus).
I will be writing Zeiss today to ask for a replacement and filing a complaint in appropriate places because this is what you expect from a lens made cheaply. And not what I expect from a lens shade made in Japan either.
I assume it is something on the lens shade, but since I do all my photography in the jungles of Guatemala, it is not easy to return an item for repair, especially since I work as a consultant for wide-format inkjet printer trade shows in Shanghai, Istanbul, Dubai, and Johannesburg, plus was in Taipai last month (the Zeiss lens went to zero of these locations since I use my DSLR cameras only in Guatemala).
So I am almost never at my desk, but when I saw how many photographers had problems, this raised alarms. Thousands of people around the world read FLAAR reviews of digital equipment because we are not a commercial PR whatever, and we actually use the equipment we write about.
Since we do not ask for kickbacks, our readers realize they are more likely to get the truth from Dr Nicholas’s comments than from a commercial blog.
FLAAR Mesoamerica has the honor to invite you to…
Posted Febraury 13, 2017
Plantas Comestibles Nutritivas para Mejorar Significativamente la Dieta y Salud de los Niños en las Zonas Rurales de Guatemala
This conference is made to present the importance of nutrition among Guatemalan children, especially in rural areas, and the health benefits that this can have in the Mayan society.
Useful items from Savage Universal Corp. can encourage a professional level of photography
Posted Dec 9, 2016
Here we are holding the newly arrived products from SAVAGE which we will evaluate.
We saw Richard Pressman (Chairman) and Richard Memoli (VP Sales) in the booth at Photokina 2016. In previous years we have also met Syl Hank (President).
Here is the professionally designed booth at Photokina 2016. We at FLAAR have preferred the backdrop paper from SAVAGE for over 20 years.
We appreciate the shipment of Widetone Seamless backdrop paper from Savage Universal Corporation.
Plus two rolls of vinyl, a background material we have not used before. Some of the things we photograph are from the rivers or lakes, so paper gets stained with water. So we want to try vinyl in these situations.
Also we have received to evaluate the MacroART Variable Auto-Extension Tube, and the Macro ART Adjustable Dual Arm LED light system (two lights).
We will be posting more information on the advantages of this equipment during the coming year (2017). In the meantime, you can learn more about the diverse range of products available from Savage from their web site www.savageuniversal.com.
We also find it useful to visit their stand at photography trade shows; we recently were at their stand at Photokina 2016.
Most recently updated July 26, 2017.
Previously updated April 3 and January 5 ,2017.
Previously updated Feb. 13, 2017.
Previously updated December 9, 2016.
Digital infrared photography
B&W Digital Photography
FLAAR Reports evaluate and review 35mm DSLR, compact digital cameras, and point-and-shoot-digital cameras for underwater photography. We comment on the underwater housings that were NOT satisfactory, as well as what better underwater housings we look forward to testing next.
Studio Flash & Portable Flash
Nicholas Hellmuth and his photography equipment evaluation teams will be testing portable flash in caves and out in the jungles of Guatemala, Central America. We have a preliminary report on studio flash and portable flash from Photokina 2010, but as soon as we acquire additional equipment, we will issue more test results as full-color FLAAR Reports.
Reviews on Large format Digital Camera Backs
Reviews on Studio and Portable Cameras to hold Medium Format Backs
Reviews on Medium Format Digital Backs
Reviews on 35mm Digital Cameras
Nikon D700, report coming next month from Jaime Leonardo
Canon Rebel T2i, report coming next month from Sofia Monzon
Nicholas Hellmuth with the FLAAR photographic equipment during the shooting session at La Ruta Maya Foundation.
FLAAR receives HP Z3200 ps Photography printer for review
We had an HP Z3100 but prefer to evaluate the more recent model, so we are now evaluating the HP Z3200.
To learn our comments, you can access the full-color PDF
Reviews begin of architectural cameras
For architectural cameras there is the Sinar arTec, Arca-Swiss, Alpa, Linhof TECHNO, Silvestri and several models from Cambo.
This week we visited Cambo camera world headquarters and inspected how these cameras are manufactured.
Photokina 2010 highlights reviewed
Three of us from FLAAAR were at Photokina and there are now five FLAAR Reports on all the digital cameras and studio equipment that we inspected.
Silvestri sends camera for review for 2011