Sunday, 30 June 2013

Ranthambore National Park - Tracking the tigers

I made a visit to India National Parks with a few friends in late 2011. Out of the 4 parks we visitied, Ranthambore National Park was the most memorable experience. We were chasing tigers everyday in Ranthambore. Well, not exactly chasing but following the pug marks left on the tracks in hope that we will get  to see the tiger.

It was an experience I will never forget. 

Everyday, we woke up 5am and a gypsy will bring us to the National Park. There are 2 rides to the park each day, morning and afternoon.

Tourist waiting in the gypsy while guide getting permit to enter the national park

The Park lies at the edge of a plateau. It consists of mainly dry deciduous forests. ,Ranthambore Fort is located in the Park. It was built in the 10th century.
Ranthambore Fort surrounded by dry deciduous forest

There are 2 kinds of Safari Rides available, namely 20 seater open top canter or 6 seater open top gypsy. Rides are operated in the morning 630am and afternoon 2:30pm. 

Each vehicle comes with a driver and a guide. The guides are well-trained to look for foot prints on the tracks. 

Apart from looking for foot-prints, we also listened for alarm calls made by deers, peacocks and monkeys. Spotted deers and sambar deers were commonly seen in the park. 

Nilgai can be quite shy.

There were gazelles too!

Mongoose too!

We did encountered several species of birds. My camera setup was not really long enough for bird photography so I did not really focus in birds. But still I did took some bird images.

We finally got to see the tiger on our 5th safari ride. It was a tigeress. It went pass our gypsy just 2m away!

When to visit?

Due to monsoon season, the Park is open from October to June. It is easier to spot the tiger in the summer season as the park is hot and dry, animals reach to the lake for a drink.  However, day temperature  can soar over 40 degree celsius.  While you get to see the tiger, you may not be able to tolerate the heat.  

If you visit during the Winter season, it can be freezing cool during the morning safari especially when the vehicle move and the wind still blowing. So put on a sweater and wear gloves.  But be prepare to remove your sweater in the late afternoon.  Encountering the tigers depend more on luck.  We visited the park in december, thus we were less lucky and only got to see the tigers on our 5th ride.

How to get there?

Ranthambore National Park is near Sawai Madhopur town. The easiest way to get there is: 

  1. Fly to Delhi
  2. Take Delhi-Mumbai railway and alight at Sawai Madhopur Town.
  3. Arrange for transport pick-up to your hotel.
Sawai Madhopur is also accessible for rail from Jaipur or Agra. 

Where to stay?

There are many hotels available all at the outskirts of the Park. 

Some popular hotels include:

  1. the luxurious Oberoi Vanyavilas
  2. Nahargrah Hotel, another luxurious hotel built like a fortress
  3. Sherbagh Resort if you like to tent-style
  4. Tiger Moon Resort - Affordable jungle lodge
  5. Castle Jhoomar Baori - Government-run situated in a forest sanctuary

What to bring?

I would suggest to have 2 camera bodies. Dust is a problem. It is not advisable to change lens on the go. 

List of things to bring:
  • Camera with long telephoto zoom in the range of 100-400mm. Zoom is preferred. As animals can be quite close. 
  • 2nd Camera with wide angle lens or zoom to capture the beautiful scenery and animals in the environment.
  • Monopod. I don't find bean bag very useful due to the design of the gypsy.
  • Something to cover your gear from the dust as the vehicle is moving. 
  • Sweater and gloves in winter months for morning rides
  • Cap or beanie if you do not want todust covered hairs.
  • Lens cleaning kit to get rid of dust.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Danum Valley 2013: D600 takes on Orang-utan and Red Leaf Langur

I shot my entire Danum Valley trip with my Nikon D600. Although, I brought along my D300s as back-up but I ended up not using it.

Am I entirely happy with D600?

Not exactly.

I complaint about low-light focusing issue in my previous post . So why am I still using it?

Well, D600's ISO performance is simply outstanding. I had my D600 on AUTO-ISO for day time shots. I set the highest ISO at 3200 with minimum shutter speed at 1/160. As long as the photo is properly exposed, I don't find noise a problem.

Photographing the Orang-utans

Below are some shots of a Orang-utan with her baby, feasting on a Jackfruit tree near the cookhouse.  Images were captured using AFS 300mm f2.8 VR with a 1.7x Teleconverter.  The combination was quite an overkill as I was not expecting the Orang-utans to be this close.  The images turned out to be sharp even at high ISO.

Nikon D600 with AFS 300mm f2.8 VR  (now replaced by Nikon 300mm f/2.8G AF-S ED VR II ) + 1.7x Teleconverter @ f8 1/160 AUTO ISO @2800 

Nikon D600 with AFS 300mm f2.8 VR  (now replaced by Nikon 300mm f/2.8G AF-S ED VR II ) + 1.7x Teleconverter @ f8 1/160 AUTO ISO @2000 

Nikon D600 with AFS 300mm f2.8 VR  (now replaced by Nikon 300mm f/2.8G AF-S ED VR II ) + 1.7x Teleconverter @ f8 1/160 AUTO ISO @2200

Nikon D600 with AFS 300mm f2.8 VR  (now replaced by Nikon 300mm f/2.8G AF-S ED VR II ) + 1.7x Teleconverter @ f8 1/160 AUTO ISO @2200
Nikon D600 with AFS 300mm f2.8 VR  (now replaced by Nikon 300mm f/2.8G AF-S ED VR II ) + 1.7x Teleconverter @ f8 1/160 AUTO ISO @1000 -1.7EV (This was underexposed. I bring up the exposure slightly.)

Photographing the Red Leaf Langurs on DX mode

While, I was quite happy with D600 on the Orang-utan, I was not too pleased with it on the Red Leaf Langurs.  This was because the langurs were too high up on the tree, thus I was forced to use DX mode (3936x2624 = 10.3MP) since I only had my AF-S 70-300mm VR on.  They were also shot in poor lighting, some under canopy at dusk. Again, I encountered focus lock issue but it was likely due to focusing on low contrast subjects at strong backlighting.  The images were also soft due to the less sharp AF-S 70-300mm VR.  The images quality do looked like captured from a D300s though.

Nikon D600 @ DX with AFS 70-300 VR @ 300mm, SB900,  f8, 1/160, ISO 2200 (Image sharpened, you can see the noise)
Nikon D600 @ DX mode with AFS 70-300 VR @ 100mm, SB900,  f8, 1/160, ISO 1100 +0.7 (Image sharpened)
Nikon D600 @ DX mode with AFS 70-300 VR @140mm, SB900,  f8, 1/160, ISO 400 +0.7EV
Nikon D600 @ DX with AFS 70-300 VR @ 300mm,  f8, 1/160, ISO 3200

The image below was captured with my AF-S 300mm VR prime on 1.7x Teleconverter in DX mode.  It was roosting on a tree not far from the rest house, I rushed back and grabbed my big lens. I think I still need to work on how to get better results on DX mode as I am unable to get sharp images on DX mode yet. 

Nikon D600 @ DX with AFS 300mm f2.8 VR  (now replaced by Nikon 300mm f/2.8G AF-S ED VR II ) + 1.7x Teleconverter @ f4.8 1/160 AUTO ISO @2500 


D600's clean ISO opens up the opportunity for wildlife photographers to capture images of wildlife which dwells in low-light habitat such as tropical rainforest.   Imagine try capturing such images on a D300s, I will probably push D300s up to ISO 800. With ISO 800, I would not be able to capture the images at this shutter speed. Slow shutter speed will mean less sharp images.

But I do missed the reach of my D300s. Although, I can set my D600 on DX mode, I am struggling with the image quality.  I wonder if a D7100 would be a better choice for my kind of photography.

Nevertheless, D600 can deliver with terrific results when used with the right lens. The 24.3 MP is useful when you need to crop. I was impressed by the image quality of my highly cropped portrait of the bearded pig image in my last post.  You can check out the post here.

Get a D600 if you often photograph animals in low-light. Of course, pick the right lens.

How to Get There?

Danum Valley is a located in Sabah, East Malaysia on an island of Borneo.  It is about 2-3 hours drive from the nearest town Lahad Datu. 

To get there,
  1. Book a flight to Kota Kinabalu, the capital state of Sabah. You can fly in from major cities like Guangzhou, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Taipei,Seoul, Manila, Denpasar/Bali.
  2. Fly domestic via MASwings to Lahad Datu.
  3. Arrange for transport if you are staying in Borneo Rainforest Lodge.

Where to Stay?

I would highly recommend Borneo Rainforest Lodge. The accommodation is great and the food is excellent. They have very professional guides. Night tours are also conducted. All these come at a cost of course.

I would not recommend DVFC as it is a facility meant for researchers. They are not so into eco-tourism.  Accommodation and food are just sufficient.  It is less expensive though.


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