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10-03-2014, 07:09 AM - 30 Likes   #1
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My Bornean adventure with Pentax gear

Wildlife photography is my passion, and biology teacher is my profession. This summer I took my Pentax gear to the beautiful nature of Borneo. Visiting Borneo has always been a dream to me. This summer my dream came true. 
I visited Sabah and Sarawak which are part of Malaysia. The National Parks I visited are Mount Kinabalu NP, Crocker Range NP, Mulu NP, Bako NP and Kubah NP. I have seen stunning views and a lot of wildlife. It was my first trip to the jungle with my Pentax gear. 

I met a lot of hard conditions to photograph. Conditions like low light on the forest floor, hard contrasts under the canopy, a lot of moist and field trips during the night. I want to share my experiences with the people who also want to visit beautiful places like this. In this report I want to focus on the gear. 

All my photos are from my trip reports:

Mt. Kinabalu NP & Crocker Range NP

Mt. Mulu NP
Malaysia 2014 Part II: Gunung Mulu National Park (Sarawak, Borneo) - RONALD ZIMMERMAN PHOTOGRAPHY

Bako NP

Kubah NP

Malaysia 2014 Part IV: Kubah National Park (Sarawak, Borneo) - RONALD ZIMMERMAN PHOTOGRAPHY


I photograph amphibians and reptiles most of the time. When possible I also like to photograph mammals. I only photograph birds when I have an opportunity. I never look for them. This is why I do not have a very long telelens.


K-5 II

DA* 300 F4

HD DA 15mm F4 Limited

DFA 100mm F2.8 Macro WR

AF360 Flash

Wescott Micro Apollo (softbox)

Diffuser for my internal flash

Fenix HP15 Headlight

Clik Elite Escape (camera bag)


For this trip I took the Pentax K-5 and Pentax K-5 II with me. The low light capabilities of both cameras are great. Photos are very useable at ISO 1600. I prefer not to go higher than that. 
The big difference is the autofocus. The K-5 II was a lot better in getting focus in low light. In primary rainforest there is not much light on the forest floor during the day and during the night I just had an headlight to help with focussing. The K-5 II did a great job there. I barely used my K-5 in conditions like this. My K-5 was for wide angle shots with a HD DA 15mm Limited mounted, and it was my backup body. 
In my photography I prefer available light during the day. As I said there is not much light on the forest floor, but if there is light it is extremely bright. So you can have extreme contrasts. The K-5 (II) Is very capable is making photos in conditions like that.

A Common Ground Skink (Mabuya multifasciata) under ’theater lights’

I did not want to use flash for this Bornean Keeled Green Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus subannulatus). It would look unnatural, because reptiles have shiny scales. The scales will reflect your flash. So if possible, I will not use my flash. With ISO 1000 and F3.5 with my DFA 100 macro I could still use 1/100. The snake was on a moving branch, so longer exposures were no option.

Having the great dynamic range does not mean that I have to use it all the time. Sometimes I did not use it on purpose.

I made this portrait of the Proboscis Monkey (Nasalis larvatus) in Bako NP with backlight and did not fill the shadows. Instead I made more shadows and made the bright background even brighter. The lightning of the camera was more on the background so the monkey was more underexposed to achieve the contrast

I did the same with this Bornean bearded pig (Sus barbatus). The hair on the back is more prominent with this effect.

Sometimes silhouettes are just nicer. 

DA* 300

I love all my three lenses, because they all serve a different purpose. This DA* 300 is a great telelens. It is not too heavy, can focus already from 1,5m and the image quality is great. 
It has only one focal length, so it may not be so versatile. 300mm is also not that much. For my photography it is perfect. I have enough reach for reptiles (lizards) and for mammals. I am not a birder. I can imagine that birders want more reach.

Lizards can be scared very easily and by catching many species can lose their tail. Another disadvantage is that lizards look very stressed on the photograph when being caught. To achieve natural looking photos I use my DA* 300. Most lizards tolerate you within 1,5m or 2m, so this lens is perfect. I used it making this photo of the Green Crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella).

This Brooke's Water Skink (Tropidophorus brookei) was also photographed with the DA* 300.

HD DA 15 F4 Limited

I bought this lens because I wanted a wide angle lens, and this lens specifically for wide angle close ups. This lens can focus from very close distance (0.18 m). I use it to photograph frogs, lizards and snakes in their habitat. This lens is also very lightweight. My back was already 8kg, so another wide angle lens would make my bag even heavier. The disadvantage is that is my only non WR lens. I have to be more careful with this lens in the rainforest.

This Bornean Keeled Green Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus subannulatus) is venomous. I focussed very close using gloves to protect myself just in case. This snake was very relaxed and not striking at all.

Black-spotted Rock Frog (Staurois guttatus) looking out over the habitat.

DFA 100mm F2.8 Macro WR

For frogs and snakes this is my main lens. It focuses close and is extremely sharp. This lens is also very lightweight. What I did not like is that there is no focus limiter, fast DC motor and internal focus. That is also what makes this lens lightweight. But I would like to have all those features (Ricoh, are you listening?). The WR part is always great in a rainforest.

Using my 100mm macro during daytime gives great bokkeh and details.

You can get very close!

It is also the lens I used during field trips at night time. For amphibians and reptiles you have to go out during night time. During the day they hide, because it is too hot.

Flash setup

For my field trips during the night I used my onboard flash (with onboard flash diffuser) as the master and I used my AF360 flash as a wireless slave. I kept this wireless flash handhold next to the camera from an angle. If you do not hold this flash from an angle you will get overexposed parts because frogs have a shiny skin. This was also why my onboard flash was set to -2. 
On my AF360 I used a Wescott Micro Apollo soft box to make the light softer. It really improved the quality. I needed some practice with this setup, but I am satisfied with the results. 
On my next trip I want to use a macro bracket and dual flash setup for better results.

I also bought a transparent map cover for bikes. My flash fits inside. In case it was raining during a night trip and wanted to keep on photographing.

Wallace's Flying Frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus)

Bornean Horned Frog / Bornean Horned Toad (Megophrys nasuta)

Dark-eared Tree Frog (Polypedates macrotis)

Other tips

- I used a silica box inside my bag to keep the moist out of my gear.
During macro shots on moving trees I used AF-C and bursts to keep the subject sharp.

-I used TaV with an ISO range of 80-800. 80-1000 or 80-1600, because lightning was difficult with a lot of changing lightning in the jungle. Sometimes you have to react fast and this really helps.

-Be careful with anti-mosquito fluids (DEET), because it eats plastics. Always wash your hands with water afterwards before you use your camera gear.

I hope you enjoyed reading this, and maybe learned new things. If you have questions or if you want to know more about a subject you can always ask.

I am also very active on Facebook:

Last edited by Serpiente; 10-03-2014 at 07:25 AM.
10-03-2014, 07:18 AM - 1 Like   #2
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Wonderful article, on my bucket list now.
10-03-2014, 07:26 AM - 1 Like   #3
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Thanks for the thoughtful report and excellent photographs. Teachers see a lot.

10-03-2014, 07:56 AM - 1 Like   #4
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Just amazing!!!

10-03-2014, 08:21 AM - 1 Like   #5
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Great pictures.
10-03-2014, 08:22 AM - 1 Like   #6
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Fantastic. Thanks for sharing.
10-03-2014, 09:29 AM - 1 Like   #7
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I would have needed some serious shake resistance to photograph that viper. You're a better man than me!

Great photos. Congratulations on the trip.

Last edited by troika; 10-05-2014 at 05:46 PM.
10-03-2014, 12:17 PM - 1 Like   #8
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Amazing pictures! Thanks for sharing your pictures and story.

10-03-2014, 01:50 PM - 1 Like   #9
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Really enjoyed these shots. You must have had a lot of fun shooting them - but you didn't mention the leeches!
10-03-2014, 03:15 PM - 1 Like   #10
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Nat Geo material there... I've rarely seen pictures as beautiful.
10-03-2014, 04:48 PM - 1 Like   #11
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Very well done and presented. Thanks for the tips and the great shots.
10-03-2014, 05:11 PM - 1 Like   #12
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Thank you for the wonderful story and pictures.
10-04-2014, 01:59 AM   #13
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Original Poster
Thank you all for the nice words!
QuoteOriginally posted by Miguel Quote
Thanks for the thoughtful report and excellent photographs. Teachers see a lot.

Yes that is one big advantage of being a teacher The disadvantage is that it is always more expensive..

QuoteOriginally posted by troika Quote
I would have needed some serious shake resistance photograph that viper. You're a better man than me!

Great photos. Congratulations on the trip.
Haha that would make a great advertisement! Pentax: "Shake Resistance will overcome all your fears"

QuoteOriginally posted by jacamar Quote
Really enjoyed these shots. You must have had a lot of fun shooting them - but you didn't mention the leeches!
Yeah it was! Haha I had only two leeches. Luckily they are not dangerous and you can pull them out easily, but what a mess. It looked as if I was stepped in my belly.

QuoteOriginally posted by LensBeginner Quote
Nat Geo material there... I've rarely seen pictures as beautiful.
Thanks, that is a big compliment! I hope they will publish one picture of me someday. It does not matter if it is the international version or the local Dutch version.
10-04-2014, 03:01 AM   #14
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Very, very interesting, Serpiente. I loved all your tips as well as the great pics!
10-04-2014, 11:20 AM   #15
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