The Lumix Diaries 1/19/2015 Lions and Hyenas Clash

Posted Feb. 7th, 2015 by Daniel J. Cox

January 19, 2015

The morning began as it always does from our camp in the Mara. 6:45am rolled around and footsteps were heard on the path to our tent. From out of the cool morning air came a hushed, delicate, voice announcing “good morning, good morning, your coffee is here, your coffee is here. Please mind the monkeys.”  Tanya replies, “I’m coming,” and pops out of bed as if on springs, instantly awake, wanting to greet our tent girl Maria with a sleepy smile and assurance we knew the vervet’s love for fresh coffee and lightly sweetened short bread.

Peter and Linda reviewing Tanya's very well organized morning drive game schedule. Lumix LX100, ISO 1250

Peter and Linda reviewing Tanya’s very well organized morning drive game schedule. Lumix LX100, ISO 1250

The day’s game drive would start out with our crossing of the Olarorok River. The brushy scrubland that borders the sulphur smelling, hippo infested waters was our intended destination, prime habitat for the mother leopard and her young cub we had all been hearing so much about.

Hippopotamus, a dominant male moves from one pool to the next on the Olarorok river, Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya

A dominant male hippo moves from one pool to the next on the Olarorok river, Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8, ISO 640

Our morning drive over dusty trails had entered the nearly sixty minute mark when a call came across Felix’s radio. “Wambugu, Wambugu, Sambas on the road to Governor’s Camp.” Felix answered speaking fluent, rapid Swahili. His voice was energized and obviously excited. He clipped the radio transmitter back to the dash as he shoved the go pedal to the floor. As often is the case, he made no mention where we were headed. I’ve learned not to ask since something like this is always good and most probably involves cats of some kind.

The Toyota Land Cruiser bumped and jumped over the plains of the Masai Mara National Reserve. Each of us hold onto ourselves and our camera gear. The frenetic pace of bouncing to and fro as if on a roller coaster, abated abruptly after a thirty minute sprint. There, lying on the short, verdant grasses of the Mara plains was a family of lions, which included two subadult males, one female, and four young cubs. Each was engrossed in feeding on a young cape buffalo and off on the horizon was the herd it was obviously siezed from.

A female lion retreats from the approaching buffalo heard that are coming to investigate the dead calf the lions killed earlier. Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya

A female lion retreats from the approaching buffalo herd that are coming to investigate the dead calf the lions killed earlier. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8. ISO 320

Lions feeding is never a beautiful sight, but it is reality on the upper Serengeti plains. Without death there is no living. The medium-sized buffalo was on its side, back towards our cameras as the cats gorged themselves. Surrounding the feasting family were as many as 25 spotted hyenas, some waiting patiently, others heckling that obsessive hyena laugh. Others were getting bolder by the second, but the young male lions kept them at bay quite easily. I have never seen this many hyenas in one place.

The lion family surrounded by hyenas just waiting for their chance to feed. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8. ISO 320

The lion family surrounded by hyenas just waiting for their chance to feed. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8. ISO 320

As we watched, the large, distant group of buffalo began to gradually make their way back to the scene of their loss. They numbered in the hundreds, the leaders forming a V shape at the front of the heard. The point animals were assertive adults, heads lowered, horns pointed forward. One took a charge at the pile of lions and the cats bolted several feet from the young buffalo’s carcass. That was the opening the hyenas were waiting for, instantly springing to their feet, laughing, heckling, virtually screaming with excitement. Some rushed forward, others ran circles, a few stood watching, the frenzy had begun.

The lions returned the charge with deep guttural roars that literally shook the air around us, swinging, lunging, scattering hyenas and the heard of confused, aggressive bovines. The buffalo would stop, charge again and the process would repeat itself.

A young male lion puts sprints out to chase hyenas that keep pestering the feasting pride. Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8. ISO 320

A young male lion puts sprints out to chase hyenas that keep pestering the feasting pride. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8. ISO 320

It was a massive orgy of heckling hyenas, roaring lions, and bellowing buffalo. In the middle of this swirling vortex was the silence of death, one of the most dangerous animals in all of Africa, a cape buffalo, waited  patiently to be consumed. 

A solitary large male lion comes from out of nowhere to take the carcass over.  Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8. ISO 320

A solitary large male lion comes from out of nowhere to take the carcass over. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8. ISO 320

Suddenly and without warning, from over the ridge, a huge, black-maned male lion came tearing across the savannah. He lunged into the skirmish with a voice larger than all the other lions and hyenas combined. The deep base vibrato seemed to repel resistance on command, not a single animal even thought about returning as the massive mature African lion stood statuesque beside the carcass. The family of females and their cubs bolted for safety.

From what our guide Felix told us this male was not part of the pride that killed the buffalo. A different male, one not part of the original group, would most certainly have killed the baby lions had they not sprinted for safety. But safety is always a relative term on the African plains. Leaving the area quickly removed the threat from the intruding male lion but not the seething heard of cape buffalo that were quickly on the retreating lions’ trail.  

We watched as the original pride of four cubs, two subadult males, and one female sprinted across the savannah. Felix blurted out, “they may kill the babies.” He quickly started the engine of the Land Cruiser and began driving toward the newest life or death encounter. By the time we got to the scene the buffalo had retreated and we counted all the lions cubs but one. There was a few moments of sadness as we all ran our eyes across the short grasses hoping not to find the little body when suddenly, from out of an acacia tree, we noticed a miniature lion descending.

One of the four baby lion cubs hangs from the bark of an acacia tree, too scared to come down as he watches the pride move off towards water. Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8. ISO 200

One of the four baby lion cubs hangs from the bark of an acacia tree, too scared to come down as he watches the pride move off towards water. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8. ISO 200

He hung for several minutes looking towards his mother who stood one hundred yards out. It was obvious he wanted to come down, but it was equally obvious he knew he was safe in the tree. With a little coaxing he skittered down the trunk and ran to catch up with his family. It was over for now.

Now for the technical details of documenting a scene like this. First of all, I was shooting two Lumix GH4’s and one Lumix LX100. One GH4 had the 40-150mm F/2.8 Olympus attached and I had it connected to a Bogen/Manfrotto 503HD video head.

Me and Colter shooting video and stills during our amazing hyena and lion show.  Photo by Tanya Cox using Lumix FZ1000. ISO 125

Me and Colter shooting video and stills during the amazing hyena and lion show. Photo by Tanya Cox using Lumix FZ1000 ISO 125

Attached to the camera’s hot shoe was the new Panasonic DMW-MS2 Shotgun Stearo Mic with the fuzzy cover known as a “dead cat.” All of this was attached to the roof with a Bogen Super Clamp that easily clamps to the bars that encircle the Toyota Land Cruiser’s roof.

A more detailed close-up of the setup I used while in Kenya. Photo by Tanya Cox using Lumix  GH4 with 12-35mm F/2.8. ISO 200

A more detailed close-up of the equipment I used while in Kenya. Photo by Tanya Cox using Lumix GH4 with 12-35mm F/2.8. ISO 200

Between the Bogen 503HD video head was the Bogen-Manfrotto 538 tripod head leveler which allows me to adjust for the horizon line of the savannah. Accurate leveling of any video camera is always imperative.. There is almost nothing more unprofessional than a poorly leveled shot due to a sloping horizon.

While shooting video, I would sometimes grab the second GH4 with the 35-100mm F/2.8 attached and also capture stills. Having a camera shutter going off while capturing sound and video is a big distraction, so I set my second GH4 to silent mode and shot unabated with no shutter clicks being recorded by the mic. Silent mode is a tool you can only truly get with a mirrorless camera like the Lumix GH4. It’s a tremendous benefit to be able to capture stills and video side by side.

The 4K footage is hard to believe, but unfortunately the GH4’s ran into some technical issues during the heat of the moment of this once-in-a-lifetime lion and hyena opportunity. As I mentioned in my recent post, What Are The Lumix Diaries, I plan to discuss the pros and cons, warts and all of shooting with these amazing new cameras. My philosophy is honesty at all costs. If you don’t know the bad, you will never believe the good. So here it is.

 

Incredibly, during the most exciting action I’ve ever experienced in all my nearly 25 years of coming to Africa, the GH4’s 4K video kept shutting down. I was only able to get short 15-30 second clips before I would get a message that said ‘Motion recording was canceled due to the writing speed of the card.’ I thought, “How the heck can this be?,” since I was using Panasonic’s own SDHC GH4 4K certified 32GB class 10 U3 cards. These cards were built specifically for this camera, but unfortunately something in the system failed. I can’t tell you how frustrated I was that not only did I miss much of the 4K video opportunity but fighting with the camera, trying to figure it out, also caused me to lose many, many stills. Who knows why this happened, and the engineers from Panasonic are looking into it as I write this. Thankfully, I did capture some of the excitement in the video above. 

So that was the downside. The upside is the 4K footage I did capture is phenomenal. Disappointingly, all new technology goes thorough its ups and downs, and the positive aspects of the GH4 4K video capture much outweigh the negatives. As much as I hated losing such phenomenal footage, working with cutting edge technology has inherent risks. Without losses there can be no gains. Being a part of the Lumix Luminary Team is an opportunity to test the newest of technology and help be a part of improving and sorting things out. I’m confident all issues will be resolved.

Update:

Throughout the second trip I shot numerous additional 4K video clips, some of them as long as ten minutes and never ran into the shutdown issue again. I tested four of the five Panasonic cards I was using by running 4K video with nothing important to capture. I just let the video run for as long as ten minutes. Neither camera or cards showed any problems. However, two cards still need to be tested. One I just haven’t had time to test and the other I lost, so one’s not going to get tested. Could these two cards be the root of the problem? Both cameras had the shutdown issue, so if it was the cards, it has to be the one I’ve not been able to test and the other one I’ll never know about since I lost it. So stay tuned for additional updates. I’m very hopeful the last card I test will reveal the issue and I can feel comfortable new cards will solve the problem.

Update, Update

It’s now been over two months since I had the card issue with my GH4’s. In that time I’ve shot hundreds of minutes of 4K video and thankfully I’ve had no issues at all. I mentioned the problem I experience I had with the card shutting down to a good friend of mine that shoot video professional all time and he suggested it may have been a formatting issue on the card.  I guess I will never know for sure but I do reformat my cards EVERY TIME I put them in the camera. So if there was a formatting issue the reformat may have solved it. Guess we will never know for sure but thankfully it all seems to be fine now.

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There are 15 comments on this post…
  1. Steve carterOn Jan. 27th, 2016

    Hi Daniel and Tanya just watched your you tube on bosque de Apache just scaling down to Olympus from Canon bought the Omd E 1 but saw your review on the 100 – 400 Panasonic and wondered about trading in my 100-400 canon as its a bit heavy and worried about picture quality ,you seem to give rave reviews on this 4/3 system . like you I have been to the Mara a few times not been for a few years now because of trouble in Nairobi and Mombasa also visited Yellowstone in summer had a great time also Wyoming South Dakota and Spearfish canyon loved it .would be interested in your tours check out my web site colnevalleybirding.co.uk thanks Steve Carter

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 27th, 2016

      Great to hear from you Steve, Yes, I’m a big fan of the new Micro Four Thirds gear from both Lumix and Olympus. I love a couple of the Olympus lenses, 40-150mm F/2.8, 12mm F/2.0, but much prefer the Lumix bodies for their incredible ease of use and ergonomics. I’m really sorry to hear you’ve been concerned about travel in Kenya. Kenya needs our tourism dollars badly and we’ve continued to go through all the turmoil we’ve heard about one the last few years. Keep in mind one news report can make everything look out of control but that’s nothing even close to reality in Kenya. They have a few issues now and again but with the people we work with, we make sure we stay out of the places there could be trouble. But even then, we have never had even a close call of any kind. The news simply blows all of these things out of proportion. We all know that even in the US there are places we wouldn’t want to venture in to. We’re heading back for my nearly 20th Kenya trip this next January, 2017. You should think about going us. It’s still an amazing place.

  2. Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

    Daniel J. CoxOn Mar. 23rd, 2015

    Update to my video shut down issue: It’s now been over two months since I had the card issue with my GH4’s that was mentioned in the blog above. In that time I’ve shot hundreds of minutes of 4K video and thankfully I’ve had no issues at all. I mentioned the problem I experience with the card shutting down to a good friend of mine that shoots video professional full-time and he suggested it may have been a formatting issue on the card. I guess I will never know for sure but I do reformat my cards EVERY TIME I put them in the camera. So if there was a formatting issue the reformat may have solved it. Guess we will never know for sure but thankfully it all seems to be fine now.

  3. PoppyOn Feb. 11th, 2015

    I am traveling to Africa this summer, and am intensely interested in taking the right gear. I do not want to get there and suffer frustration because I can’t capture what I’m seeing. I am also participating in a hospital mission north of Nairobi, so I will be doing people shots.

    This article helped me to learn about the gear (in particular, I’m researching tripods and clamps, and lenses). It also ramped my excitement level to a frenzy!

    Thank you for your wonderful account of your outing.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Feb. 12th, 2015

      Thanks Poppy, you will love Kenya.

  4. DeanOn Feb. 8th, 2015

    Jaw-dropping! First, I must write that I was so pleased to discover that Colter was with you and Tanya. I remember him fondly from a winter trip in Yellowstone during which he won the hearts (and appreciation) from all. He was, and apparently continues to be, a wonderful young man. Second, I am struck by the changes time and technology have brought to photography. Could you have imaged that you’d be photographing the images of a lifetime with Panasonic and Olympus equipment? Not a Nikon D4 and Nikkor 200-400mm in hand? I am sure you are as excited about what the next five years has in store for us. I assume that other than the stabilization issue (GH4 without in-body IS and Olympus 40-150 w/o IS), you have been happy with the new Olympus lens. If Panasonic ever gets on board with IBIS, I’ll bet you become one very happy camper.

    It would be sad to think you lost the video of this incredible action because of a card! I have always used Sandisk and Lexar out of fear of something like this happening. The only time I strayed was in Svalbard when I had the misfortune of a failed SD card, and it was a Transcend in a D300S. Half the images were “scrambled” and could not be saved. As I always do before going into the field, I had tested the Transcend by shooting a few hundred shots; but failure nevertheless occurred. Transcend even tried, and then, replaced the card with an apology. Only time I ever used a non Lexar/Sandisk pro card, and first time I ever had a card fail on me. Never again!

    It is not an accident that you were there to observe the amazing life-and-death scene in Africa. It’s planning, planning, planning, and no one does it better than Team DanTan! But, here’s one complaint. Where’s the “eye candy?” No photos of Tanya? What’s going on? Is “Black Mane Dan” protecting the “pride of his pride” from the pack of hyenas that would love to steal her? How about grabbing that frightenly good Panasonic Leica 42.5mm lens and sending us a photo of something truly spectacular! ;0)

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Feb. 8th, 2015

      Dean,

      It was Colter’s first time to Africa. He’s been traveling with us a bit more, helping out and liking the travel business. Having met him in Yellowstone you know he’s a people person through and through. Yes, times change like Colter growing up and a new camera system in hand. I have to say that I just didn’t want to wait around for the technology to come from the other camera companies, in particular the brand I used to rely on so heavily. Nikon makes great products but I find the size benefits of MFT, the touch screen technology, the 4K video for stills and motion, the wireless transfer, the EVF for an always on histogram, relatively inexpensive, and on, and on, and on, was just too much to ignore. I’m absolutely loving the Panasonic Lumix line of camera and lenses and with the addition of the Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 I finally have a truly professional longer lens. I already have the Olympus 300mm F/4 on order as well.

      As far as cards go, I’ve had issues with them all including SanDisk and Lexar. Panasoinc cards are fairly new so I’m confident they will sort the situation out. I find all of their gear every bit as durable and dependable as any equipment I’ve ever used so I’m going to cut them some and hope I can help them figure out what went wrong. Other than that one time my Panasoinc cards load every time in my MacBook Pro where I have to insert my SanDisk cards sometimes 2-3 times before they are seen by my Mac. Overall I believe Panasoinc is going to be a terrific option for cards.

      As far as my dear wife Tanya goes, well, come travel with us again. She’s on every trip and is as sweet and lovable as any person on the planet and way better organized. You know from experience that we photographers have a lot of fun on our Invitational Photo tours due to her being miss logistics queen.

      Thanks for stopping by to add your voice. See you soon hopefully.

    • Ron PlattOn Feb. 16th, 2015

      Long ago, a Transcend CF2 card became unwriteable after I was modifying the metadata on an image. May have been what I was doing. Since then I have used Kingston C10 cards with no hassles. Made a mistake using C4 cards in my D7100 and they could not handle the demand on them when writing images of an air display at Guernsey. Try Kingston you may be surprised.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Feb. 16th, 2015

      Thanks Ron, Always appreciate hearing about what others are using successfully. Appreciate your input.

  5. Jeff GilchristOn Feb. 7th, 2015

    Great footage. Sorry to hear about the memory card trouble.

    When shooting this 4k video, what focus mode did you use? Manual focus? Or some of the auto-focus options, custom point pattern, etc….?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Feb. 8th, 2015

      Jeff, I had Continues AF set to ON which is set in the Menu under the Motion Picture tab, second page. The AF Mode was set to 1-Area which is very easy to keep on the subject by way of the touch screen technology in the GH4. While I’m shooting, if I want the subject in a different spot on screen for compositional reasons, the touch screen allows me to move the AF senior around the LCD at will. This is a great feature for shoot video and stills. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Jeff GilchristOn Feb. 8th, 2015

      Great, thank you. I have been playing with the custom AF points matrix mode lately. I used to use the 1-area default square but found if I was panning to follow someone they might get a bit ahead of the focus area and the camera would focus on the background, so with the custom matrix I kept the default middle square but extended it slightly to the left, right, and above to help catch someone who may move a bit faster or slower than I anticipate. Seems to work quite well.

      In the case where you are following animals, do you pan with one hand, and then use the other hand to keep switching the focus area if you need to change it or the animal starts moving faster than you are panning? Some of the pans you are doing with the lions/hyenas are quite fast because they are moving fast, did you actually have time to adjust the area with your finger on the display or you were just trying to keep the animal of interest in the AF area you had set?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Feb. 8th, 2015

      Jeff,

      For a slow to moderate pan I am able to keep panning with one hand and move the AF sensor on the LCD with the other. You are right about some of the lion/hyenas action reading fast pans. My lack of videographer skills show in those situations more than I would like. There is a fair amount of fumbling but for the what I had to work with I was happy with what I shot. It was just all I could do to keep the animals int he viewfinder and stay with the action. Hope to become more proficient in these situations as time goes on.

  6. Portrait of Lisa Heine

    Lisa HeineOn Feb. 7th, 2015

    Wow, Dan. I’m sitting in my living room in Texas and feel like I’m there. Thanks for sharing the video. Incredible.

    Lisa

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Feb. 7th, 2015

      Glad you enjoyed it Lisa. Say hello to Gerry.

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