The Lumix Diaries With High Arctic Polar Bears

Posted Jul. 27th, 2015 by Daniel J. Cox

July 14, 2015 – Oslo, Norway

The Lumix Diaries with high arctic polar bears. It’s been three days since we arrived in Oslo. Tanya and I like to be on our destination continent at least two days before our guests arrive. There’s nothing worse than feeling the physically debilitating effects of jet lag when you meet the people who are depending on you.

Yesterday was supposed to be our start but the arctic weather in Longyearbyen stopped our flights cold. Too much fog, too little visibility, no room for error on a small island in the arctic, and our flight was cancelled. We have 35 people including me, Tanya, my good friend and co-leader Wolfgang Kaehler along with Wolfgang’s wife Michelle. The biggest group Natural Exposures has ever attempted and now the challenge of a flight being cancelled.

A map of the world showing where Svalbard is in relation to almost everywhere else.

A map of the world showing where Svalbard is in relation to almost everywhere else.

Thankfully, SAS, the airline who was taking us to Longyearbyen, willfully announced they would be providing a hotel and all meals. We all nearly fell over. An airline taking care of their customers due to weather? Not in the US they don’t, but thankfully for us SAS did a first class job of getting everybody a wonderful place to lay our heads, fill our bellies, and be rested for today’s flight. All of it at no cost to any of us.

The pack ice is not shown on this map but it was there along with several polar bears.

The pack ice is not shown on this map but it was there, along with several polar bears.

The weather has cleared and we’re now on our way to Tromso, Norway. One stop on the path to our destination of Longyearbyen to board our ship. This will be my third trip to this unique arctic habitat that’s the second best place in the world to see polar bears. My first two visits I was on small boats, not big enough to get out to the ice. This trip we chartered a Russian ship that’s actually rated ice worthy so getting where we need to go shouldn’t be a problem.

Camera Gear

I’ve brought my standard Lowepro Roller Pro 200 filled with my Panasonic Lumix system. It includes:

  • 2 GH4 bodies (one with an extra battery grip to use with the long lenses)
  • 1 G7
  • 1 GX7
  • 1 LX100
  • 1 FZ1000 (mainly for our guests to try)
  • 12-35mm F/2.8 Lumix
  • 35-100mm F/2.8 Lumix
  • 40-150mm F/2.8 Olympus
  • 1.4X teleconverter Olympus
  • 15mm F/1.7 Leica/Lumix
  • 42.5mm F/1.2 Leica/Lumix
  • 100-300mm F/4-5.6 Lumix
  • 45mm F/2.8 Macro
  • 1-FL360 flash
  • Nikon D4
  • Nikkor 600mm F/4

As you can see I’m still packing some of my Nikon equipment. My reason for bringing my D4 and the 600mm F/4 is due to the extra reach of the legendary Nikkor lens. Unfortunately at this time my Lumix system doesn’t have the extended reach and image quality that matches the Nikon 600mm F/4. The Lumix 100-300mm is closer than you would ever imagine for such a huge size and price difference, but for now I still depend on my Nikkor for really long telephoto work. As I’ve mentioned in other The Lumix Diaries posts, the reason for this ongoing Lumix journal is all about documenting the changes I’m experiencing with switching from the traditional full-frame Nikon system to the smaller Micro Four Thirds Lumix system.

A comparison shot that shows the size difference between a normal sized Canon 600mm F/4 telephoto and the similarly powerful Panasonic GH3 with a 100-300mm lens that converts to a 200-600mm F/4-5.6 equivalent zoom. Just in case you can't see the GH3, it's on the right and the Canon is on the left.

A comparison shot that shows the size difference between a normal sized Canon 600mm F/4 telephoto and the similarly powerful Panasonic GH3 with a 100-300mm lens that converts to a 200-600mm F/4-5.6 equivalent zoom. Just in case you can’t see the GH3, it’s on the right and the Canon is on the left. This image was originally shot in Kenya.

This is a digest that will be full of reality, explaining the limitations I run into as well as the benefits of a much smaller, lighter and more technologically advanced system. For this trip, the Lumix 100-300mm just won’t give me the image quality I need so I’m stuck with bringing two systems for now.

This is the lens I've been dreaming about. The Leica/Lumix 100-400mm F/4-6.3 super zoom. On my Lumix GH4 this will be the equivalent to a full frame 200-800mm lens. When Panasonic execs visited my office last month they told me I should be able to get my ands on the new lens by the end of December 2015. I hope that is the sales date for everybody as well.

This is the lens I’ve been dreaming about. The Leica/Lumix 100-400mm F/4-6.3 super zoom. On my Lumix GH4 this will be the equivalent to a full-frame 200-800mm lens. This lens is listed as “Under Development” so let’s just hope it will be sooner rather than later.

By the time you read this, Panasonic will have already announced their coming Leica/Lumix 100-400mm F/4-6.3. That’s the equivalent of 200-800mm for goodness sake. This is the lens they came to Bozeman to talk to me about. I have to say that when the Lumix executives mentioned the new lens would be F/6.3 at 800mm, I flinched. I eventually got around to asking more questions like, “What will the F-stop be at 600mm?” Their response, “F/4.”

A meeting at my office in Bozeman with the executives from Panasonic where they first showed me the new 100-400mm zoom.

A meeting at my office in Bozeman with the executives from Panasonic where they first showed me photographs of the new 100-400mm zoom.

My thoughts were, ok, F/4, that’s certainly more than acceptable. Maybe F/6.3 won’t be a problem. After all, F/6.3 is only 1/3 of a stop less than F/5.6. If this lens is even close to the spectacular quality of my other favorite Leica/Lumix lens, the Nocticron 42.5mm F/1.2, this will be a stunning new optic for wildlife and nature. How desperately I would have loved to have it for this trip.

We just landed in Tromso on a scheduled stop to Longyearbyen. Had to leave the plane, walk through the minuscule airport, pass through Immigration Control, out the back door and onto the same plane we exited from. Whole thing didn’t take more than 30 minutes. Apparently Svalbard is not officially a part of Norway so it’s like leaving the country when you visit there.

A view from the air of the Norway coast line. Lumix GM1 12-35mm lens

A view from the air of the Norway coastline. Lumix GM1 12-35mm lens

We’re back in the air and I’m shooting the GM1 as we pass over the beautiful scenery just north of Tromso. To get these images to the blog I connect the GM1 to my iPhone, sent the images via AirDrop, and like magic they’re ready to be part of the Blog. Transferring images from the camera to my iPhone or iPad requires that I’m shooting JPEGs of some sort. I typically shoot RAW with a JPEG so it’s not an issue. But you can’t transfer images if you’re just shooting RAW.

A stuffed polar bear in the Longyearbyen airport. Not exactly what we are looking  for unfortunately for the polar bear. NE Explorers Tanya Cox, Jeanne Schnackenberg, Joy Eastgate and Alice Garland.  Norway.

A stuffed polar bear in the Longyearbyen airport. Not exactly what we’re looking for and most unfortunate for the polar bear. NE Explorers Tanya Cox, Jeanne Schnackenberg, Joy Eastgate, and Alice Garland. Norway

We land in Longyearbyen at around 4:30pm and by 5:00pm we’re on the ship. We meet the crew, get our safety briefing, and we set sale for the southern part of the islands.

Getting in for our first Zodiac ride to the ship. Longyearbyen, Norway.

Getting into the Zodiac for our first ride to the ship. Longyearbyen, Norway

On our way out of Isfjorden (Icy Fjord)  the beautiful northern fulmars do their typical show of following the ship and sailing on the wind in easy shooting distance.

Birds in flight are one of my favorite things to photograph and this evening we had dozens in beautiful late evening sun. As I try to do in the Lumix Diaries so people can learn, I will explain my camera settings and shooting techniques with some of the more interesting photo opportunities.

Birds in Flight Settings

  • Program Mode
  • Shutter speed and aperture set to 1/1600th @ F/5.6
  • Auto focus switch set to AFC
  • Burst Rate High
  • ISO 400-500
  • Metering Mode set to Evaluative
  • AF/AE set to AF-On
  • Shutter AF set to Off
  • Quick AF set to Off
  • Eye Sensor SF set to Off
  • Focus/Release Priority set to Release
  • Histogram set to On
  • Constant Preview set to Off
  • Auto Review set to Off
  • Touch Settings-Touch Pad AF set to Offset

Trying to keep a flying bird in the viewfinder is a difficult task by itself. If you can do that the camera should be able to do its part and focus on the subject. Both of these requirements are easier said than done. Along with the Lumix GH4, I’m shooting the Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8.

Northern Fulmar, Icy Fjord, Svalbard, Norway.

Northern fulmar, Icy Fjord, Svalbard, Norway. GH4 with Olympus 40mm-150mm F/2.8 and 1.4 teleconverter

Unfortunately, I had many situations where the GH4’s AF sensor was squarely on the bird and even so could not acquire focus. On many of the images the AF sensors seemed to be reading the water behind the bird. When the fulmar went up against the sky the camera had almost no issues. Against the water I had 50% of the images out of focus even though the AF sensor was almost filled by the soaring fulmar.

Keep in mind that even though this disappoints me, this is not the first time I’ve seen this kind of AF behavior. My Nikon’s have done the exact same thing in situations like this. It’s obviously not an easy software engineering feat to give the camera the ability to differentiate between background and subject in fast moving situations.

Even so there were many, many images where the AF sensor did hit the mark to acquire perfect focus. I was able to collect dozens of razor sharp soaring fulmars in the beauty of the late evening light.

We end our first day thrilled we had such as nice shoot just an hour after boarding our ship.

July 15th – Hornsund (7° C)

The morning was a bit uneventful with a relaxing zodiac ride around the fjord in Hornsund. It wasn’t until late afternoon that we really had a chance to explore the beautiful area around the bird cliffs.

We broke up in two groups, one of us climbed the slope leading to the base of the kittiwake colony and the other group walked the shoreline. High above us against a towering slab of gray and white were thousands of seagull-like birds known as kittiwakes. The summer chore of raising their young was in full swing high among the cliffs where they were safe from the incidental marauding polar bear and the ever present arctic fox. I chose the bird cliff route. With cobalt blue skies and later afternoon arctic sun, it was a great time to explain and teach the concept of side lighting and how important it is for making a photograph feel three dimensional.

The following is a list of what I took ashore each time on land throughout the blog.

  • 2 Lumix GH4’s
  • 1 Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 with 1.4X teleconverter attached.
  • 1 12-35mm F/2.8
  • 1 45mm F/2.8 macro lens

Shooting with my typical setup for shore landings. Three Lumix bodies, 2-GH4’s and 1-G7 with 12-35mm, 40-150mm with 1.4 teleconverter and 45mm F/2.8 macro attached to bodies. All of this gear in the Timbukt2 with the inexpensive Amazon camera bag insert to get photos like the one of the walrus.

All of these items fit nicely into the medium-sized Timbukt2 messenger bag that I’ve turned into an over-the-shoulder camera pouch. Inside the Timbukt2 I added an inexpensive padded insert with dividers, I found on Amazon. I’m liking this system. It worked very well even in extremely wet zodiac rides. On one such ride the Timbuk2 took a direct hit from a solid wave of water but with it all closed down, not a single drop penetrated.

Lesson to Learn: Shoot with a Story in Mind

As we approached the cliff I shot the 12-35mm at its widest setting to capture the massive rock wall. The white birds are difficult to see but it shows the habitat they live in. All good photo  essays require wide, medium, and close-ups to help tell the story. Where these birds are living is an important element so I started with their habitat.

Stephen, one of our guide stands guard keeping his eye out for polar bears that could be in the area. The Kitty wake colony rising behind him.

Stephen, one of our rifle-toting guides, stands guard keeping watch for polar bears. Adding a known element like a human body helps the viewer understand the scale of the rock cliffs the Kittiwake colony is in. Lumix GH4 with 12-35mm F/2.8

Eventually I was able to get a few images of some of the lower nests to give more details of what we were seeing but I never was able to get the extreme closeups due to the height of the cliffs.

Kittiwakes nesting on the ledges of the steep cliffs. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm and 1.4X teleconverter.

Kittiwakes nesting on the ledges of the steep cliffs. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm and 1.4X teleconverter.

Had this been an assignment like those I’ve done for National Geographic lots of closeups showing the day-to-day lives of these magnificent birds would have required me staying for many weeks, using a hide and much longer telephoto lenses.

Lesson to Learn: Adding the Feeling of 3D to Your Pictures

Light is almost always the answer when it comes to making an interesting picture. Why? Because all digital sensors and the film we formerly shot are two-dimensional objects. If you want to make a photograph feel like you can reach out and touch the subject, side light or back light is the only way to go.

Wayne comes in close to shoot the beautiful wild flowers with the Lumix GH4 and the 45mm F/2.8 macro lens. Hornsund, Svalbard, Norway.

Wayne comes in close to shoot the beautiful wild flowers with the Lumix GH4 and the 45mm F/2.8 macro lens. Hornsund, Svalbard, Norway

There’s an old rule of thumb that refuses to die, even though it was penned some 150 years ago. A gentleman named George Eastman, the man who brought us the “Kodak Moment” sold his first cameras with instructions to the user, “always shoot with the sun to your back.” This was a very important rule when the ISO of the film, a Box Brownie camera used, was ISO 8. Yes, I said ISO 8! Today we regularly shoot at ISO 400, 800, and sometimes even 1600.

A beautiful carpet of luck green moss and Purple Saxifrage Take on the feeling of three dimensions from the low arctic light. Lumix GH4 with 12-35mm F/2.8

A beautiful carpet of dark green moss and purple saxifrage take on the feeling of three dimensions from the low arctic light. Lumix GH4 with 12-35mm F/2.8

For those unfamiliar with ISO, it’s the world standard for rating the sensitivity of film and today’s digital sensors. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the sensor is for capturing light. The lower the ISO, the higher quality, better detail, and less grain (noise) the image will have.

A Kittiwake feather illuminated from the side by the evening arctic light. Lumix GH4 with 45mm F/2.8

A kittiwake feather illuminated from the side by the evening arctic light. Lumix GH4 with 45mm F/2.8

At ISO 8 you needed massive amounts of light to be certain your shutter speed was fast enough to stop any movement. With film rated at ISO 8, fast action was considered somebody accidentally dropping their chin or moving an arm. Remember those old family photos where everybody looks like they’re attending a funeral?  No smile, no movement, and if there was movement it showed up as a blurred arm or face? That was all due to very low ISO film ratings.

Here's an example of very flat light, sun almost directly over my right shoulder. The image is acceptable but nothing special. Obviously in a scene like this the landscape is too large for me to reposition myself like I've done on the small plants image. Hornsund, Svalbard, Norway. Lumix GH4 with 12-35mm F/2.8 Hornsund, Svalbard, Norway.

Here’s an example of very flat light, sun almost directly over my right shoulder. The image is acceptable but nothing special. Obviously in a scene like this the landscape is too large for me to reposition myself like I’ve done on the small plant images. Hornsund, Svalbard, Norway. Lumix GH4 with 12-35mm F/2.8

Today, we have amazing options to shoot much higher ISO’s which allows us to use light in a way that wasn’t possible even ten years ago. The problem with  putting the light behind your back, so it’s acting as a spotlight on your subject, is the fact it gives you no shadows. Shadows are what helps create the feeling of three dimensions. So today you should do everything BUT put the light behind you. For great 3D-feeling images you want the light coming from either left or right (side light) or even directly from behind the subject, what we call back light. Light coming from either back or side will help make your images pop and give them the three dimensions our eyes and our minds expect.

Lesson to Learn: Do Sweat the Details

Finally, don’t forget details, like the shell of an egg we found on the ground beneath the colony. Little pieces of the story help connect all the dots for the viewer.

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The broken eggshell of a bird lying on the tundra grasses tells the story of what is the most important part of the bird’s life during this time of year, procreating.

All the new life is just part of the overall story. Beneath my feet while walking the beach I saw opportunities to show how difficult this time of year is on all the adults. Littered across the sand were one corpse after another. Some people don’t like showing the negative side of nature but as a story teller/photojournalist all aspects of their life are interesting to me.

The remains of what look to be a Kittiwake returning to the sands of creation. Lumix GH4 with 12-35mm F/2.8

Remains, of what looks to be a Kittiwake, returning to the sands of creation. Lumix GH4 with 12-35mm F/2.8

 

July 16th (4° C)

All through the night we sailed down and around the south end of Svalbard then up the Storfjorden and are just now making plans to make landing at Kapp Lee.

Our ship anchored  in the bay near Kapp Lee, in Freemansundet, Svalbard, Norway. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 and 1.4X teleconverter

Our ship anchored in the bay near Kapp Lee, in Freemansundet, Svalbard, Norway. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 and 1.4X teleconverter

Here we could possibly see walrus, arctic fox, and reindeer. Then hopefully this afternoon we cruise the pack ice for polar bears.

A Zodiac full of our Explorers arriving at Kapp Lee on Edgeoya Island, Svalbard, Norway.

A Zodiac full of our Explorers arriving at Kapp Lee on Edgeoya Island, Svalbard,  Norway. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 and 1.4X teleconverter.

Our first photo opportunity came in the form of several Svalbard reindeer. They were very cooperative which they often are since most are not hunted and none of them have any predators on the islands. There are no wolves, no mountain lions, nothing that feeds on them so they fear almost nothing.

Explorer Cathy Pemberton using hand holding the Lumix FZ1000 to photograph a Svalbard Reindeer at Kapp Lee. Our guide stands by with his rifle over his shoulder inc as a polar bear unexpectedly come son the scene.  Svalbard, Norway.

Explorer Cathy Pemberton hand-holding the Lumix FZ1000 to photograph a Svalbard reindeer at Kapp Lee. Our guide stands by with his rifle over his shoulder in case a polar bear unexpectedly comes on the scene. Svalbard, Norway

That’s great for photography. My lens of choice once again was the Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 with the Olympus 1.4X teleconverter. Many photographers use a tripod for longer lenses which in this case would be a 35mm full-frame equivalent of 420mm. Telephoto lenses and how to get sharp images brings me to my next lesson.

Lesson to Learn: When Shooting Hand-held Follow This Simple Rule

To get razor sharp images I often follow a tried and true method of using a shutter speed equal to or greater than the length of your lens. In other words, since I was shooting the GH4 with the 40-150mm that also had a 1.4 teleconverter attached, the lenses maximum reach was 420mm.

A female Svalbard reindeer stops grazing for moment to try and figure out what all the fuss is about with the group of visitors. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm and 1.4X teleconverter.

A female Svalbard reindeer stops grazing for moment to try and figure out what all the fuss is about with the group of visitors. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm and 1.4X teleconverter. ISO 320 at 1/1000th of a second

That being the case I would want to shoot all my pictures at a minimum of 1/420th of a second to make sure all camera and human induced shake was eliminated. On this relatively bright day that wasn’t difficult, and in fact most of my photos were shot much above the 1/420th of a second minimum.

A gourd of young walrus enjoying tie in the frigid, nearly freezing waters off the beach at Kapp Lee. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 with 1.4X teleconverter.

A group of young walrus enjoying time in the frigid waters off the beach at Kapp Lee. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 with 1.4X teleconverter

It was a quick stop of an hour so. We enjoyed photo opportunities with the reindeer, we saw the old hunting shack that

This little shack would have been a cold place to spend the winter hunting for polar bears.

This little shack would have been a cold place to spend the winter hunting for polar bears.

early polar bear hunters used, and got some great action with a young pod of walrus frolicking in the surf just off the beach.

An old chunk of reindeer anteroom lying on the tundra with a patch of moss campion growing between the antler tines. Lumix GH4 with 12-35mm F/2.8

An old chunk of reindeer antler lying on the tundra with a patch of moss campion growing between the tines. Lumix GH4 with 12-35mm F/2.8

We finished up with a close-up of a very old piece of reindeer antler with beautiful moss campion. Back to the ship and we begin our journey north for the pack ice.

July 18th – Bellsund

Heading back north we make our way towards Bellsund and a landing site at Varsolbukta. Here we hope to see a large colony of little auks. On our way there we had another chance to photograph the beautiful northern fulmars as they gracefully fly along side our ship.

This Northern fulmar was shot with the Lumix GH4 and the Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 and the 1.4x teleconverter. This was the first time I've had a chance to shoot flying birds with this camera  and lens combination and it preformed beautifully.  Svalbard, Norway.

This northern fulmar was shot with the Lumix GH4 and the Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 with the 1.4x teleconverter. This was the first time I’ve had a chance to shoot flying birds with this camera and lens. Overall it performed better than any MFT camera I’ve ever shot in predictive AF. Svalbard, Norway

Making our landing at Varsolbukta we encountered massive flocks of the little auks. Like a mini bolt from the sky, these tiny little birds are more than a challenge for any camera to focus on.

Lesson to Learn: Predictive AF Setup 

The settings below are the same as I gave at the beginning of this post. There is one big change I made that seems to be working quite well. That change is the Focus/Release for the little auks was set to Focus as opposed to Release as I’ve used before.

Little Auks fly out from their colony in the rocky rubble at  Varsolbukta, Svalbard, Norway.

Little auks fly out from their colony in the rocky rubble at Varsolbukta, Svalbard, Norway. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 and 1.4X teleconverter

I decided to start trying the Focus Release option even though with all my Nikons I shoot Release Priority. Based on what I’m now experiencing with the GH4’s, Focus Priority seems to do better than what I’ve seen with my Nikons. With my Nikon’s I found the Focus Release priority was the better.

A little Auk comes in for lading as he returns to rocky rubble his nest is located in. Varsolbukta, Svalbard, Norway. Lumix GH4 with 40-150mm F/2.8 and 1.4X teleconverter.

A little auk comes in for a landing as he returns to his nest. Varsolbukta, Svalbard, Norway. Lumix GH4 with 40-150mm F/2.8 and 1.4X teleconverter

My GH4’s are different however and seem to be keeping the lens in focus and firing at the exact proper moment. It’s hard to explain the differences between the two, but so far I’m impressed with the GH4’s Predictive AF capabilities with a fast lens like the Olympus 40-150mm.

Birds in flight settings

  • Program Mode
  • Shutter Speed and Aperture set to 1/1600th @ F/5.6
  • Auto focus switch set to AFC
  • Burst Rate High
  • ISO 400-500
  • Metering Mode set to Evaluative
  • AF/AE set to AF-On
  • Shutter AF set to Off
  • Quick AF set to Off
  • Eye Sensor SF set to Off
  • Focus/Release Priority set to Focus
  • Histogram set to On
  • Constant Preview set to Off
  • Auto Review set to Off
  • Touch Settings-Touch Pad AF set to Offset

With so many birds nesting on the ground it’s very common for arctic fox to be patrolling the area. While photographing the birds I catch movement from the corner of my eye and spin to see an arctic fox moving through the colony. He walked below a ridge but eventually reappeared for a few frames as he crossed a patch of snow far off in the distance.

An arctic fox makes its way back to its den with a mouthful of little auks from the colony on Varsolbukta. Svalbard, Norway

An arctic fox makes its way back to its den with a mouthful of little auks from the colony on Varsolbukta. Svalbard, Norway. Lumix GH4 with 40-150mm F/2.8 with 1.4X teleconverter

 

July 19th (4° C)

The day began early with a wakeup call at 5:30am. Our first event of the day was a stop at Smeerenburg or what is known in English as Blubber Island. Blubber Island was a whaling station as far back as the 1600’s. Apparently the whales didn’t last long due to over-harvest. Today we hope to see the whaling remains as well as visit a resident pod of walrus.

Arctic tern,  Smeerenburg, Svalbard, Norway.

Arctic tern, Smeerenburg, Svalbard, Norway. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 with 1.4X teleconverter

On our way to see the walrus we were greeted by the persistent attacks of arctic terns. Arctic terns are the longest flyers of any creature known to man. They winter in Antarctica and spend their summers in the furthest reaches of the northern arctic, flying a distance of over 44,000 miles per year. As we pass the edge of a fresh water pond the terns move in and begin to call, swooping down to mock attack. We move off toward the coast for a better view of the walrus and leave the terns behind.

A large male walrus comes ashore at a haul out on Smeerenburg, Svalbard, Norway. Lumix Gh4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 with 1.4X teleconverter

We all make our way back to the ship and start motoring to one of the most beautiful places in all of Svalbard. It’s a place called Alkefjellet which roughly translates to Bird Mountain.

Linda waits for her to board the Zodiac to take her to the cliffs of Alkefjellet, Svalbard, Norway. Lumix GH4 with 12-23mm F/2.8

Linda waits for her turn to board the Zodiac to take her to the cliffs of Alkefjellet, Svalbard, Norway. Lumix G7 with 12-23mm F/2.8

I’ve been here before on my last trip but it was a foggy, cloudy day. This evening the sun is shining and our expedition leader Christian had made a great plan to be their in the evening.

The cliffs of Alkefjellet are filled with hundreds of thousands of Brunich’s guillemots and other birds. Lumix G7 with 12-35mm F/2.8

The cliffs of Alkefjellet are filled with hundreds of thousands of Brunnich’s guillemots and other birds. Lumix G7 with 12-35mm F/2.8

Our Zodiac quietly approached the cliffs giving us a better view of this magnificent birding spectacle. Thousands were flying to and from the cliffs, some were on the water.

Brunich’s guillemots on the cliffs of Alkefjellet. Lumix GH4 with 40-150mm F/2.8 and 1.4X teleconverter

Brunnich’s guillemots on the cliffs of Alkefjellet. Lumix GH4 with 40-150mm F/2.8 and 1.4X teleconverter

Bird droppings from above were just part of the deal. I got hit as well as others but with our rain gear it wasn’t an issue. Thankfully everyone just laughed it off along with some good humored teasing.

Brunich’s guillemots bob on the waters below the huge colony in the Alkefjellet cliffs. Lumix GH4 with 40-150mm F/2.8 and 1.4X teleconverter.

Brunnich’s guillemots bob on the waters below the huge colony in the Alkefjellet cliffs. Lumix GH4 with 40-150mm F/2.8 and 1.4X teleconverter.

Patrolling the base of the cliff site were several arctic foxes. They are small animals so the images we shot were more environmental, showing the habitat they live in.

An arctic fox pauses for a few seconds to take look at all of us watching him and the birds. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 and 1.4X teleconverter.

An arctic fox pauses for a few seconds to take look at all of us watching him and the birds. The warm glow of the late arctic sun was absolutely spectacular. Lumix GH4 with Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 and 1.4X teleconverter

Sitting on the calm waters didn’t necessarily mean the birds were at ease. In fact as we were enjoying the show among the cliffs, two guillemots seemed to finally have enough with each other and began trying to hammer the other into oblivion.

A pair of Brunich’s guillemots strike up a vicious fight just off the side of our Zodiac. Lumix GH4 with 40-150mm F/2.8 and 1.4X teleconverter.

A pair of Brunnich’s guillemots strike up a vicious fight just off the side of our zodiac. Lumix GH4 with 40-150mm F/2.8 and 1.4X teleconverter

It’s an amazing evening that’s given us not only phenomenal subjects but fabulous light. The arctic is my favorite place to shoot specifically because of the long-lasting warm colors arctic light provides. By the time we made our way back to the ship it was close to 12:00am, but nobody was ready for bed due to the incredible adrenalin rush we all experienced. Tomorrow we head to the ice pack.

July 20th: Heading for the Ice Pack in the Barents Sea (2°C)

Tanya searching for polar bears as we get closer to the ice pack. Norway.

Tanya searching for polar bears as we get closer to the ice pack. Svalbard, Norway. Lumix G7 with Lumix 14-140mm

On our way north the sky clears and we start finding chunks of ice large enough to hold not only bears but also another arctic icon, the walrus.

The group photographs a walrus hauled out on a chunk of ice. Svalbard, Norway. Lumix GH4 with 12-35mm F/2.8

Our group of Explorers photograph a walrus hauled out on a chunk of ice. Svalbard, Norway. Lumix GH4 with 12-35mm F/2.8

The arctic ice is not just important for polar bears but many other marine mammals depend on it as well. The male walrus we find is missing a tusk and is basking in the sun his on his icy platform.

A large male walrus spends time hauled out on a large chunk of ice. Lumix GH4 with 40-150mm F/2.8 with 1.4X teleconverter.

A large male walrus spends time hauled out on a large chunk of ice. Lumix GH4 with 40-150mm F/2.8 with 1.4X teleconverter

Finding polar bears in the vast expanse of white, arctic ice sheets is almost like the proverbial needle in a haystack. To find bears we encourage as many as people to come to the bridge to scan the ice edge we were following with the ship. Binoculars were a must and the more people searching the better our chances were.

Jim, Lynn and Wayne on the bridge of the polar pioneer, Svalbard, Norway. Lumix G7 with 14-140mm zoom.

NE Explorers Jim, Lynne, and Wayne on the bridge of the Polar Pioneer, Svalbard, Norway. Lumix G7 with 14-140mm zoom

My co-leader Wolfgang Kaehler came to talk to me about offering a bottle of champagne for the first person that spots a bear. Within ten seconds of him making the announcement to those on the bridge, Stephen yells out, “Polar Bear,”  and sure enough it was a polar bear that graciously gave us over an hourlong shoot.

Our first polar bear comes closer to our ship to get a better look. This image was shot with the Lumix Vario 100-300mm zoo which I've mentioned is not the quality I need on a professional basis. That said, this image is incredibly sharp. Not sure why this lens sometimes performs and sometimes not. Lumix GH4 with 100-300mm zoom.

Our first polar bear comes closer to our ship to get a better look. This image was shot with the Lumix Vario 100-300mm zoom which I’ve mentioned is not the quality I need on a professional basis. That said, this image is incredibly sharp. Not sure why this lens sometimes performs and sometimes not. Lumix GH4 with 100-300mm zoom

The image above, as I mention in the caption, was shot with the 100-300mm zoom and it’s extremely sharp. Quite frankly (and I don’t know why) sometimes this lens performs and sometimes it doesn’t. After going through numerous images I found what I think are some fair and accurate comparisons between images shot with the Lumix GH4 with the 100-300mm zoom and my Nikon D4 with the 600mm F/4.

An unscientific, in the field comparison of  Nikon D4 using the $12,000 600mm F/4 lens and the Lumix GH4 with the 100-300mm zoom. Both these images are enlarged to 100% in Lightroom. Keep in mind that the image on the left was shot with a $7000.. camera and $12,000 lens. The image on the right was shot with a $1500.00 camera and a $499.00 lens.  Both have a small amount of sharpening but the amount was the exact same for each image.

An unscientific, in-the-field comparison of Nikon D4 using the $12,000 600mm F/4 lens and the Lumix GH4 with the 100-300mm zoom. Both these images are enlarged to 100% in Lightroom. Keep in mind that the image on the left was shot with a $7000 camera and $12,000 lens. The image on the right was shot with a $1500 camera and a $499 lens. Both have a small amount of sharpening added but the amount was the exact same for each image. These results are quite amazing.

A second comparison below is between the Nikon D4 with the 600mm F/4 and the Lumix GH4 with the Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 with the Olympus 1.4X teleconverter. Again, hard to believe results between very different cameras in price and size.

Once again these are 100% enlargements in Lightroom. the image on the left is the Nikon D4 with the 600mm F/4 and the image on the right is the Lumix GH4 with the 40-150mm F/2.8 with the 1.4X teleconverter. Nikon price tag about $19,000. Price of the Lumix and Olympus combination about $3200. Wow, again hard to believe.

Once again these are 100% enlargements in Lightroom. The image on the left is the Nikon D4 with the 600mm F/4 and the image on the right is the Lumix GH4 with the 40-150mm F/2.8 with the 1.4X teleconverter. Nikon price tag about $19,000. Price of the Lumix and Olympus combination about $3200. Wow, once again hard to believe. Without question the Lumix image with the Olympus lens is certainly equal and possibly even sharper than my Nikon.

As you can see from these two comparisons, these obviously are not in the studio perfect setups. That said, I think it’s often better to see real world, in-the-field comparisons, that we may all have the possibility to experience rather than a perfect studio comparison.

Maybe now many of my readers will finally understand why I’m so enthused about the Panasonic Lumix system. I’ve actually had more than one photographer suggest I must be just goofing around with these little cameras. Nothing could be further from the truth and now with the new 100-400mm Leica on the horizon, it very well could be game over for having to carry two systems.

Throughout the day and into the night we have over four great polar bear opportunities that came to our ship to investigate. Our guests were thrilled and to say that me, Tanya, Wolfgang, and his wife Michelle were relieved would be an understatement. There is never a guarantee for any wildlife but we always want people to be happy with their adventure and ideally exceed their expectations. It was a very successful day and we went to sleep that night knowing we had one more ice day tomorrow.

Our ship gets in to the ice for polar bears. Svalbard, Norway.

Our ship gets into the ice for polar bears, Svalbard, Norway. Lumix FZ100

 

July 21st: Ice Pack at 80 degrees North Latitude

We wake the next morning with a thick fog and our expedition leader Christian suggests that we might want to think about moving out of the ice pack for other options along the coastlines of Svalbard. I’m not too excited about this idea since we only had one great day with the bears and moving out of the ice pack would reduce our chances for more bears dramatically. I talk it over with those in our group and we all decide to stick the fog out and spend the day once more looking for more bears.

A large male on the ice looks in the direction of a lounging bearded seal on the ice. Nikon D4 with 600mm F/4

A large male on the ice pack looks in the direction of a lounging seal. This is their main prey and we were hopeful we might see a hunt, however, it never worked out. Nikon D4 with 600mm F/4

By noon the fog began to lift and we resume scanning the vast ice sheet. Throughout the day we find two more bears but neither of them gave us many opportunities. Five o’clock rolls around, the time we’ve all agreed to start heading south. We have a substantial distance to get back to Longyearbyen in two days.  All of us were happy even though we didn’t have many days with the bears as we would all have liked, but everyone felt very fortunate we experienced what we did.

July 22nd: The Massive Glacier of Lilliehookbreen

We steam all through the night and the next morning we wake to the massive glacier of Lilliehookbreen. The bay was huge and the glacier wrapped nearly completely around it. This scene would be perfect to test the new G7’s panoramic feature. In Patagonia I had tried panoramas using the same in-camera feature that’s part of the Lumix LX100.  No matter what I did with the LX100 I could not get a perfect pano, one that you could not see any stitch lines in the final image.

the Lilliehookbreen glacier shot with the Lumix G7 in Panoramic mode with the 12-35mm F/2.8

The Lilliehookbreen glacier shot with the Lumix G7 in Panoramic mode with the 12-35mm F/2.8. I’m ecstatic to say there is not even a hint of any stitch lines.

Knowing the G7 was nearly a year newer I was hopeful Panasonic may have gotten this fascinating and fun new tool nailed down to perfection.  The G7 has included the option on the top program dial that allows immediate access to this feature. It’s super easy to be shooting panos on a moments notice.

D995215

A group of NE Explorers venture out to take photos of the Lilliehookbreen glacier. Lumix G7 in pano mode with 12-35mm F/2.8

The Lumix FZ1000 also has a panoramic mode but several of our guests gave it a try and found mixed results. Some saw stitch lines in the JPEGs output and some images were perfect. We did find one huge difference between the G7 and FZ1000 panoramic modes. With the FZ1000 you could not use the zoom lens on any setting other than the minimum 25mm setting. On the G7 I was able to zoom the 12-35mm F/2.8 lens out to whatever I wanted to shoot at. This gives you the opportunity to get closer to your subject. It worked beautifully.

Lesson to Learn: Use an Interesting Object for a Landscape Foreground

As we walked the beach, Wolfgang started looking for pieces of ice to put in the foreground to show our guests how this can help add interest to a landscape. I walked further down the beach and found a beautiful chunk of ice that made for a nice foreground. Below is the image of the ice on the beach with the amazing glacier off in the distance.

Adding a foreground and shooting with a small aperture for maximum depth of field. can help create a beautiful landscape. Lumix G7 with 12-35mm F/2.8 1/125 of a second at F/16.

Adding a foreground and shooting with a small aperture for maximum depth of field can help create a beautiful landscape. Lumix G7 with 12-35mm F/2.8 1/125 of a second at F/16.

We spend the rest of  the day exploring the area and just relaxing. One option we all had was what was called the Polar Plunge. Yep, you got it. A chance to jump in to the icy waters of the high arctic. Nope, not for me. But there were a few crazies that gave it a go.

Taking the polar plunge with Peter in his dry suite on duty to save anybody that can't take the frigid were.

Taking the polar plunge with Peter in his dry suit on duty to save anybody that can’t take the frigid water.

That evening we motored all the way back to Longyearbyen. It was a great trip with lots of amazing photo opportunities. Since this was an arctic adventure, all of the images I shot are available to Polar Bears International via my ongoing Arctic Documentary Project (ADP). To find out more about the ADP and how you can help support what we do, check out the ADP booklet online. You can click the image below to see more. You can find an online Donation Form on the Polar Bears International website. All donations are tax deductible.

Thanks for visiting the Lumix Diaries. Let me know if you have any questions.  Looking forward to hearing from you.

Add Your Voice!
There are 15 comments on this post…
  1. JackOn Dec. 28th, 2015

    What a brilliant article. I too am looking foward to seeing the 100\400mm, though I’m hoping it won’t be too expensive.

  2. Portrait of Fred Kurtz

    Fred KurtzOn Jul. 30th, 2015

    What fantastic images from the Panasonic gear Dan. More impressive all the time. Getting close to decision time for South Africa – Nikon or Panasonic. I have taken Panasonic exclusively on all photo trips for the last year and 1/2 and have not regretted it. I am using my Nikons at home where I don’t have to lug them around. Svalbard looks like a wonderful trip.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 30th, 2015

      The new Olympus lens is finally giving me the confidence to shoot exclusively with my Lumix system. Can’t wait to see what the coming Leica 100-400mmwill do for us. Seems the many Blog posts I’ve been doing about needing a lens of this caliber made a huge impression on the Lumix team in Japan. At least that is what our Lumix Luminary team, Tom Curley, suggested at our recent meeting where he announced this lens to all attending. Apparently all of us, you, me and others gave Panasonic the confidence to bring this lens to market. Really is a great feeling to be part of the team. Thanks for your help on this front as well.

  3. Portrait of Joel Kleiner

    Joel KleinerOn Jul. 27th, 2015

    Hi, Great photos and information DJC. You where very informative about all the equipment, cameras and lenses used inn this blog. I will read it again, mañana. I sincerely appreciate the detail;s and the technical information. This is all great and very helpful. It looks like a terrific and great tour in Norway. WOW!!!

    Regards,

    Joel

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 27th, 2015

      Thanks Joel, would have loved to have you along. Hope all is well with you and Susan.

  4. Portrait of Jane Scott Norris

    JaneOn Jul. 27th, 2015

    Dan, Thanks for the blog. It’s a good read and reminder of a great trip but even more important are your photos and explanations. The side-by-side shots from the two camera systems are priceless. You know I’m almost converted, just waiting for that 100-400 lens. I read somewhere that we’ll see it in Spring. Here’s hoping 😉

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 27th, 2015

      My pleasure Jane. Glad you liked the post.

  5. Portrait of Lynn Clayton

    Lynn ClaytonOn Jul. 27th, 2015

    I loved this story, the scenery was great, the story was great and the detail on lens used and the bear photos were so clear and crisp. Some helpful info. Thankyou for sharing.

  6. Portrait of Jay Murthy

    JayOn Jul. 27th, 2015

    Dear Dan ,
    Thank you for such a detailed presentation of your thoughts and techniques. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip you and Tanya put together. I had never shot these many birds in flight. It was truly a very revealing as well as an enjoyable experience. I greatly appreciated your help and assistance in setting up my camera correctly. I keep watching your blog for updates in the micro four third world.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 27th, 2015

      Thanks Jay. Always enjoy to shooting with you. Stay in touch.

  7. DeanOn Jul. 27th, 2015

    Yet another brilliant informative and educational piece from a Master of the Photo Universe! My only disappointment is that there were no photos of you and Tanya taking the Polar Plunge. You are such wimps! ;0)

    Dean

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 27th, 2015

      Thanks Dean. Sorry to disappoint you on the polar plunge but after one of the crazy people passed out on the plunge deck, I guess I would call it that, I knew we made the right decision. Glad you liked the Blog post.

  8. Portrait of Bonnie Forman-Franco

    Bonnie Forman-FrancoOn Jul. 27th, 2015

    Dan–this was fabulous and very educational. Well written and presented. Thanks a million for a trip of a lifetime.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 27th, 2015

      Bonnie, glad you enjoyed the blog. Tanya and I always appreciate your trust in traveling with us and it was great to have Robby along on this one to get to know better. Looking forward to our next adventure. Stay in touch.

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