Photographing the Gallotia lizards – Part 3: Gallotia intermedia

The Tenerife Speckled Lizard (Gallotia intermedia) is the fourth largest extant species in this genus. It was also discovered quite recently — in late 90-s. The terra typica is the rocks Acantilados de Los Gigantes (Cliffs of the Giants) at the south-western coast of Tenerife. With estimated number of 1500-2000, the total population of G. intermedia is much more numerous than of G. bravoana. This species is currently known from two localities — the coastal rocks between Punto de Teno and the town of Los Gigantes, and from the Montaña de Guaza (Guaza Mountain) at the eastern end of Los Cristianos. Since the distribution area of Tenerife Speckled Lizard is quite extended, this species doesn’t appear to be in acute danger although it may suffer from predation by stray cats.

The ecology of G. intermedia appears to be similar to that of G. bravoana: It inhabits dry rocky places with scarse vegetation, at the southern or south-western coast. Unlike G. bravoana that has been found so far only on a very steep slope of a rock, G. intermedia also occurs in a more plain areas — on the Guaza Mountain and at nearby locations.

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View at Acantilados de Los Gigantes (Cliffs of the Giants) — the terra typica of Tenerife Speckled Lizard (Gallotia intermedia).

I searched for my photography subjects in both populations but again had bad luck. In the western population I tried to find the lizards at two sites — near the town of Los Gigantes and at Punto de Teno. Both locations are in the same chain of Los Gigantes rocks, but at the both ends of it. There are no doubts that I was searching in the right places, but like with the Gomera Giant Lizards, I suppose that all living beings were hiding from the heat during this extremely hot summer. Anyway I didn’t see adult lizards of any species at all. A couple of young that I finally found and photographed in Baranco Seca — a gorge of a dried river — and that I initially thought were juvenile G. intermedia later turned out to be G. galloti.

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I found this memorial plate dedicated to the discovery of Gallotia intermedia on a rock at the beginning of the paths along the Los Gigantes cliffs.

The habitat of Tenerife Speckled Lizards at Los Gigantes is very easy to find: It is on the huge cliffs — Acantilados de Los Gigantes — that you see from any point in the town. All I needed to get there was to find a street leading to the cliffs. It was Calle Tabaiba that ends with a small parking lot. A path along the cliffs starts right at it. The entrance to the path was closed with a portable fence, a warning sign was informing that the path shouldn’t be used. I supposed that this warning was intended for the inhabitants of the villas nearby — people from Germany and other countries who own holiday apartments there and may want to go to the cliffs for a walk. Indeed, I saw people searching for a way to the cliffs, and also a woman who lived in a villa told that the official recreation path was higher — near the top of the rocks.

I took that lower that was closed. First it was quite broad, and walking was absolutely no problem. At about 200m from its beginning I saw a bronze plate on a rock telling that “Lagarto Canario Moteado” — i.e. Gallotia intermedia — had been first discovered in this place. This was a sign for me that I had determined the location correctly.

This slope was still in shadow, and I didn’t hurry. A couple of times I sat down not only to rest but also to wait for the sun. Finally the sun appeared, and its light was quickly getting brighter and hotter. Against my expectation no lizards were appearing: the slope was looking lifeless. Very soon it got very hot. I continued walking and looking for any lizards. Sometimes I left the path and searched in a wider area on both sides: No lizards were around.

Till noon, when the sunshine got really strong and the entire slope was standing in it, I went only a few kilometers in one direction, and there was no sense to go further. The slopes were extremely dry. There was no water and almost no green plants. When I reach a dried river bed I saw a few young gallotias. Since there were no adult individuals of G. galloti around, I thought that they were juvenile G. intermedia, particularly because they were looking not like the juveniles of G.g. eisentrauti that I had seen on the northern coast. I photographed one of those young lizards and went back to the parking lot. On the way the accident happened that I described in the grey box above.

The second known population of the Tenerife Speckled Lizard is in the area around Guaza Mountain (Montaña de Guaza). It is in immediate proximity of Los Cristianos — one of the most popular beach holiday destinations in Tenerife. Los Cristianos itself is probably the least attractive town on the island. It consists almost entirely of giant hotels and international tourist ressorts, and is a typical sun-and-fun holiday place. Therefore, I didn’t want to stay long there and reserved only a couple of days at the end of the trip for a search for G. intermedia.

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A many kilometers long path going along Acantilados de Los Gigantes — to and through the habitat of G. intermedia. Such paths are the only ways there from Los Gigantes town.

The Guaza Mountain itself and the land around it is officially protected as a nature reserve – Paraje Natural Montaña de Guaza. Nevertheless, the access to it is neither restricted nor regulated. Everyone can just drive closer to it, leave the car somewhere and walk to the mountain.

It is less than 400 m high, looks more like a hill, and is very easy to climb. The slopes aren’t steep. It surprised me that the habitat on Guaza Mountain was very different from what I had seen at Los Gigantes. However, just like there, the Tenerife Speckled Lizard was also here sympatric with the Western Canaries Lizard (Gallotia g. galloti). The latter were very common but hard even to see because they were very shy. Of G. intermedia I have seen no signs at all.

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A view at Montaña de Guaza (Guaza Mountain) from the balcony of my apartment in Los Cristianos. The second known population of Tenerife Speckled Lizard (Gallotia intermedia) that lives on this mountain was the reason for me to chose this hotel.

The weather was again very hot, and there were almost no green plants around except prickly pears (Opuntia). I am sure that heat was the reason why almost no living beings were active.

There is a hill adjacent to Guaza Mountain whose western slope ends in the ocean. According to the information that I had gathered, the Tenerife Speckled Lizards are found closer to the coast, i.e. on this hill which can be regarded as belonging to Guaza Mountain in a broad sense. The next day I searched on this hill too but found it empty: There weren’t even G. galloti around.

Since Monataña de Guaza is so close to the south airport of Tenerife “Aeropuerto Reina Sofia” where many flights from Europe land and since the harbor of Los Cristianos is connected by ferries with other islands, I am certainly planning to repeat the search in this place during my future travels to Canary Islands.

To be continued in Part 4: Gallotia galloti.

Carl Zeiss 2.8/25 T* ZF on Canon as Herping Lens

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Today I tried out the Carl Zeiss 2.8/25 T* ZF with a subject that I actually planned this lens to use for. Above you see my first herp photo with this lens – a Common Frog (Rana temporaria). I had no flash with me this time, and was shooting with high ISO – 1600. Nevertheless the shutter speed was quite slow – 0.8 sec – due to narrow aperture – f/22. Even with this aperture which is maximum for this lens the background blur is quite strong when the subject is so small and so close. The frog was only about 5 cm from the front of the lens.

To eliminate overexposure in the top of the frame, I am using this lens with a B&W gradient filter.

The image presented here is a full frame, and with normal processing – gradation curve, saturation and vibrance increase, sharpening.

Bottom line: This view angle is not as wide as in fisheye lenses, and with small subjects the background is too much blurred even at maximum aperture. Shooting with f/22 is very difficult because the image in viewfinder is almost black. On positive side, the distortion is virtually absent. The lens provides typical for Zeiss nice realistic colour rendering and contrast.

Carl Zeiss 2.8/25 T* ZF with Canon EF Adapter: First Use in the Field

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I tried the Zeiss 2.8/25 T* ZF for the first time in the field yesterday. As I mentioned in another post to this blog some time ago, this is a Nikon mount lens that I purchased for its unique working distance of only several centimeters. This makes wide-agle shots like this one possible. Unlike with fisheye lenses that are typically used for this kind of photography, with the Zeiss 25mm the distortion is not noticeable. Since I have Canon cameras, I use this lens with an adapter. This means, that all controls are manual. Since the aperture also has to be set manually, the image in the viewfinder is dark. To my big surprise, however, the Live View image was lighter, and focusing was much easier.

Herping lens for Pentax

In May this year I have posted a list of close focusing wide-angle lenses that are suitable for herp photography. Here is another lens for this list that I found later:

smc Pentax DA 10-17mm F3.5-4.5 ED (IF) Fisheye

This lens has a KAF bajonett and hence is suitable only for Pentax DSLR. It has not only very nice short focusing distance of only 14 cm over the entire zoom range. In so-called “super macro” mode its working distance can be reduced to only 2.5 cm. This lens also allows precise manual focusing even with autofocus turned on.

Close focus wide-angle lenses for SLR cameras

For an article on herp photography that I am currently preparing I have reviewed all wide-angle lenses with minimum focus distance below 20 cm.

Sigma 10mm f2.8 EX DC HSM Fisheye

With only 13.5 cm this lens has the closest focus among SLR wide-angle lenses. As all other Sigma lenses, this one exists for Canon, Nikon/Fujifilm, Sony, Sigma, Olympus, but unfortunately it is for APS-C cameras only, i.e. it would produce a smaller image on full-frame. The Canon version has an EF-S type mount and is not compatible with full-frame cameras.
Due to smaller APS-C sensor, the Sigma 10 mm will draw a similar image as a 15 mm fisheye lens would do on full frame. I don’t know if the shorter focusing distance would be of advantage. Anyway, if I had an APS-C camera, I would have preferred this lens for small amphibians and reptiles, and for large invertebrates.

AF DX Fisheye Nikkor 10.5mm 1:2.8 G ED

Naturally this lens is available only for Nikon, and for Fujifilm cameras that have the same mount. The focusing distance is remarkably short — 14 cm, but a little greater than on Sigma mentioned above. Like the Sigma 10 mm, it is supposed to be used with APS-C sensors. Unlike Canon’s EF-S, Nikon’s DX lenses can be used with full-frame cameras but will result in reduced frame. The image captured with this lens would look as if the focal length were about 15 mm in full-frame equivalent, i.e. the field of view would be narrower. Since I use Canon cameras, I can’t tell anything concrete about this lens. To me it looks like Nikon’s counterpart to Sigma 10 mm fisheye.

Sigma 15mm F2.8 EX DG Diagonal Fisheye

It focuses at 15 cm and is the lens of preference by many herp photographers. I own a copy of it, too, and have used it frequently. It is a great quality lens that provides excellent IQ and is a unique lens for full frame. As of time of writing, it was out of competition: There are no alternatives for Nikon/Fujifilm and Sony because their own fisheye lenses focus minimum at 20 cm. For Canon there is a fisheye zoom lens discussed below, but the Sigma 15 mm is more value for the money unless someone really needs a shorter focal length that the Canon zoom offers. For close-up wide-angle photography of reptiles and amphibians this is the best lens among fisheyes — both for APS and APS-C sensors. Therefore, I have to recommend it without too many reservations to everybody who is interested in herp photography. Personally, I don’t like the bokeh of this one and actually of all Sigma lenses that I have seen so far. The other minor problem is that you have to set the exposure manually because cameras tend to overexpose when used with this lens.

EF 8-15mm 1:4 L Fisheye USM

The Canon EF 8-15mm 1:4, after it was released in 2011, was a unique lens among lenses SLR cameras because it was the first fisheye zoom ever made for APS sensor. (Note: The Tokina zoom lens mentioned above is supposed to be used with APS-C cameras.) For nature photography, it is usable only at the long end — 15mm. Then it is equal to the Sigma and has the same minimum focusing distance — 15 cm. Obviously, it is a Canon-only lens, unparalleled in other brands, but Sigma fisheye lenses for Canon are less expensive and provide similar or, as primes, even better image quality. Thus, only someone who strongly believes that Canon lenses are the best and for whom money isn’t an issue would prefer this lens to Sigma 15mm f2.8 EX DG Diagonal Fisheye.

Tokina AT-X 107 DX AF 10-17mm f/3.5~4.5 Fisheye

This is currently the only zoom fisheye lens optimized for APS-C sensors. Like Sigma 10 mm it focuses at 14 cm but can provide a narrower view field if set to greater focal length than 10 mm. Setting this lens to 17 mm significantly reduces the huge barrel distortion of a fisheye lens. Like Sigma fisheye lenses the Tokina AT-X 107 is a favourite lens of underwater photographers. For herp photography the greater focal length is more interesting because it helps to reduce the distortion with optics and not through cropping in software. Thus, if I had an APS-C camera and this lens I would use it at 17 mm all the time.
The images produced by this lens did not impress me when I saw them in reviews. My impression is that this lens is less sharp than the 10 mm and 15 mm primes made by Sigma. Reviewers also complain about chromatic aberrations that this lens is prune to. The images coming from my Sigma 15 mm are almost free of CA.

Carl Zeiss Distagon 2.8/25 t*

Zeiss Distagon focuses not so close as the fisheye lenses discussed above, but it appears to be a unique lens of its kind because it is a moderate wide-angle lens. Usually such lenses have a minimum focusing distance of 25 cm and more but this one can focus as close as 17 cm — only 2 cm farther than a fisheye lens. As for the time of writing, Carl Zeiss was producing the Distagon 2.8/25 T* only for Nikon, Pentax and M42 (screw) mount. However, any of these versions can be used on Canon with an adapter. The drawback is the need to set the aperture manually on the lens because even the best adapters do not transfer information from the camera. Therefore, I preferred the older version of Distagon 2.8/25 T* which has a separate aperture control ring.
The Distagon 2.8/25 T* has at least two advantages over the fisheye lenses: First, the extreme barrel distortion characteristic for fisheye lenses is absent in the images produced by it. Second, this lens is compatible with 58 mm filters, hence graduated and polarizing filters can be used with it. It is a very useful capability in herp photography because the upper 2/3 or 3/4 in an image that was captured with a fisheye lens are often overexposed when the exposure was measured on the subject — a frog or lizard on the ground. A graduated ND filter may help to solve this problem.
As in all Zeiss lenses, the image quality that this lens delivers is superb. The images have typical for Zeiss lenses smooth bokeh, excellent contrast and natural-looking colours. In terms of imaging performance and build quality it is the best lens in the line-up of close focusing lenses presented here.
The 2 cm greater focusing distance of Distagon compared to Sigma fisheye lens may be of disadvantage when the photographed subject is very small. However, a greater focal length may compensate this. Like all Zeiss lenses, the Distagon 2.8/25 T* is a manual-focus-only lens. However, it is not an issue when this lens is used for herp photography because for a close-up wide-angle shot of a reptile or amphibian any lens usually has to be focused manually.

Sigma 24mm F1.8 EX DG ASP Macro

This is the second non-fisheye wide-angle lens that I am aware in the league of lenses with minimum focusing distance of less than 20 cm. Though it focuses at 18 cm, it is still close enough for most subjects in herp photography. As all Sigma lenses this lens is being produced for Canon, Nikon/Fujifilm, Sony, Sigma and Olympus. There appears to be a consensus among reviewers of Sigma 24mm F1.8 EX DG ASP Macro that it is inferior to the rest of lenses in this list both in image and in build quality. Probably the most interesting in this lens is its maximum aperture of f/1.8 that is certainly of advantage if this lens used for low-light — not in herp photography, however, where a greater depth of field is important.
I am mentioning the Sigma 24mm F1.8 EX DG ASP Macro here for completeness and not for recommendation as a herping lens. However, it is inexpensive and someone who already has this lens may try to use it for herp photography.

Carl Zeiss Distagon 2/24 t* ZA

This is a specific lens for Sony Alpha. With 19 cm, it has the biggest focusing distance among the lenses in this line-up, but still it is less than 20 cm. Therefore I mention it here for the sake of completeness. For herp photography with a Sony Alpha camera a Sigma 15mm f2.8 EX DG Diagonal Fisheye should be a more suitable and even less expensive alternative. For the time of writing, the only existing Sony fisheye lens — SAL-16F28 16mm f/2.8 — had the minimum focusing distance of 20 cm and wasn’t an option at all.

We should remember that the focus distance is measured from the sensor plane to the subject. In real world the distance between the subject and the front of the lens — i.e. the so-called working distance — is what matters. To know this distance, we have to subtract the length of the lens and probably also the depth of the camera body from the official minimum focusing distance value. If, for instance, the length of Carl Zeiss Distagon 2.8/25 T* is 90 mm and the sensor is at least 2 cm behind the rear element of the lens, then the working distance is only about 5-6 cm. This is very close indeed if you consider that the subject in front of the lens may be a dangerous snake.