Out of Africa

Male driver ant (Dorylus sp.) being attacked by Big-headed ant (Pheidole megacephala) (Canon 7D, 100 mm macro, MT-EX24 macro flash)

A few days ago I came back from Mozambique, where I had spent 8 weeks conducting a comprehensive survey of orthopteroid insects (katydids, grasshoppers, and their allies) of the Gorongosa National Park. Needless to say, I also took a lot of photos; 14,520 to be exact.

I thought that I went there well-prepared for any possible disaster, but things always find a way to go wrong. I had brought a spare for nearly every item in my photographic arsenal, and in some cases I had triplicates. Among others, I had 2 tripods (with 3 heads, just in case); 2 camera bodies (that was cutting it close, luckily nothing happened to them); 3 speedlights; 3 macro lenses; 3 wide angle lenses; and 3 remote switches (these things die like flies.) The only items that I did not have spares for were a polarizing filter and a macro flash (Canon MT-24EX.) Can you guess which two items failed? The flash died on the second day of the trip, despite being nearly new: one of the heads became weaker and weaker, and eventually stopped firing altogether. I broke the polarizer a few days later. Its loss had a much greater impact on my photography than the loss of the flash: I quickly rigged up a replacement lighting system for my macro work, but the benefit of a polarizing filter cannot be substituted with anything else. I ended up not taking as many landscape photos as I had hoped, and I was particularly heartbroken by its absence when I visited the rainforest on Mt. Gorongosa, a type of environment that simply begs for the use of a polarizer (every leaf in a rainforest is wet and shiny, and every speck of sun shining thought the gaps in the canopy of the forest burns a hole in the frame; a good polarizing filter can cut the glare almost entirely.)

I guess the lesson here is that you really should have spares for everything when going on a long trip to a remote location, and this is especially true for pieces of the equipment that cannot be replaced by similar items.

This photo is the last one I took using my now dead macro flash. It shows a male of the driver ant (Dorylus sp.) being devoured alive by another species of ant, Pheidole megacephala. Male driver ants are known in Africa as “sausage flies”, and on some nights come in large numbers to lights around people’s houses. Most of them die as virgins during their first and only night as free-living adults, by a few lucky ones will meet a queen driver ant, mate with her, and then die; the queen, however, will start a new colony and live for many years, producing eggs resulting from this single encounter.

3 thoughts on “Out of Africa

  1. Same damn thing happened to 2 of my last 3 MT-24EX flashes I bought. It’s like the Canon factory is popping out lemons. Sent it in; they failed to fix it. Sent it in again, same thing. Had to buy another. My current one is going on 8 months without a problem, but we shouldn’t have to buy new flashes on the off chance they might work.

    Oh, and welcome to the blogosphere!

  2. Interesting to hear that more photographers are experiencing this. I’m currently having the same issue with my MT-24EX. The left flash head started dying on me a couple of months ago. I managed to squeeze some life out of it by bending the cord in a certain angle and keeping it in place with a thick rubber band, but I know the unit’s days are numbered.
    I have a question that is related to your other blog post – How do you use a polarizer filter on your wide lens? From what I can understand, the lens’ front element protrudes forward and there is no filter thread, correct?

    • I am on my 3rd MT-24EX. But I will try to have my old one repaired; UnitedCamera.com repairs damaged flashes, and they have just fixed one of my 580EXII for $150, which is significantly less than a new one.
      I don’t use a polarizer on my widest lenses (which indeed don’t have a thread, albeit they have a slot for a rear filter), only on 16-35mm and 24-105mm. I occasionally use it also on my 180mm macro. I experimented with Lee filters on my 14mm and 15mm, but they have such a wide field of view that you always see the filter holder.

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