If you are planning adventure activities you may want to consider an underwater camera. We’ve had a couple that were really fun on rafting, waterfall rappelling and snorkeling tours. If you don’t have a totally waterproof camera just buy the photo cd from your tour operator because no matter how careful you are you cannot keep your camera dry and also use it on these adventures. We speak from personal experience (lost two) and countless stories.
You’ll never see tougher lighting or composition challenges than those you’ll face in Costa Rica. The interior of the rainforest is about as bright as a big room with one forty watt bulb hanging from a high ceiling. It’s not commonly discussed in the age of digital cameras where the ISO rating of the sensor can be pushed to 3,200 and beyond but a fast lens can make a huge difference in image quality.
To test your camera’s performance try taking a picture of a quarter (a $0.25 coin) from across the living room at night with one lamp on in the room. The president’s face is probably about how the keel billed toucan on a branch 50 feet away and 70 feet up in the tropical forest at mid-day will look.
- Tripod or at least a monopod – whether you’re shooting film or digital, if you want high quality you have to shoot from a stable platform. I converted an old Leki telemark ski avalanche probe pole by adding a Bogen Tripod pan and swivel head to the top of the hand grip and I wouldn’t go anywhere without it.
- Very long telephoto. Most of the good wildlife shots we’ve gotten have been taken at a 1600mm or longer (35mm equivalent focal length).
Sorry, but there’s no generic way to explain that focal length in “X.” A 20X zoom may be a very long telephoto if it starts at a normal filed of view but it may not be a long telephoto if it starts at an ultra-wide angle field of view. You have to look at the 35mm equivalent focal length.
Monkeys will usually just be little black dots when you take pictures with your phone or big fuzzy black blobs if you fingerswipe zoom way in and take pictures with your phone.
- Bring lots of memory. It’s nice to be able to backup and many modern cameras can upload directly to the internet via wi-fi (however most Costa Rican internet connections won’t be fast enough). If you’re planning to back-up to a memory stick or CD/DVD (yes burners are still commonly used and available at internet cafes) make sure you have any necessary cables and drivers.
- Spare batteries- batteries are fairly expensive and sometimes past their expiration date. If you use rechargeable batteries the voltage (110) and wall sockets are the same as in the United States. You’ll want at least one spare especially if you use rechargeable batteries. You will not find a replacement in Costa Rica.
- Ziplock bags and silica desiccant. Costa Rica is a wet place. We’ve wasted hundreds of dollars on camera bags but haven’t found anything that beats a ziplock freezer bag (the freezer versions are tougher).
When leaving an air conditioned room, put the camera in the bag while you are in your room and leave it there for at least half an hour (less if you can find a sunny spot to sit it) after you take it outside. This will prevent the moisture in the warm air from condensing on the camera and causing damage.
Cameras (especially DSLRs) are highly targeted for theft in Costa Rica.