Whether you are an avid photographer or an average tourist carrying a one-touch instamatic camera, few tourist destinations offer the varied photographic opportunities of Costa Rica. Volcanoes, monkeys, birds, waterfalls, museums, sunsets, and churches are just a few of the photographic possibilities as you travel throughout Costa Rica. The varied terrain and extreme temperature conditions require responsible care of your camera gear. The warm, humid, tropical climate often creates problems for inexpensive camera equipment. Fogged camera lenses and jammed shutter release button are quite common. For this reason, you should take the proper precautions as well as the proper equipment to ensure the best photographic opportunities. Below, we have listed some gear along with suggestions pertaining to their use. We hope that it proves beneficial.
A sturdy, water repellent camera bag is highly recommended. The tropics, while always hot and humid, often bring unexpected downpours. Costa Rica's climate provides a distinct dry and rainy season, however in certain portions of the country, rain is possible at any time. For this reason, we suggest placing your camera gear in a plastic bag, within your camera bag, while not in use. Also, small, inexpensive moisture packs are advisable as they will absorb the surrounding moisture, preventing equipment problems.
Generally speaking, the slowest speed films will produce the most professional results. The speed of your film will be determined by the speed of your lenses and the lighting conditions present. The jungle, even at midday, provides surprisingly little in the way of ambient light. Depending on your camera gear, we recommend film speeds no slower than 100 ASA; assuming your lenses are F 4.0 or faster. For most tourists using instamatic cameras, this film speed will be insufficient, therefore, we recommend a minimum film speed of at least 200 ASA (400 ASA is a better choice). Tripods and flashes would certainly help reduce the need for higher speed films (see below: tripods and flashes). Bring more than you think you will need as purchasing film in Costa Rica is prohibitively expensive. Also, we recommend placing your film in a lead pouch when traveling, in order to protect them from any possible damage resulting from airport X-ray machines.
Your flash will be either built into your camera or one that mounts externally to its exterior. While flashes are always beneficial to have, they sometimes prove inefficient, and at times a hindrance. When using your flash, make sure you recognize its limitations, i.e. power, range, coverage, etc., and use it accordingly. Photographing a howler monkey, 60 ft. up in a densely covered rainforest will not deliver adequate results. Also, keep in mind that certain animal, insects, birds, etc. may react negatively to your flashes.
Depending on your skill level, expectations, and health, a tripod is a worthwhile companion. While a bit cumbersome, it is at times essential in order to get the desired photographs. Costa Rica's rugged landscape presents challenging lighting conditions, i.e. taking an evening photograph of the Arenal Volcano, or that of an orchid under the rain forest's canopy. Hand held cameras, more often than not, will not provide the stability necessary to capture the image properly.
If the camera body you bring accommodates several lenses, you will have much more flexibility than those with instamatic cameras. The varied landscape of Costa Rica requires several lenses to fully capture its natural beauty. For wide angle photographs, a 24 or 28 mm lenses will be sufficient. A macro lens of 60 mm is ideal for butterflies, insects, orchids, etc. A zoom lens of 70-210 mm is perfect for general landscape photography, as well as people photographs. One long lens of 200+ mm is essential, in order to get any pleasing photographs of animals in their natural habitat. Anything less will make your animal photographs appear more like landscape photographs. For bird photography, a minimum of 300 mm is necessary, as most birds remain situated high atop the trees.
Fuji, Kodak and Agfa have large photographic film processing labs in Costa Rica, particularly in downtown San Jose; in addition to most other large cities, i.e. Heredia and Alejuela. Most photographic services and products are available at any location. Photo prints are usually processed the same day they are dropped off, while slide film normally requires an additional 3-4 days for development.
Camera Repair & Parts
The best chance you have in Costa Rica is with the Canon Camera repair department, located just north of San Jose, on avenida 3, between calle 3-5. While they are an authorized Canon dealer, they do repair cameras of other manufacturers, in addition to video camera equipment. Expect to conduct most of your business in Spanish.
For those who need special items, such as filters, lens cloth, cables, etc., there is a camera store, just beside Kodak (along side of the Plaza de la Cultura), that carries the most complete supply of camera related products.