Proboscis Monkey

Share This!

21 years ago when I first cruised down this river my camera equipment was modest compared to what is available today. I used a Minolta XG-M camera that was manual everything; focus, film advance, and exposure. This camera had slide film at an ASA of 400, which was fast film at that time. It  was small and light and the battery would last for months.

At the time I used a 500 mm mirror lens to shoot the proboscis monkeys from a canoe. A mirror lens is a lens with only one f-stop, in this case it was f/8. Why this limitation? Because the lens is very small and light and relatively inexpensive compared to a regular 500mm lens.

The following 3 photos are digital scans of the original slides from 1991. The quality difference between them and the digital photos to follow will be apparent.

This is Mr. Uil, a dayak who was born in the jungle and my personal guide to find proboscis monkeys in the trees in 1991

Here are the photos of the proboscis monkey 21 years ago when I went for a canoe ride with Mr. Uil

Almost all of the proboscis monkey photos captured on my current trip were taken with a Canon 1Dx camera and a Canon 70mm-200mm f/4 IS lens. I sometimes used a 1.4X TC. I included the EXIF info on each photo for your viewing pleasure. Be sure to click on them to see them in larger resolution.

Our first order of business is to find the proboscis monkey. Lucky for us they tend to stay along the riverbank so the klotok will give you access to them in many situations.

This is an adult female

ISO 1000, 1/200th, f/5.6

This is a young female; notice her long tail and big stomach? These monkeys eat vegetation that is not digestible by them. The bacteria in their gastrointestinal tract do the digesting, and need a big fermentation vat to do this.

ISO 1000, 1/60th, f/5.6

This is the dominant male. The large size of his nose (proboscis) compared to the female is obvious. He is also much larger.

ISO 1000, 1/1250th, f/5.6

This is a younger male

ISO 1600, 1/3200th, f/4

ISO 1600, 1/3200th, f/4

The challenge with the proboscis is to shoot them (with the camera that is) when they are jumping from tree to tree. The first problem is the fact they stay behind the foliage. Next problem is being ready for their instantaneous jump.

To help increase my odds of nailing them on the fly I sat at the front of the boat with my camera and constantly scanned for any movement. I would continuously prefocus every 50 yards in order to help my autofocus have less searching to do when they jumped.  I also tested my exposure constantly since one side of the vegetation might be in shade while the other side is in the sun. Using the Canon 1Dx was a big help, and its hard to think of a better camera when you want to nail one of these guys in midair.

The lighting was terrible for my first attempts. I was shooting upwards and into a bright sky. I had to increase my exposure by almost 2 stops . I used the 1.4X TC for the following 3 photos shooting at 280mm.


ISO 1000, 1/6400th, f/5.6

ISO 1000, 1/6400th, f/5.6

ISO 1000, 1/6400th, f/5.6

When the light got better they stayed behind the foliage. I only got this one when he finally jumped and I had no branches in the way.

ISO 1000, 1/640th, f/5.6

ISO 1600, 1/8000th, f/4

With patience, persistence, better lighting, better anticipation, and a little luck, I was able to get a complete sequence

ISO 1250, 1/500th, f/5.6

ISO 1250, 1/500th, f/5.6

ISO 1250, 1/500th, f/5.6

ISO 1250, 1/500th, f/5.6

ISO 1250, 1/500th, f/5.6

ISO 1250, 1/500th, f/5.6

ISO 1250, 1/6400th, f/5.6

ISO 1250, 1/6400th, f/5.6

ISO 1250, 1/6400th, f/5.6

The large male even gave me a few keepers. You can tell it is him by his larger size and white patch at his rump. He is secretive and stays behind foliage until he is ready to jump. Because of this I only got him halfway through his jump and landing.

ISO 1600, 1/8000th, f/4

ISO 1600, 1/4000th, f/4

I would love to go back and spend a few days just proboscis shooting and bring the 1Dx again.  Next time I will bring the Canon 300mm f/2.8 II IS and show these monkeys a thing or two!

Click here to return to the Orangutans of Borneo home page.