Capturing the drama of climbing a volcano with the EOS 5D Mark IV

Ulla Lohmann

EOS 5D Mark IV to Earth’s extremes

Ulla Lohmann
Ulla Lohmann


Expedition photographer and photojournalist Ulla Lohmann was one of the first to use the EOS 5D Mark IV, putting it to the hardest test she could imagine. We discover the challenges she faced when taking Canon’s latest member of the 5D family to the volcanoes of Vanuatu...

The South Pacific is known for its azure blue seas, white sandy beaches and islands romanticised in folklore. But there’s another, far more malevolent, side to this part of the world and it’s just where Ulla Lohmann prefers to spend her time. If you look hard enough, at the top of one of the many volcanoes that pepper the 82 islands making up the Vanuatu archipelago, you might just spot our intrepid Canon Explorer, with camera in hand...

“I was there with the camera on assignment for a snack company,” Ulla explains. “They asked me to go there and use my experience of shooting volcanoes to take some amazing images showing an imaginary journey that one if its hot tortilla chips could make from creation to packet. Of course it’s all fiction, but they wanted to play on the ‘extra hot’ emotion so I took the camera down into a 600- metre deep active volcano where we were just 50 short metres away from an active lava lake. It was the hottest place I’ve ever been, and I wasn’t even eating one of their chips!”


Ulla’s experience in dealing with precarious shooting situations makes her very much in demand and Canon engineers were particularly interested in how the EOS 5D Mark IV would perform in extreme situations and temperatures, not to mention how it would record bright molten lava and dark rock detail with complete clarity through its brand new 30.4 Megapixel CMOS sensor.

Ulla Lohmann captures drama from a volcano with the EOS 5D Mark IV

Ulla recalls: “This camera really is another step up for shooting at high ISO. This one has an ISO range from 100-32,000 (expandable from 50 to 102,400). When you are in the middle of a volcano you see that there is a massive dynamic range going on in there and it can be a nightmare for a camera sensor to record every detail. Looking at the files afterwards, though, on the 5D Mark IV LCD screen, I could see both the dark and the bright highlights had been recorded amazingly well. At that moment I knew that here was indeed a very special camera...”

"The weathersealing is incredible,” she recalls. “If it can handle a volcano on Vanuatu it can handle pretty much anything!"

Canon Explorer Ulla Lohmann zooms in on a lava lake at the base of one of Vanuatu’s active volcanoes.

It was whilst in the depths of the volcano that Ulla discovered how good the EOS 5D Mark IV touchscreen was and how it made her life infinitely easier. “For me the Live View touchscreen was so fantastic. Wearing my heat gloves usually gives me problems with operability because I don't have much finger dexterity, but with the new touchscreen it meant that I could adjust settings and set focus and sharpness on the back of the camera just by touching the LCD. For me it’s more intuitive for shooting faster and for video it’s even better because you can pull focus while filming, which is so handy. Plus in Live View you can focus down to EV-4, making it amazing for low light work.

“Also on the back of the camera is a new button which allows to change focus points while you are still looking through the viewfinder. All these improvements have been a logical progression over the 5D Mark III. Plus it feels so good in the hand. It’s lighter to carry than the old model, too, which makes a big difference –especially when I am climbing up and down a volcano!”


Understanding a camera and how to get the best from it is something that most photographers spend time striving to achieve. But Canon Explorers are a very special group of people and their relationship with Canon engineers means their ability to pick up and use a developmental model almost instantly and get the best from it is highly valued. Ulla is no exception. “I got it a day or so before I was due to leave for Vanuatu and no sooner had I landed than I was using it inside an active volcano. I found it very easy to go from the EOS 5D Mark III to the 5D Mark IV as the body is the same and the controls are nearly identical too, so it is very intuitive for anyone coming from an EOS 5D-series camera.”

Ulla was quick to praise the high level of weatherproofing on the camera, something that was very quickly put to the test by volcano dust and ash as well as rain and humidity. Special gasket sealings protect the card doors as well as rubberised flaps protecting the camera’s HDMI, USB, headphone and microphone ports – now with enhanced protection over previous 5D-series DSLRs – means the 5D-series continue to make this the photojournalist’s choice. “The weathersealing is incredible,” she recalls. “If it can handle a volcano on Vanuatu it can handle pretty much anything!”

“I have been using the whole range all my life. It’s the perfect system for me. The quality is amazing and the lightness for exploration photography makes it the perfect all round camera. I didn't want to give it back!”


Though primarily a stills photographer, Ulla – like many of her contemporaries – has been investigating the possibilities of adding filmmaking to her skillset. The fact that the EOS 5D Mark IV can shoot in 4K makes the case for understanding film ever more compelling.

“This is an exciting opportunity to be a photographer when you have a camera that can shoot 4K equally as well as highly detailed stills. I like the way you have the extra card slot so you can carry on shooting and to film the lava in 4K was really cool. I like how the 4K crops on the sensor meant I didn't have to use the long lenses to shoot movies.”

“I’m really looking forward to using this option for future assignments. Filmmaking with the incredible Live View screen – which is super sharp and detailed – is so easy and really is a push of a button.”

The sheer size and spectacle of an active volcano is demonstrated here by this slow shutter speed image of erupting lava.


New for the EOS 5D Mark IV are a host of advanced image processing technologies taken from the EOS-1D X Mark II, designed to deliver the ultimate result the moment the shutter is pressed. The Digital Lens Optimizer function, previously seen in Canon’s superb Digital Photo Professional software, is also joined by Fine Detail Picture Style, as previously seen on the EOS 5DS and 5DS R high-resolution DSLRs, along with enhanced peripheral brightness, distortion and chromatic aberration correction functions, plus Auto White Balance settings. And then there’s something really special: Dual Pixel RAW.

“I learned all about Dual Pixel RAW,” Ulla recalls. “This is an interesting technology for me. For moments where you don’t have a lot of time to take a portrait, where focusing is changing all the time – for instance in my shots of the locals jumping from the vines (where bungee jumping originated from) – it was a really useful addition. It safeguards the moment. The camera records the scene through two photodiodes, which gives two layers to the image. It’s actually really cool because you can correct the point of maximum sharpness in post when the situation demands it. It just means that sharpness can be carefully controlled in post-production.”

"this is a camera that will take the punishment and still keep performing."

“I used GPS too, which is great to log my location details on the islands. It didn’t use much battery power, either, and is a really useful addition for the 5D Mark IV when I’m on expeditions. In fact there isn’t a single thing on this camera I wouldn't ever use. I can write my caption data direct to the image file thanks to IPTC and I can share images via WiFi to my tablet or smartphone. The connection options are just fantastic.”

“When people ask me why to upgrade the answer is simple: this is a camera that will take the punishment and still keep performing.”

The islands that make up Vanuatu are rich both in traditional festivals and ritualistic ceremonies.

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