Camera Equipment on Safari

Being an amateur photographer on a photography tour I gave a lot of thought, and spoke to a lot of people about what to bring on my South Africa tour.  I also looked at several websites that recommended taking a lens as short as 300mm to a 500mm fixed lens. I will break this post up into 2 parts – the casual photographer and the amateur photographer. If you’re a professional photographer, comment with your own suggestions.

Other Camera Gear:
Tripods are not really necessary on Safari, but if you have one I suggest bringing it.  A tripod with only one leg extended can operate as a monopod, which I do suggest bringing.
Monopod – essentially a one legged tripod, these are great for sports photography and wildlife as they allow you to hold your camera steadier.  They move more quickly and easily than a tripod and pan better too.  If you need to adjust heights, they are easier than a tripod since there is only one leg.  The only downside to a monopod is that they rarely have functionality for portrait orientation photos.

Beanbag – I heard this suggested and almost bought one myself.  A beanbag is used to steady your camera for a shot and can lay on safari seats, doors and windows. In the safari vehicles we were in the walls were so low that this wasn’t a great option. One guy had one and I never saw him use it.  Cheaper alternatives to this would be to use anything with a rice or small beading material in it – a neck pillow, heated neck thingies – they can all accomplish the task.

Casual Photographer:
Your iPhone/Android/Google Phone will not do the trick. Once in a while the animals will be close enough to get a decent photo with your phone, in those cases, bring out your phone and get a selfie to impress your friends at home. Otherwise, you’ll need more power than that.

Point and shoots – better than using your phone, but if there is only a 3x or 4x zoom, you’re only doing a little better than your phone, though every little bit helps.  I do not suggest using the digital zoom, this only does the same thing as cropping into a picture, it’s not actually zooming the physical lens.  Unless you need to do it to see what is in the picture, stick with the camera’s zoom and crop the picture when you get home.

If you can get your hands on a point and shoot in the 10X zoom range you’ll do well.

Borrow a friend’s DSLR, or rent one for the trip.  The 18-55 lens wont help you much, but many owners of DSLR’s have the 55-200/250 lens – this lens will be adequate for the casual photographer. If you’re renting a DSLR and want to keep costs down, the 18-200 lens is a great option for your entire trip. I’ll outline more lens options in the amateur photographer section.

Amateur Photographer:
This section assumes you have a DSLR or similar type of camera.
-I brought a 28-300mm lens, several other people had 105-500 lenses and one girl had a 70-200 lens.  Unless you’re bringing two camera bodies or can quickly change lenses I would lean towards the 28-300 lens with the 105-500 mm lens a close second (and cheaper option).
-The 70-200 lens is a good option that some amateur photographers own, they usually do well in low light, assuming you have an f2.7), but even with short days of sunlight, I didn’t find light to be too much of an issue – either you can see the animals or you can’t.  200mm is often not quite enough so if you’re bringing this lens I would recommend looking into a teleconverter.
-28-300 lens – I suck at switching lenses and have a paranoia about it since I got dust on the sensor of a brand new camera on the second day of a trip and it had to be professionally cleaned after I got home.  This lens was the perfection option for me.  300 mm was enough local length for 95% of my shots, and I never had an issue of the animal being to close to me, like the people with the 105-500 lens did.
-105-500 lens – Like I said in reference to the 28-300 lens, this lenses shortcoming is that you may find yourself too close to an animal.  In fairness, that won’t happen often, but you should be prepared with another option if that is the case. A point and shoot, phone camera, or old DSLR body with a short lens like an 18-55mm will do the trick. Or you could just watch the animal!  Otherwise, everyone who had this lens loved it.  It’s much cheaper than the 28-300, and you can really get in close with the animals.

Fixed Lenses – Unless you will be carrying more than one camera body I wouldn’t recommend a fixed lens. They do take better quality images, but they severely limit your range and animals don’t care about you taking picture and you will miss a lot of great shots.

What lens have you taken on a Safari and how did you like it?

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