When traveling around the world, one wants to have the ability to capture each unforgettable moment in detail! Having the right photographic equipment that you are familiar with will render this task enjoyable, and not a frustrating chore. African conditions are certainly unique and these guidelines aim to make your equipment selection a little easier.
The technological evolution of phone cameras has been astounding and in many respects the camera on your phone may be the easiest and best way to capture the memories of your safari. There are wide angle, and macro options available now on many phone cameras. They also made editing more accessible and therefore quicker! Also, they offer the variety of video options from time-lapse to slow motion, and all the bits in between. The limitations around camera phones are mainly in their inability to deal with low light conditions and loss of clarity when zooming.
Super-zoom bridge cameras have also improved greatly in recent years with Nikon, Olympus and the Canon Powershot all being great options. They offer an incredible focal range – from capturing that close-up of an elephant’s eye to Namibia’s dune landscape – while being far more affordable and portable than a DSLR camera body and range of lenses.
For satisfying photography of birds and animals, a good DSLR (digital Single Lens Reflex) camera and telephoto lens is preferable.
The new high-resolution digital cameras are outstanding and give superb quality images, especially if you are using a digital SLR camera body, with interchangeable lenses. The leaders are Nikon and Canon and one cannot go wrong with either. Semi-professional camera bodies like the Nikon D800s, or the Canon Rebel Range are very good choices. They are fairly light, easy to hold and all produce excellent results. Top of the range include the Nikon D4 or the Canon 1DX – the ultimate in durability, high frames per second (ideal for capturing action shots).
Most of the top camera brands have launched mirrorless options of their DSLR cameras. Mirrorless is a great way to go for travel as the camera bodies are lighter in weight and have less moving parts which help in dusty conditions.
A second camera body is a worthwhile consideration, as digital cameras do occasionally fail. Apart from providing backup it is also ideal to put a wide-angle lens on one and a telephoto on the other.
A zoom lens can be extremely useful on safari and the minimum recommended size is 70 mm – 200 mm, although a 100 mm – 400 mm or 70 mm – 300 mm is ideal. Modern image-stabilized lenses are best as they allow photographers to handhold their cameras at slower shutter speeds with sharper results. Popular lens choices include: Canon 100 – 400 IS 4.5 – 5.6 lens, Nikon 80 – 400 VR f4.5 – 5.6 lens or the new Canon 70 mm – 300mm f/4 – 5.6L IS USM lens.
Fast fixed prime lenses have an edge when it comes to sharpness and low-light performance, however, one loses some versatility being confined to a fixed focal range. Choices here include the Canon or Nikon 300 f2.8 or f4 fixed lenses. A more cost-effective way to obtain further reach (without the bulk of a fixed 500 or 600) out of your camera is to use a teleconverter, particularly on f2.8 lenses – the1.4X being ideal.
The Nikon 200 – 400 f4 VRII or the Canon 200 – 400 f4 IS (with built-in 1.4X teleconverter) are the ultimate wildlife lenses in terms of versatility, however, do come with a hefty price tag.
BATTERIES, CHARGING, STORAGE
Spare batteries are essential, and always recommended for game drives! An external storage device of some sort is recommended, such as a portable external hard drive. Make certain you have enough card storage – most people take far more photographs and videos than they expect to. Compact flash cards are continually dropping in price – 256 GB and 512 GB cards are the norm these days. Also try investing in the newer generation UDMA cards as they write data much faster so you can catch that split-second lion kill!
Camps have facilities for recharging batteries. Strips for charging more than one device are suggested for more serious photographers.
On the back of a safari vehicle a monopod can be a compact, light-weight solution for providing additional stability for larger lenses. Tripods are not useable in vehicles and are only useful for landscape and star trails. With the limited weight allowances, tripods and are stabilization gear may be one of the first to be removed in your gear list.
PROTECTION FROM THE ELEMENTS
Camera bags like the Lowepro or Thinktank range are ideal to transport all your camera gear. Out on game drives remember to pack something to cover your camera gear and minimize dust – an inexpensive pillow case or kikoy often does the trick perfectly.
A good pair of binoculars will certainly enhance your overall safari experience – particularly with regards to smaller mammals and birds. Everyone should bring their own pair of binoculars in order to get the most out of the safari – roof prism 10×42 / 8×42 is the recommended general purpose binocular specification for both birding and mammal viewing.
A Petzl headlamp packed in your camera bag is a good hands-free idea for changing settings after dark. A Giotto Rocket Blower is excellent to remove unwanted dust from a camera sensor and for general cleaning before doing any lens changes in the field. A rain-proof cover for your camera bag is a wise investment particularly for African safaris in the rainy season, when afternoon thunderstorms are frequent.