Probably one of the most frequent questions we get asked by clients is “What lenses should I take on safari?”
This question is not limited to first timers either; because the equipment you need to take depends very much on where you are going and what the conditions will be like. Photographing lions on the plains of Masai Mara requires a different approach to photographing gorillas in the rainforests of Congo or Uganda, and photographing birds is very different to photographing elephants.
So how do you make the right selection?
Of course there is an assumption being made here; that you have a variety of equipment to choose from. The dilemma of having more equipment that you need or want to carry on any one safari is perhaps one that applies only to those DSLR users with a selection of lenses and accessories.
If you’re an enthusiast who prefers the convenience of a bridge camera then life is much simpler.
Let me say right away that there is no intention to heap scorn on bridge cameras. The convenience of having a zoom lens that covers the range from 24mm to 1400mm cannot be overstated.
How many times have those of us lugging a 15kg backpack full of gear looked enviously at those compact cameras that have it all covered.
If you think a bridge camera might be right for you, then the Canon Powershot SX60 HS and the Nikon Coolpix B700 are two good ones. Of course there are lots of others but these two go pretty much head to head on features. You can read more about them by checking out some of the reviews here: https://www.wildlifephotographyafrica.com/photo-tips/camera-lens-reviews/
Even with a bag full of lenses most DSLR users will not be carrying a lens that reaches to 1400mm. The sheer weight of such a collection of lenses makes it impractical.
Of course bridge cameras do have some limitations:
- a smaller sensor size means that the performance in poor light conditions is, for the most part, not great
- ISO is often limited to a maximum of 3200
- on a lot of them the smallest aperture is restricted to f8
- because every function is battery operated, battery life can be short
But in good sunny conditions almost all modern bridge cameras are capable of producing fine images and if the images are going to be used mainly for posting online, the quality is absolutely fine.
But, for all the convenience of a bridge camera, most serious photographers prefer the versatility of a DSLR. (Digital Single Lens Reflex)
Versatility and image quality. Simple as that.
The ability to pick the lens that is right for the task in hand is a big plus. Although the lens on a bridge camera covers a huge focal range, there are inevitably some trade offs to achieve that.
Their compact size usually means a smaller sensor (see below) which impacts on the camera’s ability to perform in poor light conditions.
Using a DSLR you are looking through the actual lens at your subject; bridge and compact cameras use an electronic viewfinder (EVF). They used to be pretty awful, but now they are very good indeed, however it does mean that you are not seeing the true image.
So, on the assumption that you’re using a DSLR and want to cover all eventualities, what should you take?
In practical terms, you should be able to manage with 3 lenses, maybe just 2. Any more than that and not only does weight become an issue but you’ll waste too much time faffing about changing lenses or deciding which one to use.
If you can cover focal lengths from about 20mm to 400mm you won’t miss out on much. If you like photographing birds then you may want to stretch out that longer length to 500mm or 600mm.
One of the most popular lenses, for both professionals and enthusiasts is a 70-200mm zoom. The 70-200mm lens is a flagship lens for companies like Nikon and Canon; consequently they are very well built and capable of terrific results.
So, this is the lens we’d put at the heart of our selection and one that will probably be on your camera for a large part of your safari.
A lot of people think that shooting wildlife requires really long lenses; usually it doesn’t. What is does require is flexible lenses, and the 70-200mm is one of the most flexible.
A lot of people are surprised by just how close you can get to large animals like lions, leopards and elephants.
Far better to use a slightly shorter focal length than you need and then crop, than have too long a focal length and not be able to get your whole subject in the frame. Think ahead, don’t find yourself needing to change lenses when you should be taking photographs.
The other big advantage of the 70-200mm lens is that it is relatively fast; either f2.8 or f4. That is a big help in situations where the light is poor. A lot of animals only become active in the late afternoon and with the sun going down fast, the light deteriorates quickly. If you want to keep shooting, you’ll need to be able to open up the aperture and increase the ISO just to allow you a reasonably fast shutter speed. In areas where there are a lot of trees or dense bush, your subject may not be out in the open. A good example of this is mountain gorillas. In the rainforest there is likely to be a lot of shade and it could be raining; even with a wide aperture you will probably still need an ISO setting of 1600 or more.
OK, so we’ve got one lens sorted, but 70mm is not wide enough for a lot of situations and 200mm is not long enough for subjects like birds.
One of the things that makes Africa such a special place for photography is its size. For many, one of the iconic images of Africa is the plains of the Masai Mara teeming with animals. To capture this kind of scene you need to be able to shoot wide. It’s not a close up of one animal you’re after, but the sheer spectacle of animals as far as the eye can see.
Having a good wide angle lens is also invaluable when the action is really close, or if you can’t get enough distance from your subject.
Once again a zoom lens works well. Something like an 18-70mm fits neatly with the 70-200mm.
For a bit more versatility you could opt for an 18-140mm lens. This gives you a bit of overlap and means that you won’t need to change lenses quite so often.
Don’t forget that if you are using a crop sensor camera, your 18mm is actually 27mm. For really wide angle shots, like sky at night photos, or landscapes you may wish to take a dedicated wide angle lens.
One of the favourite lenses for professional wildlife photographers is the 400mm. But buying one of these beauties is expensive and out of the reach of many amateurs and enthusiasts. Fear not though, there are other ways of getting this focal length.
One of the simplest is to use an 80-400mm or 100-400mm zoom lens. These lenses are also highly rated and cover a very useful range. In fact, if you have one of these, you could leave the 70-200mm at home.
Costing over £1,200, the 80-400mm lens is still not cheap, but it is a fraction of price of the 400mm prime lens which comes in at a whopping £10,000.
The big drawback of this lens though, is its weight. It weighs over 1.5kg. Not a problem if you’re able to support it somehow, but it becomes heavy quite quickly if you’re hand holding.
A lighter, but less flexible option is to take a 300mm lens and a tele-converter or multiplier.
The advantage of a 300mm prime lens is that it is very light and easy to hand hold. The addition of a 1.4x or 2x tele-converter will turn it into a 420mm or 600mm lens, for very little extra weight.
If weight is not an issue, then there are some very good ‘super zoom’ lenses available, with a focal length of 150-600mm. Third party lens makers Tamron and Sigma both have highly rated 150-600mm lenses. They are light enough (around 2kg) to hand hold for short periods, have built in vibration reduction and come in just under £1,000.
Nikon users may prefer to stick with the brand and choose their 200-500mm zoom, which is just over £1,000.
If bird photography is your thing, then these are well worth considering, but make sure you get plenty of practice before you go the longer the lens the more vulnerable it is to camera shake, resulting in unsharp images.
Please note, that these are just suggestions for a selection of lenses that will cover most situations; take these lenses and you won’t miss out on many shots. They are not by any means the only options and specific situations may benefit from different choices.
- 18-70mm or 18-140mm
- 100-400mm or 300mm + tele-converters
- 100-400mm or 150-600mm
Think carefully before you buy new lenses
Don’t feel that you must rush out to buy a new lens just for your safari. Think about your ongoing photography needs; how much will you use it when your safari is over? Far better to buy lenses that you’ll use on an everyday basis; even with a relatively short zoom lens, like an 18-140mm, you’ll still get plenty of great shots on safari.
It is also worth mentioning that you can get some excellent lenses at terrific prices by buying second hand. You should always buy the best lens you can afford; if you buy a cheap lens it is quite probably you won’t like the results and will want to upgrade it before too long.
Well, 2 bodies are better than 1. Just the ability to have 2 lenses of different focal lengths mounted and ready to go is a big help. It also means that in the unlikely event of camera failure, you have backup.
Some kind of support is useful to have. Whether it is a tripod, monopod or something as simple as a bean bag, anything that helps keep your camera steady will make it easier to get sharper images.
Don’t forget spare batteries and memory cards.
Full Frame vs. Crop Frame
This is a whole subject on it’s own, but it does have a direct bearing on how the lenses you choose will perform, so it’s worth going into briefly.
DSLR manufacturers like Nikon and Canon manufacture cameras with different sized sensors.
At the top of their ranges are the cameras that have a full frame sensor, this means the sensor if 35mm x 24mm, the same proportions as a 35mm film camera. Crop frame cameras have a smaller sensor.
In very simplistic terms, the focal length of a lens refers to its focal length when attached to a full frame camera. A 200mm lens on a full frame DSLR will have the same reach as a 200mm lens on a 35mm film camera.
When the lens is attached to a crop frame DSLR, the focal length is multiplied by 1.5x. So a 200mm lens effectively becomes a 300mm lens.
To put it another way; For a full frame DSLR to achieve the same reach as a crop frame camera fitted with a 200mm lens, you would need to attach a 300mm lens.
For this reason, lot of wildlife photographers like to work with crop frame cameras. Even though, in theory, their resolution is not as good as a full frame camera they can get more reach from their lenses and have less weight to carry.
The down side of this is that, at the wide angle end, the lenses are not as wide; and an 18mm lens becomes a 27mm lens.
If you want to know more detail about sensor sizes then this is a good article to read
If you want more information on the differences between full frame and crop frame cameras, then this article is good.
If you want to know which are the best full frame DSLRs currently available this might be useful
and if you just want a list of some of the best DSLR cameras available at the moment – full and crop frame, then this might help
Nice article Martin with some good advice. One thing you don’t mention though is heat haze and the effects on an image . On safari trips in particularly it must often come in to play and a long telephoto lens or big zoom is of no advantage whatsoever. You need to get as close to the subject as possible to minimise the distortion.
Great tip. Thanks!
Too true Dave. There is no substitute for getting up close.
The heat haze you mention is at its worst during the dry season when there is a lot of dust in the air. Trying to get a clean crisp image can be a challenge.
The long lenses do still have their uses though, in particular when photographing birds, which can be quite close in distance but still small in the viewfinder.
This is a very good review. One factor that I am pondering as I plan a September safari to Kenya and Tanzania, however, is dust, which can easily get into zoom lenses as one zooms out and back in repeatedly. Some lenses, such as the Sigma Sport 150-600mm. zoom, are pretty well dust-sealed, whereas a lens that is its equal optically, the Nikon 200-500mm, is not. I am wondering how important it is to consider weather and dust sealing in considering what lens(es) to bring.
A very good point Douglas.
I have not worked with the Sigma 150-600mm lens, although I have got an older Sigma lens, 120-400mm which continues to perform very well.
I bought my Nikkor 200-500mm lens in Feb 2018 for a trip to Ladakh as I needed a bit more focal length.
Since then I have used it in India, South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania and Zimbabwe in some pretty dusty conditions and, so far, I have encountered no issues due to dust.
If conditions are dusty I will generally cover my camera and lens with a scarf while it is sitting on my lap and then, when I am back in camp, I wipe them down with a slightly damp cloth to remove as much dust as possible.
I have found the Nikkor 200-500mm lens to be superb and it is rarely off my camera these days.
One thing to consider if you are choosing between the Nikkor and the Sigma is that the zoom ring on the Sigma works in the opposite direction to the Nikkor. It is only a small thing, but I find it a bit of a pain.
Any thought on the Tamron 18-400mm for a Tanzania safari? Would the image quality suffer compared to something like the Tamron 100-400mm? I love the focal range but worry that maybe the images won’t be sharp. I don’t have a huge budget and am trying to decide b/w the 2 above mentioned lenses. I have a crop sensor Canon 77d. I also own a 10-18mm canon lens a 50mm canon lens, and the 55-250mm canon.
Any advice appreciated.
From the reviews I have read, the image quality from the Tamron 18-400 is not great.
You mention that you are trying to decide between the 18-400 & the 100-400, yet you already have a Canon 55-250mm lens. Wouldn’t it make more sense to go for a lens that does not overlap so much with what you’ve already got?
Both Tamron & Sigma make very good 150-600mm lenses. They are pretty much on a par with each other in terms of image quality but for ease of use the Sigma is more closely aligned to Canon as the zoom & focusing rings operate in the same direction.
Price wise they are very reasonable. At the moment the Sigma costs just £100 more than the 18-400mm Tamron.
I have a Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VR. Any thoughts or recommendations?
I was thinking of trading it for the 70-300mm at least (80-400mm is very expensive), but I am not sure it will be worth or if I should just use the one have (55-200) to take any descent picture during the safari.
I will really appreciate any recommendation.
It is certainly true that using a DX camera, the 70-300mm lens will add 150mm to your reach. The 70-300mm is fine lens and if I was starting from scratch, I would probably choose it in preference to the 55-200mm.
I guess the most important thing to consider is exactly what you will be photographing. For most wildlife, other than birds, a 200mm lens is long enough to get good results. And, in truth, if you are hoping to photograph birds then you will probably want a longer lens than 300mm.
Probably a more sensible option would be to try and find a lens that can be combined with your existing lens to give a much wider focal range, like a 100-400mm lens (like the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD) or a 150-600mm (like the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C) lens.
I appreciate that these are a more expensive option than the 70-300mm, but they will serve you better in the long run and you can probably find some great bargains if you are happy to buy a previously owned one.
I hope this helps,
I have a similar combination of 3 lenses I plan on to take on safari to use on a Nikon Z7, specifically 24-70mm F4, 70-200mm F4, and 200-500mm F5.6. In retrospect I feel like I probably should have gotten the 80-400mm F4-5.6. Now I think the only way I can be prepared is to have a second camera body otherwise I’m unlikely to have the right focal length at the right time. Any thoughts?
Whilst it would definitely be advantageous to have a second body, it will not necessarily be a problem.
The 70-200mm is likely to be adequate for the majority of your needs when it comes to photographing mammals. I find that I use the 200-500 almost exclusively for birds.
Are your lenses dedicated lenses for the Nikon z (mirrorless) cameras, or can they be used with other Nikon DSLRs?
If they can be used with standard DSLRs then it might be possible to pick up a second body petty cheaply. A second hand D7100 or similar is pretty affordable.
Thanks for the post Martin – its really helpful.
I am in some dilemma here. I own a 5dIV and 400 f4Do II lens (plus TCs) and17-40L). i am planning to get another body and lens.
What do you suggest: Canon 100-400L II or 70-200 II
That is a difficult one to answer as I don’t know what you plan to photograph.
Looking at what you already own, I would suggest that the 70-200 will probably be more useful as you already have a good 400mm lens. It will give you a much wider overall choice of focal lengths.
Hi I am travelling to SA this summer. I have a Tamron 18-300, but am considering buying the Nikon 200-500. Do you think I will need this lens. It is very heavy so a bit worried about using in a safari vehicle. We are visiting a private reserve and Kruger.
If your interest is mainly mammals then your existing lens will be fine. if you plan to photograph the magnificent bird-life in Kruger and elsewhere, then the 200-500 is ideal for that.
As you said, it is heavy, but it is a great lens. In fact I take 90% of my photos with this lens.
Very helpful. I’m going in December and was curious if Astro Photography is worth bringing something really wide?
If you are going somewhere that will be free of light pollution at night then astro photography can be very rewarding. You’ll need a wide angle lens and a tripod.
Also, although most people tend to think of telephoto lenses when they are going on safari, a wide angle lens can bring in some great shots, particularly if you are able to spend some time in a hide that is visited by elephants.
Hi I’m off on safari in Kenya this May, covid permitting. I have a lumix g7 with several lenses the biggest being the 300mm. I also have a nikon d500 with a sigma 600mm contemporary and a smaller lens. I like to take 2 cameras. Would a converter on the lumix give a quality result as the 600mm sigma
To be honest, I have never used a Lumix G7, though I have heard very good reports.
I assume you mean the Sigma 150mm – 600mm Contemporary.
My immediate thought would be that the 300mm lens plus tc would not give the same quality as your Nikon D500 with the Sigma lens.
Hi great write up. V Informative , so here we have it… another tech gear Q for this thread, Tanzania safari booked Sept 2021, Canon eos 70D…. but no telephoto yet but considering Canon EF 100-400 USM IS II , maybe with a 1.5 converter , 4 general shots, elephants, big cats etc What’s your thoughts? Ty! So many zoom lenses on the market!!!
It is not unusual to think that you’re going to need a long lens for a wildlife safari. They are certainly great to bring with you, but often great shots are possible with a much shorter focal length.
For a wildlife safari the lens that gets used the most is either a 55-250 (like the (Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM) or a 70 -300mm (Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM) neither of these are the fastest with a maximum aperture of f4.5, but they are both excellent lenses at VERY reasonable prices.
Another super lens is the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM. This one is a bit more expensive, but does have a maximum aperture of f2.8.
Unless one of your primary subjects is birds, you will find that 300mm is plenty.
The EF100-400 EF is a super lens and would also cover most of your needs on a wildlife safari; most but not all. There will still be occasions when you need a wider angle than 100mm. One of the most memorable things about a wildlife safari in East Africa is the vast expanses of grassland teeming with animals.
It is also important to bear in mind what sort of subjects you’ll be photographing when you re not on safari. If you are just carrying your camera around looking for general subjects then you might find the 100-400 starts to get a bit heavy.
One of the most popular lenses for day to day use is the Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM. This is a great little lens for street photography and indoor use.
If you are set on the EF100-400 EF then perhaps the best pairing would be the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS.
Lawrence – What did you decide to take? I’m off to the Serengeti next month and wanted to bring the right lense.
Major camera novice here! I really enjoyed your post, but am still unsure where to start.
I have a Nikon D5000 with a 55-200 and 18-55 (both standard that came with it) and now I also have the Sony Alpha 6000 with only the 16-50 that came with it. I’m leaning towards taking my Sony on the safari over the Nikon, but I’m not sure what the one (or two) must-have lenses would be. I’ll be doing a lot of game drives and am mostly interested in mammals over birds.
I confess that I am not familiar with the Sony Alpha 6000, although from what I have read it is a fine camera.
Both the Sony and the Nikon D5000 are fairly old models as far as digital cameras go so I would not rush out to buy new lenses for either of them unless you know that you will be continuing to use them for some time.
If you have any plans to upgrade your equipment I would first look at what lenses might be compatible with the cameras you have now AND whatever you upgrade to. No point investing in a new lens that you will soon no longer need.
An ideal lens, that would work well alongside your Nikon 18-55mm lens is the AF-P NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR. These 2 lenses would be pretty much all you need for a safari where you are not after birds.
This lens has been around for quite a while now and is very reasonably priced. The downside of buying this lens is that there is considerable overlap between this and your existing 55-200mm lens.
I’m curious, if you already owned the Nikon D5000, what prompted you to buy the Sony A 6000?
Thank you for the article. Wondering if you have any new suggestions for the Serengeti in June with a Canon DSLR. Thanks.
Thanks for making contact.
I think the advice I gave to Lawrence probably applies just as well to your safari.
At the 2 ends of the lens spectrum; if you are keen on bird photography – an Serengeti is a great place for that – then a 500mm lens is good. Alternatively if you have already invested in the 100-400mm zoom it will do just fine. You might consider adding a 1.4x extender / teleconverter for a bit of extra reach.
At the other end of the scale, the Serengeti is a vast space and a wide angle lens allows you to capture that. You’ll also need one for a decent photo of Ngorongoro Crater or if you manage to get close to elephants.
I am trying, as others are, to make some lens decisions prior to going on safari in Botswana this September.
Do I take my Nikkor 200-500mm lens or purchase a lighter, less cumbersome lens like an 18-300mm (Nikon) for this trip?
I shoot with a Nikon D7200 (crop sensor). I have Nikon’s 200-500mm which I love. It is heavy. In order to lighten the load and simplify, I’m thinking of buying a lighter more portable lens , Nikon’s 18-300mm for safari. I have an old AF 70-300mm no VR.
This is my first time on safari. I’ll be on game drives in private concessions. My main interest is to capture images of the animals.
Will I regret leaving the 200-500mm at home???
Yes, the 200-500mm lens is a terrific, but heavy, lens.
If your main focus is animals, then your exiting 70-300mm lens should be absolutely fine. It is light, compact and capable of sharp images. OK, it does not have VR, but I never found that to be a problem because it is so light.
That lens, with your D7200 will leave you with no wide angle capability (effectively you have a 105-450mm lens), rather than buy a 18-300mm, I would suggest something like the 18-140mm lens.
You should have the chance to see and get close to a lot of elephants & buffaloes which means you will need a wider angle lens.
The 18-140mm costs about the same as the 18-300mm.
It is a question of what you prioritise:
I guess, if you are going to buy a lens it might make sense to go for the 18-300mm, simply because you will then have no need to change lenses on safari
However, as far as image quality goes I would stick with your 70-300mm and buy the 18-140mm lens. The 18-300mm is not brilliant at the telephoto end of its range.
Looking ahead to other trips, the 18-140mm and the 200-500mm lenses are a combination that will cover just about any eventuality.
If you plan to photograph birds, then you’ll need to bring your 200-500mm.
I hope this helps
Very informative article. Thanks. I am heading to Tanzania in 3 weeks. I have a Nikon D500 (and an older D90). My lenses overlap a bit, and I am still unsure what to take. Also, there are weight restrictions; and for that reason, I sold my Nikon 200-500. I have:
Nikon 70-210 f/4-5.6
Nikon 300 mmf/4
Sigma 100-400 f5-6.3
I would welcome your thoughts on this
It’s probably not what you want to hear, but I’m surprised you sold the Nikon 200-500mm rather than the Sigma 100-400mm. Was there really that much of a weight difference? or did you find the image quality of the Sigma lens better?
I did the opposite – sold the Sigma, kept the Nikon.
From the lenses you have listed, you could certainly get by with the just Nikon 18-300mm. Combined with your D500 it would cover almost all situations you are likely to encounter and would be a lightweight combination. It is also the widest angle lens you own. At the 18mm end of the focal range, combined with either of your bodies, you’ll be working with 27mm, which you’ll find very useful.
The only lens that will broaden your range is the Sigma 100-400mm. You could take it paired with your D90, but that would more than double the overall weight of your equipment. The extra 100mm you get from the Sigma lens will be useful for birds, but you are unlikely to need it for the mammals.
The Nikon 70-200mm is an excellent lens and has a better image quality than the 18-300mm, but the entire range of that lens is covered by your 18-300mm.
Alternatively, take the 2 Sigma lenses and your 2 bodies. You’ll lose a bit at the wider end of the focal range, but gain a bit and the telephoto end. The advantage of taking both Sigmas is that they will both work in the same way – Nikon & Sigma lenses rotate in the opposite direction to zoom, which can be a pain.
If you are confident of the reliability of your equipment, then I’d be tempted to travel light. Take the D500 + 18-300mm lens, with spare batteries and memory cards. You’ll find life on safari a lot simpler if you don’t have to constantly think about which body and/or lens to use.
Hope this helps
Finally a good article for safari. Going to South Africa, Kruger park, in February 2023. We are allowed to go off-road. I have and old Nikon D200 with a DX Nikon lens, AF-S Nikkor 18-200mm 3.5-5.6 with VR. I am happy with the D200 and it shoot good quality photos for everyday life.
I have no interest in shooting birds other view them though my binocular. I also do not want carry around many KG.
The 18-200 mm I do not need to change lens, but should I update my lens for safari? do have good budget lens in mind or will I be happy with current setup?
If you are happy with the photos your D200 & lens are giving you there is no real need to spend more money on new equipment. Your 18-200 will allow you to capture most mammals and in Kruger you can generally get pretty close to the subject.
However, with an older camera & lens you may find that for moving subjects the autofocus struggles to cope.
In making your decision you should also think ahead to what you will be using the camera for in the future. If wildlife photography is going to become something you do more often, then an upgrade would pay dividends. Technology has moved on so far from your D200.
Hi Martin, fantastic blog! I however would like to pick your brain on something else. I am going to Masai Mara in a couple of days. I own a Nikon D7200 and will be coupling it with a 200-500 mm Nikkor lens. I have another camera body D300 which I will use with 18-140mm kit lens.
I wish to capture the big 5 in action and some closeup headshots and not so much the birds. This is my first safari and was wondering which of the lens will be my primary one and based on that I will use it with my newer D7200.
What would you suggest? Also pls offer some tips for shooting decent wildlife images as i am a beginner.
The kit you have should deliver great results. I have used both the cameras you own and also the lenses.
I would pair the 200-500mm with the D7200. It is a much more modern camera than the D300 and has better metering and autofocus.
If you are not interested in photographing birds then you’ll probably be using the lens more at the shorter end of the focal range.
Your other lens will be ideal for larger mammals, like elephants and also for capturing wider angle shots of herds and landscapes.
As for tips… the best one I can give you is to take a test shot each time you go out, or each time the light changes and make sure your settings are good for the conditions. The light in Africa can be very harsh especially between 10am – 3pm so contrast between light & dark areas of your photos can be extreme.
Of course you will want to photograph the wildlife whenever it appears, but bear in mind that your best images will be taken in early morning – before 9am – and late afternoon – after 4pm.
This booklet is a few years old now, so ignore the sections on equipment, but you might find some useful shooting tips. https://www.wildlifephotographyafrica.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Digital-Wildlife-Photography-_-A-Beginners-Guide.pdf
Have fund and don’t chop off the leopard’s tail.
Finally, an article (and site) for photographers about lenses and safaris!!! Hard to find! (And a GOOD article like this even harder.) Everyone had good tips/ideas.
I’m going on a NatGeo tour this July 2023 with my wife and would like some lens advice. It’s the general tour, not the photography tour. First time to non-Mediterranean Africa. NatGeo, unbelievable as it seems, has very little good info (or up to date info – they still talk about film cameras!! – on lenses/cameras. Also, they are very restrictive on weight allowed. (I’m not sure I’ll be able to have enough to bring my laptop or toiletries kit!) So, critical choice is key here. (I plan to bring my photo vest and stuff it to the gills, like Brendan Frasier in “The Wale”)
What would you recommend? I have a Canon R5 which I intend to bring (and perhaps 5D MKIII).
1) Lenses I will bring:
– 16mm pancake (tiny, no weight consideration, and needed for those open plains shots…)
– 24-240mm ƒF4-6.3 IS (not an “L” but good range for travel)
– graduate ND 8 square glass filter for quick holding and eliminating time screwing round filters on and off
2) Lenses I can also bring given the above:
– EF 100-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6L IS II USM (+RF adapter)
– RF 600mm ƒ11 IS
– RF 70-200mm ƒ4 IS
4) For accessories I will bring:
– unfilled bean bag – will scrounge around for beans or something to fill it with since we’re dealing with weight restrictions
– Manfrotto PIXI Mini Tripod
– large nylon drawstring bags to put camera in on Land Rover outings.
– WANDRD PRVKE Lite Photography Bag (small, expandable, backside opening, comfortable, waterproof-ish)
5) For accessories what about:
– monopod (I’ve heard a tripod is impractical and the small Manfrotto works well most of the time and if I need height, I’ll find something to put it on)
So, thoughts? I’d appreciate any feedback, suggestions, tips, tricks, considerations, recommendations, and considerations… Thanks!
The weight restriction is something that needs to be considered if your safari includes internal flights on small aircraft – especially the very small ones. If you do not have any of those then you should be able to take a decent selection of kit. However, do you really need to?
One of the things that I always try to avoid whilst on safari, especially whilst on game drives, is changing lenses. (a) it takes time when you could be taking photos and (b) it is the time when dust gets into your gear.
In an ideal world – mine anyway – take 2 bodies with a lens on each. It seems to me that you could cover a very wide range with your R5 & your 5D plus the 24-240mm lens and the 100-400mm lens – you choose which lens goes on which body. Ideally you want the lens you use the most to be on the body you like using the best.
With this selection you might miss the occasional distant bird, but not much else.
I do appreciate what you are saying about the 16mm pancake lens being ‘weightless’ but you will only use it very rarely, perhaps not at all, and you’ll have to change lenses (twice) to get it on & off again.
As for the filters; if you like using them then bring them along.
If you plan to take a lot of landscape photos then a tripod is worthwhile. If not, then a monopod will suffice. Be aware though that if you are using the monopod from the game vehicle and you are resting it on the floor of the vehicle it will transmit whatever movement occurs within the vehicle to your camera. When you are shooting from th egame vehicle you’ll find it easier to hand hold. A bean bag is good as long and you can get everyone ot stay still, otherwise it has the same drawback as the monopod.
For filling your beanbag you could ask the kitchen of the lodge you are using for some rice or some dried peas or beans.
Hope this helps.
BTW, Dave Williams, whose comment you liked, uses a Canon R5 and can probably give you much more specific advice.
Great advice/insights! Thanks! Good thoughts on the 16mm practicality … I suppose for the vastness of the plains, 24mm is good enough. (Although that Canon 24-240mm lens isn’t an “L” and the 24mm isn’t really a 24mm as you have to run it through lens correction in post, and you end up getting something “more”, i.e., probably a 28-30mm range.)
And good point about the new 600 ƒ11…
So, maybe bring a 1.4 tele-converter then for the 100-400mm ƒ4.5-5.6 L? Gives some additional reach if necessary…
BTW, How “dusty” IS it? Sure, changing lenses while driving in an open vehicle isn’t a good idea even in California! But once we’re stopped? Is the dust still blowing hard into the vehicle? (I assume everyone uses practically the same kind of “pop up roof” Land Rover type vehicle…)
As far as the vehicles are concerned, this page will give you an idea of what to expect – how will we be travelling?
Basially the vehicle type depends on whether you’ll be travelling by road to your gameparks or flying into the parks or concessions and then using vehicles provided by the camp/lodge. If you are driving then you’ll almost certainly have Land Cruisers with pop-up roof hatches. If you are flying in then you’ll have open vehicles.
How dusty? Even if your vehicle is not moving others around you might be. There will also be dust in the vehicle no matter what; on your clothes in the seats etc. Just putting a lens on your lap or the seat beside you while you change lenses is an invitation for dust to enter.