Choosing the right lenses for your safari

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.

Nikon B700 & Canon SX60 HS
A camera backpack loaded with bodies & lenses, approx 12-15kg
Luckily it fits in the overhead locker on most planes.

Bridge Cameras

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:

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.

70-200mm zoom

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.

This shot was taken with a 70-200mm lens at 145mm.
Taken with 70-200mm lens at 80mm

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.

Taken with 18-140mm lens at 50mm

Wide angle

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.

Taken with 18-140mm lens at 34mm

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.

300mm telephoto
300mm telephoto + 1.4x tc

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.

Super zoom

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.

3 lenses

  • 18-70mm or 18-140mm
  • 70-200mm
  • 100-400mm or 300mm + tele-converters

2 lenses

  • 18-140mm
  • 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.

What else?

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.

Further reading….

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


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

  4. 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.

    1. Hi Mike,
      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.

  5. 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.

    1. Hi,

      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,


  6. 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?

    1. Hi Kenneth,
      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.

  7. 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


    1. Hi Subham,
      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.


  8. 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.

    1. Hi Barbara,

      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.


  9. Very helpful. I’m going in December and was curious if Astro Photography is worth bringing something really wide?

    1. Steve,

      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.

  10. 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

    1. Hi Jacqui,

      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.


  11. 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!!!

    1. Lawrence,

      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.


      1. Dear Martin

        Thank you for this incredibly useful blog, I have been getting myself in a spin about this topic!
        I am going to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana in very early October. Destinations of most significance are Kruger, Chobe and Victoria Falls but photography wise I’m most interested in capturing mammals in the parks.
        I have a Canon EOS 200D and am replying to this post specifically because you call out the two lenses I am torn over – Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM and the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM. Both are affordable, but the 70-300 is approximately double the price of the 55-250. It’s also approx double the weight.

        Maybe I am answering my own question but do you think I would find the 55-250 is going to be ‘enough’? My ‘every day’ lens is the Canon EF-S 18-55MM F/3.5-5.6 IS II

        1. Hi Gemma,

          These 2 lenses cover a similar focal range but are quite different.
          The 70-300mm is a much more substantial construction and will fit either full frame or crop frame DSLRs like your EOS200D
          The 55-250mm is a mostly plastic construction, hence its light weight and low cost, and will only fit crop frame DSLRs, like your EOS200D.

          The first question is therefore, are you ever likely to upgrade to a full frame DSLR? If this is a possibility then the 70-300 would be the better choice.
          However, if you are content with your EOS200D then the 55-250mm will be great.

          In terms of sharpness, from what I have been able to find out, the 55-250mm is just as sharp as the more expensive 70-300mm.
          In terms of what difference the extra 50mm will make when you are taking photos, the answer is that it will be negligible.
          On your EOS200D, with a crop factor of 1.6x, the 55-250mm will give you an effective focal range of 88-400mm; the 70-300mm will give you 112-480mm.
          400mm is plenty long enough for most mammals. You will often find yourself using the wide end of the focal range when photographing larger mammals; elephant, buffalo, animals in herds.

          On safari weight is a factor, so that is another point in favour of the 55-250mm.

          Given that both of these lenses have been on the market for quite a while, you can easily find pre-owned copies at very reasonable prices. have both lenses available at well under £200. So the price difference is likely to be minimal.

          Lastly, you need to think about how much you will use the new lens when you have completed your safari.

          I hope this helps.

    2. Lawrence – What did you decide to take? I’m off to the Serengeti next month and wanted to bring the right lense.

  12. Hi Martin,

    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.

    1. Hi Stephanie,

      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?

  13. Thank you for the article. Wondering if you have any new suggestions for the Serengeti in June with a Canon DSLR. Thanks.

    1. Kristin,

      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.

  14. Hi Martin,

    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???

    1. Hi Carole,

      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


  15. 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:
    Sigma 28-80
    Nikon 70-210 f/4-5.6
    Nikon 18-300
    Nikon 300 mmf/4
    Sigma 100-400 f5-6.3

    I would welcome your thoughts on this

    1. Scott,

      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


  16. 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?

    1. Michael,
      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.

  17. 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.

    1. Hi Deepesh,
      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.

      Have fund and don’t chop off the leopard’s tail.

  18. 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
    – polarizers

    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!

    1. Gary,

      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.


      1. 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…)

        1. Gary,

          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.

  19. Hi Martin,

    I am a beginning photographer that has a Sony A6000 with a prime 1.8/50mm. I am going on a safari in Tanzania in June. I am considering either the Tamron 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di III-A VC VXD or the Tamron 70-300mm. I am planning on photographing primarily animals but birds are nice too. Which if the two lenses would you suggest? I would go bigger but I am also trying to keep it light and steady. Thanks.

    1. Hi Vikki,
      I am not familiar with Sony equipment, but if you re choosing between the 18-300mm and the 70-300mm Tamron lenses then it would make sense to go for the 18-300mm simply because it has a wider focal range. In effect it should be the only lens you need on safari.
      With either lens you will find that you can get decent photos of some of the bigger birds (eagle etc) but not the smaller ones, unless you are close to them.


  20. Hi Martin, thks a lot for this excellent and useful blog ! As we plan to visit the Kruger Park in the beginning of May, I am preparing my photogear and I am facing difficult choices. I have:
    – 1 Nikon D750 (FX) and 1 D3100 (DX) (I can also borrow 1 D5000)
    – 300 mm f4 (no VR) + TC1.4 II
    – 180 mm f2.8 (no VR)
    – 24-70 mm f2.8
    I can borrow also 1 nikkor 55-300 mm (DX).
    I could find money to buy a second hand 70-200 f2.8 VR II OR 1 Nikon 200-500 mm f5.6.
    But I am not sure to find use for a long telezoom after my trip to South Africa…
    So I could bring 3 bodies (1 FX and 2 quite old DX) and the lenses above + 70-200 OR 200-500…
    Or shoudl I buy a newer (2nd hand) DX body ?
    I must say I am a bit stacked…
    Any advice would be very nice from you, best regards,

  21. Hello Martin, thks for this excellent blog ! A few questions as we are planning to visit Kruget Park in the beginning of May:
    – I have a Nikon D750 and 1 D7100
    – I have 1 300 f4 (non VR) and 1 TC14 II ; 1 70-200 f2.8 VR II; 1 24-70 f2.8; 1 20 mm
    I am hesitating to buy a 2nd hand Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 but I am not sure I will have need for it after our safari.
    Do you think I could cover most situations with I have now (D7100 + 300 mm; D750 + 70-200mm) ?
    Do I need to find rain/dust cover for my lenses and bodies ? An advice ?
    Thks a lot, best regards,

    1. Hi Charles,
      I think you should be fine with the equipment you have. I know several photographers who use the 300mm + 1.4tc and find that 630mm is plenty of length, even for birds, when attached to a crop-frame sensor like the D7100.
      The only hassle you will potentially face is adding & removing the 1.4tc.
      the 200-500mm lens is a super lens, but it is heavy. If you plan to do a lot of safaris then it would be an asset, but if this is likely to be your only safari then I would not spend the money.

      As far as dust goes, in May you should not have too much of a problem. The easiest thing is to keep your equipment under something like a rain jacket or wind jacket while you are driving around if you do get dusty conditions. Then wipe everything down with a damp towel or cloth at the end of each day.

  22. Hi Martin, found your excellent blog at just the right time. Have been waiting 51 years to do a Safari & finally getting to go in September (booked two days ago). Four days on a photo specific safari in Masai Mara then twelve days overlanding through Mara, Serengeti to Arusha & back.
    I have a Canon 550D & 800D, Sigma 120-400 4/5.6 AP DGO HSM, Canon 18-135 3.5/5.6 STM, Sigma 10-20 3.5 plus Sigma 105 2.8 macro. My “everyday” lens is the 18-135 which is pretty good (mainly shoot landscapes). Was thinking of getting a secondhand 55-250 STM to take in place of this for extra reach? Also is there a reasonably priced lighter alternative to the 120-400? Plus if I stick with this lens would a cheap (£82) 1.4x secondhand converter be worth it? I like the reach but it is heavy & bulky (around 1800g) which is no problem at the start but might be for the overlanding when storage & mobility is going to be an issue. Do I Stick or change & what stays at home. Want to keep budget down but it’s been 50 years in the dreaming so want to get it right.

    1. Hi Les,

      I think you have everything you need for your safari.
      Given that both your cameras are APS-C (crop frame) the focal lengths you’ll have available are roughly 27-200mm, 15-30mm & 180-600mm
      Buying a 55-250mm lens does not really add anything, as you already have plenty of reach with your Sigma 120-400.
      I used to own this same lens for many years and found it produced excellent results. Yes it is heavy, but as you will be driving/sitting for most of the time rather than walking around carrying it, the weight should not be a problem.
      Your 4 days photographic safari should have a vehicle equipped with some kind of supports; either bean bags or camera rests.
      Sigma do offer a 100-400mm lens (Sigma 100-400mm f5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens) which is just under £700 and weighs half a kilo less (1160gm vs 1750gm) than your existing 120-400mm lens but in your position I wouldn’t spend the money.
      You are likely to find that most photos will be shot between 200mm – 400mm so attach your 18-135 to one body and the Sigma 120-400mm to the other body. The wide angle zoom can be attached as & when you need it.
      You did not mention how you would be carrying your gear. For most of your trip your camera bag will either sit on a seat beside you or on the floor by your feet. Make sure it is one you can get your gear out of easily and quickly, but keep it closed when you do not need access. Dust can be a big problem.
      I would not bother with the 1.4x tc. Fitting & unfitting teleconverters is a real pain in the field. The extra reach you get must be set against the added difficulty of holding the camera steady. IMO you’re better off taking the picture and then cropping as/if needed.

      have a great trip

      1. Thanks Martin,
        It’s good to know that I have what I need. I currently have a Lowepro 500 flipside to carry/ store my kit in but I think it may be a bit large & bulky for carry on luggage?
        During my overland trip there are a couple of times that we will be hiking short distances so I was thinking of a small (ish) daypack to carry my gear as I am unlikely to need the usual waterproofs, first aid kit, maps etc that I would do for a hike in the English Lake District. This is the method I usually employ but then I would only have the one body & not the 100-400 with me. Would it make more sense to get a smaller dedicated camera bag for the trip rather than a general rucksack & would the extra bulk from the padding outweigh the compactness of a 20-30 litre daypack. If so any suggestions?
        Finally (honest) What about a tripod/ monopod. I would like to have a go at night sky photography if I get the chance so obviously a tripod would be useful. I have two which are both portable to some extent one of which is small & lightweight but good enough for either of my bodies plus the 10-20 wide angle. Both tripods have a detachable leg to use as a monopod but I’m not sure the smaller one would be much use with the big lens should I need it. I also have a Manfrotto 679 monopod + 498RC2 head which I have been playing around with lately but although sturdy it measures 24″ without the head when closed up. Maybe just stick with the small tripod & rely on hand holding the Sigma?
        Thanks again

        1. Hi Les,
          You’d be surprised what you can get away with as cabin luggage these days. I don’t think the international flights would be a problem but if you have any flights on small aircraft that could be different.
          Rather than go out and buy a small camera bag for those hikes, why not simply use your Lowepro but only put in it the kit you want for the hike or a daypack you already own. I almost always take an empty daypack with me as a lightweight alternative for carrying one camera+lens combination – I put a piece of 1 inch foam in the bottom of the daypack to give a bit of protection when I put it on the ground.

          If you want to try your hand a night sky photography then you almost certainly need to take a tripod – your exposures are going to be many seconds long. The best thing to do is try them both out at home before you go, each tripod with each lens setup. If you only think you’ll need the tripod for the might sky shots using the 10-20mm lens then go for the light one. You can use the piece of foam from your daypack as an absorbent rest for the longer lens when you have something to rest on.


          1. Thanks again Martin.
            I am flying in & out Mara on a smaller plane from Wilson Airport but don’t know how “small” & what the luggage arrangements are yet. I am hoping to email the company this week to check with them. Ditto the overland organisers to check on available space & kit list.
            You have basically reaffirmed what I was thinking re bags etc but it’s nice to have confirmation from somebody who Knows about such things.
            Thank you

  23. Hi Les,

    Thank you for your thorough article. My head has been spinning looking at lenses. I love to take photos, primarily when traveling. We are taking our first safari to Tanzania next month. I’ve been trying to decide if the Nikon 200-500mm lens is too much (size, weight, length), or if I’d be better served with something else. I shoot on a Nikon D7500, and will be taking my daughter’s D5600 as a second body.

    Here is what I have already (not including whatever kit lens is on the d5600):
    Nikon 18-300mm 3.5-5.6 DX (usually travel with this lens)
    Nikon 35mm 1.8G
    Nikon 85mm 1.4G
    Nikon fisheye (bought on a whim and don’t use)

    I’m considering:
    * 200-500mm but worried I wouldn’t use it after the trip, and that it’s large and heavy, and is it too long for mainly photographing mammals from a jeep?
    *70-300mm would give the equivalent of 450mm on my crop sensor, but is it too slow at 4.5-5.6?
    *70-200mm 2.8G: faster than my 18-300, but not gaining any length

    I’m also wanting to pick up a wide angle since I would use that going forward. I’m looking at a used 10-24mm 10-24mm F3.5-4.5 G ED. Any thoughts on this lens?

    I appreciate any insights you have to share!

    1. Michelle,

      Looking at the lenses you’ve got already, and the ones you’re considering buying I would suggest you stick with what you’ve got.
      If you already have the 18-300mm then I cannot see any point in buying the 70-300mm.
      The 70-200mm is a super lens, but the 2.8 version is quite pricey. Even the f4 version, which is also a super lens, is expensive. As you note, you would not gain any focal length at either end with this lens.
      The 200-500mm lens is a very good lens for the money, but it is heavy and if mammals are your primary target then you would not really need it. Also as you already noted, if you’re not going to use it after your safari then it really would be a waste of money.

      It is an all too common mistake to take too much kit and then spend time fretting about which bits to use. Far better to take less and be really comfortable with it.

      It seems to me that your D7500 combined with the 18-300mm lens will cover pretty much all your needs. You will have the advantage of light weight and not having to change lenses while on safari.

      The only reason for taking anything in addition to this would be if you are worried about the reliability of either camera or lens.

      If you haven’t already got one I would suggest a spare battery for your D7500.

  24. Hi Martin,

    Ny wife and I are in the throes of organising a once-in-a-lifetime trip with our 2 boys to Namibia and Botswana next August.
    I will be taking my Canon EOS 6D MkII and 24-105 f/4 L IS USM, but am unsure which lens to choose to go with this. I’m considering a second-hand EF 70-300 f/4-5.6 L IS USM but am worried whether this is fast enough for early morning and early evening game drives. Also, do you think I need a wider lens as well? The landscapes in Namibia are supposed to be awesome!
    Any advice greatly appreciated.

    1. Danny,

      Sorry for the slow reply, I was camping on a beach in Scotland.

      I think a 70-300mm lens would be a good addition to your gear for this trip. f4 is certainly fast enough for just about every situation you might encounter.
      Namibian landscapes are indeed awesome. Your EOS 6D is a full frame camera which means you have already got a 24mm lens. You should not really need anything wider than this.


  25. Dear Martin,
    I’ve enjoyed the website and your replies to reader questions.
    Now I have one of my own.
    We’re planning to visit South Africa in mid-May, spending our first few days at Tswalu in the Kalahari and then moving on to Ngala in the Timbavati Reserve. Aircraft are small and weight is a strong consideration.
    At Tswalu I am renting a Sigma 150-600 lens, and bringing a fairly fast Canon 70-200. At Ngala they do not rent lenses and I’m hoping to carry only the 70-200. From my understanding, there’s not much grassland there and vehicles move offroad after cats, elephant, and rhino.
    Do you think that the 200mm lens will be enough, or would you advise packing a 100-400 (which is light but has no weather seal)?
    Thanks for your help.

    1. Sketch,

      You didn’t mention what camera body you’ll be taking; full frame or crop sensor.
      Either way, I’d probably choose the 100-400 over the 70-200.

      Picking a lens that cuts the need for changing lenses to an absolute minimum is highly recommended.

      I have a great 70-200, and I have taken it on many safaris but I find that it is consistently the lens I use the least.
      I usually carry 2 bodies and have a 24-120 on one and 200-500 on the other. That way I (almost) never need to change lenses and the 70-200 becomes redundant.
      (The main exception to this is if I am mainly photographing birds in which case I use a 500mm prime lens.)

      Yes, weather sealing can be an issue, but the Nikon 200-500 is not weather sealed and I have never had a problem, either in Africa or in India where dust is an absolute nightmare.
      As long as you keep your gear covered when not in use and wipe off with a damp cloth after each outing you should be fine.

      Do you have a short lens? Something like a 24-70mm or 24-120mm?
      The 70-200 is not ideal for landscape shots or other shots that need a wide-ish angle.

      If you have one I’d take a short lens and your 100-400mm.

      I hope this helps

  26. Dear Martin,
    I have read the entire article and the entire discussion. Still, I would ask. I am planning a safari in Tanzania (Tarangire, Manyara). I have a Nikon Z6 II. I don’t really want to change lenses. I have Nikon Z 24-200, 24-120, 24-70/F2.8 lenses. I can buy a Tamron 150-500. If I wanted to go on safari with only one lens – would you choose the 24-200 or the 150-500? Or are both options wrong and it is important to have 2 lenses (e.g. 24-120 + 150-500)?

    I want to take pictures of animals, but I don’t want to miss nice landscape photos.
    Thanks for your help.

    1. Hi,

      If you do not want to change lenses and would prefer not to buy a Tamron 150-500 lens which you may never use again, I would happily go on safari with your 24-200mm lens.
      I have in the past taken just a compact camera with 24-120mm lens and found that I missed very few shots. The obvious exception will be birds.
      For mammals 200mm will almost always be long enough, although you may occasionally need to crop the photo to get close ups. Generally speaking though, a good guide will get you close enough to most subjects.


  27. Thanks for the article and all the useful responses, Martin.

    I will travel to Tanzania in October and will bring the following gear:
    – 2 full frame bodies (EOS 5d iv)
    – Canon EF 16-35 f/2,8L III
    – Canon EF 70-200 f/4L IS
    – Sigma 150-600 f/5.6-6.3 (contemporary version)

    According to your tips – and with the objective to reduce the number of lens swaps – I think I will keep mounted on the two bodies the 16-35 and the 70-200, using the Sigma only in case of birds or far subjects.
    My question is: are there any tips for minimising the dust risk during lens swaps?


    1. Hi Francesco,

      If it was me, the 2 lenses I would have on my bodies would be the 70-200mm and the 150-600mm.
      I do appreciate that this means you’ll have much more bulky gear in your hands but I feel that these are lenses you’ll want to use the most. The 16-35mm is great for panoramic shots and also those occasions when you encounter a herd of elephants, buffalo or wildebeest, but for individual animals it will not be so useful.

      As for minimising dust during lens changes.
      1 – try and avoid changing lenses while the vehicle is moving.
      2 – when the vehicle stops, let the dust settle before swapping lenses.
      3 – some people recommend bringing a large plastic bag and doing the lens swap inside this bag. Unless you are used to swapping lenses by touch (not being able to see what you’re doing) this can make the process slower.
      4 – it is not just YOUR vehicle that will cause dust. Other vehicles are often a bigger problem, so you need to keep an eye open for other cars.
      5 – I suggest you don’t use a blanket or a jacket as a ‘shield’ when changing lenses. These will almost certainly be collecting dust as you travel and will transfer dust to your gear.
      6 – Clean dust off your gear each time you are in camp. A blower first, then lens brush, then wipe with a soft, very slightly damp, cloth. Pay particular attention to the mount on both body and lens.
      7 – When using a blower (hand squeeze version, not aerosol) on your equipment, hold the equipment so that the lens mount is facing downwards. This should ensure that any dust that gets blown off does not re-settle.

      Have a great safari.


  28. Hi Martin, planning for an upcoming safari to South Africa…I recently purchased a Z8 (moving from a D500 that I will likely sell and keep a D810 as a second body). I do enjoy shooting birds as well as mammals and have used a Nikon 200-500 lens to date. My current dilemma is what my first z lens purchase should be for this trip and other upcoming travels. One option to invest in the Z 180-600 lens (in this case I would sell the 200-500) — great wildlife lens but somewhat concerned about weight (will likely be taking a side trip to Victoria Falls and not sure what the weight restrictions would be and also trying to generally minimize weight while traveling). Another option is to try out the newly announced z 28-400 lens — love the weight and versatility but somewhat concerned about the light limitations at F8 and no real reviews to date. A third option would be to continue using 200-500 (would still be concerned about the weight while traveling) and instead purchasing the z 24-120 or z 24-200 as my initial Z lens. I also have other shorter primes and zooms I plan to utilize with the D810 until I can purchase additional Z lenses and a second z body. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated…

    1. Hi Neil,

      Before I jump in and make suggestions; you say you have other shorter zooms and prime lenses which you plan to use with the D810. What do you have?
      If you are using the 200-500mm with your Z8, then you already have the FTZ adaptor, so any of your existing lenses should also work with the Z8 as well as with the D810.


      1. Hi Martin, thanks for your reply…I have a Tamron 15-30 2.8 G1, Tokina 35-150 2.8-4 G1, Nikon 24 1.8, Tokina 100mm 2.8 macro, Nikon 60mm 2.8 micro. Assuming I use 2 bodies, I was thinking the Tokina 35-150 on the D810. For the Z8, one option is purchasing the new 28-400 to save weight as travel lens — in this case I would keep my 200-500 for birding at home until I’m able to replace it with the 180-600. The other option I’m considering is just biting the bullet now and purchasing the 180-600 and selling my 200-500. I’m just concerned about the weight…would love to hear your thoughts on these or other recommended options.

        1. Hi Neil,

          Thanks for the information.
          I think you have 2 different issues to look at here. (1) what to take on safari and (2) what kit you will want to have for the longer term.
          With the safari in mind:
          In terms of keeping your kit to a minimum, the Tokina 35-150mm & the Nikkor 200-500mm would seem to offer you the best range with just 2 lenses, with no immediate expenditure.
          You really don’t want to be changing lenses while on safari so having the 2 you’ll use the most on your bodies already makes it easy.
          I agree that the 200-500mm is a heavy lens, but image quality is excellent and you’re used to the lens. I have no experience of the Tokina lens so I cannot comment on its image quality.
          Like you, I’m tempted by the 180-600mm but, no matter how much I’d like one, I know it will bring nothing extra to my image taking capabilities.
          A lot of the time you’ll be in a vehicle for your game drives, so the weight will not be as much of an issue as it might be if you were having to carry your equipment around.

          For birds you’ll find that the 200-500 is more than adequate. Don’t forget that if it’s on your Z8 you can switch to crop mode and make it a 300-750mm lens, with almost as many pixels as your D500. I do it all the time.
          With birds in particular you will often only be using the central part of the frame anyway, so you’d probably crop the images if you shot full frame.
          I really don’t see much point splashing out close to £1000/$1200 on the 28-400 if you intend to buy the 180-600 as soon as you can afford it. I can see that it will give you a wide focal range, but my experience is that you’ll probably shoot most of your images between 150-500mm.
          The wider end of the focal range will be needed if you get close to elephants or herds of buffalo, but the gain from 35mm (on your Tokina) to 28mm (if you buy the 28-400) is minimal – except of course for the image quality. The Nikon lens will undoubtedly give you better quality than the Tokina. BUT, a Z lens will not fit your D810, that means it will be on your Z8 and the 200-500 will be on your D810, so you’ll be using your D810 for your bird photography and not able to take advantage of all the subject recognition features of your Z8.

          If you think the image quality from your Tokina lens is good enough, then stick it on the D810. As I see it, even if you bit the bullet and acquired the 180-600mm lens, you’re still going to need something at the shorter end, so you’ll probably end up taking the Tokina anyway.

          Sorry if I have just muddied the waters, but buying new kit for a safari is not always a good idea, especially if you don’t yet know whether this will be your only safari or just the first of many.


          1. Thanks Martin, you’ve confirmed what I have been leaning toward…which is making the 180-600 my next lens…my only temptation is getting the 28-400 as a general travel lens…but between the slow aperture and no real reviews to look at…I’ll likely pass on it for now…maybe a used one down the road. Really enjoy reading your insights…thank you! P.S. Any idea on weight restrictions on a flight to Victoria Falls?

          2. Neil,
            it does depend on the airline. If it is a regular jet aircraft you’ll probably be allowed a check-in bag and some hand luggage.
            If it is a smaller aircraft the restriction could be as little as 15kg in total.
            If it is a smaller aircraft then you might struggle to get a camera bag into the overhead bins – I know mine needs a fair bit of wiggling.

  29. I have had a surprise reading some of your responses, with regard to 18-300mm lenses and longer super zooms.

    I am going on a safari in late May 24 (one month away). I have a Nikon D500 which I normally pair with a Nikon 200-500mm lens , and a Nikon D7100 where I was uncertain which lenses to take for it although I was considering taking the 18-300mm lens on it Also was thinking about taking a Tokina 11-16mm lens for some landscape.

    Normally I find the 18-300mm okay from 18 to just above 200mm.

    Due to weight I was going to leave the Nikon 17-55mm lens at home, and also I have a Tamron 150-600 G2 (long story) to stay at home. However, I get more keepers with the Nikon 200-500mm with my bird photos.

    Is my original selection of the Nikon 200-500mm and 18-300mm with the overlap okay, or should I take the 17-55mm instead? Is it worthwhile taking the Tokina 11-16mm or should I leave it at home as well?

    thank you in advance for your suggestions

    1. Hi John,

      Sorry it has taken me a bit longer than usual to respond. I was away from the office and did not have my laptop with me.

      If I assume that you will be taking your D500 + 200-500mm zoom then it is a question of which other lenses to take.
      As far as weight goes, your 200-500 will be the heavy lens.

      It really comes down to what focal length you are likely to be shooting at when not using the 200-500. I know of photographers who have used their 200-500mm as their only lens on safari.
      You didn’t say exactly where you’ll be travelling to but you will almost certainly want to take some landscape shots. Personally I find it much more comfortable to use a shorter lens for that than to use the wide end of an 18-300mm. The only reason for taking the 18-300mm would be if you need the wide focal range it offers but you have stated you don’t rate it above 200mm and you’ll have the 200-500mm for the longer stuff.
      Given that both your bodies have crop frame sensors, if you want to be able to take really wide angle shots you’ll need the 11-16mm whilst the 17-55mm will be good for larger mammals and herd shots.
      If the weight is not too much I would leave behind the 18-300mm and take both your shorter lenses. Keep the 17-55mm on your D7100 and change to the 11-16mm on those occasions when you need to.


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