Camera Gear: What to Pack for a Safari Trip – Page 2

Camera Gear: What to Pack for a Safari Trip – Page 2

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to use this lens during my Namibia safari. But if I could do it again, there is no doubt which lens I’d take for the trip. For those with a lower budget, consider the lighter Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS. When mounted on a 1.6x crop body, this lens was sufficient for 80% of my safari shots in Namibia. However, there were definitely moments when I desperately needed more reach (eg. during the encounter with a cheetah and when we saw a pride of 11 lions).

If your safari is in Eastern Africa (eg. the Serengeti, Ngorongoro), I strongly recommend the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS over the 70-300mm. The reason is that restrictions are frequently imposed on off-road driving in this part of the continent. As such, the animals are often further away here than you’d find them in southern parts of Africa. A longer lens becomes indispensible and the 100-400mm is, for good reason, an immensely popular zoom lens amongst photographers on safaris.

Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6 L IS

The main drawback of this lens is its weight. At 1.4kg, this lens is 330 grams or 31% heavier than the Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6 L IS. Add this to the weight of your camera body, and you will be easily holding a 2kg+ block of gear. If you do decide to go with the 100-400mm, make sure you are comfortable working with such gear for multiple days of extended periods of shooting.

Canon-EF-100-400mm-sample 1Image taken with the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS (Photo credit: Adam Black)

Canon-EF-100-400mm-sample 2
Image taken with the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS (Photo credit: Adam Black)

Canon-EF-100-400mm-sample 3
Image taken with the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS (Photo credit: Adam Black)

For more product details on the Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6 L IS, click here. Product details of the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS can be found here.

As for our Nikon friends, check out the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 which is an equally strong performer on safaris.

Regardless of which lens you choose, it’s best to have one primary lens attached to your camera most of the time. Switching between lenses is of course possible but not encouraged because 1) you don’t really have enough time to do this often, and 2) the environment will be dusty; changing lenses frequently will increase the odds of getting dust in your camera sensor.

(ii) General Purpose Lens

Canon 24-105mm f/4 L IS

A wider lens is a must for capturing the sweeping vistas on a safari. For this, the Canon 24-105mm f/4 L IS is highly recommended for its outstanding image quality, focal range, and sheer versatility. This lens has travelled with me from Africa to Antarctica, and has performed beautifully on every occasion.

what to pack for safari 11Etosha National Park; taken with the Canon 24-105mm f/4 L IS

If budget is the absolute top concern for you, there are alternatives to this lens, of course. Amongst the options, the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 is the front-runner for its image quality and price. However, being 30mm shorter than the Canon 24-105mm on the long end, the Tamron does lose some versatility in function so I still prefer the Canon 24-105mm as an all-purpose travel lens. The Tamron, with its excellent bokeh, is more suited for those who shoot portraits more often.

What Not to Worry About
One common question is whether a faster lens (eg. f/2.8) is necessary for safaris. My experience has been that an f/4 lens is more than sufficient to capture sharp action shots on safaris (eg. birds in flight, sprinting lions).

During the traditional (dry) season when the vast majority of tourists go on a safari, virtually every day is cloudless and extremely sunny. Even during the early morning game viewing, I found that the lighting was strong enough for an f/4 lens – especially if you shoot in RAW and correct underexposed shots in post-processing.

Other Important Gear
(i) UV filter
You are shooting in tight quarters and travelling on a constantly moving vehicle (ie. safari truck). You are constantly poking your precious telephoto lens out of the truck window for photos and swinging from left to right for action shots. You are also a few hours from civilisation and any camera shop.

Given the situation, should you risk a scratch on your lens? No. Should you use a lens filter? Absolutely. Invest in a good one like those UV filters made by B+W and Heliopan to preserve the quality of both your photos and your lens.

(ii) Travel adapter and backup batteries
The best camera gear in the world is useless if the battery is flat. Having spare batteries is particularly important on a safari because you might not get to charge your primary battery as much as you’d like. When everyone reaches camp in the evening, the shared power outlets will be in high demand. So don’t assume you will always have the chance to fully charge your battery. If your battery does die half way through the day, you will be thankful for a backup – as I had been on multiple occasions on the safari.

I use third-party batteries like the Wasabi Power Battery as the backup since 1) an original Canon battery would cost 4 times as much and 2) the Wasabi Power Battery has as good a battery life as the original Canon one.

(iii) Backup memory card
For the same reasons just highlighted, having backup memory cards is important. Given how affordable memory cards are these days, there’s no reason to just bring one. For my Canon 7D, I use the SanDisk 32GB Extreme 400x. For a sense of the memory capacity, this card can hold a total of 90 minutes of Full HD video recording (assuming it’s all videos and no photos). This is more than enough for a week-long safari trip.

As backup, I have the SanDisk 16GB Extreme 400x. There’s also a 64GB version of the SanDisk Extreme 400x but I haven’t personally found the need for it. It really just depends on what your shooting/recording requirements are. In general, I avoid Lexar and Kingston memory cards as there seems to be more reliability/data loss issues with them.

(iv) Lens hoods
I don’t usually shoot with lens hoods but on a safari, they will serve you well. Since you can’t really control the angle you’re shooting at most of the time, lens flare could be an issue if the sun happens to be in a bad position. Using a lens hood can really help control flare, not to mention protecting your lens from bumps and scratches.

(v) Carbon fibre tripod
One often overlooked aspect of safari trips is the opportunity to photograph the night sky. When you’re out in the desert, the lack of light pollution makes for great stargazing. If you haven’t ever seen the Milky Way with your own eyes, use your safari as a chance to do so. With the Canon 24-105mm mentioned earlier and a good carbon fibre tripod, you could get some pretty nice images of the night sky.

I currently use the Manfrotto 190CX3 with the Manfrotto 496RC2 tripod head, and can’t be happier with this combo. Both are just rock solid performers that have a deathly grip on my camera for those long exposure shots.

Manfrotto tripod 190CX3
Manfrotto 190CX3 with the Manfrotto 496RC2 tripod head

If you are open to bringing a third lens on your trip for the sole purpose of night/star photography, check out the Sigma 35mm f/1.4. Although Canon makes an L Series lens with very similar specs (the Canon 35mm f1.4 L), the Sigma is far cheaper and its image quality is actually on par or outright superior to the Canon lens in many respects (eg. sharper wide open).

Alright, there are still a lot more safari photography tips to share but this post is already getting far too long. I hope you’ve found this insightful. Drop a note in the Comments section below if you have any questions and I’ll help however I can!

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