Camera kit on safari
There are a lot of considerations when thinking about camera gear on safari and there has been a lot written about it, sometimes the advice is great and sometimes it doesn’t take into account the financial restrictions or luggage restrictions.
The first point that I would make is that with the improvement of technology over the last few years I have seen people getting better results with a good quality bridge camera than some of the SLR’s on the market. It is important to remember also that the results on safari are a combination of luck, skill and equipment so a cheaper set up can produce higher quality images than a more expensive set up depending on the operator.
Below I will talk you through my views and things to look out for, I have made some great purchases in the past and also bought gear that is simply not up to the task. The main thing to remember is that this is an investment as well as something that you can add to and upgrade as your skills and experience grow.
There is, in my opinion, little to be gained from going out and spending tens of thousands on your first set up for so many reasons, even I am working towards the equipment that I wish to end up with, upgrading a bit at a time when I can and justifying this with the fact that my own skill level and knowledge is increasing. My absolute ideal set up that I am still working towards is to have two SLR bodies both with similar performance (will talk about this later), one would permanently have a 400mm or 500mm lens with a good aperture and a second with a shorter telephoto, something like a 55-200mm for those times when wildlife is just too close for that long lens! Although, when it does happen, this is a nice chance to practice those super close portraits that have become popular in wildlife photography today. I also like to carry around a prime lens for any nice landscapes and sunsets although it is not a great idea to be switching out lenses while on safari due to the amount of dust in the environment.
The bulk of the cost for this set up would be the long fixed lens with the latest mid range Nikon one costing around £8k, making it out of most peoples league. I am therefore currently using a Sigma 170-400mm which does a good job and has captured some of my favourite images, coming in at a tenth of the amount as a fixed focal length this level of lens has a lot to offer for the money. There are limitations with this lens but I am currently happy with the compromise and will upgrade my camera body before investing in a more expensive lens. There are a huge range of lenses now and finding reasonably priced and versatile options is not as difficult as it once was, Nikon make a good telephoto as do Tamaron and there is now even a Sigma 150mm-500mm.
The camera body is important of course, but there are loads of mid range options with great performance. The question over full or cropped frame is a fairly straight forward one for me, unless you have a large amount of money to spend on a full frame camera then the crop frame options out there are pretty fantastic, the advantage being that you also gain magnification with a crop frame so your zoom lens effectively zooms further.
I currently use Nikon D7000’s, these are great camera’s and I love almost everything about them… however, the down side of this is its performance in low light conditions, this is one thing that I wish I had of looked into in a bit more detail at the time as it is a limitation that is hard to work around. This is something that I think they have improved on the current equivalent model, the new D7500 and I will be investigating as I am not yet ready to commit to much larger sum of money for my trips this year. Most of the time on safari you will be shooting in the marginal light conditions in the mornings and evenings so a camera that allows shooting at a high ISO without any ‘noise’ is one of the key things to consider.
There are a huge number of resources for the keen photographer out there, many of which can be confusing and contradictory, one of my favourite is Nature TTL who you can follow on Facebook, Twitter or by email.
I use Wex Photographic for equipment or for those in the South West Castle Camera’s who have a store in Salisbury and Bournemouth and I have always found to be helpful and knowledgable.
Tom gives talks to camera clubs on his time and experiences, covering less of the technical side of photography and more of an entertaining evening that will help inspire, inform and help you to get the most of travelling as a keen wildlife photographer. We also offer a consultation service to clients looking to book trips and will come and visit you at your convenience to help plan your perfect safari.