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Safari - Camera / Binoculars

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We are going on safari(s) and would appreciate your thoughts on (1) what camera and len's to bring, and (2) do we need binoculars (and how many per person)? Any advice is appreciated. Thank you.

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    For a camera I think it depends what level you're at already and what sort of investment you're prepared to make.

    I use a Canon 7D Mark II and 100-400mm Mark II lens, which I have found to be an amazing combination for safari, but it's an expensive piece of kit and not something worth buying just for one safari. Also, if you don't know what you're doing with it, you probably won't get any better photos than with a superzoom point and shoot or bridge camera. And it's heavy and bulky and if you are flying on small planes with 15kg luggage allowance you need to be pretty ruthless with the rest of your packing.

    If you're already a DSLR user and have a body already, I'd consider renting a decent zoom lens like the 100-400mm (or similar, I think Nikon have an 80-400).

    If you're a total novice I'd suggest one of the bridge type cameras. I'm a bit out of date with what's around these days but Panasonic Lumix had some good options (the FZ series) and Canon had the SX60 (not sure if that's their latest model).

    But the key is to have a decent optical zoom. For SLR I'd suggest at least 300mm. For the superzooms, they are all ridiculous now- I remember when 10-12X was normal, now its 50 or 60X. Think I saw someone recently with a Nikon model that was eighty something!!

    For binoculars, these are not expensive and I'd suggest you have a pair each. How much you will need them depends slightly where you are going. If you are going somewhere like Tanzania in national parks where there is no off roading, you might need them more if there is an interesting sighting a long way from the road. If going to a private concession like Sabi Sand, perhaps less so as you will get driven right up to most sightings. But binos are also good for birding. Even if you don't think you are that interested you might get interested. Also if you are going on safari somewhere where you share vehicles, if you are stopped and others are looking at something through binos it gets a bit boring/frustrating if you can't see what everyone else is looking at.

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    Hi there!
    You've gotten some great advice already. I thought I'd add that if you are going to a private game reserve, then you might only need one pair of binoculars to share for 2 people. Unfortunately, so many binoculars at the outdoor stores are just not good enough. Swarovski's are the best but they are incredibly expensive. You can contact Todd at optics4rent and tell him where you are going (East Africa vs SA). He will advise you as to which binocular would suit your trip. He makes it easy by shipping them to you before you leave in a protected box, and then when you return home, you put the prepaid shipping label on the box and ship them back. Tell him I sent you.
    Best
    Dianne

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    I just did a comparison for my nephew for his first safari. You can get a basic Nikon dslr like a D3200-D3400 with an AF-S 28-300mm lens. Id recommend lenses with VR but they can get expensive. Set it on AF-S autofocus and it's a great point and shoot. And if you learn a little you can do more than point and shoot, with the option of going back to setting and forgetting. It'll be less expensive than a good bridge camera - I'm shocked how expensive they are!! - and you'll get better pictures. The sensor in the bridge cameras is too small for any decent enlargements. Plus you can upgrade the lenses if you want to in the future. I'd recommend a 50mm 1.8 lens for night pics if you can. You don't really need a longer lens, unless you want to rent one, on a dx camera like the d3000 series. You get a longer zoom than with the above full frame D7 so the 300mm is equivalent to 400mm. Don't ask me why, it just is (but it's true - you can google it).

    My husband is upgrading from a dx Nikon like the D3000 to the D750 full frame (fx). He's getting the Nikon 200-500mm lens, plus a 50mm 1.4 and the 28-300 VR. It's about $6000 for all of it including protective filters and bags. So if that's your budget, go for it! But this is for our 7th safari and beyond. Unless you have a future need for it, time to learn and a large budget, I'd stick with a simpler much less expensive option as I noted. It's also going to be very heavy and bulky so he won't be able to bring any clothes. His current setup is much lighter and we have some gorgeous pictures.

    I have Nikon Prostaffs 10x42 binoculars. My nephew is taking my old Bushnell 10x42's. I constantly use binoculars, my husband never does. No need to spend a lot - Cabelas has sales often on the bushnells (and others), and b&h and Adorama have good prices on the Nikons. I spent less than $100 for the first ones, about $125 on a great sale for the Nikons.

    Obviously I'm a Nikon user. I don't know much about Canons but they have similar equipment. Tamron and Sigma make good lenses for both and can be less expensive and just as good. My husband has been using a Tamron 70-300mm for a decade with great results. But we are graduating...

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    After 3 safaris with a Nikon bridge camera (the Nikon Coolpix P510) that was showing signs of lens failure that Nikon couldn't fix, I upgraded for my 4th safari to a Sony RX10, which has a Zeiss lens and 1" sensor. I was told by photographers who use DSLRs that the Zeiss lens is worth the price of the camera alone. The difference between the results of the two is immense and I'm beyond thrilled with the results, but I also practiced a lot with the Sony, which I recommend you do. I consider the Sony an investment for safari only, as it's too big for me to want to lug it around on other vacations, but at this point I'm a frequent safari goer and know I'll get good results with it going forward.

    For binoculars, I have Steiner Safari Pro (10x26) which I liked well enough but found I wasn't using much on my 2nd and 3rd safaris so I didn't take them on my 4th. I found the couple of times I wanted to see something that far off, my guide would let me use his. And it was literally 2 or 3 times over the course of 2 weeks that I wanted them. In Kenya in the conservancies I found we were always so close to the wildlife, that binoculars weren't really necessary. But, if you're a birder, you'll definitely want a good pair. And if you're sharing a vehicle with others, it may get frustrating if everyone is sharing the guide's pair.

    If I could impart any one thing to anyone thinking about camera gear, it's practice practice practice and know your camera well in many different light and action conditions. Go to zoos, farms, wildlife sanctuaries and photograph animals. Get up early and photograph sunsets. You don't want to be learning on safari, you want to be reaping the fruits of your labors before you leave home.

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    This is the gear I recommended for my nephew today. Great deal. https://www.adorama.com/inkd3400k2r.html

    I misspoke above. The lenses included in above package are good. The 28-300 is expensive, the 70-300 is a good inexpensive option - my husband used worse gear for a decade.

    These are the binoculars I used until I upgraded - Bushnell Buckhorn 10x42 (it won't let me paste the link right now on my ipad). They might go on sale somewhere, but are $99 at Cabelas, free shipping. Excellent for me. I use binoculars even when the wildlife is close. Maybe an interesting scar or oddity, an oxpecker on a giraffe's ear or just want that close up view of the nearby elephant's eye or the precious baby rhino whose mom won't let you get a decent look.

    Have a great time!!

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    I've taken both bridge cameras (older model Panasonic Lumix) and DSLRs (Nikon with Tamron super-zoom) on safari, and my vote is squarely in the bridge camera camp.

    Why? Because it weighs less, would cost less to replace if (God forbid) it got damaged or lost, and because current mid- to high-end bridge cameras have lenses that are just as fast and just as sharp (if not faster and sharper) than comparable interchangeable lenses for DSLRs.

    To me (and others might disagree) there are a couple of big keys to successful safari shooting:

    Low-light performance. If you're going on a guided safari that has early morning or evening game drives, you want a camera rig that has (a) a big enough sensor to that you can keep the ISO high enough to retain some detail in poor light, and (b) an autofocus system that is quick and decisive. Having the camera "search" for a focal point when the cheetah is about to disappear into the bush will drive you nuts.

    The big sensor and higher pixel density also means that you don't need to rely just on the optical zoom to capture presentable images. As a (long ago) photo professional, my crusty mentor ("crusty" being a euphemism for "a-hole") once told me that the cheapest telephoto lens in the world has shoelaces in it. Well, now your cheapest telephoto lens is having a sensor with enough mp that you can crop and enlarge a portion of the image without losing enough detail to make the result presentable (in print, on line, etc.)

    I've sent my Nikon DSLR and big lenses to the shower, and my current rig is another Panasonic Lumix, this one the FZ-1000. Big one inch sensor, 20-something MP, Leica lens, bang-bang autofocus, 4K video that lets you extract single frames that are fully acceptable for processing as stills (a huge benefit while you're in the bush - take a movie of the leopard/hyena/baby elephant and pick the best single image out of hundreds as your "keeper.")

    And $800 soaking wet, vs. $2K and up for a comparable DSLR + lens. Oh, and half the weight, maybe less. My neck thanks me.

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    If you checked the price of the gear I recommended, it's a LOT less than a decent bridge camera. Not even close to $2k - why would anyone recommend $2k for one trip? It's under $450. Good low light, nice zoom, good autofocus capabilities with the d3400.

    Who goes on safari, be it guided or not, and doesn't go out early and late? Low light is important.

    Any bridge camera with a one inch sensor, the only ones I'd consider, are well over $1000.

    I disagree entirely. That's why there are so many options - something for everyone. In every budget. Some people think their iPhone is fine. I was on a game drive with someone shooting with an iPad...

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    christabir, is 28-300 enough reach for safari? Photographers on Safaritalk I consulted with when upgrading said it should be 600 minimum.

    There is indeed something for everyone. For what I pay to go on safari I want the best damn photos I'm capable of. I'd never cheap out on the camera and come home and wish for better shots. As I go frequently, and will continue to go frequently, I want to pay for the best gear I can get within my budget. I will say the 1" sensor on the Sony made low light situations, and even a night drive, a piece of cake. I had far more keepers than I ever had with the Nikon.

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    Interesting thread. I would love to be able to afford equipment such as this, but I'm pretty much tapped out paying for the safari! I'll be using my little point-and-shoot camera and borrowing a friend's binocs.

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    amy, I took my 70-200 with a 1.4 extender. This is the 2.8 lens that everyone has, so is fast and adding the extender didn't impact speed of the lens. I have a Canon 7D, so a 1.6 crop factor.

    I was happy with my lens - I actually have some amazing pictures. (I will post some on a blog and link here). The only time I struggled shooting was at night and I couldn't push the ISO high enough as the sun was dropping (if shooting animals). I liked the extra reach of the 1.4 extender.

    I did something different for me - I shot AV mode and auto ISO (set the ranges of where I wanted to be for ISO and speed). I was so happy to have done this. I am normally a 100% manual shooter, but you just don't have the time to play with setting when you see something. Also, you may see something in full sun and then full shade within seconds of each other, and you just can't adjust in manual.

    I did not use a beanbag, but I am comfortable shooting on the fly a lot. I did use a blackrapid crossbody strap which is so much more comfortable. I kept my camera in my lap - covered with a blanket or something to avoid dust - and was ready to shoot.

    email me if more questions -

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