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Katie_H Dec 13th, 2007 11:34 AM

Best Bets for Cameras for Safaris?
Hello everybody...

We recently did a story in which we recommended four mostly point and shoot digital cameras.

Our writer divided these cameras under four categories:

Best All-Around Camera
Best Budget
Best For Photography Aficionados
Best for Active Travelers

Looking at many of the photo sites that you link to here I notice that many of you use digital SLRs on safari.

Just curious as to what kind of camera you take with you on safari--- a little roll call perhaps?

As I posted in the lounge, I'm in the market for a nicer camera; I'd love a recommendation for the digital SLR that you think offers the most bang for the buck...

cary999 Dec 13th, 2007 11:50 AM

I take Nikon bodies and lenses. D40X body with 18-200 lens and D200 body with 70-300 lens. Great combo BUT if you're into birds you will need longer than 300mm lens.
If I had to pick only one for me for safari it would be the D200 with 70-300 lens. If I had to pick one for YOU for safari it would be the D40X with the 70-300 lens.

Now, you did not mention video. IF I had to pick one and only ONE camera for safari it would be the Canon S3. Because of its excellent video capability and adequate photo capability. (I do take it along with the Nikon gear).

And, FWIW, I have along an equal amount/weight of support electronic gizmos and gadgets :-)

regards - tom

Katie_H Dec 13th, 2007 12:07 PM

I hadn't even thought of video but I can see how much safari would lend itself to video...

I have some Canon lenses so I'm interested in your recommendation of Canon S3; it looks more affordable than I thought a digital SLR would be. Is it an SLR? I mean could I switch out the lenses? Have prices really come down in the last year or so...seems really well-priced.

Anyone else? I'm sure this is a question that first time safari goers struggle with...

cary999 Dec 13th, 2007 12:25 PM

Katie - The Canon S3 and S5 (the S3 is no longer made but still sold) are not SLR. S3 sells for less than $300 and the S5 about $340. (I prefer the old S3). Again not SLR, the lens is part of the body and has a 35mm equivalent range of 36-432mm zoom, called a 12x zoom.

If you already have Canon SLR lenses, then go for a Canon DSLR body. I'm not familiar with the model numbers.

Although I'm a "still" photographer at heart, your friends and family will prefer to see well edited (and I do mean edited) video clips. And again, I combine both into a DVD that plays on a TV. The program I use is Proshow Gold.

And BTW, thanks for your service here at Fodors and Merry Christmas.

regards - tom

Bill_H Dec 13th, 2007 12:33 PM

Hi Katie,

We are often asked what gear we use so I put up a site with recommendations for entry level dSLR users (70-300 lens with entry level Canon or Nikon body), mid-level users (better consumer body, 80-400 VR or 100-400 IS lenses) and pros. Here's the link ...


Chris_GA_Atl Dec 13th, 2007 01:20 PM


Here is what we took on our first DSLR-equipped trip to Africa (Ethiopia and gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda):

Canon Digital Rebel XTi
Canon 17-85 IS
Canon 100-400 IS

That was our "beginner" set of gear. For our next trip to Africa (and the Galapagos trip we have planned too, for that matter), here is what we will be taking in terms of cameras and lenses:

Canon 40D
Canon Digital Rebel XTi
Canon 24-105 IS
Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS
Canon 100-400 IS
Canon 300 f/2.8 IS
Canon 1.4x and 2x Teleconverters

I would regard this as an "intermediate" setup.

For image storage, we use Hyperdrive SPACE portable storage devices -- we will probably take a 100GB one and a 250GB one with us on the next two trips.

In terms of answering your question about what would constitute the best "bang for the buck" for you, if you are going on a safari, I would get one of the entry-level DSLRS like the Digital Rebel XTi, one wide-angle lens like the new Canon 18-55 IS, and one telephoto like the 70-300 or, better yet, the 100-400.

You have probably seen us talk in the forum about renting lenses for safari, which a lot of people do. There are several places on the internet that rent high-quality Canon and Nikon telephoto lenses, and renting one for a trip is an alternative to buying one, since they can get kind of expensive. So, for example, you can rent a Canon 500 f/4 for a month for probably $700 or so, where buying it new would cost $5,500. Renting a lens like the 100-400 would probably cost under $200 for a month, versus the new cost of about $1,300. So renting can be a very good option if you have a one-time need for a good telephoto lens.

I am firmly of the view that the quality of lenses make a much bigger difference in image quality (and your ability to take pictures in varying circumstances) than the camera body you use. I would rather have a less-expensive body with minimal features (like a Rebel XTi) and high-quality lenses than a better camera (like a 40D, for example) with lower-quality lenses.

The final point I would stress is to get whatever camera you are going to get sufficiently in advance of your trip to practice extensively with it. You don't want to be learning how to use the camera on safari!

Let us know if you have any further questions. Also, I recommend for in-depth reviews of both point & shoot and DSLR cameras. It even has a tool for you to compare various features side-by-side.


Kavey Dec 13th, 2007 01:24 PM

It's varied. Used to be Minolta film SLRs.

For a short period it was a Nikon DSLR.

For some years it's been Canon DSLRs which is what we're sticking with for foreseeable. Bodies come and go but we'll slowly build up a collection of glass.

We have in the past taken video which I love the idea of but never get around to editing or watching.

cary999 Dec 13th, 2007 02:05 PM

I don't take a lot of video, probably 10 minutes a day. I don't like a camera up to my eye constantly like with video.

regards - tom

sundowner Dec 13th, 2007 03:12 PM

Chris, if you had to choose between the Canon 70-200/f2.8 or the 100-400 (and also have the 1.4x and 2.0x converters) which one would you pick? (for Africa)

Katie, I use all Canon gear. If you are looking for a good, inexpensive (relatively speaking) "starter" DSLR, I would choose the Rebel XTi.

I took the Canon S2IS (borrowed) for my kids to use on safari and they did get some really good pictures. I will say when I looked through the viewfinder on the S2IS I was shocked. I had no idea how much difference there is in looking through the viewfinder of P&S and a DSLR.

Katie_H Dec 13th, 2007 03:27 PM

Wow...there is a lot to digest here. Thanks a lot. I often browse pbase just because I love how clearly marked the camera that the picture was taken with appears at the bottom.

I need to look at this thread more in depth later when I have some personal time to really think about it. Anytime I upgrade in something, I normally have to upgrade something else. I'm assuming that the more I get back into photography, the more likely I'll need an upgrade to my computer (currently have an ibook). I've been using photoshop elements and have found it to be worth it's price tag; though of course having the real deal would be better.

ShayTay Dec 13th, 2007 04:06 PM

Katie, given that you have Canon lenses, you would do fine with the SLR Canon Digital Rebel XTi. I have the slightly older version, XT and it suits me just fine. I also take along a video camera, as a safari is the perfect venue for video... motion and sounds!

cary999 Dec 13th, 2007 04:16 PM

Good point about safari video. I'd never bother taking video of European historical sights. Still photos will do nicely for that. But seeing and hearing lion cubs play or elephants walk by your vehicle or lions crunching on zebra makes for good video.

regards - tom

uscmolly Dec 13th, 2007 05:05 PM

Before our safari trip this year, I made the leap into dSLRs and was so glad I did. I bought the Canon Rebel XTi and really like it. I agree with Bill that it is an excellent 'beginner' dSLR. (I have the exact set-up he recs on his site.) I got many compliments on my photos, even from the pros in my family. Plus, I found that I actually enjoyed photography when I used the SLR, rather than a point and shoot.

I may upgrade my lens to the 100-400 in the near future, but overall was really happy with the 70-300. When I was researching lens, I was really glad to see the high resale makes the decision to upgrade less painful!

We also bought the Canon S3 for my husband to use and as our backup. He mostly ended up shooting video with it, which turned out pretty good.

Chris_GA_Atl Dec 13th, 2007 05:57 PM

Cindy, responding to your question, I would easily choose the 100-400 over the 70-200/2.8 for any safari trip (conventional safari, not gorillas). Here is my reasoning:

(1) I believe you would need more than 200mm focal length most of the time.
(2) The 70-200/2.8 with extenders is supposed to have poorer image quality than the 100-400. I have never tested this, but there is actually a side-by-side comparison on Luminous Landscape that shows the 100-400 is clearly better in IQ than the 70-200+2x.
(3) The 100-400 has a greater zoom range, giving it more flexibility to deal with more varied focal length needs than the 70-200.
(4) I have heard that the AF speed with the 70-200+2x combo is slower than the 100-400.

On a conventional safari, I would envision using the 70-200 only in very low light situations where the animals are close-in. It has some big advantages over the 100-400 -- mine is significantly sharper, and it focuses in low light incredibly well, while the 100-400 struggles in low light. But the reach on the 70-200 is not sufficient for a conventional safari, I don't think.

I keep saying "conventional safari" to draw the distinction with gorilla trekking, where I think the 70-200 is probably overall the better choice, although it is still a close call to me. I know you got some great pictures of the Hirwa Group with your 70-200, and I wished I had one when we visited that same group, but I have dozens of 400mm focal length pictures from our other three treks, so the right tool for that situation is dependent on conditions.

I just got my 300/2.8 IS and TCs this week (both used) and I am quite happy at the moment! I feel like I have graduated to "real" photo equipment when I pick that thing up (and also when I look at the 100% crops from it)!

I hope I answered your question -- feel free to post or write me an email if you want to discuss further.


GeoffG Dec 13th, 2007 10:19 PM

Basically buy the best camera and lenses you can afford within your budget.

Either Canon or Nikon. (I'm a Canon DSLR user as my old lenses fit the camera.)

..and don't worry if your camera is then superseded. It does not mean your camera has stopped working.


arkay Dec 13th, 2007 10:21 PM

On safari in August I used a Canon Rebel XTi with a 70-300mm IS lens and a Canon 20D with a 28-135 IS lens. I always bring 2 cameras and sometimes 3. You never know when one will fail for one reason or another so it's best to have a back-up. Also I don't like to swap lenses. Too much time wasted and too much dust!

I used the longer lens 75-80% of the time but it's nice to have access to a wider angle.

I originally bought the Rebel as a back-up for my 20D but ended up liking the Rebel better. It is 10.2 vs 8.2 mp and I like the smaller size and weight for my small hands. I also think the Rebel is easier to use. I think it's a great camera for the money. I agree with Chris that the glass is probably more important than the body. But if you want to spend more and don't mind a bigger heavier piece of hardware hanging around you neck or sitting in your lap you might look at the Canon 40D. There are certainly good cameras to consider other than Canon but I haven't had experience with them so...

The non-slr super zoom image stabilized cameras are also worth considering. Small, lightweight, relatively inexpensive, easy to use and they take good pictures.I might get a Canon s5 is for my upcoming trip to Patagonia just to take on hikes instead of lugging the bigger heavier gear.

GeoffG Dec 13th, 2007 10:25 PM


Quote "2) The 70-200/2.8 with extenders is supposed to have poorer image quality than the 100-400. I have never tested this, but there is actually a side-by-side comparison on Luminous Landscape that shows the 100-400 is clearly better in IQ than the 70-200+2x."

I believe that test was performed in 2001 and is now outdated as a newer version of the 70-200L IS USM has been released.

John's (Afrigalah) wife Yvonne uses the 70-200mm + 2.0 TC combination and is quite happy with it.

Other than that I agree with everything you've said.

...and you've just purchased a 300mm F/2.8 Good for you.

I'm considering the same purchase with both extenders as well.


afrigalah Dec 13th, 2007 11:03 PM


Thanks to your reference to the Hyperdrive Space storage device, I've just had the 80 Gb model delivered from B&H for Christmas for Yvonne. That, plus her older devices, will be plenty for our next Africa trip.


Chris_GA_Atl Dec 14th, 2007 04:45 AM

John, I think you will be happy with the Hyperdrive unit. I've had ours for about a year now with no problems. Does your wife use Sandisk CF cards or Lexar? The reason I ask is that there were some reports of earlier versions of the Hyperdrive firmware having compatability problems with some Lexar cards. Those issues may or may not have been solved. I have never had a problem, but we use Sandisk Extreme IIIs. If your wife uses Lexar, be sure to run several tests before your next trip to Africa to make sure you don't encounter a problem.

Geoff, thanks for your comments. The only new version of the 70-200 I am aware of since 2001 is the 70-200/4, which is an awesome lens, but can't be used with a 2xTC on the non-1D Canon bodies because it would be too slow (f8) to autofocus. But to be fair, I have a friend who is a pro photographer who took an Africa trip with a 70-200/2.8+2xTC and he was satisfied. I have my doubts, but I have never tested it because I got my 100-400 first, so there has never been a need for me to try the 70-200 with a 2x.


learnix Dec 14th, 2007 06:02 AM

The following package is available on Amazon and seems to cover the basic safari suggestions for $749.95


Canon Digital Rebel XTi (Black) 10.1MP Digital SLR Camera (Outfit Box) + Tamron 28-80mm Lens + Tamron 70-300mm Lens + Transcend 2GB 133X CompactFlash (CF) Card + Spare Replacement Battery for Canon NB-2LH + Cameta Incognito 1000 Deluxe SLR Gadget Bag
Canon Digital Rebel XTi (Black) 10.1MP Digital SLR Camera (Outfit Box) + Tamron 28-80mm Lens + Tamron 70-300mm Lens + Transcend 2GB 133X CompactFlash (CF) Card + Spare Replacement Battery for Canon NB-2LH + Cameta Incognito 1000 Deluxe SLR Gadget Bag

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