More camera advice

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May 23rd, 2005, 01:26 PM
  #1
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More camera advice

The recent thread on digitial cameras is a bit out of my league with respect to both expertise and price. I wonder if you all might make recommendations to a "point-and-shoot" amateur on what is the minimum amount of camera equipment you would bring on safari. I would be willing to spend up to $500 on equipment, and I would be willing to try to find used equipment on ebay or the like.
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May 23rd, 2005, 07:14 PM
  #2
Lin
 
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I bought a very good digital camera last year for my safari, and I can tell you that it is very easy for an amateur to operate many of the new digitals on auto mode. Here are my tips (and I am definitely an amateur) but I was into taking pictures so this might all be too much for you:

MY OWN OPINIONS ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHY
If you are buying a new camera for this trip:
--Digital is the way to go. Those with film found it cumbersome and difficult to estimate how much would be needed. Also, their daily photos could not be edited or deleted. Those with digital cameras could fire away and then in the evening delete the bad shots.
--Buy a minimum 5x zoom. 10 is much better.
--Americans, make sure your battery chargers say 120-240 volts or you must bring a (heavy) converter.
--If your camera can only be charged as a whole (i.e. you cannot remove the battery), buy another one!! My brother had to leave his camera behind for a few game drives to get it charged. You’d also have a problem with cameras that come with a proprietary charging platform.
--A lighted LCD would be a great feature for night drives. Our cameras did not have this and it was impossible to see what we were trying to focus on.
--Image stabilizer is an extremely good feature to have for those zoom shots.
--Another excellent feature to have is a very fast “ready” time after turning your camera on. I don’t know what the technical term is. My daughter had a tiny Minolta with supposedly the fastest start up time of any camera, and even though my camera was better, she was able to get shots that I missed because my camera takes about 2-3 seconds to start up. Believe me, this made a difference!
--A swiveling LCD would be nice though not necessary.
--Most new digitals have movie-taking capabilities, but some limit the time for the movies to say, 30 seconds or whatever. Try to find a camera that doesn’t limit the time.
Miscellaneous tips:
--You might want to splurge on 3 batteries for your digital. Sometimes batteries could not be charged in time for game drives, and in one camp the generator was down and they couldn’t be charged at all. Two batteries are usually adequate but gave us a few anxious moments. If photography is a big part of your vacation, and you’re spending so much already, the 3rd battery will be very nice to have.
--Bring enough memory. I suggest a minimum of 1G for a two week trip if you will be shooting the best quality pictures. Otherwise, bring a portable hard drive that your group can share and use to download their photos. We had so much fun taking pictures, but some of us ended up deleting pictures we wished we could keep in order to take more pictures at the end of the trip.
--Figure out how to take movies on your digital, how to add audio to photos, and how to use your manual settings WELL BEFORE you leave home! I wish I had. Replaying movies at home is a treasure.
--Bring the South African adaptor plug for Botswana, the British 3 prong plug is good in many places too. Magellan’s (travel catalog) plug supposedly for ‘Botswana’ was useless.
--Sand bags to rest your camera on were supplied on all vehicles (but only about 2 or 3 of them). One guy had a one-legged ‘monopod’ which served him very well, and was light and portable.
--An external flash would be nice for night drives; a built-in flash is not powerful enough, and the spotlight does not illuminate the whole picture. You do not have to have this though.
--Put LCD protectors on your camera before you leave home. Bring a brush to clean off the dust.
--Buy a polarizing filter and possibly a hood - the sun is incredible in Botswana.
--If your lens cap isn’t connected to your camera, buy a lens cap holder which can be found at photo shops for about $2. (I lost my lens cap.)
--Get a wide neoprene strap; otherwise your camera strap will dig into your neck from wearing it so long. Try to find one long enough so that your camera can rest on your lap while on the drives, thus taking the weight off your neck.
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May 24th, 2005, 07:38 PM
  #3
 
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drbeir....I'm not a photographer either and, after alot of research, I found the perfect digital camera that seems idiot-proof. I haven't bought it yet as I'm not leaving for Zambia until Sept. Anyway, check out the Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ5. It's a point and shoot with a 36-432 mm zoom lens, it also has a wide angle, built in flash, auto focus, and optical image stabilizer. It has a bunch of other features, but I have no idea what any of it means! Anyway, the list price is about $499, but I've seen it for as low as $389.
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May 25th, 2005, 04:15 AM
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I agree completely with the FZ5. I got mine just last week, and I already love it. It has 12x optical zoom so that I can get great shots of far-away creatures, and most importantly it has image stablization so that the picture isn't all fuzzy when I use the zoom.

The FZ5 does have a bunch of features for more experienced photographers, but it also has something called Simple Mode. When you put the camera in simple mode, you don't need to do anything except point and shoot, the camera does all the thinking for you. Also, the documentation seems to be much easier to understand than with other cameras I've had.

I got mine from buydig.com for less than $400, including shipping. I'd heard about buydig from other sites (esp Steve's Forums), and they're highly rated on ResellersRatings.com.
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May 25th, 2005, 09:31 AM
  #5
 
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We just got an Olympus C765. It is a 4 megapixel camera with a 10x optical zoom (and it also has a super zoom which is an additional optical zoom - it just downgrades the resolution a bit). We used it in Brazil with fabulous results and are looking forward to using it in Africa. It is pretty easy to use and the thing we liked about it was that you can get a polarizing filter for it. It is $249 at abesofmaine.com. You could also consider a Minolta, although the specific one that a friend of ours got doesn't seem to be available anymore. But they tend to make a good product. Have fun shopping. In general the abesofmaine.com website was really easy to deal with and gave us a great price.
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May 25th, 2005, 04:39 PM
  #6
 
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We just purchased the Panasonic FZ5 and it is awesome. For the longest time we resisted the move to digital because all of the photos looked so flat. We just printed some cropped pictures and the quality is amazing. It's light, easy to use, and fairly automatic if you want it to be that way. We bought it for $450.
And, no, I don't work for Panasonic or anything like that.
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May 25th, 2005, 04:52 PM
  #7
 
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drbeier,

Once you settle on a camera get very comfy with it before the trip. The excitement of seeing wildlife in a great setting can be "un-nerving" enough without the stuggle of working a new gadget. Someone on another post suggested visiting a zoo for a "shoot". Neat idea as there would be different situations much like you will see on game drives. I worked on birds at the backyard feeder/bath plus a garter snake in our woodpile to get the feel of the Olympus 740 we bought a couple of years ago. I have no regrets with it and am looking forward to taking it to southern Tanzania next month. Best of wishes in your shopping.
Dick
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May 25th, 2005, 09:18 PM
  #8
 
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I had the earlier version of the Panasonic FZ5 (4mp, bigger body) that I loved. It's now being enjoyed by the person that picked it up off the back seat of the taxi in Brooklyn where I left it last week.

So now I'm back in the market and I will be getting the FZ5 as soon as I can find the cheapest price - at present the lowest is $399 on ebay but I'd rather buy it from a retailer in case it's DOA.

The "image stabilization" is crucial if you're using the lens at its greatest telephoto setting and if the light is not super bright (think morning or evening game drives). It's an incredibly cool gyroscopic sensor that dampens body (or wind) shake the same way noise canceling headphones neutralize the noise of the jet engines.

The lens is by Leica and it's a doozy - way sharper than many other digital camera lenses, comparable to some of my old Nikkor lenses for my now-collectable old Nikons.

The best thing about the FZ5 is its size - around 2/3 of its predecessor (ie the cab cam) - so much so that it can fit in a coat pocket, which the older one couldn't. The only drawback is lack of manual focus, but there are workarounds for that in the extensive menus.

If you get one for Africa (as we are) a side benefit is that your reading material for the long flights is taken care of - just open the manual.
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May 26th, 2005, 04:59 AM
  #9
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Thanks for the excellent advice, FZ5 sounds like a winner. However, a new variable. Our safari is all camping; i.e., no generator for battery recharging. Now what - haul lots of batteries, or give up on digital and bring lots of film?
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May 26th, 2005, 06:19 AM
  #10
 
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Buy an extra battery. My (old, lamented) Panasonic was extremely frugal with battery life.

Or take a film camera in addition to the digital (with extra battery) just in case. How soon will you be coming back?
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May 30th, 2005, 01:11 PM
  #11
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Camerata camera (Ebay) has a package that includes the FZ5, a 1 GB memory card, Camera Bag, Extra Battery, Lens Cleaning Kit, Memory Reader, Tripod for $560.

I figure I'll take a third battery for back-up, as suggested. Should I bring another memory card?(over my limit already). Any recommendations on portable storage devices?I don't want tobring my laptop.
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May 30th, 2005, 07:06 PM
  #12
 
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I've spent a total of 24 weeks in four African countries on over 15 safaris (not to mention 25 other countries) and here's what I've learned. It's the LENS not the camera.It's way better to put an expensive lens on a cheap camera, rather than a expensive camera and a cheap lens. Buy the best lens you can afford, and then compromise on the camera (if you have to). Don't expect to see anything clearly unless you have a minimum of a 300mm lens (400 is better). "Point and shoot" cameras are ok for candid shots of you and your family - and maybe a lucky one or two animals. Remember, wild animals will occassionally pass close by, but the majority will keep they're distance. Digital or film, Canon or Nikon....whatever you choose put your money into a good telephoto/zoom lens. Good luck and enjoy.
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