New Photographer, First Safari

Old Jun 14th, 2024, 07:10 PM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2024
Posts: 9
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
New Photographer, First Safari

I'm really excited to get some great wildlife photos while on safari in Tanzania, wondering what lens length is best as I have no idea how close/far away the animals are likely to be. 200/400/600? Thanks for any photgraphy-related advice you have to share about safaris!
andreascheuerman6900 is offline  
Old Jun 15th, 2024, 07:32 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,473
Received 79 Likes on 8 Posts
Welcome to Fodor's!

There's no one answer to your question because you're likely to see wildlife both at very close range and at considerable distance. In addition, while not knowing the details of your safari - such as will you be doing game drives in Land Rovers or similar, and will they take place mid-day vs. morning or evening - flexibility is a key.

So my answer would be a camera or lens with a wide zoom range - wide angle to fairly long telephoto. I recommend a zoom lens rather than multiple fixed focal length ones because you often won't have time to fumble with changing lenses before the animal disappears into the brush. A zoom solves that problem.

Another important factor is the accuracy and speed of your camera's autofocus system. Often safari outings take place in low light, so having fast and reliable autofocus is crucial. As with focal length, time is of the essence.

One last thing is that most current cameras, even those in phones, have sensors that are capable of pretty high resolution - 10mp or more. With that level of detail, you can enlarge and crop many images in post-processing to a degree that allows you to post or print quite acceptable-looking results. So even if you don't have time to zoom in as if you're using a 400mm lens, you can blow up and crop a 100mm image to look like one that's twice as close. It can be useful in making a picture quite dramatic, such as this head shot of a leopard taken in South Africa some years ago. I wasn't as close as the image suggests. Thankfully.



Hope your trip is successful. Fair warning - Africa is addictive.
Gardyloo is online now  
Old Jun 15th, 2024, 10:34 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 73,216
Likes: 0
Received 50 Likes on 7 Posts
OMG - what a gorgeous photo! I know you weren't 'close', but just how close were you??
janisj is online now  
Old Jun 15th, 2024, 10:54 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,473
Received 79 Likes on 8 Posts
Originally Posted by janisj
OMG - what a gorgeous photo! I know you weren't 'close', but just how close were you??
Maybe 30 feet?

Last edited by Gardyloo; Jun 15th, 2024 at 10:56 AM.
Gardyloo is online now  
Old Jun 16th, 2024, 06:44 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 336
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Originally Posted by andreascheuerman6900
I'm really excited to get some great wildlife photos while on safari in Tanzania, wondering what lens length is best as I have no idea how close/far away the animals are likely to be. 200/400/600? Thanks for any photgraphy-related advice you have to share about safaris!
By new photographer, do you mean you've never used a dSLR before and you're planning on buying one and some fancy lenses for your safari? If this is what you're contemplating... don't even bother unless you're willing to put in the time to learn the basic principles of photography (buy a book / read online courses / watch videos), learn how your camera works, and practice using it at home. If you've got several months before your safari, start now. Protip: your local dog park is a perfect place to practice shooting wildlife.
LAX_Esq is offline  
Old Jun 17th, 2024, 09:55 AM
  #6  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2024
Posts: 9
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks, appreciate the advice. I have a little more experience than that, actually took a full college semester of photography in anticipation of this trip. We've been doing lots of zoo and local wildlife photography in preparation. Really looking to understand if my 100-600 zoom is overkill because the animals will be much closer. I know it's impossible to predict but would love to hear what other photographers are using for most of their safari shots.
andreascheuerman6900 is offline  
Old Jun 17th, 2024, 09:57 AM
  #7  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2024
Posts: 9
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks so much for sharing your advice and this amazing shot! Curious what lens you use the most on your safaris?
andreascheuerman6900 is offline  
Old Jun 17th, 2024, 10:11 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 336
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Originally Posted by andreascheuerman6900
Thanks, appreciate the advice. I have a little more experience than that, actually took a full college semester of photography in anticipation of this trip. We've been doing lots of zoo and local wildlife photography in preparation. Really looking to understand if my 100-600 zoom is overkill because the animals will be much closer. I know it's impossible to predict but would love to hear what other photographers are using for most of their safari shots.
Originally Posted by andreascheuerman6900
Thanks so much for sharing your advice and this amazing shot! Curious what lens you use the most on your safaris?

Perfect that you're doing zoo and local animal photography for training! There are plenty of people who show up on safaris with dSLRs they've never used before and have no clue what to do with them. They'd be better off with an iPhone.

The most ubiquitous safari lens is the Canon 100-400, which I've used on two safaris. 400 is very nice to have and you definitely don't want less range than 400. Is 600 overkill? I don't think so. I don't think 600 is necessary, but if you already have that lens, you'll make good use of that long range. I'd say 600 vs 400 will mainly make a difference for birds. Even at 400, you have to be very, very close to a bird to fill the entire frame up with him.

You definitely need a second lens -- something wide for landscape scenes. You want to be able to cover a lot of that 18-100 range that you're missing with the telephoto lens. And you'll need to learn how to switch lenses quickly and safely (i.e., inside a ziplock bag without getting any dust inside your gear). Lots of great safari pics are not close-ups. You don't just want a gallery of close-ups (remember, that amazing leopard head close-up you thought you scored on could equally be from a zoo); you want pics showing overall scenes or groups of animals together, with pretty backgrounds or telling interesting stores. For example, if you show up to a watering hole with 100 zebras drinking with their reflections beautifully in the water, 100 is going to be way too much zoom.

Short answer is you should have a minimum of two lenses for safari -- something wide and something telephoto.

Last edited by LAX_Esq; Jun 17th, 2024 at 10:13 AM.
LAX_Esq is offline  
Old Jun 17th, 2024, 06:39 PM
  #9  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2024
Posts: 9
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Originally Posted by LAX_Esq
Perfect that you're doing zoo and local animal photography for training! There are plenty of people who show up on safaris with dSLRs they've never used before and have no clue what to do with them. They'd be better off with an iPhone.

The most ubiquitous safari lens is the Canon 100-400, which I've used on two safaris. 400 is very nice to have and you definitely don't want less range than 400. Is 600 overkill? I don't think so. I don't think 600 is necessary, but if you already have that lens, you'll make good use of that long range. I'd say 600 vs 400 will mainly make a difference for birds. Even at 400, you have to be very, very close to a bird to fill the entire frame up with him.

You definitely need a second lens -- something wide for landscape scenes. You want to be able to cover a lot of that 18-100 range that you're missing with the telephoto lens. And you'll need to learn how to switch lenses quickly and safely (i.e., inside a ziplock bag without getting any dust inside your gear). Lots of great safari pics are not close-ups. You don't just want a gallery of close-ups (remember, that amazing leopard head close-up you thought you scored on could equally be from a zoo); you want pics showing overall scenes or groups of animals together, with pretty backgrounds or telling interesting stores. For example, if you show up to a watering hole with 100 zebras drinking with their reflections beautifully in the water, 100 is going to be way too much zoom.

Short answer is you should have a minimum of two lenses for safari -- something wide and something telephoto.
Thank you for the great advice!
andreascheuerman6900 is offline  
Old Jun 18th, 2024, 05:06 AM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 8,005
Received 1 Like on 1 Post
A side tip: If you will use more than one lens, practice changing lenses at home in a dust-free environment. When you have the process down pat, you will not be fumbling or (heaven forbid) dropping a lens on safari.
AJPeabody is online now  
Old Jun 18th, 2024, 07:13 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,473
Received 79 Likes on 8 Posts
Originally Posted by LAX_Esq
Short answer is you should have a minimum of two lenses for safari -- something wide and something telephoto.
Well I'm going to disagree respectfully.

I've just gone through the EXIF data on some of my safari pictures (out of thousands) and a very back-of-the-envelope audit reveals that roughly half were taken with lens settings reflecting normal or wide-angle ranges. In looking at the sequences, in many cases a wide shot took place between two telephoto shots, or vice versa, with time stamps clearly showing there wouldn't have been time to switch lenses between those shots. Fortunately, I was using a zoom with a pretty wide range - 35mm to 400mm equivalent - so no lens changing was necessary, just crank the zoom and let the autofocus handle the sharpness while I could concentrate on the composition.

Sometimes you need to do "grab shots" because the image is going to disappear in seconds; a wide angle is usually better for some of these because you can always blow up the key elements in post processing. For example, this picture that I grabbed always reminds me of the T-Rex chase scene from Jurassic Park - objects in mirror are closer than they appear.



A lot has to do with what you plan to do with the images once they're captured. Photo album or printed and framed? Online posting or sharing? Roadside billboard? I mean, it's great if a colossal zoom can allow you to count the nose hairs in a lion, but how often are you going want to count them? Note this is just personal musing; everyone is different. What I found was that NOT having to concentrate on fiddling with the camera or lenses meant I could pay more attention to the whole scene and experience. These moments are so incredibly memorable and life-changing that it's worth - to me, anyway - all the extra seconds you can spare to let them sink in.

Happy snapping and happy planning!

Gardyloo is online now  
Old Jun 18th, 2024, 07:22 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 336
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Originally Posted by Gardyloo
Well I'm going to disagree respectfully.

I've just gone through the EXIF data on some of my safari pictures (out of thousands) and a very back-of-the-envelope audit reveals that roughly half were taken with lens settings reflecting normal or wide-angle ranges. In looking at the sequences, in many cases a wide shot took place between two telephoto shots, or vice versa, with time stamps clearly showing there wouldn't have been time to switch lenses between those shots. Fortunately, I was using a zoom with a pretty wide range - 35mm to 400mm equivalent - so no lens changing was necessary, just crank the zoom and let the autofocus handle the sharpness while I could concentrate on the composition.
I really don't think we're really disagreeing. Your having one lens with 35-400 allowed you to capture both wide and telephoto shots. OP's 100-600 lens isn't going to allow that same luxury. You're totally correct that switching lenses wastes time and could cause you to miss out on shots. But OP's 100-600 just isn't going to cut it as the only lens.
LAX_Esq is offline  
Old Jun 18th, 2024, 07:34 AM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,473
Received 79 Likes on 8 Posts
Originally Posted by LAX_Esq
I really don't think we're really disagreeing. Your having one lens with 35-400 allowed you to capture both wide and telephoto shots. OP's 100-600 lens isn't going to allow that same luxury. You're totally correct that switching lenses wastes time and could cause you to miss out on shots. But OP's 100-600 just isn't going to cut it as the only lens.
We don't know if the 100-600mm lens is the only one the OP owns. I guess my suggestion would be that if the purchase of second lens is being contemplated, then maybe looking for a decent wide > tele zoom might be the smartest move, rather than a dedicated wide lens.

I bought a Tamron 18-400mm zoom for my Nikon DSLR (back before I downsized from DSLRs to a Lumix bridge camera with which I've been super pleased, as has my wallet) and the Tamron zoom became my default lens for all sorts of travel. It's not the sharpest or fastest lens in the pack, but it was affordable and gave me plenty of good images to play with in post. You can get a used one for under $400 or $500, which might be an alternative for the OP.
Gardyloo is online now  
Old Jun 18th, 2024, 07:41 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 336
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Originally Posted by Gardyloo
We don't know if the 100-600mm lens is the only one the OP owns. I guess my suggestion would be that if the purchase of second lens is being contemplated, then maybe looking for a decent wide > tele zoom might be the smartest move, rather than a dedicated wide lens.

I bought a Tamron 18-400mm zoom for my Nikon DSLR (back before I downsized from DSLRs to a Lumix bridge camera with which I've been super pleased, as has my wallet) and the Tamron zoom became my default lens for all sorts of travel. It's not the sharpest or fastest lens in the pack, but it was affordable and gave me plenty of good images to play with in post. You can get a used one for under $400 or $500, which might be an alternative for the OP.
Agree with all of this. Without knowing that OP already owns, it's a bit silly to speculate... but one additional option is a second body. If OP already has a 100-600, instead of spending $400-500 on a Tamron 18-400, putting that same $400-500 toward a used second body to put a wide lens on could be an option. I used two bodies on my second safari but not my first, and it's a huge luxury. But if OP is new-ish to photography, messing around with two bodies may not be recommended.
LAX_Esq is offline  
Old Jun 18th, 2024, 08:49 AM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 550
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Please consider two cameras. One with the shorter focal lengths and one with the longer one. This way, you won't have to change lenses. And if the unthinkable happens and your camera is damaged or fails to work, you'll have back up. I'd never travel that far without two cameras and I've been on safari many times. In Tanz, you'll want the reach, even for larger animals that are in the distance. Just remember that there will be atmospheric distortion at those longer lengths, especially midday.
Rocket79 is offline  
Old Jun 18th, 2024, 11:12 AM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 7,780
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Do they still sell those 'rings' (my word), those lens-extending converter thingies that doubled lens capability? We never bought one but were aware of them back in the day. Camera shop salesmen were forever tryna convince us to buy them for African trips. Our concern was the slightly fuzzy results that they seemed to produce, plus the added emphasis needed on holding your camera perfectly still.
Andrea, I've never used more than one lens while on safari. Ditto my camera tutor wife.
My tip: Tripods and monopods are the gold standard of course, BUT one can also consider bringing instead a simple beanbag to rest the camera on. Decent results.

I am done. the shed black mamba skin mere inches in front of your tent entry
zebec is offline  
Old Jun 18th, 2024, 12:27 PM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,473
Received 79 Likes on 8 Posts
Originally Posted by zebec
I am done. the shed black mamba skin mere inches in front of your tent entry
Here's the skin of a Mozambique Spitting Cobra that was curled around a potted plant in front of our rondavel at Ezulwini. It's still occupied by the former cobra, by the way, dispatched by a housekeeper's broom.


Gardyloo is online now  
Old Jun 18th, 2024, 05:30 PM
  #18  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2024
Posts: 9
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thank you for the great advice! Your point is well-taken about counting nose hairs; I'm not looking to get published or print a poster, although it's fun to dream. We have a variety of people with us with multiple lenses and we'll pool photos so I'm hoping to be able to enjoy the ride and not fuss with lens changes. And, I love your mirror photo! Although seeing they are so close is what makes me question using my longer lens as primary.
andreascheuerman6900 is offline  
Old Jun 18th, 2024, 05:32 PM
  #19  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2024
Posts: 9
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks for the feedback, that was my original concern. I do have shorter lenses, my fear that the animals would be very far away is what led me to committing to the longer lens. We have multiple days, so hopefully after the first one or two, I'll find the lens that works best for me!
andreascheuerman6900 is offline  
Old Jun 18th, 2024, 05:33 PM
  #20  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2024
Posts: 9
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Originally Posted by zebec
Do they still sell those 'rings' (my word), those lens-extending converter thingies that doubled lens capability? We never bought one but were aware of them back in the day. Camera shop salesmen were forever tryna convince us to buy them for African trips. Our concern was the slightly fuzzy results that they seemed to produce, plus the added emphasis needed on holding your camera perfectly still.
Andrea, I've never used more than one lens while on safari. Ditto my camera tutor wife.
My tip: Tripods and monopods are the gold standard of course, BUT one can also consider bringing instead a simple beanbag to rest the camera on. Decent results.

I am done. the shed black mamba skin mere inches in front of your tent entry
That mamba skin freaked me out a little bit, too! We've got bean bags, thanks for the reminder!
andreascheuerman6900 is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Manage Preferences Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Your Privacy Choices -