Open v Closed

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Aug 4th, 2005, 02:57 AM
  #1
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Open v Closed

Safari vehicle types featured in a recent thread, but can anyone outline the history of closed vehicles in east Africa? I prefer open vehicles, all but standard in southern Africa but not so in Kenya and Tanzania. I've long wondered why, but can't get a definite answer.

Does it hark back to old safety regulations that closed vehicles (with roof hatches) are more favoured in east Africa, or is it more to do with one reason I've been given, that closed vehicles are more suited to long distance park-to-park travel because of dust and climatic conditions? That doesn't make much sense to me. Dust has never bothered me, even with expensive camera equipment, and it's always more of a problem anyway with stop-start game drives than it is with long-distance travel. Just about
every time you stop, a cloud of dust overtakes and envelopes the vehicle. As for wet weather, canvas canopies can be fitted quickly. Some say that for photography, poptops give you all round visibility, but that overlooks the fact that the best wildlife photos are taken at or close to eyeball level.

Everybody to their own, of course, but I love the low-slung open vehicles and the wind in my hair, without glass between you and the wildlife, and am very curious about why they are apparently in the minority in east Africa. About the only places I am tempted to go to in Tanzania are the wild southern and western parks and reserves...mainly because they use open vehicles.

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Aug 4th, 2005, 03:25 AM
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I'm curious about this as well (because the idea of being stuck in a pop-top is really unpleasant) and I did a little research. Apparently, according to Bradt's Kenya guide, the minibuses were introduced after Out of Africa resulted in a huge jump in interest in going on safari. They were a good way of coping with the sheer number of visitors, most of whom just wanted to take a tour and not get too close to the wildlife. They are supposedly retained for safety reasons now, though many safari operators feel that there isn't any safety advantage as long as people behave reasonably.

There are some camps (CC Africa) in East Africa that use open vehicles -- Kichwa Tembo (Mara) and Klein's Camp (Serengeti) come to mind.

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Julian
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Aug 4th, 2005, 05:04 AM
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When using the vehicle of a camp in Kenya there is usually a canvas canopy thatís opened to the sides and top. Unfortunately, the most common vehicle of safari companies that drive from park to park is a pop-top minibus.

Salaaam,
Susanna
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Aug 4th, 2005, 07:04 AM
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You are lucky if you have never encountered the dust problem in open vehicles! It may depend on weather, speed and road conditions too. I find the biggest problem isn't when you stop, but when you cross paths with another vehicle. If you encounter one going the other way--dust, impossible to avoid. If you overtake a vehicle, or one overtakes you--dust. Sometimes drivers stop and wait for the dust to settle before proceeding and that helps, but depending on traffic that doesn't always work.

However, I've also been in closed vehicles on really dusty roads in Namibia, and they are not always better. If any dust does manage to get in, it seems even worse than in an open vehicle. (Once I was in a private car, with air conditioning...but the vents must have been set on intake rather than just recirc. It was far worse than being in an open vehicle!)

Then again...I've been in Namibia with high winds, and that would have been horrific without a closed vehicle.

So I guess that if you are just driving around a reserve without much traffic, open vehicles win. If you are in a place with lots of other vehicles to kick up dust, or are going on longer overland trips where weather gets bad or where there is lots of traffic (relatively speaking) closed vehicles would win.

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Aug 4th, 2005, 01:33 PM
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bwanamitch
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afrigalah,

If you ever travel the Tsavo-Amboseli 'highway' in the dry season, or experience a sand storm in the Kalahari, I'm sure you would re-consider your definition of dust.

And have you ever sat in an open vehicle that goes 50 kmph and above for a longer time? Even with the thickest fleece your nicest smile will freeze after 20 minutes, this can be REALLY cold.

Overland travel in an open vehicle isn't an option, even in southern Africa. (I experienced the most uncomfortable drive of my whole life in Botswana!)

But you've guessed right, climatic conditions are another reason for closed vehicles in Kenya. Many areas of this country are located at higher (and cooler) altitudes: Nairobi 1600 m, Masai Mara 1500-2200 m - compare this with the 950 m of the Okavango Delta.

In Kenya, even open safari vehicles are a wonderful thing - as long as it doesn't rain. In the Delta, a downpour may be a nice refreshment and fun. In the Mara I have quite different feelings.

I remember a thunder storm in the Mara last year. I only closed the roof of my closed vehicle, and kept my photo equipment and me dry. This was different for the people in the CCAfrica vehicle next to me. Even with their rain ponchos and the canvas roof they didn't look happy, they reminded me more on frustrated wet dogs with their tails between their legs.

I share your affection for open vehicles. However, as an amateur photographer with large equipment I find closed vehicles much more practical. Besides the protection of your equipment against rain, the edges of the roof are a wonderful substitute for a tripod, and you can move much better in such a car (unless you have to share it with several other guests). Eyeball level for good images? Well, even in an open vehicle your camera is much higher than most game species.

I've visited Ruaha and Katavi in a closed vehicle, and I would do it again the same way. In Ruaha with its thick bush land you have a much better view if you stand under the roof of your closed vehicle. And in Katavi I enjoyed the better sun protection of such a roof.

As you said, everybody to their own.

Mitch

 
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Aug 4th, 2005, 05:06 PM
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You make some good points, Mitch. I've done an 8-hour point to point in northern Botswana in an open vehicle, and the only slight discomfort was the cold in the morning...but it was a slow trip because of the condition of the track and we encountered few if any other vehicles, so dust wasn't much of a problem. I've had more discomfort from the cold on night drives, standing up in the front and directing the spotlight so the driver can concentrate on the track.

In places and at times when extreme conditions are likely, I'd expect better protection from the elements myself. But most people don't go in extreme conditions. So the main answer to my question is probably just dust from other vehicles, as tashak indicates. The more crowded a place is, the worse the problem...hence closed vehicles will be more common.

I've used a beanbag on a roof in Kenya, and it was great, but there were far fewer shots close to eye level than with using a beanbag on the dash of a low open vehicle, my favourite possie. As well as giving a better angle more often, it's easier to handle a big lens and access other equipment on the seat beside you.
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Aug 4th, 2005, 05:27 PM
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afrigalah,

In open vehicles I use a Manfrotto Superclamp with a pan tilt head - fits on most cars and works even with the largest lenses.
www.manfrotto.com

Mitch
 
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Aug 4th, 2005, 08:22 PM
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Mitch, I settled for (and ended up being very pleased with) heavy beanbags provided by the camp because of the need to watch the weight of gear I take to Africa. I recently changed from a Canon 400/2.8 lens with extenders to the much lighter and later IS model 300/2.8, so the weight of my camera bags has gone down a fair bit. I have a couple of window mounts but they stay home in favour of a monopod and a tripod. The former is mainly for walking, the latter is used with a small medium format camera for landscapes.

What's your main equipment? I've remained old-fashioned and take only slides, while my wife is a keen sports action photographer and has been easily converted to digital...so she lugs wallets and laptop around. We both use EOS but while I'm on an old 1n backed up with an EOS5, she has a 1D mark 2 and a 10D.


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Aug 5th, 2005, 09:39 AM
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afrigalah,

Wonderful! I'm not alone! The first person I've met in this forum who still belongs to the same dinosaur species like me! (sorry kavey)

I'm only taking slides, too.

Here is my coming-out:

cameras:
2x Canon EOS-3/PB-E2 with Hand Strap E1 (you never loose it - even if your hands get wet)

lenses:
EF 17-35 for indoor shots
EF 28-135 for all standard shots
EF 100-400 with 1.4x Teleconverter for quick tele shots
EF 500 with 2x Teleconverter for the big ones

flash:
Speedlite 550EX with the 100-400 for night game drive shots

etc:
Manfrotto Superclamp MA035 with Pan Tilt Head MA141RC - fits on most open safari vehicles (I don't use a monopod/tripod because of weight restrictions during flights)
Lowepro Nature Trecker to carry the most important stuff (1 body and the flash are traveling in the checked luggage)

Mitch
 
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Aug 5th, 2005, 04:06 PM
  #10
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A nice assortment of equipment, Mitch. It's great to come across somebody here with as much interest in photography. I wouldn't have minded a digital person even.

I put the tripod and monopod in my check-in bag, and still travel light enough for it to fit under the usual safari limit. I love walking with the mono, I use it with both the 100-400 IS and 300/2.8 with extenders, and almost always with a flash unit (now a 580EX) on a bracket. It can also be handy in a vehicle. I'd hate to miss the occasional landscape opportunity, so the tripod just has to go in, too, even though I once swore I wouldn't bother.

Our only weight problems are with our camera gear, as the airlines are becoming increasingly sticky about the weight and size of cabin bags. So we're sharing our lenses this next trip (next week), and I've had to leave behind a macro lens with which I got a nice close up of a Kalahari sand snake on our last trip.

Your clamp sounds good. Have you tried the Manfrotto 322RC2 head? I have one because of its very low profile in a car window. I think it would go well with the clamp.
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Aug 5th, 2005, 04:33 PM
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Mitch,

Just curious...what percentage of your shots do you take with your camera mounted on the Manfrotto Superclamp.

In continuing my masquerade as a photographer, I just bought my first ballhead today, a Manfrotto 322RC2 Ballhead...just a coincidence that I see it just mentioned by Afrigalah.

I liked the control with this ballhead, by being able to basically "pull the trigger" to adjust the ballhead and lock it in place.
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Aug 5th, 2005, 04:47 PM
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afrigalah,

I havn't known the 322RC2 before - thank you for the info. This one looks really interesting, I think I will order it.

I switched to three-way heads after finding it too difficult to operate a ball head in a safari vehicle, especially with the 500 - I always wished I had three hands when positioning it. Now, the 322RC2 looks like a solution for this problem, with all the advantages of a ball head.

Yes, the weight problem! It already has a deep impact on my decision which airline to choose. Unfortunately I'm traveling solo and can't share the equipment. I've just bought a new vest with MANY pockets, just in case...

Mitch
 
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Aug 5th, 2005, 04:56 PM
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Rocco,

I use the Superclamp mainly with the 500, about 15-20% of my shots.

With the 100-400/1.4x combo I can go down to 1/60s (at maximum zoom) without using the clamp - thanks to the image stabilizer.

Mitch
 
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Aug 5th, 2005, 05:02 PM
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Mitch,

Do you just handhold your shots or do you use a monopod in the vehicle?
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Aug 5th, 2005, 05:09 PM
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Now, this is probably stupid to even ask, but would it be at all safe to get out of the vehicle to take photos of an elephant that is perhaps 10 meters away from a lying on the stomach position.

Probably no guide in his right mind would allow this, right? Plus, judging from the fact that last year while at Kaingo, when an elephant who had wandered into camp did a mock charge and I ran clear across the camp before looking back, I probably would not have the courage to do this. With all these new toys, however, I really want to make the most of them...but then again, I don't really want to get impaled by an elephant tusk...much rather get my head bit off by a hippo.
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Aug 5th, 2005, 05:31 PM
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Rocco,

The lens is more steady in my hand than on a monopod.

However, a monopod might be a good solution for your elephant shot. Buy a 3m cable release and lower the monopod with the camera from your seat to the ground...

Mitch
 
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Aug 5th, 2005, 05:54 PM
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I wouldn't try it even if a guide allowed it, and I'd be surprised if one did. One way it might be done would be to get out on the side away from the elephant and crawl under the vehicle. I've done similar to try to photograph zebra but the grass was too long and I couldn't see them. You'd have to worry about what else unseen was out there even if the elephant was perfectly relaxed. Being under a vehicle is no protection from lion.

It's very easy to miss seeing lion if there's a bit of bush around, no matter how careful you are. We once made a pit stop after the guide checked a location for safety, and all the men went behind bushes to the right hand side of the vehicle. If the one woman in the vehicle had wanted to go (she didn't), she would have gone to the left hand side. Another guide some distance away was watching through binoculars. He saw a lioness resting under bushes on the left hand side.
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Aug 5th, 2005, 07:52 PM
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I have similar equipment to you guys (sorry, all digital), 20d, 10d, 16-35, 70-200 2.8, 300 2.8, 1.4x and 2.0x and 28-135. The safari I'm contemplating this year is mostly camping and I understand several of the participants will be taking their tripods. I just calculated the weight of my tripod and accessories and it's around 10.5 lbs. It's a gitzo 1348, 1321 leveling base, arca swiss ballhead and a wimberley sidekick. Is that the type of tripods you are using? I've taken a monopod but didn't use it much.

I also travel solo and can't share the weight. Last year I didn't take the 28-135 and didn't really miss it but I think this year's trip will be different and don't know whether to take the 16-35 or the 28-135. Any thoughts?
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Aug 5th, 2005, 08:27 PM
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sundowner,

I use my 17-35 only for indoor shoots, or on the vehicle if I want some special 'game drive' images with guide and clients in the foreground.

The 28-135 is an all-round lens, I never would leave it at home.

Mitch
 
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Aug 5th, 2005, 08:51 PM
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I wouldn't be without my monopod. It's a Manfrotto 479-4B. I figure that the combination of IS and mono is the equivalent of a very sturdy tripod, so I use it all the time while walking and sometimes in a vehicle. My present tripod is a pretty basic and fairly light Manfrotto 190CL with a 141RC pan/tilt head because all it needs to bear is a small medium format camera. Looks funny, actually...like a pimple on a pumpkin. All up weight is about 2.5 kilos. Previously, when I had the monster 400/2.8, my tripod was the 075 model with a big ballhead, and there was no way that was going to Africa with me. That's when the heavy duty beanbag on the dash won me over.

I'd take the 16-35, especially if you're pretty serious about landscapes and other wide angle and portrait stuff, like camp shots. With your digital sensors, that lens still gives you a range of reasonably wide angle focal lengths. If that doesn't matter to you, take the 28-135, which effectively starts off as almost a standard focal length lens but still gives you some landscape scope. In fact, it's a bit like the 37mm equivalent focal length fixed lens on my little medium format, a Fuji GS645S. I'd like to be able to go wider, but that can wait. I just love the detail you get in 6 x 4.5 cm slides, so I've stopped using my 35mm Sigma 17-35 lens for landscapes for the time being.
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