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What's your ideal dSLR safari kit?

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Jan 1st, 2006, 11:34 AM
  #1
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What's your ideal dSLR safari kit?

Hello everyone,

I've been away from the board for some time now (not in Africa, unfortunately, just at work) so it's interesting to be back -- some things certainly haven't changed, like Rocco's ever-morphing Tanzania itinerary!

In the interim, I've converted to dSLR photography after doing a critical review of the pics from my last Botswana trip. I loved my FZ20, but I've clearly reached its technical limitations. I am now the proud owner of a Canon 20D and the following lenses:

Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS
Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6 IS
Canon 17-85 f/4-5.6 IS
Canon 1.4x TC

Yes, I'm aware that the first two are very similar, but the 70-300 is about 1/3 the weight of the 70-200, and makes a better walkaround lens. I may yet sell it if I become comfortable enough with handholding the 70-200, as the f/4 can be limiting when the f/2.8 would be fine. Any advice for additional lenses from more experienced dSLR photographers out there?

Naturally, I've bought a bunch of associated stuff, namely a Manfrotto monopod and quick-release head, monopod shoulder support, memory cards, and filters.

The one thing I haven't bought is a portable storage device. On my past trip, I used my iPod photo with great results -- I realise a lot of other people have said that the iPod is a pain for safari downloading (too slow, drains batteries, etc) but I've never had problems with it. However, my FZ20 used SD cards and the Canon uses CF cards, and the CF cards are supposed to transfer more slowly. I'm going to fill up a 1G CF card and see how long it takes and how much power it drains -- I'll let people know the results of the experiment.

Cheers,
Julian
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Jan 1st, 2006, 11:48 PM
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Julian,

I putzed around with my Canon 17-85mm f/4-5.6 lens for awhile but I have not touched it since I bought a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens about a month ago.

Although sports photography and wildlife photography is apples & oranges, here are the very first photos I took with the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens:

http://www.fightnews.com/robinett02.htm

The guide that I use when selecting my equipment is the Fred Miranda photography website. They have a section that is strictly for reviews submitted by their members of various equipment from lenses to camera bodies and more. Here, for example, is a review of the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens followed by a review of the Canon 17-85mm f/4-5.6 lens:

http://www.fredmiranda.com/reviews/s...&cat=43&page=1

http://www.fredmiranda.com/reviews/s...&cat=27&page=2

Personally, rather than bringing along both the Tamron 28-75mm and the Canon 17-85mm lens, I am thinking of adding an extra wide lens, such as a Canon EF-S 10-22 f/3.5-4.5 lens, reviewed here:

http://www.fredmiranda.com/reviews/s...&cat=27&page=2

It is a little pricey at about $650, but I do expect to have landscapes like I have never seen before in the Serengeti.

Another option, although not as wide as the Canon 10-22mm, would be the Sigma 15-30mm f/3.5-4.5 at about $500.

The highest rated wide lens that I found was this one, a Tamron 17-35mm f/2.8-4.0. It is about $450, but lacks the width of the Canon 10-22mm.

Just remember that 17mm is really the equivalent of a 27mm.

My arsenal next time around will likely be the following:

Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5
Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8
Sigma 70-200 f/2.8
Sigma 80-400 f/4.5-5.6 OS (same as IS)
Sigma 1.4x teleconvertor
Sigma 2.0x teleconvertor

The one lens I wish I could afford that will probably have to wait is the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8. It seems like a great lens but is about $1,800. I don't feel like my photography is ready to invest in any more expensive a lens than this.

I don't see any camera body out there that appeals to me more than a Canon 20d. At 5 frames per second and the burst mode that allows so many consecutive photos with the 1.6x magnification factor, I wouldn't pay more money to upgrade to any of the other current Canon DSLR's.

For your lineup, I would suggest that you consider also adding a Canon 2x TC. This will allow you to use your Canon 70-200 f2.8 as a 140-400mm and with the 1.6x magnification factor of the Canon 20d, you are looking at a maximum of 640mm at f/5.6. Compare this to using the 1.4x TC on your 70-300 lens and you are looking at a maximum 672mm but at an f/stop higher.

Plus, although you will likely have to manual focus, if you were to use the 2x TC with the 70-300mm lens, then you are looking at a maximum of 960mm, albeit at a pretty high f/stop. You should be able to still get some good photos in mid-day light. I slapped the 1.4x TC on my 80-400mm lens and was able to get some good birding photos, as well as capture a leopard high in a tree that was barely visible to the naked eye.

There are really so many possibilities of lineups with the lenses. You have a pretty strong lineup but your best addition would probably be a faster short zoom lens.
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Jan 2nd, 2006, 12:38 AM
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Happy New Year All,
For my next safari, Sept 2006, I will be taking a Nikon D200 DSLR and the Nikon zoom 18-200 VR (24-300 35mm equiv) lense. (This assuming the D200, released mid Dec, proves out to be as expected). D200 goes for around $1,700 and the 18-200 VR lense for around $700. I just can't wait to get an optical SLR type view finder (OVF, optical view finder). The EVF on NON DSLR cameras has seriously aggravated me since I started using digital after film 35mm. OTOH, my wife is just peachy happy with her Canon S2 and its EVF.
Regards - Tom
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Jan 2nd, 2006, 01:00 AM
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My essential piece of equipment (along with my Pentax *ist D, sigma 2x conv, 70-200 f2.8 and spare film body (you never know)) is the bean bag my mother made for me!

Made from a flecktarn camoflage shirt... two pockets... each will take about 1.5 kg of rice. The rice is bought at destination, thus saving on weight and luggage space. The rice is also loaded into two heavy duty freezer bags and taped before loading which makes them easier to remove, and you dont leave a trail of rice.

Best item I have for Safari!
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Jan 2nd, 2006, 03:57 AM
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Hello,

Like Rocco, I use the reviews on fredmiranda.com as a guide -- they've been very reliable. Fredmiranda is also a great source for gently used lenses, filters, etc.

I'll take a look at some of the lenses you mentioned. I got spoiled by the IS on my old Panasonic FZ20, so I strongly prefer IS lenses to non-IS lenses, but a faster wide-angle zoom is tempting and the reviews for the Canon 10-22 are certainly strong. I'm looking forward to seeing your landscapes from your Tanzania trip, Rocco, though I may hold off buying a UWA until I finally make it to East Africa!

Unfortunately, the 1.4x and 2x TCs don't work on the 70-300 (one glaring flaw in an otherwise great lens). I'll see if I can borrow a 2x TC and try it out with the 70-200.

Pumbavu, thanks for the advice on a DIY beanbag. I've been planning on making one, but wasn't quite sure how to go about it. I've never understood why people pay $30-40 for a pre-filled beanbag which then takes up space (and more important, weight) in their luggage.

Cheers,
Julian
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Jan 2nd, 2006, 06:35 AM
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Julian, it looks like you are set to go! Congrats on your new camera and lenses! The 70-200 is an outstanding, dream lens. The only additional items I would recommend have already been mentioned.

One is the 2.0 teleconverter. I used the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 in Botswana in October (as well as a Canon 300 f/2.8) and I had the 1.4x and the 2.0x on both cameras nearly the whole time. If I had taken two 2.0 tcís, that is what would have been on both cameras most of the time.

The other item I didnít see mentioned in your list is a 2nd camera body. I would hesitate to make a trip without a 2nd camera. On my trip, one of the photographers had a problem with his main lens and he was pretty disappointed. He did have another lens but it didnít have the reach of the long lens. He finally got it working on some of the settings and he was afraid to mess with it too much in case it quit working altogether again. Bummer. Having my only camera malfunction would be beyond a bummer!

I donít know if you saw the pics from my trip but they were all taken with the two lenses above and a 20D and a 10D. http://www.pbase.com/cjw/botswana_africa_2005&page=all
The malachite kingfisher was taken with the 300 lens with both teleconverters at the same time. You can use both tc's on the 70-200 if your camera is real stable (I used the back of one of those plastic lawn chairs to brace with on the kingfisher shot). Both tc's on the 70-200 will give you an effective focal distance of 896mm. I'm pretty sure the auto-focus still works with both tc's. It did on the 300.

Also, if you or anyone else need more flash cards or sd cards, newegg.com has them on sale right now. You can get the 2gb cards for around $100 +/-, depending on the brand. I have purchased several items from them and they are very prompt and reliable.

Practice and learn the settings on the camera and you should have some great images! Be sure you know how to change the ISO settings. You can get pictures until dark with that camera/lens setup. The 17-85 will be a good walking around lens for people, camp shots etc. Once you figure out your storage, you are good to go!
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Jan 2nd, 2006, 10:53 AM
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I agree with Sundowner about the second camera body. Imagine having all those great lenses and then the camera body malfunctions? Ouch.

It is a lot of gear, especially for a single traveller, but you that you have gone the DSLR route, you must make it work. If I were travelling solo, I would probably have to leave behind my 80-400mm lens and just work with my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and 1.4x TC and 2.0x TC. While this would not be the end of the world by any means, I would end up missing a few otherwise attainable birding photos and photos of wildlife from very long distance. Now that I understand shutter speed a little bit better, I think I will be a much better shooter at the longer zoom distances, even if I have to put my shutter speed on 1/1000th of a second or higher. If the lighting is appropriate I know I will get the shot.
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Jan 2nd, 2006, 11:11 AM
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Rocco

I am sorry but I cant follow your argumentation.
You have a 70-200 f2.8 and a 80-400 f5,6 with OS and you prefer to use the 70-200 with a teleconverter!
With the 2x teleconverter the 70-200 is as slow (or fast) as the 80-400. Picture quality has detiriorated with the TC and you have no OS. What is the benefit.
In real life your 80-400 mm is as fast as the 70-200 mm as the OS will give you the equivalent of about 3 stops. This will allow you to use a shutter speed of 1/125 instead of 1/1000! I am quite comfortable using 1/125 at 400mm.
Personally I am using a Canon EOS 20d
with a 100-400mm 4,5-5,6 IS L from Canon and a Sigma 24-70 f2.8
Canon EOS 10d as back-up.
Michael
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Jan 2nd, 2006, 11:46 AM
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Michael,

I may have misstated myself or I was misunderstood.

The 2x teleconvertor is not for the 70-200 f/2.8 lens but rather for Julian's 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 lens or my own 80-400 f/4.5-5.6 lens. Although the autofocus disables itself when I combine a TC with it, I am able to manually focus and get incredible zoom. I was able to capture some nice owl and vulture photos as well as a leopard of particular significance who I witnessed making a kill the previous day but that was too far away for a photo the next day with anything less than my 80-400mm lens combined with my 1.4x tc.
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Jan 2nd, 2006, 11:57 AM
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Jasher...I just started using my new Canon digital Rebel XT and will be going to East Africa in June. I also just bought the new ipod video and camera adaptor. So far I've only downloaded small groups of pics and it does seem a bit slow, even on a USB2 hookup. I"m really interested in how you do with a whole 1 gig cf card.
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Jan 2nd, 2006, 01:17 PM
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Hello,

I've been debating the second camera body -- should I get another 20D, or a 350D? Or go with the one body I have? Or use my old FZ20 as a backup? I've always travelled with only one camera before, and nothing has ever gone wrong, but with Murphy's Law...

Right now my camera bag, with all my lenses and other kit onboard, weighs in at almost exactly 6kg. Adding any more kit will put me over the limit (I'm flying to Joburg on a Virgin 'bump' certificate, which while being unfortunately non-upgradeable was also free). On the other hand, there is always the tried and tested Rocco Vest Method...and my old safari jacket has lots of pockets.

Cheers,
Julian
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Jan 2nd, 2006, 01:41 PM
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Julian,

Just pay attention to the shutter speed and the ISO capabilities when choosing your second camera body.

I took these photos entirely at ISO 800, shooting at f/2.8 with my Tamron 28-75mm lens.

While these are sports photos, what is significant is the lighting conditions and the ability to shoot comfortably at ISO 800 (and even 1600) with the Canon 20d. The Canon 350 and the Panasonic FZ20 will not be able to achieve the same results in low light conditions.

I don't know what the frames per second is on the Canon 350 or the Panasonic FZ20, but on the Canon 20d it is 5 frames per second.
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Jan 2nd, 2006, 01:42 PM
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here is that link with the ISO 800 at f/2.8 results:

http://www.fightnews.com/leon02.htm
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Jan 2nd, 2006, 02:17 PM
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Hi Rocco,

There's no denying that in terms of quality the 20D wins hands down -- but in terms of weight and expense the other two have their pluses. I'm thinking of the second body mostly as a backup in case something goes terribly wrong rather than as a full-time adjunct camera. How much did you use your second body on your trip to Zambia?

Cheers,
Julian
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Jan 2nd, 2006, 03:04 PM
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Julian,

I took about 75% of my photos with one body and 25% of my photos with the other body. It was really dusty on the game drives and I rarely changed lenses on the game drives.

The majority of the time I had my Sigma 80-400mm on one body, while keeping the 17-85mm lens on the other body. However, in the Sabi Sand, I switched from the 80-400mm lens to the 70-200 f/2.8 lens, sometimes with the 1.4x teleconvertor and sometimes without it. Using the 1.4x tc got me to an effective 157-448mm f/4 lens.

Even to my boxing events, I always take both camera bodies, one with the Tamron 28-75mm lens and another with the 70-200mm lens that is only useful for extreme closeups when the fighters are on the opposite side of the ring.

Going through some of my photos from my last safari, there are a few that are ruined because of dust/debris on the sensor, and this despite the fact that I was very careful about changing my lenses and cleaning my sensor. It would have been far worse if I was working with a single camera body and changing lenses more often than I did.

Given the cost of the lodges you visit, I would advise that the difference in cost between the Canon 350 and the Canon 20d is minimal. What is the difference, about $400 USD, or 8 hours at Mombo, if you will?

Given that you would really like to advance your photography, I would say that the Canon 20d is not a hard choice as your backup body.
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Jan 2nd, 2006, 04:31 PM
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Ah, but Rocco, what about the 30D...?

Cheers,
Julian
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Jan 2nd, 2006, 05:29 PM
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Julian,

I am wondering if the 30d is the same as what is being marketed as the 5d over here. If so, I don't like it.

Yes, it is 12+ Megapixel, but it is also full frame, taking away my zoom abilities, all at a slower frames per second...5 fps for the 20d vs. a snail-like 3 fps for the 5d. Have a look at the comparison:

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/canoneos5d/

There is not a single Canon body out there right now, for the money, for which I would consider "upgrading" my 20d's.
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Jan 2nd, 2006, 07:21 PM
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Hey Jasher,

Go DSLR!!!!

You can see my photos at http://individual.utoronto.ca/ltaylor/

My setup was:

Canon XT
Canon 100-400 IS
Canon 70-200 2.8 IS
Canon 85mm 1.8 (not used)
Canon 50mm 1.4 (sometimes)
Sigma 30mm 1.4 (love this lens)
Sigma 10-20mm

Most of my shots are with the 100-400mm, except gorilla which are all with 70-200 and some more wide angles with the 30mm and 10-20mm.

Just wanted to throw a few things out. First, if you want to go wide angle, the sigma is a reasonably priced alternative. I find it hard getting a really good ultrawide shot because I find you need something in the foreground to grab attention while still having an uncluttered nearly 180 degrees background. I would say that your 17mm is probably wide enough unless you feel constrained by it.

As for two bodies, it you can afford it, it should be the next thing on your list. I didn't and had no problems but its not ideal, I did have to change lens several times and a safari jeep is not an ideal place to do that by far. I do think Rocco might be a little too disparaging of the XT in low light, it is newer that the 20D with an almost identical sensor and I would argue the noise characteristics are nearly identical. (Yes, 20D has the 3200 mode, but you can get essentially the same results on the XT by underexposing). Maybe Rocco was alluding to focus issues in low light? I think the major difference (other than specs like the faster continuous shooting speed) is the improved focus of the 20D. It has more focus points for easier composition and also has a more accurate center focus point which is great for portraits wide open (like using my 50mm 1.4). That is the only thing I miss on my XT. But I don't think that has a lot of low light importance - on Safari you are shooting reasonably long, like 200mm, so if there is enough light to beat motion blur, there is enough light to focus.

If I was going with two bodies and your set up I would consider selling the 70-300 and going with the 100-400 or the 300 IS (your 1.4 gives that extra reach). Extra reach is always desirable!!!

As for storage, I sing the praises of the little OTG laptop hardrive enclosures (search ebay for item 7577525676 - laptop harddrive + CF card reader extra). They are so cheap and small that you can buy two for roughly the cost of a similar backup device at a photo store, but you do need a little bit of tech comfort. That said, I found that a 2GB main card with a 1GB backup got me through every drive and so if you ipod works and the speed is bearable, you could plan on getting a little more compact flash storage and not worrying about downloading in the field.

Finally, the best advice you have already received. Get a good beanbag of sturdy fabric and practice shooting in less than perfect lighting conditions. Its important to see how motion blur and shutter speed relate at the long end of your zooms so that you will know in the field how far down in shutter speed you can go before bumping up the ISO. I found myself working with the rule that my IS gave me 1-1.5 free stops (so at 640mm equivalent, I would shoot at 1/320-1/200 at worst). Theoretically I could have maybe gone another stop or even a bit more but I hadn't tested out the lenses enough at that stress point so I was afraid of losing a shot to motion blur. Maybe with the beanbag I could have gone down to 1/100 or 1/60 and still hit most of my shots - I don't know.
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Jan 2nd, 2006, 07:47 PM
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WOW, sunny days - your gorilla shots are awesome! Thanks for posting a link. I really enjoyed them!
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Jan 3rd, 2006, 12:41 AM
  #20
mv
 
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Rocco

if you check the reviews at dpreview you will find that in terms of picture quaslity there is very litlle difference between the 20d and the 350d.
Iso/noise performance is so similar that you and I will not be able to see the difference.
The idea of a backup camera is to have something just in case. I dont see a need for my backup camera to be identical to my main camera as long as it can take good quality pictures just in case and the 350d can do just that.
In terms of the 5d. Yes it is full frame and you do not get the crop factor but you get 12+ Mega pixels!!.
If you want to maximise your zoom capabilities you crop the picture in photoshop and surprise surprise. Your 400 mm becomes 640 mm at 8 Megapixel just like the 20d!!
Yes the 5d is "only" 3 frames per second but how often do you need this for wildlife. At 3 or 5 pictures per second you do not control the picture you can just hope for what the animals will be doing during that split second.
During my last safaris I have only been using this 2 to 3 times pr safari

Michael
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