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What type of Camera/Equipment to take on an African Safari?

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May 21st, 2012, 02:26 PM
  #1
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What type of Camera/Equipment to take on an African Safari?

This is going to be my first trip to South Africa/Botswana and my first Safari. I travel a lot and have taken wonderful photos without really having taken any formal photography course. However, heading into the Safari, I feel I should invest in a new camera. What should I really look for when making this big purchase. Give me your favorite camera's and instructions. Thanks much.
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May 21st, 2012, 04:00 PM
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Get something with at least a 10x zoom. I love Canon Powershots. You don't have long to get used to it, so you should probably go to a camera shop that lets you really handle the merchandise. I also like to have a real view finder...but that's just me.
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May 21st, 2012, 04:44 PM
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For our safari in Tanzania in December my daughter got a Panasonic DMC-FZ150 which has a 24x zoom. Her photos were better than the ones from digital SLR's with long lenses.(I just got the Panasonic for Mother's day. I had terrible camera envy.) She got her camera on the first safari day brought by a friend...no time to practice in advance.
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May 21st, 2012, 07:58 PM
  #4
TC
 
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Here is what I took on safari to Tanzania. It was a good combination for a serious amateur. My photos are posted at www.tonna.zenfolio.com. I like the speed of this camera for fast, sharp exposures. Very good for capturing birds or animals on the move. Also like that I can use standard batteries...no worries about chargers. A good Polorizing filter is an excellent investment. Take a lot more memory than you think you'll need. You will shoot thousands of images.


Pentax, K-X, SLR Digital Camera
Pentax-DA, 55-300mm zoom lens
Pentax-DA,  18-55mm zoom lens

Enjoy!
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May 22nd, 2012, 06:25 AM
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>> Her photos were better than the ones from digital SLR's with long lenses.

Only possible if that DSLR is used by someone who does not know how to operate it. I have yet to come across the first point 'n shoot cam that delivers better JPG results out of the box than the RAW results of a DSLR.
I'm not even talking about situations with less than full daylight, because any PnS cam quickly bites the dust then. Or they have to use flash (awful, and a no no for lots of animals).

Having said that; I encountered plenty of people by now, with DSLR equipement 5 times more expensive than mine, that do not know how to use it. One time, on a night safari, with a static ingwe 3 meters away from the vehicle, I literally snapped a brand new 1D mk3 out of the hands of the guy behind me, changed the settings and gave it back. That was after hearing his shutter go klick-klack with 2 secs interval.

So my advise would be; only go for DSLR if you know how to work with it. Don't leave on a safari with gear you do not know and/or have not tested.

Ciao,

J.
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May 22nd, 2012, 06:39 AM
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One piece of advice I picked up here is to visit a zoo before you go and practice shooting animals.
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May 23rd, 2012, 07:55 AM
  #7
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Could not agree more wholeheartedly with the advice of practice before you go. My first safari (back in the day of film) was taken with a brand new camera. I didn't understand all the settings and consequently found the date stamped on every one of my beautiful images when they were developed. Luckily digital allows us to see some of our mistakes on the fly and redo, but it's never wise to entrust such an amazing opportunity to luck. Practice, practice, practice.

Happily, most of the DSLR cameras will take very good photos if you just set them on "auto" and let the wise camera do its thing. Most of my Africa photos were shot using the auto setting on the Pentax. They will shoot raw or jpeg and can easily be tweaked with a little Photoshopping if needed.

And whatever else....don't forget to take the operating manual along!
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May 23rd, 2012, 09:55 AM
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>> Happily, most of the DSLR cameras will take very good photos if you just set them on "auto" and let the wise camera do its thing.

Oh no no no no.

Sorry, but that is the worst advise ever when it comes to safari photography.

Light conditions are far from ideal. If I use a typical safari in private lodges as an example (morning, afternoon and night gamedrive):

- the first 1,5 hours in the morning; not enough light
- the last hour in the afternoon; idem
- night gamedrive; just a spotlight on an animal that rarely sits still.

In total, the above situations account to more than half the time you spend on game drives.

The minimum you need to know is:

- how to work in aperture priority, and how to trade depth of field for shutter speed.

- what object needs what aperture at what distance and at what shutter speed, so you can get it on the pic without blur and completely within focus.

- how to use ISO to further increase shutter speeds in low light conditions

- how to use exposure compensation to negate the burned out areas you get from the spotlight.

I know I'll sound like Captain obvious, but your camera's auto setting does none of this.

B.regs,

J.
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May 23rd, 2012, 10:28 AM
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I've taken both higher-end P&S and DSLRs on safari, and have a couple of thoughts.

First, KISS. (For those unfamiliar, "keep it simple, stupid.") The last thing you want to be faced with on safari is trying to adjust the autofocus settings, futz around with settings you haven't used before (or, more likely, haven't practiced) or similar things. You want the camera to be an extension of your eyes, not the Hubble Telescope.

Second, long zooms are fine, but they come at a price in terms of light sensitivity or "f-stop." If your camera has at least 6 or 8 megapixels of definition, then you can leave it at less than maximum zoom, and just enlarge that part of the image that contains what you want, back in the computer. Keeping the zoom at a reasonable level (2x - 4x, say) will help in low-light situations because the aperture (f-stop) won't be as limited, and it will help with a big problem in low-light/long zoom situations, camera vibration and body shake. Especially in early morning or evening conditions, focus and vibration are likely to be your two biggest challenges, both of which are mitigated by not having to have the lens extended for maximum magnification.

Third, get a honking big memory card and set the camera to "bracket" your exposures - changing shutter speed and/or aperture for each of two or three exposures every time you push the button. In essence you're tripling the memory requirement of the card, but you might discover that the bracketing saves images that would otherwise have been too dark, too light, or moving.

Last, get some good photo processing software and learn to use it. You can rescue images that you would otherwise have discarded, if you know what your doing. And of course, the sooner before you travel you can practice all these things, the better. Don't let Africa be your photo classroom.
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May 23rd, 2012, 10:34 AM
  #10
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Thanks everyone, especially to you Gardyloo.
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May 23rd, 2012, 10:46 AM
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I tend to agree with pixelpower on this. A DSLR is only worth having (and paying for) if you know how to use it, or at least are prepared to learn.

If you don't know how to use it and just use it on auto mode, your photos probably wil be no better or only marginally better than those taken with a decent superzoom type point and shoot, and you'll have paid 4 times the amount for your camera.

I started with a Panasonic FZ series and gradually started playing with settings. Then I upgraded to an entry level DSLR with no immediate improvement. It was only after lots of practice changing settings and picking up some of the things mentioned above that I noticed my photography improving and now I've upgraded to more expensive SLR kit.

So for a first safari, I'd agree with the recommendations of a Canon Powershot or Panasonic FZ. Something with a high optical zoom and image stabilisation. Going straight for an SLR would be a waste of money unless you know for sure that you are going to go on multiple safaris and are really prepared to practice a lot.
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May 23rd, 2012, 11:24 AM
  #12
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The MOST important thing to know about taking photos -- is how to compose an interesting shot.

Pixel and Stockey....I think your advise (while all good) is what scares most people into taking that little point and shot. Who has time to learn all those things? What amatuer has the know-how or patience to make all those setting adjustments on the fly and still get an image before the lion has wandered back into the bush?

Too many people never look up from that viewfinder to experience the beauty of Africa first hand. While photos are spectacular memories - and you want them to be good. The idea that its ALL about the photos is sad.

A good camera will do a good job. I'm not trying to sell my photos. I'm not a pro. I want wonderful images when I get home. All of the things you mention above, are built into my camera's settings. I don't need to be able to calculate them. I just need to know which auto setting to use. Its not rocket science for a reason. My advice...have fun with a good camera -- but set it aside sometimes and just enjoy the moment.

My images speak for themselves regarding the capabilities of a DSLR using auto settings.
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May 23rd, 2012, 11:53 AM
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I don't really think you are getting my point.
My first set of SLR kit- a Canon 450D, an 18-85 IS lens and a 70-300 IS lens cost about £1200.
A good superzoom point and shoot like the Panasonic FZ series will cost about £300.
That's a big difference.
So are you suggesting that someone on a first safari who may never go on safari again, should buy a DSLR?

I just think it would be a waste of money, but then quite a lot of people who on on safari seem to have more money than sense.

And I'm all for putting the camera aside and enjoying the moment- I don't think I've said anything otherwise.
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May 23rd, 2012, 12:41 PM
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Another vote for the Panasonic DMC-FZ150.

After long consideration, I decided for this model, and after a safari to Namibia, I can say it was a good decision. Why?

- Firstly, a bridge camera with a superzoom is much better than changing lenses of an SLR.

- Secondly, 24x zoom is perfect for wildlife. You have enough wide angle for landscapes and enough tele angle for portraits of lions, cheetahs etc. I know there are cameras with 36x zoom, but this is useless without a tripod. And you will not have opportunity to install a tripod if you are on a safari...

- Thirdly, the FZ150 is one of the fastest cameras on the market. And speed is very important. You spot an animal and your camera has to be ready within seconds before it is gone.

- Fourthly, the FZ150 has a good HD video mode.

- Fifthly, on a safari you need a compact camera that hangs on your neck. You will be driving in landrovers or by yourself and you should have your camera ready always.

- Sixthly, the image quality of the FZ150 is very good, much better than that of compact cameras.

In my youth, I had SLR cameras with three lenses. Now, I find those bridge cameras much more convenient. And on a safari, it is speed that counts most.
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May 23rd, 2012, 12:45 PM
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Stokeygirl, you hit it right on the nose. On a first safari, one doesn't want to obsess over the photos you are taking...you want to enjoy the safari experience. Take a camera you are comfortable using. Bring along a couple of big memory cards and take lots of pics. Review what you're doing during down time, but don't worry about editing them down until you are home.

I'm as happy with the photos I took on our first safari back in 2004, as I was when we got homw from that trip...and digital cameras have gotten much better since then (eg, a >3 x optical zoom) and we even had one blown up and printed on canvas. I love my 3 year old Canon Powershot, but my husband has an even better 12 megapixel Panasonic Lumix with an 18x optical zoom and a Leica lens. We've used them for a couple of European trips, and figured out how to use the optional adjustments, so I think we will be happy with what we get this October.
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May 23rd, 2012, 03:06 PM
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"So are you suggesting that someone on a first safari who may never go on safari again, should buy a DSLR?"

Yes....if they want to. And they shouldn't apologize for using the automatic features they paid so dearly to get.

A DSLR with zoom lens doesn't have to cost a fortune to attain good quality photos for the amatuer. Mine cost about $600 USD. And they aren't just for safari. One can use the camera for many other activities. I've just been in the back garden taking photos of our nest full of fledgling Phoebies as they learn to fly.

I'm not against a point and shot, if that is what someone feels comfortable using. I have one myself. However, I don't think that new photographers should be warned off of DSLR as something requiring a PHD to operate.
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May 23rd, 2012, 11:57 PM
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I agree with TC; a DSLR does not need to be expensive, nor do you need to be an Einstein to operate it.

Again, my only advice is; IF you decide on a DSLR, learn how to work it BEFORE you leave, and don't just stick to the auto mode as the cam can do much better than that.

Yes, auto mode ("P") will give perfectly good results in normal light conditions. But the point I tried to make above is that there's much better results to get out of a DSLR, with minimal effort. Certainly in light conditions that are sub-optimal.

Also; seems to me that a lot of people think that the more you pay for a DSLR, the better the results are going to be in auto mode. I've met one guy who shot his 5D mKII in P mode, and said he didn't like the results. So, he said, "I'm gonna get the mkIII". When I showed him my results (from my mkI, haha), he was absolutely baffled.

Ciao,

J.
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May 24th, 2012, 07:37 AM
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I'll weigh in with pixelpower on this one: whatever camera you decide to get, learn how to use it before you go.

I'm an amateur enthusiast photographer and have won awards in several international contests over the years. I've taken great photos with my point and shoot cameras and lousy photos with my DSLR.

At some level a case can be made that the camera is the least important link in the chain that leads to a good photo. Sure you need some level of decency in the equipment, but then other things become more important. So don't stress too much over the camera.

I'd highly recommend a camera that has RAW output ability, even if you don't use it now, but I don't mean to start a religious war!

A long zoom is nice (especially for birds), but some of my favorite African photos were taken when I zoomed out to wide and photographed wildlife in their environment.

Have fun deciding, and have a great trip!
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May 24th, 2012, 04:00 PM
  #19
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I currently have a Lumix FZ28 and I am generally very happy with it. I have looked over review of FZ150 and in CNET review, it shines more the the FZ150.
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May 24th, 2012, 06:27 PM
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Do any of you have experience with the Nikon D5100 w/ 18-55 and 55-300mm lenses? If so, what is your opinion? Thank you. PD
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