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Mara Safari in June - Camera Lens Recommendation

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Good morning all

We are nearing our June 2018 safari to Kenya's Massai Mara. We have nearly all planning locked down - flights, hotels, camps, guides, clothes, shoes, and luggage.

However, we need help re: low-light, long-distance DSLR camera setup. All of our research indicates the following conditions and recommendations:

1. The majority of wildlife photography opportunities will occur in low-light and long-distance conditions (during the early morning and early evening game drives).
2. Use 2 DSLR setups to minimize the need for lens changes during game drives (avoid dust/dirt on the optics).

We have one Nikon DLSR with a 70-300mm F/4-5.6 zoom lens dedicated for med-full light and a variety of distances.

For the second DSLR we are considering a Canon 5D Mark IV with one of the following lenses. Since this is our first safari, and we are unsure of the degree of the lighting conditions and distances, we would greatly appreciate your feedback re: which of the following prime lenses is a best fit for these requirements:

Canon EF 200mm F/2L IS
Canon EF 200mm F/2.8L II
Canon EF 300mm F/2.8L IS II

Thank you!
Best Regards,
Darryl & Catherine

  • Report Abuse

    Low light conditions are only about the first hour and last hour of your game drives. The rest of the time, light is good. I think you’re overdoing the low light conditions.

    Changing lenses/dust is not as big a problem as most believe. Add a Nikon 50mm 1.8 (or 1.4 if budget allows) for nighttime.

    I’d put a telephoto on the Canon, maybe longer than the Nikon (I’m a Nikon user so can’t help with specifics). If one of the cameras is a full frame, you’ll get better than average low light pics. Any of those primes are fine but limited distances. You likely won’t get a good shot of that owl at 200mm anyhow. Image stabilization is very important at low light.

    Your pics are for memories, not NatGeo. Yes, I wish we had a pic of that aardvark but even the guy with the very high end gear missed it too. I saw her fine, very exciting!

    Don’t forget binoculars. 8x42 or 10x42 work for most, in all budgets. I like my Nikon 10x42 Prostaff 7s.

    Why are you using a Canon and a Nikon? I would stick to one so you can swap out in case something happens. We use a cropped frame as a backup to a full frame, and even use the cropped for longer distances sometimes. Why buy/bring gear that you can’t mix and match?

    You can rent gear too.

  • Report Abuse

    Christa makes some great points... I would also stick with Nikon if most of your stuff is that... unless you want to totally migrate to Canon and commit to that. It is nice to have lenses that will work when you upgrade the body.

    We just went last April and I debated on the 'carrying two bodies' theory. What I did instead was carry my good dslr - Canon 7D with a 70-200 2.8 ISII lens ... with a 1.6 teleconverter. I also had a micro 4/3's with a decent lens as my 'backup'. And then ... honestly ... iphone's took just fine pics and videos when things were close.

    Why not two full dslr's? I thought about renting a second one ... and then I realized I am only one person and can only use one at a time. And when it came to the weight factor? yeah... no. You are so limited with weight, that I can't imagine carrying two full cameras and lenses.

    My camera bag never left me. Never. It was attached to my hip. I never gave it to a bellman, or a porter, or even at the bottom of the small plane. I could lose anything else and survive, but that was always with me. if I had had two full bodies? ugh.

    Accessories? I carried 3 batteries - one in the camera and two with me. Never became an issue because I kept them charged whenever I had the opportunity. I would recommend carrying 1 sd card/day. So much easier to swap it out at the end of the day and not worrying about it filling up at the wrong moment or having a corruption issue.

    "end of the day" - you will have 'off' during the middle of the day. When you get back to camp at the end, it is dark. I used the off time after lunch as my "organize and prepare" - for everything. I organized clothes, camera gear, made sure everything was charged, etc. When you get back in the dark, the tent lights are good enough to be safe, but hard to get into corners of bags/rooms, etc.

    Most importantly - be ready how you will shoot. I typically shoot all manual. This will not work on safari. The photo will happen so quickly that you can't set settings in time. The problem is that if you turn left, it might be full sun, and to turn right is full shade ... how to adjust quickly? I read a great book and it was extremely detailed - the most important thing I learned was to set ranges - of ISO and speed, and then I shot aperture priority. (I will find the book when I get home...)

    I didn't switch lenses - expect at my break time. When in Samburu, I used my 28-70 2.8, but other than that, I never pulled it out and just stuck with my 70-200 with the teleconverter. Yes, you lose a stop with the teleconverter, but I found it worth it.

    Renting lenses is a great idea - and I almost did it. However, I use the 2.8 lenses regularly, so didn't need to since I only carried one body.

    Whatever you take - camera bag, lenses, etc. carry them about a month before you go and practice practice practice. You want it to be second nature. I could set my camera up and get settings right in the dark because I know it so well.

    Reminds me: that is another issue with switching between Canon and Nikon. You probably think like a Nikon. It can be hard to know where to find things with a different company. It is like getting a rental car and not knowing how to turn on the wipers....

    good luck! keep coming back if more questions....

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