You’ve probably wondered what the best equipment is to drag around with you to a photographic safari, right? Well look no further, this blog post aims to put you on the right track. Having been to South Africa previously and doing a lot of travelling intrastate, interstate and overseas, we have worked out what would be good items to take to a safari. Especially if it’s something that’s a bucket list adventure, or something that you’d do every now and then. You’d want to cover all bases, correct?
You can never take enough cameras really. What type of camera is best you ask? Take a look at this blog post from May this year that goes through some of the features a camera should have if you want to photograph birds. The truth is, once you have a camera that will be great for birds, it will be great for just about everything else, an overkill in many respects, but nonetheless, an amazing piece of kit.
A main body with your most used lens attached is a must to have. Add to this a back-up body, in case the main one fails, or with another lens – to cover a different zoom range, or focal length – attached and you will have two bodies to allow you to capture animals up close with one outfit, and further away with the other.
Don’t sweat if you only have one camera, you can get away with it. However, it is a good idea to have it serviced and tested prior to an overseas trip to make sure it is all in top condition and ready to go and serve you for your time abroad.
We normally take Olympus OM-1 camera bodies and for back-ups an Olympus OM-D E-M1MkII body and another OM-1.
In an ideal situation you should be able to cover focal lengths from about 50mm to at least 600mm in full frame terms. Many keen photographers own a standard 100-400mm lens, so that’s a fantastic option if you only have one lens to bring, especially if you are using it with a crop sensor camera. If you don’t have a lens to cover the super telephoto range (400mm or more in full frame terms) then you can consider hiring one for the trip.
If you have a crop sensor camera, take your lens’ focal length and multiply that with your camera’s sensor crop factor. As Olympus users (2x crop factor) we know that to get to 600mm focal length we just need to make sure we have our 300mm lenses. Because when you multiply 300mm by the 2x crop factor, you get 600mm.
The below are what we would take on safari, but remember, that we would potentially be covering a lot more than just wildlife. This number of lenses is not necessary, so don’t take this as gospel.
M.Zuiko ED 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro and the M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lenses to cover our wide angle needs. In full frame terms these would give us 14-28mm and 24-80mm respectively. Similar lenses in other brands would be:
- CANON LENSES: RF 14-35mm f/4L IS USM, RF 24-105mm f/4-7.1 IS STM, RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM, EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM, EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM, EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
- NIKON LENSES: AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, Z 14-30mm f/4 S, Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S
- SONY LENSES: FE 12-24mm F2.8 GM, E 16-55mm F2.8 G, FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM
M.Zuiko ED 60mm f/2.8 Macro lens to photograph anything from spiders to flowers and other smaller critters, or to get awesome details of larger subjects up close. This is our standard macro lens that we use. It’s an incredibly sharp piece of glass. This is the equivalent of 120mm in full frame. Other brands offer something like the below:
- CANON LENSES: RF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
- NIKON LENSES: Micro-Nikkor AF-S 60mm f/2.8 D, AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED
- SONY LENSES: FE 90mm F2.8 Macro G OSS
M.Zuiko ED 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro lens for our medium telephoto zoom work for larger subjects especially if they are a bit closer than what we would need a super telephoto lens for. In full frame this is the same as using an 80-300mm lens. Similar lenses from the other manufacturers would be:
- CANON LENSES: RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM,
- NIKON LENSES: Z 70-200mm F/2.8 VR S, AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR
- SONY LENSES: FE 70-200mm F4 Macro G OSS , FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS II
M.Zuiko ED 300mm f/4 Pro telephoto lens and the MC-14 and MC-20 teleconverters that are 1.4x and 2x magnification respectively. This means the 300mm f/4 lens with the MC-14 telconverter becomes a 420mm f/5.6 lens and with the 2x teleconverter it becomes a 600mm f/8 lens. So speaking full frame, we cover from 600mm to 1,200mm focal lengths. Other brands have something for you, for sure, with some examples below by brand and suggestions:
- CANON LENSES: EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM with built-in 1.4x TC, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, RF 600mm f/4L IS USM, RF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM, RF 800mm f/11 IS STM, RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM, EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM, EF 500mm f/4L IS III USM
- NIKON LENSES: Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S, NIKKOR Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S, AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR, AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR, AF-S Nikkor 200-400mm F4G ED VR II, Nikkor Z 180-600mm f/5.6 – 6.3 VR
- SONY LENSES: FE 600mm F4 GM OSS, FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS, FE 100-400mm G
Extra memory cards are a must if you have a happy shutter finger. Put it this way: Netra and I can shoot between 3,000-5,000 images a day on safari and perhaps even more now with our OM-1 cameras that are able to take 50 frames per second in high burst mode with continuous autofocus. It’s best to have the cards available for you rather than miss out by filling one or two up quickly. You may want to consider a mobile hard disc drive you can download images straight onto.
Extra batteries for all of your cameras. At least be very familiar with the power consumption of your equipment. We know that our two batteries in the camera would last maybe two to three hours with extensive shooting, so we always have extra available and/or a charger cable we can use via USB. But it’s not good to rely on USB or other charging facilities in a safari vehicle. Best get your power needs sorted so you don’t miss out on the shots.
Laptops come in handy to keep processing images during the day or in the evening once you have downloaded cards. You could also bring a fresh external hard drive so you can copy the files from the laptop to the external drive. Don’t laugh, redundancy and back-up are important.
A small bean bag is a good idea if you are shooting from a vehicle and you need to use something to stabilise your shot when the shutter speed is too low. Though be careful with engines running, as camera shake can result in blurred images. It’s best to either turn the car off or not use the bean bag if the engine is running while you take a slower shutter speed image. The bean bag we use is about the size of an A4 piece of paper in dimensions, and about 50mm thick. It’s a useful accessory.
Lens cleaning items such as a good microfiber cloth, a blower will come in handy, because the air can be dusty out there in the African bush.
Rain and dust covers for your gear and a light rain coat for you. Since you may be traveling in an open vehicle and be suddenly exposed to dust or a shower, it’s best to have something to quickly throw over your equipment rather than have to pack it away each time you want to protect it. The light rain jacket will add some extra warmth on a cooler morning drive (especially in winter) and also keep you dry in case of that unexpected downpour.
The suggestions are based on our personal experiences with travelling to Africa and other places. They are by no means an exhaustive list of items you need to have, and we are sure you can think of, and add, many more to our list.
We hope this blog entry has been an interesting read for you. Make sure to drop us a line if you have any questions!