3 Top tips on how to decide what camera equipment and accessories to pack for a photographic safari
I can’t count the number of times I have had guests arrive on safari only to realize that they have not brought the right camera or cursing that they did not know what sort of camera lens they could or should bring on a safari.
So here is my guide to what you need to think about when packing your camera bag or day bag for coming on safari:
1. Invest in a decent pair of binoculars
Before you even start with what camera gear to take - invest in or pack a decent pair of binoculars, these need not cost the earth and can be the difference between seeing that elusive leopard or not! Also there is nothing more annoying than being sat on a safari truck or on a walk whilst everyone else around you is oooing and ahhhing at some unknown animal or bird, whilst you are scratching you head wondering what is going on and waiting for someone to offer you a look through their binos. Binoculars come in different shapes and sizes but I would recommend anything between 8 x 32 or 10 x 50. The first number is the x magnification and the second number refers to the mm diameter of the large lens, effecting how much light is bought in. The bigger they are the heavier they are but the easier to use. Most people find a pair of 8 x 42 binoculars is a happy medium between power, ease of use and size/weight.
2. The best camera kit for safari should allow you to be flexible.
One moment you may want get a close up of an elephant’s knowing eye, and the next your subject may be the vast open plains filled with thousands of zebra and the sun setting behind them. To take advantage of these opportunities you want to have a camera and/or lens which allow you to zoom in on that elephant’s eyelashes and then later to get that wide angle landscape shot.
If you opt for the SLR (single reflex camera), which allows you to change lenses, then you may need two lenses to achieve this. A telephoto lens - such as a 55-300mm - is a good starter and gives you both reach and flexibility; couple this with a smaller wide angle or shorter focal length lens like a 24 -55mm. If you are keen and don’t mind spending the extra money then you could go up a class in lens and get a 80/100 -400mm lens to give you that extra reach.
Alternatively you may just want to take really nice pictures and without necessarily wanting to learn or worry about using an SLR. Some of the compact or bridge cameras really do give you great results and having an in-built zoom lens allows you flexibility and ease of use without having to muck about with a different lens.
As a guide and someone who lived on safari, I have all the best camera gear but I would often look at a guest’s shot, taken with a good compact camera and think I could not have done any better even though my gear needed me to make a decision between buying a car or that camera set up.
A word of warning: if buying a camera with a built-in zoom, be careful not to be tempted just to go for the longest zoom. There are great cameras that offer 30x zoom, but it is worth remembering that the farther you zoom the more amplified any small movement (camera shake) is. To get a sharp shot over 12 or 15 x zoom, most people really need a monopod or tripod. Test it hand held at different distances and see how you get on before jumping in to buy it.
3. Ask your agent or find out about what luggage or weight restrictions will apply if travelling on small internal or bush airlines before you travel.
Here is a shot of my camera bag.
Depending on the particular airline, I may have absolutely no chance of taking all of this, or I might be able to get away with it with a bit clever packing and a jacket with big pockets. It really does depend on your destination and the airline you fly with.
Some airlines allow 15kg max per person including hand luggage and will strictly hold you to it. Some will give a bit more leeway. Remember this is often not about money or paying excess, but fuel to weight ratio and making sure the plane is not overloaded.
Most people take much less than in this picture. One camera body and two lenses can be the best way to go in a smaller bag. But serious photographers may book an extra seat to allow for extra camera equipment.
With this sort of set up it should give you the freedom enjoy each and every opportunity when they come along and you might even decide to get creative!
On Safari-in welcomes you to give us a shout and we would love to organise your perfect safari, tailor-made according to your needs and interests. On safari-in is run by an experienced nature guide, guide trainer and lodge manager with over a decade's experience in wilderness areas across Southern and East Africa.
Phil Bennett- Founder, Private guide and safari specialist