On most of our safaris, you will photograph from the open roof hatch or pop-up roof, and from ample side windows. Our vehicles are supplied either with special mountings to attach your tripod head to the vehicle, ensuring maximum stability, or large bean bags with head screw. We therefore recommend bringing your tripod head with you if you wish to use it. We do not particularly recommend the tripod itself on safaris that are mostly done by vehicle. However, on walking safaris to Mana Pools we will take most of our pictures from foot, so a tripod or monopod is highly recommended, especially if you intend to use a heavy telephoto lens. I prefer a monopod as it is much lighter and less clumsy than a tripod.
Our own vehicle in Kenya is specially modified to allow one guest to photograph from ground level. This option is available on request on private safaris. In order to do so relatively comfortably you should have a right-angle viewer. Both Canon and Nikon supply them and they are quite expensive, but there are universal right-angle viewers available on the market at cheaper prices. These require an adapter for each camera model, so make sure that the adapter for your specific camera is included in the package.
Protection of the equipment
Dust is a component of many African safaris. Besides providing excellent photo opportunities, it also can cause problems to your photographic equipment. We recommend you to have a cloth or a pillow case at hand to cover your equipment while on particularly dusty tracks. It should be something that can easily come off when a photo opportunity arises. We provide blankets on our vehicles which might serve this purpose. Bring a soft brush to remove dust from your lenses and cameras in the evening after the game drive.
In many of the parks we visit we may encounter rain in any season. Rain can also give excellent photo opportunities, but excessive water on your lenses and camera can cause serious problems, especially if your camera body is not weather-proof. There are excellent rain covers available in the market (Lens Coat, Think-tank) which you can place on your camera and lens and continue shooting.
We highly recommend at least two camera bodies for a variety of reasons. Having two bodies will enable you to switch lenses fast and without opening the camera sensor to dust or particles. The second camera can also be a spare if one of the two camera breaks down. In my photography, I love to take both behavior images and scenes of animals in their environment. We recommend a fast camera for action photography, with excellent auto-focus, good low light performance and high frame rate. For landscapes and wide views a slower frame-rate camera can be enough, but it should have excellent dynamic range and possibly be full frame for highest image quality and detail.
We would certainly recommend a long telephoto with focal length of at least 400mm. Long prime lenses such as 400mm f/2.8, 500mm or 600mm f/4 give you excellent quality and the possibility to shoot in low light due to their wide aperture. I consider the 800mm f/5.6 lens too long for many situations. Both Nikon and Canon have 200-400mm f/4 telephoto zoom lens, which are very good, especially the Canon version, which also has a 1.4x teleconverter inbuilt. Keep in mind that all these lenses are very heavy and expensive. You might consider the option of hiring the lens if you intend to use it only on the safari. Both in US and Europe there are companies that offer this possibility.
Another very good combination that offers good flexibility is a 300mm f/2.8 with 1.4x and 2x Tele Converters (Canon and Nikon newest versions). The quality and auto-focus speed drop slightly with the 2x TC but it is still a very good solution. Nikon also offers a 1.7x TC which works very well.
For tighter budgets, Nikon’s 80-400mm f/4-5.6, Canon’s 100-400mm f/4-5.6 or Sigma 120-400mm f/4-5.6 are not as good as the prime lenses in terms of autofocus, low light performance and image quality, but they are a very good compromise especially for the flexibility they allow. Nikon recently released a 200-500mm f/5.6 lens, which is very good, while both Sigma and Tamron offer 150-600mm f/5 – 6.3, which despite being very cheap, provide really good image quality and amazing flexibility.
A 70-300mm f/5.6 lens would be the next choice for big mammals; however for birds’ photography it will not be enough.
We would definitely recommend a 70-200mm lens f/2.8 or f/4 for close to mid-range wildlife.
We also think it is essential to have a lens in the 24-100mm range for images of animals in their environment or landscapes. Wide angles between 14mm and 24mm are seldom used on our safaris as they require a real closeness to the subject, which is in most cases not possible.
Image storage and computer
A safari in Africa can generate a really high volume of images. For this reason we recommend high capacity Compact Flash cards of the main brands, such as Lexar or SanDisk. We do not encourage to compromise on quality and reliability when it comes to CF cards as you may lose all your precious images. CF cards in many cases will not be enough though. You might need an external support to save your images, unless you have really a lot of cards. One option could be a laptop computer where you can download your images in the evening (a small and light laptop is recommended). An external hard disk can be your backup (recommended are the small portable hard-drives). We recommend laptop and hard-disk with USB 3.0 capability, much faster than USB 2.0, to reduce the download time. We certainly recommend to save all your images in at least two different supports.
Another option is a portable hard drive which can read CF cards. Many manufacturers produce this kind of equipment. I personally have two UDMA Colorspace Hyperdrive, with 500GB and 750GB capacity. They are very fast in downloading images from the cards, which is crucial when you use 16, 32 or 64 GB cards, and have long lasting batteries.
We recommend not underestimating the amount of images that you can take while on an African safari. I have had guests who found themselves with no more space anywhere to save their images barely three or four days into the safari. We remind you that it is not possible to buy photo equipment while you are on safari, including reliable CF cards or external hard drives.
Internal flights in Africa have really tight weight allowances for baggage, sometimes down to 15Kg per passenger including hand-baggage. On internal flights within Kenya, the cost of each extra kilo is approx 3 USD + VAT. If you cannot pack everything you need in your camera bag without the weight exceeding the said limits, you can opt to wear a waistcoat with big pockets where you can store some of your equipment for the flights.