Going to Africa...need advice on equipment

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by rogersmj, Apr 5, 2012.

  1. rogersmj macrumors 68020


    Sep 10, 2006
    Indianapolis, IN
    Hi everyone...I'm going on a trip to South Africa at the end of August and need help determining what additional gear I might want to acquire before I go. We'll be going to Cape Town (for wine and culture), Hermanus for whale watching and shark cage diving, and then Kruger for safari.

    I'm a hobbyist, not a pro, and this trip is really a vacation for my wife and I. I want to maximize my opportunities for great shots without hauling around more than one medium-size backpack full of camera gear.

    Currently, relevant gear I have:
    - Nikon D90
    - Nikon 18-200mm f3.5-5.6
    - Nikon 50mm f1.8
    - Decent ball head tripod with quick release plate
    - Nikon SB-600 flash
    - A variety of 4GB SDHC cards
    - Cleaning kit (air blower, microfiber clothes, lens cleaner)

    Concerns with this setup:
    - Reach. 200mm isn't all that much sometimes when photographing wildlife.
    - Low light performance. Obviously my do-it-all zoom isn't a fast lens, and the D90 isn't the best thing these days in low light.
    - Only one body? Never had two bodies, but I'd hate to be switching lenses while trying to capture a lion or something.

    I'm considering a few things. Let's pretend I'm willing to spend up to $2000 if I must.

    1. Should I sell the D90 and purchase a D7000 (net cost: ~$500-600)? I like that it seems to have better low-light performance and has U1/U2 instant recall modes for quick flip between my settings. Also like that it has two card slots for instant backup. I also believe it is more weather-resistant than my D90.

    2. I'm trying to figure out what to do about a longer and/or faster zoom. I borrowed a friend's Nikon 80-200mm f2.8D for a trip to Yellowstone last year, and I almost never used it because it was just so freaking heavy and ungainly when it was on the camera. I also found the push-pull zoom very awkward. I've considered the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 OS HSM, which is highly reviewed, but it appears to be the same weight. Also, if I bought this, I wouldn't be able to afford a second body. I would have to switch out lenses.

    3. Should I instead buy a longer zoom, even if it's no faster than the one I have, along with a second body? Problem is, anything beyond a Nikon 28-300mm f3.5-5.6 is going to be too expensive to also accommodate a second body on my budget (like the Sigma 150mm-400mm f4.5-5.6), and is also quite heavy. I'm thinking that if I do get a 28-300mm, I would also try to get an ultrawide, something like a Sigma 10-20mm. But that could be a tall order on this budget if I also want the new body. (~$1000 for 28-300mm + net $600 for D7000 after selling D90).

    I'll also need to allow room in the budget for a couple new filters, as I currently have none for 77mm lenses.

    I'm paralyzed by indecision, never having had a trip this big since I started taking photography seriously as a hobby. Advice appreciated!
  2. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

    Apr 14, 2001
    Sendai, Japan
    Most long lenses are heavy and bulky, period. That's just something you need to accept if you need more reach.

    I have a 80-200 mm and it is by far my favorite lens. But since you mentioned, you need more reach, you should look into getting something like Sigma's 100-300 mm f/4 which is both affordable and very good in terms of IQ. Nikon makes a cheap 80-200 mm f/2.8 which uses the same optical construction as your friend's lens, but features a zoom and a focus ring rather than a push-pull construction. Price-wise, the cost is similar to third-party 70-200 mm f/2.8 zooms. Make sure to get another quick release for the tripod collar these big lenses have. Nikon also makes a 300 mm f/4 prime which isn't too expensive. The only light lens with long reach is Nikon's 70-300 mm.

    I would not get the 28-300 mm: super zooms may seem attractive in theory, you have to accept a lot of compromises in the optical design to cover a 10x zoom range. I would also not get a new body: lenses are much more important than bodies. And I am also not quite sure whether you need an UW zoom: except for a one-day stint in Tanger, I haven't been to Africa. But I imagine you will take photos of nature, wild life and perhaps people/»street photography«. For landscapes, you're already set with your 18-200 mm zoom: 18 mm corresponds to 27 mm on full frame which is a classical wide angle focal length. For people photography (if you plan to make any), I'd get a 30~35 mm prime (I own the faster Sigma, but Nikon's cheaper f/1.8 lens is optically better): it's fast, light-weight and focusses quickly even in low light. For wild life, you want something long.
  3. AlexH macrumors 68000


    Mar 7, 2006
    The obvious answer you'll get is another body and some longer focal lengths (which I agree, you need something with some serious reach). You can't go wrong with another Nikon body like a D7000, however, I just thought I'd spice things up and give you a completely different option. You could consider something like a Micro Four Thirds system in addition to your current setup. My reasoning is this, when I travel, I like to have a small and light system that easy to carry, small, lightweight, and doesn't skimp on IQ. Something like a GH2 or OM-D, or even an E-P3 for the built in stabilization. The tradeoff is this, you can use your Nikon mount glass on the M4/3 system, but not M4/3 glass on the Nikon. Oh, and I almost forgot, there's an added benefit in your case for using a M4/3 system with your current glass, it will give you a 2x crop factor on all your current Nikkor glass. So, that 200mm becomes a 400mm. Just something to ponder for those wildlife shots...

    If it were me, I'd probably take a large DSLR body + a M4/3 body. I'd want a small and light pack.
  4. Bear macrumors G3

    Jul 23, 2002
    Sol III - Terra
    This is an interesting suggestion, however, I do see some drawbacks. That being if you ding a camera body, you could still swap lenses if they were compatible.

    My suggestion would be the Nikon 70-300VR lens. It doesn't answer the low light issue except by being VR which doesn't help on a moving object. Although this still might not be a long enough lens.

    Add a D7000 to that and you should still be under $2000 and you can sell the D90 when you get back from the trip.

    Note: Nikon only guarantees autofocusing working with a minimum aperture of f/5.6. I believe most 28-300 lenses are f/6.3 at the longer end and could cause autofocus issues. So this is something you would have to watch for.
  5. Vudoo macrumors 6502a


    Sep 30, 2008
    Dallas Metroplex
    The D90 is a fine camera. Does the D7000 do anything you want that your D90 can't? And you really don't want to carry two bodies on vacation.

    Invest in good glass.

    I would get rid of the 18-200mm that you have and get the 70-200mm f/2.8 VRI. No point in get the VRII unless you plan to go full frame down the line. Yes it's big and heavy, but the quality is superb. And VR is nice to have when you're whale watching. If you want extra reach, then invest in a tele-converter in addition.

    I would also get the 35mm prime lens since you're on a DX body. 50mm is a little on the long side.
  6. AlexH macrumors 68000


    Mar 7, 2006
    That's very true. Definitely something to consider, especially being out in the middle of Africa! If you dinged the Nikon, you could still make it work (compatible with M4/3). If the M4/3 body was dinged, well, you'd still have your primary body...
  7. rogersmj thread starter macrumors 68020


    Sep 10, 2006
    Indianapolis, IN
    Thanks for the thoughts everyone. Lots to consider.

    Let me throw another idea into the mix: renting.

    I can rent the latest and greatest Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 and a teleconverter (say, 1.7x? should I go more?) for about $300 for 3 weeks. I'm liking this idea because I really don't think I'll use a big dedicated pro zoom lens much outside of this trip, so buying one is tough to swallow.

    Several people have also suggested I buy a superzoom like the Nikon P510.

    In that case, I could keep the long lens on my DSLR body most of the time for the wildlife, and use the superzoom for wide-angle stuff that's less light- and motion- sensitive (like landscape shots) in addition to any video we want to shoot.
  8. Captpegleg macrumors member

    Jan 19, 2009
    You already have everything you need!

    You did say you were an amateur on vacation, didn't you?
    I'm thinking the only thing you really need to add is a pocket size point & shoot. If a travel mag. were paying you to do work that might end up on a cover or full page stuff, then you could justify the extra pita all that extra gear would cause. Your'e going to be on vacation, enjoy it. Even if you just left the greater bulk of your gear in the hotel every day and just carried your D90 and the 18-200 lens, think of all the things that gear would preclude you from doing. Having a zillion pictures of other people doing different and exciting things won't be half as good as it would be the other way around. Let them get shots of you having fun.
    You might also think of the increased risk of something bad happening to you and your wife by hauling around what might amount to a good years work for some of the folks you might be around.
    Go be a tourist, travel light, get some snapshots and don't put yourself at risk.
  9. rogersmj thread starter macrumors 68020


    Sep 10, 2006
    Indianapolis, IN
    I suppose I can understand where you're coming from, but photography is a hobby of mine that I really enjoy. I could never leave my big camera behind on such a trip. I have a great time shooting with my DSLR. Vacations appeal to me partly because I get the opportunity to shoot really interesting things. Travel is a big reason I have a DSLR in the first place, alongside the fact that it has taught me so much about photography.

    You can get great shots with a point and shoot when you know what you're doing, no doubt. I'm the first one to say, "It's the photographer, not the camera" when people suggest they need to get a DSLR to take great photos. But there are certain situations where I would really want a DSLR, and after spending all that money to get to Africa I would beat myself up if I left it at home.
  10. luxborealis macrumors newbie


    Jan 10, 2011
    Go big...

    If Africa is a "once in a lifetime" trip then it is worth the money to get a longer lens - 300mm is great (even the 300 f/4 AF), 400mm is better. The Sigma Bigma (150-500mm) is an excellent lens if not quite as sharp as a prime Nikkor 300mm or 400mm. If you can swing a D7000 too, then all the better as you can increase the ISO (e.g. 400) to compensate for the slower Bigma zoom.

    Check for something on eBay or Kijiji.

    I lived in Tanzania for 4 years doing numbers safaris. 300mm is great for larger game (elephants, Cape buffalo); 400mm is needed from most other big game; 600mm is needed for the myriad birds (except for the big, obvious ones like marabou storks, kori bustard, etc. where a 400mm is great)


    Sounds good if anything longer is not possible.
  11. AppLCII macrumors member


    Jul 12, 2011
    Step 1. Take all gear to Capetown

    Step 2. Hire cab at airport

    Step 3. Ask cab driver to take you to khayelitsha (kah-yah-leeshah) township.

    Step 4. Wander streets taking photos of what you see. This will be the most enlightening part of your whole trip.

    Step 5. If you last longer than fifteen minutes, give yourself a pat on the back. You've done well and you deserve it.

    Step 6. Start chanting "Long live Henrik Verwoerd (vur-woad) and long live the National Party!"

    Step 7. Enjoy.
  12. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    You certainly did ask a lot of very good questions which is not typical these days.

    There has been lots of good advice here and I can just throw a few more peanuts from the gallery so to speak...

    I think the D7000 is an ideal camera for travel photos that will let you shoot without flash from sunrise to just after sunset. As others mentioned it would be the glass you should consider when doing your homework. Though I tend to get very high end lenses, the 70-300 VR is perhaps for a hobbyist in your shoes a fantastic choice with the D7000. Remember its akin to having a 100-450 on FX or 35mm camera. This should get you well into the realm of safari shooting as long as you take care to use the correct apertures and shutter speeds to insure sharpest image. Being digital the rest of your work will be done on a computer.

    For the wide angle - thats a toss up between DSLR vs a high end hand held with a sharp lens. There are good arguments for each. Sadly one of the finest Nikon lenses for DX camera is very bulky and does fit the bill nicely - the 17-55mm lens. There are counterparts that are not as long but are considered good landscape lenses that are made by Nikon, Sigma and Tokina (ATX). They are roughly in the range of 10-24mm. The only catch with those lenses is you cannot really use properly a polarizing filter. The latter is every handy when your only choice is to shoot in a less favourable condition with respect to where the sun is shining and also superwides tend to be notorious for lens flare at certain angles to the sun.

    D7000 + 70-300VR
    second DSLR with 17-55 or 10-20mm and you can pretty much have it all under control

    My personal take would be to have the D7000 as stated with that lens and use a high end wide angle point and shoot for wide angle and people shots. Point and shoot is less obtrusive when trying to shoot people than say a large Nikon with lens.

    Perhaps a visit to 'DPreview's site would be helpful to see various camera and lens reviews and also Luminous Landscape along with Ken Rockwell's site (though I don't always agree with his thinking he gives food for thought).

    Back in my film days, I did traveling and for moderate wide shots I used a rangefinder medium format camera with a set lens. The rest was shot with a Nikon FM with 50mm, 90mm and 180mm. I didn't miss a beat and was extremely happy with the results on both B/W film (Ilford) and Kodachrome.

    Last - consider bringing a bean bag type of support for the camera to use on bus or jeep windows. There are clamp mounts that are great but they cost quite a bit for what you get.
    Hope you have a great trip!
  13. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    The one thing you are lacking is a good pocket size camera. Many times that is the camera that gets the shot. Look at something like a Panasonic LX-5 or if you have extra money the Leica dlux-5 (it's the same camera) Both of these have quality as good as the Nikon and will work well for most close by subjects.

    It will be "way hard" to get close up photos of safari animals unless you are going there just for that purpose and can follow one group of animals maybe for days. If you are on a cameral tour the 80-200 is perfect because you can capture some of the surroundings. Using a big lens on a ball head means hours and hours in a blind waiting. Think more like a photo journalist than a wildlife photographer. You will be shooting from a moving truck, not photo blind.

    I'd go MUCH lighter. I'd have the Leica/Panasonic in a shirt pocket and the SLR with 80-200 and a monopod. Then carry something wider too, at least 18mm on a crop body SLR.

    If the trip were strictly for photos then you'd have many hours where you could wait in the grass for some animal to do some interesting behavior and you'd need the $5,000 lens to capture it. But you will be with others who will not allow you to spend even 10 minutes on a photo.
  14. Statik macrumors member

    Aug 22, 2004
    I was on Africa Safari 2 years ago. What kind of Safari will you be doing? Walking? Boating? Self Drive? Guided tour? All of those make a difference in the equipment you will want to bring.

    As for the animals, at least on our trip, we could get within 20-30 feet of most of the large mammals. An elephant at 6 meters away didn't need much zoom, but I'll leave that to your judgement.

    Now, a quicker lens is a different story. That would make all sorts of sense to me as there tend to be (once again check your itinerary) a lot of early morning and late evening game drives.

    Finally, I'll second the vote to buy yourself a good pocket camera. Agree that the Panasonic LX-5 would fit the bill perfect; Something unobtrusive you can bring with you while you are running around Cape Town and still good enough quality that you can be confident in the outcome of your pictures.

    Oh, and don't bother taking pictures of every zebra you see. Classic tourist mistake :p
  15. rogersmj thread starter macrumors 68020


    Sep 10, 2006
    Indianapolis, IN
    It will primarily be driving safaris with some bush walks.

    I do agree that a solid pocket camera may make sense. Most important part there is "pocket", so as awesome as it looks I think the Nikon P510 is out. I'm looking around for other options...will check out the Panasonic. Also considering the Nikon P310 but that looks a touch bulky as well.

    Good questions, and good advice, thanks!
  16. -hh macrumors 68020


    Jul 17, 2001
    NJ Highlands, Earth
    Nice, although I don't see an underwater camera on the list :D

    To start, I'd leave the tripod at home, and for memory cards, plan on ~300 pics/day.

    Next, I'd either leave the strobe at home, or add a 'Better Beamer' to it.

    Third, start to plan out your batteries and their charger(s). Two batteries per body is the absolute minimum; three is better. Also check with your Kroger camp to see what hours they'll be providing power for you to recharge stuff...and what flavor of power - 110/220 (and also including what plug style).

    1. Reach ... you're right. If you can add a ~1.4x teleconverter to your tele (and still have autofocus) that would get you to 300mm before crop body takes it to 450mm and will generally be enough reach.

    2. Light ... f/5.6 isn't too horrible with today's faster ISO speeds. Check with your outfitter in Kroger if you're going to be out on game dives before or after breakfast...that should help you decide.

    3. Bodies ... I found that a two dSLR setup - - one wide, one long - - is a nice way to go. That's also something to consider when deciding on alternatives to an 18-200mm lens. This way, you don't have to open up (contaminate) the body for a lens switch and you have a backup in case something breaks.

    Plus as others have pointed out, make sure to have a small P&S along (what's the wife going to have/carry? Mine had the P&S and a pair of stabilized binoculars).

    I can't really speak to Nikon gear, but it seems tempting. Of course, given budgets, a second body might be a candidate for renting. Do make sure that you include rental insurance vs theft too.

    Long lenses are heavy. The only real alternative would be a 4/3 system or smaller. My Tanzania Safaris (two so far) setup has been a 70-200 f/2.8 IS with a 1.4x teleconverter on a Canon dSLR 20D's back then. Good setup for most stuff, but (and understandably) short of length for birds. I never really understood birders and their obsession for big glass until I got to Africa and started shooting bird life too...now I want a 400mm + teleconverter + crop body :D

    If I really had to go minimalistic, I'd take one (DSLR + big tele) and a P&S.

    Probably the most important thing for you is to make sure that you don't lose your gear - - theft and damage are the two main factors here - - and similarly, that you don't have to limit yourself too severely by not having enough memory cards.

    For bean bags, take along an empty one rather than pack the weight. Some people advise asking for dry beans or rice to fill it; one can also pack a couple of ziplock bags and fill them with sand. If you're thinking about a window clamp, research what kind of safari vehicle is used by your outfitter first - - because some vehicles don't have windows.

    Next, make sure you consult with a Travel MD at least 2 months before your trip to get the appropriate innoculations & medicines ... I'd expect the 'Usual Suspects' list: Teatnus, Hep A/B/C, Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Dyptheria, perhaps Polio ... and of course Malaria pills you'll take before/during/after (be aware of their side effects too).

    For clothing, have good sun protection plans, and plan on long sleeves and avoiding blue/black/purple to try to minimize your Tsetse fly bites...be aware that neither DEET nor any other chemical known to mankind repels Tsetse.

    For your Mrs, I'll pass along my wife's #1 Safari Tip: "Sports Bras". Expect to get bounced around quite a bit on game drives...they tend to go off pavement to find critters.

  17. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    You will actually get more good shots with less gear. Seriously the safari is a "drive by shoot" That means the driver tries to take you to places where you will see something and like a photo journalist you have to react to what you see and take a shot "now" not 10 seconds later.

    A true wild life shooter would not work like that, he knows what he wants and sets up for it and waits.

    So knowing that you are a photo journalist equip your self like one. Besure to keep a P&S on your person full time. That will get the most shots total, mostly people you meet and interiors and streets and what not.

    The bean bag was a good idea but (1) You can fill it with styrofoam packing peanuts and it will weigh "nothing" and work for one trip. and (2) other things you would already have work as well, like a fluffy jacket inside a stuff bag

    You will be hand holding mostly so a fast lens will be good. hard to beat a f//2.8 zoom

    Transporting gear: Everyone thinks they will simply hand carry everything. NO. You will not be able to. In some places in the world they will not let you. I've been in small planes where I can't, full over head bins on large planes. and a bus driver who says (in Japanese) ALL (no exception) bags go in luggage compartment under the bus. I've had porters toss my gear in a stake bed truck and later unload it as if it were a dump truck. The #1 suggestion here is "Pelican Case". I've personally swam a Pelican case full of photo gear out of a white water river, no problems. One thing: don't use the normal foam. Buy the case "bare", pack your gear in a soft bag and then place the loaded soft bag in the case. Then when you get to "the place" open the case take out the bag and leave the empty case in the bus, in the hotel rom in the rental car or whatever. Pelican is indestructible and has a "forever, no matter what" warranty. Paint the case with a huge bright stripe on all sides, stencil your name on it. Thieves only take "generic black". Make yours "day glo" and totally unique. I gave up hand carrying. You just can't if you do under water work, to much gear to carry. Your gear list is even bigger then mine. You'll be hiring porters.
  18. Tuitai macrumors newbie

    May 20, 2012
    Going to Africa

    I've been to Africa many times and I used to take my D90 with me with long lenses. However, I found switching lenses is no fun especially I have to do it inside a plastic bag to avoid dust. I've just bought a D7000 and it is fast with tons of great features. I will be going to Botswana in August and I've just bought a P510 for the big zoom lens. It works well but it is not as fast as I'd like but it is very handy. I'd take two cameras this time, D7000 and P510 to avoid switching lenses. In general 300mm is sufficient but occassionally I regretted that I didn't have a longer lens for special shots. The P510 will come handy for the special shots otherwise the 300mm is sufficient unless you like to shoot birds.
  19. rpmor macrumors member

    Apr 25, 2012
    this is a bit late but LOL do this and IF...BIG IF...you come back alive ill buy you a bottle of Blue Label or something...
  20. neutrino23 macrumors 68000

    Feb 14, 2003
    SF Bay area
    Suggestion, go to a nearby park and test this stuff out so you get a feel for how things will be in real life.
  21. classicaliberal macrumors regular


    Jul 19, 2011

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