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Reflections on my Recent Trip to Southern Africa
  
 
StarNut
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Reflections on my Recent Trip to Southern Africa


When we committed to going to southern Africa for a safari, I posted here asking for advice on equipment to take, since there is surprisingly little relevant information readily available. I thought I’d post here my experience, in the hope that it might help someone else.

At the time, I owned (all Canon) a full-frame body and a crop body, along with a variety of fine lenses, including: 500 f/4L IS; 70-200 f/2.8L IS II; 16-35 f/4 L II, 24-104 f/4L IS, 1.4xIII and 2xIII. I was inclined to replace the 7D/crop body with a second FF body (I did, with a 5DSR), and I was hoping that using the 70-200 with the doubler would be fine.

As one might expect on a Web forum, advice was all over the lot. But a consistent theme was that I would do much better with the new Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS II than the 70-200 with a doubler. So I bought a used 100-400 II off the for sale forum here.

I finally settled on taking this kit with me: 5D Mark III; 5DSR; 24-104; 500 (and 1.4x); 100-400 II, 50 f/1.4 and 16-35. In addition, I took my little Sony RX100 II, which fits in the pocket well and is a fine camera (I didn’t want to be changing lenses in the wind and dust, and the little Sony would be useful for when animals were very close, and for wide angle landscapes). And I also brought along a Lensbaby Composer Pro II Sweet 35, to play with and learn about.

Another question I had was how much “film” I should take, for 9 days in the bush and another 7 days in the area. Again, advice was all over the lot. So I took ten 64GB CF cards, just to be sure (keep in mind that each time I snap the shutter release on the 5DSR, it costs 60mb +/-). I felt pretty good about that choice, part way in, when I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to run out of card space before the end of the trip, and some other people at the camps were fretting about that issue. In the end, I had three unused cards, but I can sell them easily for close to what I paid for them, so cheap insurance.

I also brought a large external hard drive, and my little laptop, so that I could back up my photos twice a day.

All in all, I am very, very happy with my choices. I sat in the vehicle with the two large cameras on my lap: I put the 500 + 1.4xIII on the 5DSR, and the 100-400 on the 5D3. That gave me pretty instant ability to adjust to almost any situation, which turned out to be handy many times.

I took about 9600 photos, the vast majority while out on the vehicles in the bush; so it amounted to almost 1000 photos per day in the bush. I also took a lot of photos at Victoria Falls, both on the ground and in the helicopter. And a smattering in Johannesburg and Cape Town. 60% of the photos were with the 5DSR/500+1.4x combination, and 40% were with the 5D3/100-400 combination.

After getting rid of duplicates and lousy photos, I am left with 5523 photos. 2533 were taken with the 5D3 (mostly with the 100-400); 2848 were taken with the 5DSR (mostly with the 500+1.4x), and 142 were taken with the little Sony. As for lenses, I only took 22 photos with the 50 (all in Dubai, on a layover, as we walked around the city at night); 211 with the 16-35 (all either milky way photos, or Victoria Falls); 142 with the 24-105; 2518 with the 100-400, and 2399 with the 500+1.4x. And I took 89 photos with the Lensbaby that I’ve kept.

I had been told by a number of people that the animals are so close that I wouldn’t need a really long lens. Not correct, in my experience. Between the birds and the large animals a long way away, I was very, very glad to have 700mm of focal length, with a high-density sensor, to bring to bear!

But I also was very glad to have the 100-400; the 100 allowed me to zoom out when animals were fairly close, and to take animalscapes (I think a photo of a whole bunch of zebras and elephants, showing entire trees and landscape, is highly evocative of our trip), while the 400 was really useful many, many times, when the 700 was too long. Also, it’s much easier to do BIF with a light lens like the 100-400 that the behemoth 500+1.4x.

Here are the “lessons” I would pass on to others. These are based entirely on my own experience, my own desires for what to photograph, the animals we saw, and the camps we visited. Others may have a different take-away.

1. You can never have too much storage. You’re spending a lot of money on this trip, and you may well never have the opportunity again. Don’t scrimp on memory cards.

2. The little airplanes have serious storage restrictions. We had to buy an extra seat on all small airplanes to get the photography gear on them (my wife brought her Fujifilm X-T2, with the normal lens, a 50-14 f/2.8, and a doubler). Expensive, but obviously necessary.

3. Speaking of my wife’s gear, she had long been a bit envious of my gear, but had no interest in lugging such large equipment around. We solved that by buying her the Fuji mirrorless equipment in preparation for the trip; she enjoyed the trip far more for being able to take nice photos of her own (yes, the Fuji is a very capable camera, with excellent autofocus).

3. Yes, length matters. I love the detail I was able to capture with the 50mp 5DSR wearing a very good 700mm optic. Sure, I could have taken those photos with the 22mp 5D3 wearing the 100-400, but many of the photos would not have the same impact to me. Many animals are relatively small, and many animals are a long way away.

4. It’s amazing how many people—the clear majority—were taking their photos only with their cell phones or tablets. Of the 100 or so people who came and went at the three camps we visited, nobody else had a 500mm lens (or longer), and very few even had something as long as a 70-200. I was (and am) astonished that people would come all that distance, and pay all that money, settling for tiny images of magnificent beasts.

5. The animals (yes, even the lions and leopards) will come very, very close to the vehicles. Having something with relatively short focal length for those opportunities is very useful. I really enjoyed having 100-700 mm at my fingertips, with the Sony in my pocket.

6. The experience in indescribably fabulous; if you’re tempted, find a way to do it!

Mark


Edited on Sep 13, 2017 at 10:13 PM · View previous versions



Sep 13, 2017 at 05:50 PM
Fred Amico
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Reflections on my Recent Trip to Southern Africa


Great info - thanks for sharing.


Sep 13, 2017 at 06:30 PM
surfnron
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Reflections on my Recent Trip to Southern Africa


Thanx for taking the time to write up your thoughts and experiences Mark ~ Ron


Sep 14, 2017 at 01:02 AM
evertdoorn
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Reflections on my Recent Trip to Southern Africa


100-400 and a 500 sounds very solid. Currently I shoot a 100-400 and a 300 II plus converters and although the 2.8 option is nice for low light, I notice Inuse the 300 mostly with 2x converter so might as well go with the best long range option. That 16-35 surely is a nice one to have too!


Sep 14, 2017 at 06:46 AM
Litespots
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Reflections on my Recent Trip to Southern Africa


Very useful information. Thank you Mark.

To go even more in details... It seems from your stats that the keeper rate of the smaller optics (100-400mm) was much higher. Can you confirm that and explain why?

Has light been a big issue? In other words, would you have preferred say a fixed 300 or 400mm with 2.8 over the 100-400mm? As to the 100-400mm, how many pics/keepers were on its short end (up to 200mm)?

Thanx again for your time and effort with sharing these very useful facts.

Mark



Sep 14, 2017 at 08:10 AM
StarNut
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Reflections on my Recent Trip to Southern Africa


Litespots wrote:
To go even more in details... It seems from your stats that the keeper rate of the smaller optics (100-400mm) was much higher. Can you confirm that and explain why?


I agree with that conclusion. I think there are two principal reasons for this (i) all my photos (except the milky way night exposures) were hand-held; even with excellent IS, that's going to stress a 700mm optic more than a 100-400mm optic, especially when the much-greater weight of the 700mm optic is considered (related to that, one of the great things about the flexibility of the 100-400 is that I often used it at less than 400, frequently at 100mm, sometimes to make animal-scapes, and sometimes because the beasties were close; in either case it's far easier to shoot at much shorter focal lengths); and (ii) by definition, I used the longer optic at things farther away, mostly fairly stationary; in such situations, my technique involves snapping a lot of photos, hoping to get the right one as the creature moves slightly; when I would take 40 photos of the same think, I tossed images that were essentially duplicates.

Has light been a big issue? In other words, would you have preferred say a fixed 300 or 400mm with 2.8 over the 100-400mm? As to the 100-400mm, how many pics/keepers were on its short end (up to 200mm)

We were out shooting every day from before dawn until after dusk (with a mid-day break), so there certainly were times when light was an issue, and I had to crank the ISO up beyond levels i think the camera handles well (or at least beyond my ability to process out). So, sure, f/2.8 would have been nice. But only if I had had a third very capable DSLR body, since (i) I don't like changing lenses in such a dusty environment, and (ii) overall, in the course of a long day, the light, flexible 100-400 was, for me, more useful than a heavy, prime 300/2.8 would have been. Also, of course, there was a serious weight limitation; bringing another heavy lens would not have been possible.

I suspect that my photos with the 100-400 would be fairly evenly distributed across the 100-400. By the time I wanted to use 400, the 700 often was a better tool. And animals really are close enough that you often want shorter focal lengths (especially the huge animals, like elephants and giraffes).

Hope this helps!

Mark



Sep 14, 2017 at 09:42 PM
suteetat
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Reflections on my Recent Trip to Southern Africa


Thanks for your thread. This is exactly what I am looking for, for my trip next year to Kenya. I plan to have one camera with 500/4 +/- TC and have been struggling with the second camera. I have 70-200/2.8 and 300/4. I have been contemplating either Sigma 120-300/2.8 or 80-400 rather than 70-200 + 300/4. My only concern was low light situation with 80-400. On the other hand 120-300/2.8 is even heavier than my 500/4 although traveling weight is not an issue since I plan to buy extra seat on small plane as well to share weight with a couple of friends. When you said that the animal came very close to the car, do you often need something wider than 100mm or 70mm? If you only have 120-300/2.8 instead of 100-400 and use cropping, would you be happy with that?




Sep 14, 2017 at 10:52 PM
StarNut
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Reflections on my Recent Trip to Southern Africa


suteetat wrote:
Thanks for your thread. This is exactly what I am looking for, for my trip next year to Kenya. I plan to have one camera with 500/4 +/- TC and have been struggling with the second camera. I have 70-200/2.8 and 300/4. I have been contemplating either Sigma 120-300/2.8 or 80-400 rather than 70-200 + 300/4. My only concern was low light situation with 80-400. On the other hand 120-300/2.8 is even heavier than my 500/4 although traveling weight is not an issue since I plan to buy extra seat on small plane as well to share weight with a
...Show more

A lion once walked right beside the vehicle, as did a leopard; neither seemed even to be aware of us (unlike the elephants, who always kept tabs on us). That's why I had the little Sony.

Most of the times I used the 100-400 at 100 were for animalscapes; I was glad to have that much FOV, but I probably could have lived with 120.

Yes, the 100-400 is slow, but it's also light. I came to rely on it for BIF, despite the lesser telephoto (and less dense sensor in the 5D3, on which it lived). Even a monopod isn't usually practical, IMO, so a lighter lens is good.

If I were worried about having a fast lens, and i was choosing between the 70-200 and the 120-300, i would choose the 70-200. But that's why I chose to acquire the 100-400; as I said, I found the range very useful, and i was glad for the lesser weight.

Also, as I noted, we also bought an extra seat on all the small planes, but we were still maxed out, since our combined camera gear weighed in at exactly 20kg. As a matter of fact, they never weighed the bags in the little planes, but they had the right to do so, and I would not like to be in the position of being told I can't take a bag.






Sep 15, 2017 at 01:07 AM
Litespots
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Reflections on my Recent Trip to Southern Africa


So I understand that the animals are basically or very far away (lens as long as possible), or quite close (70-400mm) were you need to be flexible.

Yes, that helps a lot not bringing the wrong gear.

Thanks, Mark, for that important information. Shooting in Europe it's usually different, we need long and medium optics only but with good aperture.



Sep 15, 2017 at 10:00 PM
 

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suteetat
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · Reflections on my Recent Trip to Southern Africa


Thanks for your input. My feeling is that may be 70-200/2.8 and a 80-400/100-400
might be a better choice than than 120-300. As the combination of the above lenses are still lighter and may be I swap out the lens once in the morning when the light is not as much of an issue especially now that Sigma also offer a light weight 100-400 in Nikon mount and Tamron is coming out with one as well so there will be a few option beside 80-400 as well.



Sep 15, 2017 at 10:44 PM
wonderer
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · Reflections on my Recent Trip to Southern Africa


I don't know that I'll ever make the trip but I think your thoughts have applicability to any number of situations we sometimes put ourselves in. Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences and suggestions.

It sounds like you had a great safari. I'm looking forward to seeing some of your pictures!

--Kim



Sep 16, 2017 at 12:27 AM
runakid
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · Reflections on my Recent Trip to Southern Africa


I just got back from Kruger NP in S. Africa too. I had similiar results with a slightly different setup. I took a Nikon D800 with a Nikon 200-500 attached. I never changed it once. On my second body, a D7100 with a Tamron 18-270 lens. I had a Nikon 80-400 as a back up for the possible breakdown of the 200-500. Only the last day did I change to the 80-400 on the 7100 for our 5 hour drive out of the park. I too took over 9,000 pictures that I am still weeding down to a more managable number.
My only mistake was the clothing that I left home. It was so cold in the mornings and even lasted the entire day on a few occasions. We too were out for 12 hours with only a short stop for lunch at a park rest area. I wore every piece of clothing that I brought. The winter season was still on and riding in an open 'truck' made for some cold trips. I would bring a warmer jacket next time.
Kruger is a wonderful park with so many different animals and terrains. Having used the tour company "Leo Vantage Private Safaris" was the best thing that I did. Dave and his wife Ankia were knowledgable and were fellow photographers. We stayed in park camps each night. Can't wait to go back as we only saw some of the lower 40% of the park. Leo Vantage can set up tours from 4 days to whatever your pocketbook allows. We had 6 fellow Americans in our group. Our camp rooms were clean and simple. All meals were included. I felt the $3500 for the 10 days was very fair. This included the van ride to and from Johannesburg hotels.



Sep 16, 2017 at 09:05 PM
srvfm
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · Reflections on my Recent Trip to Southern Africa


I'll second the weight restriction problem (15kg total per person for us) and need for as much length as possible. That's why for my trip to Tanzania, I eventually went with a two camera system using an Olympus EM1+PL 100-400f4-6.3 and EM5+40-150f2.8 most of the time. I left my Canon 1DX, Sigma 70-200f2.8 and Sigma 120-300f2.8 at home because of weight and I did not feel that I would be in any real low-light situations. If there were some longer zooms in MFT, I'd take it. I really think zooms are the way to go because in the bush you can't "zoom with your feet." And although I had some wide angle coverage, I found the few times the animals got close to our vehicle, the angles and backgrounds weren't that great so I didn't feel that I missed much.

If I went back to Tanzania today (I now have newer equipment), I'd take my EM1 Mark I & II and pair them with the PL 100-400f4-6.3 and Oly 12-100f4 and have about everything covered in a very lightweight package. If I went Canon (not concerned about weight), I'd be tempted to pair my 1DX with either a 1DX Mark II or 5D Mark IV and bring both a 100-400f4.5-5.6L and maybe a 28-300 f3.5-5.6L to cover a similar range.






Sep 17, 2017 at 08:02 PM
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · Reflections on my Recent Trip to Southern Africa


Those are all very useful informations, and they prtty much corresponds with my own results/experiences from both Namibia and South Africa.

One thing, though, that I miss is the name of the location/lodge where have you been on safari?! Because it is a big difference between doing self-drives in Kruger NP or Etosha NP versus to participate on a game drive in one of the private reserves. While on former one is restricted to stay on the roads, and on later one can be driven relatively close to the animal.

Also, did you use, and if yes, what scenario/hardware for backing-up photos while on the trip?



Sep 19, 2017 at 08:41 AM
runakid
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · Reflections on my Recent Trip to Southern Africa


On my personal trip in August, I used a new card daily.


Sep 19, 2017 at 09:53 AM
StarNut
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · Reflections on my Recent Trip to Southern Africa


xelas wrote:
Those are all very useful informations, and they prtty much corresponds with my own results/experiences from both Namibia and South Africa.

One thing, though, that I miss is the name of the location/lodge where have you been on safari?! Because it is a big difference between doing self-drives in Kruger NP or Etosha NP versus to participate on a game drive in one of the private reserves. While on former one is restricted to stay on the roads, and on later one can be driven relatively close to the animal.

Also, did you use, and if yes, what scenario/hardware for backing-up photos
...Show more

We spent three nights at The Hide, a very nice private camp in Hwange NP in Zimbabwe, three nights in Savute, a very nice private camp in Chobe in Botswana, and Camp Moremi, a very nice private camp in Moremi Game Preserve in Botswana.

I brought an external hard drive and a card reader, and backed up my photos onto the external hard drive twice a day.



Sep 19, 2017 at 04:31 PM
suteetat
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p.1 #17 · p.1 #17 · Reflections on my Recent Trip to Southern Africa


When I go on trips like this. I usually bring enough cards to cover the trip (hopefully) without having to delete anything. If weight is an issue, I just bring WD My Passport Wireless Pro (v2, v1 was horrible). Small and light enough with built in SD card reader.
Just stick a card in and everything is backed up incrementally. Very convenient and reliable. When I have time, I can quickly review jpg image via smartphone using wireless connection as well (you can download raw file to review on your phone but you cannot browse thumbnail unless it is jpg so I just shoot both).

btw I heard a rumor that Nikon may be releasing a new zoom by the end of this year or early next year that will fill the gap below my 500/4 very nicely so keep my fingers crossed but I am very afraid of the price



Sep 19, 2017 at 10:51 PM







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