If you’re planning an African photo safari, you’ll need to give yourself a bit of time to figure out what the best camera gear is for your trip and where you’re going to get it.
Everyone says good photography is not about the gear. It’s about the photographer’s skills and whether they can carry out their vision. I think that’s true most of the time.
But in some cases, it’s really about the gear!
Particularly for wildlife photography, you need big glass, and you need fast glass. Especially when you’re spending many thousands of dollars on your dream trip, you’re going to want to have the best gear you can get.
That doesn’t mean you have to own it though! I highly recommend renting any equipment you would like to take but don’t own. I rent equipment all the time! That way I spend much less money on camera equipment than I used to and I always have the perfect lens for the job (and usually the latest and greatest models too).
I did a lot of research figuring out what equipment would work best for me on my photo safari to Tanzania. This video shows every single piece of equipment I took with me. There is also a list below and some comments about which pieces of equipments were the most useful and which ones I didn’t end up taking out of the bag.
Out of all the equipment in the video, the only things I didn’t end up taking with me were the lens hoods for all lenses except the 70-200 f/2.8 (the 400mm f/4 has a built in hood that slides out). I figured I would just use my hat if I really need it for the other lenses. Turns out I didn’t need it.
I also didn’t take the 55-210 lens for my Sony NEX6. The Sony was a great camera to have for taking “drive by” images from the vehicle when we were travelling from one place to the next and the regular 18-55 lens was perfect for that.
Aside from those items, everything else in the video fit in the bag!
Here is a list of all the equipment I used. For the camera bodies and lenses I have also included percentages that represent how often I used that equipment out of all the photos from the trip.
Lens Pen Pro Cleaning Kit
Visible Dust EZ Sensor Cleaning Kit
Giottos Rocket Blower
SanDisk ImageMate All-in-1 Flash Memory Card Reader
Lexar 32 GB 1066x Memory Cards
SanDisk 32GB Extreme Pro Memory Cards
Black Rapid Women’s Camera Strap
Filters (polarizer, UV, selection of ND grads)
Other Tech Equipment
Out of all of this equipment, I rented the 16-35, 24-70, 70-200, the 1.4 extender, and the 6D.
My setup while shooting
I switch lenses a lot. And despite everyone who thinks they know better always telling me I’m doing it wrong, I’m fast, and I never get dust on my sensor. Yes, even in Africa.
It turns out that African dust is no worse than a sandstorm in Arizona or blowing salt and sand on an Oregon beach. Take that — all you experts who say “but you’ve never shot in Africa”. Well now I have. It’s exactly the same.
Of course, I don’t actually change lenses during the sandstorm! But unless I feel like my skin is being exfoliated by blowing sand, I switch all I want.
Having said that, when the sand is blowing, it’s nice to have a variety of focal lengths available to you without switching. Here’s how I had my cameras set up:
• Canon 7D with the 70-200mm (it’s a crop sensor camera so the focal length is more like 100-300 on a full frame)
• Canon 6D with the 400mm
• Sony NEX6 with 18-55mm (equivalent focal length is approximately 30-80mm)
That gave me a great focal range to work with without having to switch lenses.
What would I change if I did it again?
I didn’t like the 1.4 extender. I know a lot of people use them, which is why I gave it a try, but I didn’t think it was worth the hassle for what you get. All it does is change a 70mm into a 100. Given the high resolution cameras these days, I can do the same crop in post-processing without the hassle of having to take the extender on and off. I didn’t like to use it with my 400mm lens, where it would actually make a significant difference in focal length, because then auto-focus didn’t work and I am not good at focussing manually. Next time I wont take the 1.4 extender.
I didn’t use the Sigma 10-20 or the Canon 50mm f/1.8 at all, so I probably wouldn’t take them next time if I was low on space. But both of those can come in handy under special circumstances.
I would also rather have another 7D than use the 6D camera body. The frames per second makes a huge difference in wildlife photography and the 6D was too sluggish for me. I know the 6D is full frame, but I would rather have faster fps than more pixels.
What were the most useful pieces of gear?
If I had to choose only a few pieces, I would take the Canon 7D with the 70-200 f/2.8 and the 400 f/4. I used the 70-200 for 45% of my shots and the 400 for 40% of the shots. That leaves only 15% of the shots where I used other lenses.
The Think Tank camera bag was awesome. You can fit a lot of stuff in it and the roller bag is excellent in an airport. The only downside is that the bag weights 11 pounds empty so if they happen to weigh your carry-on at the airport, you could be in trouble. I didn’t want to take the chance, so I wore one camera and lens on my body and put another lens in my pocket so if they did weigh the bag I would be within the 26 pound limit. After check-in, I put the equipment back in the bag before security.
The bag is built like a tank and it comes with a couple of handy security features. First, you can lock the zipper so you can’t open it. Second, there is a cable so you can lock the bag to another object (like a vehicle or something heavy in your hotel room). So a thief can’t open the bag and you can’t take the whole bag. The only option for thieves is to cut the bag open and, since it’s built like a tank, that wouldn’t be so easy either.
The 11inch MacBook Air is outstanding. It’s not much bigger than an iPad with all the features of a full computer. It was well worth it.
I hope this information is helpful for any of you who are planning an African photo safari or another photography trip. If you have any questions or suggestions about the gear choices, please feel free to leave comments below.
If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your social networks!