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Lessons learned from Africa--Part 1
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Jul 16, 2017 21:46:50   #
whwiden
 
I reflect below on a few general lessons that I learned from my recent trip to Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

I did a few things right, a few things wrong and few things that are open to debate. Before I went, I got much useful advice on this forum. Generally, the wrong things resulted from not having the fortitude to follow forum advice. In this post, I cover just a few general items. If there is interest, I will provide more details on certain aspects in later postings.

1. As a general matter, going to these locations in late June/early July was a big plus. Temperatures were cool, with very limited bugs to almost no bugs. Generally, I packed well, but could have eliminated short sleeve shirts. I did not wear them. I had a lightweight puffy LLBean jacket which I used extensively (with a long sleeve performance jogging shirt underneath). I used the same jacket in Austria in January, but with a fleece underneath. Take a versatile item of warm clothing.

2. Camera bag. At the last minute, I took a chance and left my hard sided case at home. Instead, I took a large Domke canvas bag, an F1X--just a little bigger than an F2. With all the travel electronic ban worries, this gave me some pause--but as no serious additional ban was put in place, I could use a carry on and not worry about checking camera equipment. These bags are easy to work out of, conform to your body, are easy to carry, etc. Make sure you take a camera bag that you can easily work out of, rather than a backpack or other camera bag with a lot of padding for transit, but not good for work. I had a few padded Tenba inserts with me in case I needed to put a camera in check baggage in an emergency. I could put my Nikon D750 with a Tamron 150-600 with a hood in the bag, no problem. When not shooting, the camera and lens combo could be protected from dust, etc. It held my puff jacket and every other item of camera equipment with room to spare. Working out of a cramped bag is just not good.

3. Film. I stupidly took a film Leica with a few lenses. Small, but I did not use them. I had black and white film but for so many reasons, it was not practical--first, because the animals do not show up well in black and white, second the film is almost certainly too slow, third, the shooting environment did not lend itself to this slower process. Maybe if I had a month, etc.? Figure out you are not Nick Brandt before you go on a 10 day trip (I did not quite have a handle on this basic fact!). I am a long time Leica B&W film shooter. Some trips to Europe, that is all I take. Here, I knew I could not go exclusively film, so I did not make that mistake at least. But, for whatever Leica fan boy reason, I could not resist taking my tried and true camera set up--dumb on my part. I ended up carrying a small bag I did not use at all with really nice film gear. Not the worst mistake ever, but one I will not make again on a similar trip.

4. Inexpensive super zooms. Are great for Africa! My version was a Nikon B700 as a backup. I took some great photos with it. So did my wife. If I did not want to print larger than 8x10 or 11x14 many shots would be terrific. For web and smaller, there is no reason for better or more expensive equipment. I was somewhat surprised by this. As advised by some on this forum, this should have been no surprise. All I can say before using this set up--practice with it, figure out how you want the camera set (i.e. ISO not above 800), etc. As a film shooter, you learn to be steady. You must be steady with one of these sorts of cameras--brace, use a monopod, etc. Once you get your technique down, you get very solid results (I say this as a full frame Nikon guy and sometime Leica fan boy who on occasion will fixate on sharpness rather than good photos).

5. 10x zooms for full frame. People have a love/hate relationship with lenses like the Nikon 28-300 or the Tamron 28-300. On a Safari, I found the Tamron 28-300 to be very solid. I picked it over the Nikon version for size and weight. From testing results online, it did not seem to me there was much of a difference. In practice, I found the Tamron solid, even at 270-300 with a little post sharpening. For most purposes, I could have used the Tamron and the B700 and been fine with great photos and a real light weight kit, unless I want to print fairly large--11x14 was pretty easy--8x10 a breeze. This set up gives you some good results even up to 12x18. But, forget the 28-300 for most bird photos. You either need to get a lot of pixels on the subject with a superzoom like the Nikon B700 or use a 600mm equivalent or longer. I say this, even though I can be a bit of a sharpness snob--such a basic set up can be really good. Just make sure you test the 10x zoom in advance to determine the shooting window you are comfortable with (i.e. f/11 for 200mm to 300mm etc.). Though some will say that it is not wise to use such a lens on a good full frame camera like a D750, I can not fully agree. It is handy to have solid high ISO performance when using such a lens, plus other ease of use features. Plus, low light focusing ability is a plus. So, while I would rather use a Nikon 85mm f/1.8 on such a camera, one can make due rather nicely with less if you shoot in a mindful way.

6. Despite what I said in 5. above, if you can swing the weight and space, take one big lens for use on a full frame camera or a good crop sensor camera. In my case, this was a Tamron 150-600mm--which I found to be excellent. I could swing the extra big lens because one of my co-travelers packed a single bag and graciously volunteered to take the big lens in a case, if needed, as hand luggage. Truth be told, without a padded case it fit easily in the Dome F1X. But I wanted the case and insurance in the event of some messed up electronics ban in our new messed up world.

7. Again, subject to space and weight, take a good fixed lens camera for snapshots of people and environment. In my case, this was a Leica X (113). If I had to do it over, I might have replaced the Leica X with a second Nikon body and used a good 35mm dx lens to have redundancy. (Indeed, I almost certainly would have done this--but thankfully I did not have a redundancy problem.). I like the Leica X for general walk around black and white shots--but a crop Nikon with a 35mm dx does pretty darn well for people and I often use that instead. I find the Leica better for landscapes, but it is not that material with good shot discipline.

8. For all cameras, take extra batteries.

9. Particularly if you are shooting on or near water, take a good circular polarizer.

I hope some find these observations useful. Feel free to comment or questions. All the best.

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Jul 16, 2017 22:43:19   #
jederick Loc: Northern Utah
 
Thank You for a terrific write-up based on your recent experience. This info should prove useful for not only African safari's but any travel abroad. In reading various photography web sites, it seems more African travelers are opting for the very good crop of super telephoto bridge cameras...Sony RX10 Mark 3 and the Nikon P900 for all their photo needs. Times change.

Reply
Jul 16, 2017 22:53:07   #
whwiden
 
jederick wrote:
Thank You for a terrific write-up based on your recent experience. This info should prove useful for not only African safari's but any travel abroad. In reading various photography web sites, it seems more African travelers are opting for the very good crop of super telephoto bridge cameras...Sony RX10 Mark 3 and the Nikon P900 for all their photo needs. Times change.


I thought about the P900. Probably a solid choice. I went with the B700 for several reasons. More pixels. RAW. Smaller. Less expensive. And, it was my back up. The P900 was tempting, however.

Reply
 
 
Jul 17, 2017 00:10:33   #
rehess Loc: not here
 
whwiden wrote:
3. Film. I stupidly took a film Leica with a few lenses. Small, but I did not use them. I had black and white film but for so many reasons, it was not practical--first, because the animals do not show up well in black and white

IIRC, I've heard on nature shows that many animals are color blind, and much of the coloration that seems strange to us - such as orange animals - actually provides excellent camouflage in black and white.

Reply
Jul 17, 2017 06:44:47   #
jerryc41 Loc: Catskill Mts of NY
 
Thanks for that.

Reply
Jul 17, 2017 07:03:30   #
cthahn
 
Spend some time taking pictures instead of writing foolishness like this.

Reply
Jul 17, 2017 07:12:35   #
Haydon Loc: Hiding In Connecticut
 
cthahn wrote:
Spend some time taking pictures instead of writing foolishness like this.



Reply
 
 
Jul 17, 2017 07:16:31   #
Goober Loc: SE Pennsylvania
 
cthahn wrote:
Spend some time taking pictures instead of writing foolishness like this.


Go look in a mirror and you will see a good example of "foolishness"!!

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Jul 17, 2017 08:37:06   #
Bultaco Loc: Aiken, SC
 

Reply
Jul 17, 2017 08:38:14   #
Bultaco Loc: Aiken, SC
 
Double post

Reply
Jul 17, 2017 09:38:01   #
philo Loc: philo, ca
 
cthahn wrote:
Spend some time taking pictures instead of writing foolishness like this.


are you my sister-in-law. She's a real brain also

Reply
 
 
Jul 17, 2017 10:08:52   #
RichJ207 Loc: Sammamish, WA
 
If only Administration would add a "Double Ignore" option.

The original posting is much appreciated.

Reply
Jul 17, 2017 10:52:50   #
jaycoffman Loc: San Diego
 
Thanks for the post--this is very useful information. I'll modify it to our upcoming trip to Morocco which is a different situation but I found I had many of the same observations from our last trip to Kenya and Tanzania.

One thing I would add is to know where you're going to stay and what the electricity situation will be. We tend to use more adventure oriented travel companies that leave us camping (sort of) for several days at a time and the electricity is very sporadic and unreliable. This means it takes much longer to charge batteries and iPads and stuff and you often can't get them all charged in the time you have electricity. So, the lesson is take enough batteries and maybe a power pack just in case--they are not that heavy and take up almost no room.

While we are thrilled to be going to Morocco we are really looking forward to our next African safari trip and this kind of discussion is very useful as I will be doing some things very differently on the next trip.

Reply
Jul 17, 2017 11:19:17   #
Jim Bob
 
whwiden wrote:
I reflect below on a few general lessons that I learned from my recent trip to Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

I did a few things right, a few things wrong and few things that are open to debate. Before I went, I got much useful advice on this forum. Generally, the wrong things resulted from not having the fortitude to follow forum advice. In this post, I cover just a few general items. If there is interest, I will provide more details on certain aspects in later postings.

1. As a general matter, going to these locations in late June/early July was a big plus. Temperatures were cool, with very limited bugs to almost no bugs. Generally, I packed well, but could have eliminated short sleeve shirts. I did not wear them. I had a lightweight puffy LLBean jacket which I used extensively (with a long sleeve performance jogging shirt underneath). I used the same jacket in Austria in January, but with a fleece underneath. Take a versatile item of warm clothing.

2. Camera bag. At the last minute, I took a chance and left my hard sided case at home. Instead, I took a large Domke canvas bag, an F1X--just a little bigger than an F2. With all the travel electronic ban worries, this gave me some pause--but as no serious additional ban was put in place, I could use a carry on and not worry about checking camera equipment. These bags are easy to work out of, conform to your body, are easy to carry, etc. Make sure you take a camera bag that you can easily work out of, rather than a backpack or other camera bag with a lot of padding for transit, but not good for work. I had a few padded Tenba inserts with me in case I needed to put a camera in check baggage in an emergency. I could put my Nikon D750 with a Tamron 150-600 with a hood in the bag, no problem. When not shooting, the camera and lens combo could be protected from dust, etc. It held my puff jacket and every other item of camera equipment with room to spare. Working out of a cramped bag is just not good.

3. Film. I stupidly took a film Leica with a few lenses. Small, but I did not use them. I had black and white film but for so many reasons, it was not practical--first, because the animals do not show up well in black and white, second the film is almost certainly too slow, third, the shooting environment did not lend itself to this slower process. Maybe if I had a month, etc.? Figure out you are not Nick Brandt before you go on a 10 day trip (I did not quite have a handle on this basic fact!). I am a long time Leica B&W film shooter. Some trips to Europe, that is all I take. Here, I knew I could not go exclusively film, so I did not make that mistake at least. But, for whatever Leica fan boy reason, I could not resist taking my tried and true camera set up--dumb on my part. I ended up carrying a small bag I did not use at all with really nice film gear. Not the worst mistake ever, but one I will not make again on a similar trip.

4. Inexpensive super zooms. Are great for Africa! My version was a Nikon B700 as a backup. I took some great photos with it. So did my wife. If I did not want to print larger than 8x10 or 11x14 many shots would be terrific. For web and smaller, there is no reason for better or more expensive equipment. I was somewhat surprised by this. As advised by some on this forum, this should have been no surprise. All I can say before using this set up--practice with it, figure out how you want the camera set (i.e. ISO not above 800), etc. As a film shooter, you learn to be steady. You must be steady with one of these sorts of cameras--brace, use a monopod, etc. Once you get your technique down, you get very solid results (I say this as a full frame Nikon guy and sometime Leica fan boy who on occasion will fixate on sharpness rather than good photos).

5. 10x zooms for full frame. People have a love/hate relationship with lenses like the Nikon 28-300 or the Tamron 28-300. On a Safari, I found the Tamron 28-300 to be very solid. I picked it over the Nikon version for size and weight. From testing results online, it did not seem to me there was much of a difference. In practice, I found the Tamron solid, even at 270-300 with a little post sharpening. For most purposes, I could have used the Tamron and the B700 and been fine with great photos and a real light weight kit, unless I want to print fairly large--11x14 was pretty easy--8x10 a breeze. This set up gives you some good results even up to 12x18. But, forget the 28-300 for most bird photos. You either need to get a lot of pixels on the subject with a superzoom like the Nikon B700 or use a 600mm equivalent or longer. I say this, even though I can be a bit of a sharpness snob--such a basic set up can be really good. Just make sure you test the 10x zoom in advance to determine the shooting window you are comfortable with (i.e. f/11 for 200mm to 300mm etc.). Though some will say that it is not wise to use such a lens on a good full frame camera like a D750, I can not fully agree. It is handy to have solid high ISO performance when using such a lens, plus other ease of use features. Plus, low light focusing ability is a plus. So, while I would rather use a Nikon 85mm f/1.8 on such a camera, one can make due rather nicely with less if you shoot in a mindful way.

6. Despite what I said in 5. above, if you can swing the weight and space, take one big lens for use on a full frame camera or a good crop sensor camera. In my case, this was a Tamron 150-600mm--which I found to be excellent. I could swing the extra big lens because one of my co-travelers packed a single bag and graciously volunteered to take the big lens in a case, if needed, as hand luggage. Truth be told, without a padded case it fit easily in the Dome F1X. But I wanted the case and insurance in the event of some messed up electronics ban in our new messed up world.

7. Again, subject to space and weight, take a good fixed lens camera for snapshots of people and environment. In my case, this was a Leica X (113). If I had to do it over, I might have replaced the Leica X with a second Nikon body and used a good 35mm dx lens to have redundancy. (Indeed, I almost certainly would have done this--but thankfully I did not have a redundancy problem.). I like the Leica X for general walk around black and white shots--but a crop Nikon with a 35mm dx does pretty darn well for people and I often use that instead. I find the Leica better for landscapes, but it is not that material with good shot discipline.

8. For all cameras, take extra batteries.

9. Particularly if you are shooting on or near water, take a good circular polarizer.

I hope some find these observations useful. Feel free to comment or questions. All the best.
I reflect below on a few general lessons that I le... (show quote)


Thanks. One day I hope to be in a position to follow your excellent advice.

Reply
Jul 17, 2017 11:42:55   #
tscali
 
I'm taking a similar trip in September; our stops are South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. Where you able to use a tripod while on the truck? If I cannot, I have a piece of foam rubber, about an inch thick that I will wrap around the bar while on the truck and secure w velcro straps. Do you think this will be enough to stabilize my big lens? I'm planning on bringing my D750 w Tamron 150-600mm, and a D7000 w Nikon 24-120mm f/4. I'll have other lenses. Did you take any small planes while traveling; if yes, did they weigh your carry-on? I have a hard camera backpack/roller suitcase. It meets the dimension requirements for a carry-on; but it will exceed the weight limitations when we are on the smaller planes. The tour I'm taking suggested telling our tour leader as soon as we arrive and ask for his help. Was there much dust? I have several plastic bags that I will use to transport. Did you have much time to setup your gear. How did you prepare to minimize setup time? What were your favorite settings while shooting wildlife: if possible one for birding and another for larger game. Are you allowed to use a flash while on a game drive? Did you use one? Thanks in advance for any info. Sure would like to see some of your photos.

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