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Safari lens advice

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I am heading to the Serengeti this December. Most of my photography is H20 related, thus this will be the first time I will be photographing safari animalbilia.

I will be using a Nikon D90 dSLR. I need to purchase a lens, thus what lens would be most useful: A 300mm, 400mm? etc

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I went to Kruger, and rented an 80-400VR for my D90. The reason for rental, why pay £1200 for a lens I will only ever use once in a while?

 

I found it was a very good focal length, although once you get out there, it seems nothing is long enough, especially for the birds.

 

I have no idea what the Serengeti is like, but in Kruger, I had a second body fitted ith a Sigma 17-70mm, and this was needed at time, especially for some of the elephants (they surrounded the car).

 

I did find the 80-400 to focus pretty slowly, as it is the old AF type (not AFS), and as it got darker, it struggled even more. If I were going back, I would love to rent a big prime, something like a 400mm F/2.8, or maybe even longer. But for the trip I just did, I only had 8 days in the park, the rest was diving in Mozambique, so didn't want to haul around a £7000 lens all the time.

 

Hope that helps

 

Sean

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Budget is a major factor.

 

Money no object (although not that bad for a two week rental) I would go for a 200-400mm (which I own) or a 500mm f4. I'd also rent a 1.4x or 1.7x TC with either of them.

 

Don't forget bean-bag to support then lens. Realising the full potential of big glass means getting everything right. And don't be sloppy with focusing.

 

Alex

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It depends on your budget and who you are with. Primes will be the best quality and depending on where you are, a 300mm is absolute minimum, and 400mm is a decent length for mammals. For birding, you'll need 600mm with a good AF motor. A good safari guide will be able to get you close enough and with the plains, it's easier than paved road game parks to go right up to the animals. However, they cost 2-3x the price of zooms. You can use teleconverters with losing AF with fast primes, whereas with zooms you may go over f/8 and can't AF.

A zoom is the most versatile, especially if you get lucky enough to find a predation. If you get a quality zoom like the Nikon 200-400VR, the image quality is close to primes but not quite the same.

If you don't want to spend too much money on lenses, the Sigma 150-500 is a nice flexible lens. It has image stabilization (OS) and very decent quality. It's got decent to good center resolution with crappy corners wide open, which is pretty much how most of these cheaper zooms will do. I tried a friend's copy a few months back and for $1000, it's good value but obviously not top end stuff, especially on the AF end.

A tripod or monopod (if you are sharing the vehicle with other photogs) with a ball head or even better, a Sidekick or Wimberley head will make it easy to shoot behavior as you can move with the subject without having to shift the bag.

You don't have to buy a sand bag. Since you'll be in Tanzania, just bring a simple freezer ziplock or cloth bag, go to the markets (ask before you take photos) and buy some beans to fill the bag. Less weight to deal with and if you stop in Kenya, get coffee beans from the camp/hotel so you can enjoy the best of both worlds :)

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If just one lens, I'd vote for a zoom lens in the 100-400 range on the crop sensor. Have another body ready with the standard zoom just in case of close encounters with big animals, or for sweeping vistas of the acacias, kopjes and herds.

 

Anything much longer than 400mm on crop sensor and you'll be tempted to shoot through way too much air... I've found dust and heat haze (while effective sometimes) mostly will take the edge of the sharpness of many pics of animals that are too far away. With a longer lens you'll also end up with a file full of animal head shots that could have been shot in a zoo. Often nice to put them in context.

 

Having said that, if you could pack a 500 or 600 for perfectly clear days when all the action is far away, then good luck to you!

 

I too vote for the bean/sand bag approach, with IS/VR you'll be sweet.

 

Take plenty of cards and batteries ... and enjoy!

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Thank you londonsean69, Alex_Mustard, Drew & Photovan for all the quality, informative feedback. Much appreciated!!!

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I think that a great way to go for most safari large animal stuff is the 70-200 with a 1.4 and/or a 2x Teleconvertor.

The 200-400 is a wonderful lens, but it's a beast and of course very expensive.

I used the 70-200 with or without the 2x TC almost exclusively on my recent trip to SA and it worked great. Much lighter and easier to handhold in a landrover type vehicle.

http://waterworldimages.smugmug.com/Travel...985180647_CriWe

The new Nikon 70-200 and 2x TC are phenomenal optics that work incredibly well together. Depending on how close the trackers etc get to the animals, you may even find the the 200-400 too big and then the ability to take off the TC with the 70-200 so you have both a 70-200 and 140-400 combination is very quick and convenient.

The reach is of course even better with your D90 than it was on my D700. Cost of a 70-200 plus TC is about $2000 vs about $6000 for the 200-400.

If you are specifically going for birds, then of course you need the big guns like the 500 or 600 or the 200-400 and TC.

If you are purchasing a lens for general use after your trip, the 70-200 also makes more sense. On the other hand, if you are renting, then get whatever your luggage will allow.

You may also want to try to get more info as to what type of safari viewing you will be doing. If you are in a larger groups say from a small bus, you will need lenses with longer reach. If you are in a landrover that can take you anywhere then 70-200 plus TC is quite adequate in my experience; in fact the 200-400 would have been too cumbersome much of the time.

Edited by loftus

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I forgot to add the Serengeti VERY dusty in the dry months and would not recommend changing lenses in the field unless in a lens bag. Bring a dust cover for your cameras too. I suggest you buy a D3100 as a 2nd body and use your standard zoom on one of the bodies. This saves on changing lenses and you can switch cameras much quicker than you can lenses without getting dust in your camera/lens.

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i suggest a nice soft 2 inch paint brush for dusting off equipment

 

be sure to keep camera bags closed

 

with a crop frame camera i really don't think anything longer than 400mm is really necessary (and depending on the vehicle, a 500 or 600 can really get in the way). don't know about Kenya, but Tanzania limits the hours for vehcle traffic (unless you buy the speicial photo pass which allows night and off-road) to daylight so you can pretty much always shoot at f5.6 to f11.

 

you certainly need something to cover the 100-200 range as are lots of opportunities for "landscape plus animals". That said, i rarely found less than 70mm necessary. i found a 100-400 on 5D2 plus 400 on 40D to work very well for minimal lens changing

 

in addition to taking time to remove and replace, and allowing dust into the lens (and adding 2 more surfaces to keep clean), i've found the IQ of teleconverters with any of the Canon zooms to be disappointing and really consider the 1.4x for emergency use only

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I'd suggest 2 camera bodies - one for longer tele zoom & one for WA/moderate length. Minimizes changing lenses in the field + you have a backup.

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The 80-400 is a good option, but it is slow to focus as it is not an AFS lens. Nobody mentioned the 300mm f4, I used that along with my 500 f4 on a recent safari to Namibia. The 300 f4 is very sharp and works well with my TC14 and TC17. I don't have the new TC20. It's a good tradeoff considering it's price, size, and performance. It's only missing VR, but that's not a big issue if you use a bean bag.

 

Have fun.

 

Cheers,

alan

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There are clearly many options if you have two cameras. Assuming only one D90 though, I still think the 70-200 with 2xTC (Nikon) will provide the most versatility, excellent focus performance, reasonable f-stop f5.6, and superb image quality at a price that's not nearly as expensive as the 200-400. I would not plan to change the TC repeatedly, but go out with the TC in place so you are set up with 140-400 range which should be a perfect range for a DX camera for most shooting. Also much lighter and easier to handle than the 200-400. In a pinch, if you have to, remove the TC. The other thing, when you get back, you will still have a superb lens that you can use frequently and routinely topside, vs some of the exotics which you won't likely use till the next safari. The 70-200 is also the perfect boat lens when shooting topside on dive trips etc. The 200-400 on a boat -fuggedaboudit! Just my practical opinion. Now with a 2 body setup, I'd put the 70-200 on one and the 200-400 on the other. (and I'd still pack the 2xTC). And then of course the second body would be a D7000. Great setup but a whole lot more green.

Edited by loftus

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