James’s camera and photo gear
Packing the right gear is one of the most important stages of any photography trip – here’s a stellar setup…
01 Long zoom
To fill the frame with distant animals you need a long lens – at least 300mm. Monster primes like Nikon’s 600mm f/4 are preferred by pros, but for most of us this is way out of both our price range and baggage allowance. A versatile, highquality zoom like the Sigma 150-600mm Sport is ideal, and won’t break the bank.
02 Wide angle
A wide-angle lens is a very useful addition. Not only can you use it to shoot landscapes or star shots at night, it also comes in handy on those occasions when animals come up really close to the safari vehicle, or for capturing wider shots of wildlife within those renowned epic African landscapes.
A DSLR with good low-light performance means you can shoot animals at dawn and dusk and your images won’t be overrun with noise. A high megapixel count is also useful, as you can crop in when your lens isn’t quite long enough. The D800 here has 36 million, so even cropping off half the frame leaves a detail-rich image.
04 50mm lens
A 50mm prime lens has all sorts of useful applications, from taking portraits with beautifully blurred backgrounds, to shooting in the low light of the evening or dawn. What’s more, it’s a great walkabout lens for capturing the vibrant African sights around you, and it won’t take up too much room in the bag.
Stability is vital when using long lenses, and a beanbag rested on the side of a safari truck is often more practical than a monopod or tripod in such a confined space. But check with your tour operator before you go out and buy one, as many keep their trucks well stocked with beanbags that you can borrow.
When shooting with a long lens a monopod gives you enough stability to ward off shake, and enough manoeuverability to track the animal. As such, it’s one of the most useful bits of kit in the safari photographer’s bag, especially when shooting from vehicles that don’t have rails or windows to rest the camera on.
07 Spare body
If you have a spare DSLR and the space in your baggage, then bring it along too. Cameras can fail, and you don’t want to be left without one when on the trip of a lifetime. You can also use your backup camera for different tasks that might tie up your main body, like shooting a timelapse or for video.
A top quality bag is vital – not just for transport, but also protection. Your bag becomes sort of like a mobile office when on a trip. With space for all our gear plus a laptop, the Benro Sherpa 600 here is a great choice. Crucially, it’s just under the standard airline dimension limits for carryon luggage.
A gimbal, like the Benro here, is by far the best way to mount a long lens to a tripod. It allows you to smoothly track the movement of a running animal or bird in flight. You probably wouldn’t find it all that useful in the limited space of a safari vehicle, but when you’re able to shoot on land it’s invaluable.
10 Acc essories
Bring along plenty of memory cards – trust us, your DSLR will eat through them. A backup drive will help free up memory card space. You’ll need a spare battery or two (although some safari trucks will have plugs for recharging). Lens wipes are also very useful as the dust is pervasive during dry seasons.