What photo equipment to take on safari

 

As an amateur photographer with seven years of experience in the bush, I’ve learned a few things about the best photo equipment to bring on a safari. While I can’t guarantee you won’t miss a shot or damage your camera, I hope my advice helps you capture amazing wildlife photos. While taking pictures in JPEG is fine, I prefer to shoot in RAW and use Lightroom for post-processing, as it lets me get the most out of my photographs.

 

Transporting Your Gear

I recommend using a small camera bag and keeping it in your hand luggage for transport. Large camera bags are great for professionals, but if you’re like me, you’ll want to avoid carrying too much stuff.

 

My Equipment

Here’s a rundown of the equipment I use:

– Canon EOS 1D X Mark II with EF lenses:

  – 14mm 1:2.8 L II USM

  – 16-35mm 1:2.8 L USM

  – 70-200mm 1:2.8 L IS III USM

  – 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II

  – 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Extender 1.4

  – Sigma EX 24-70mm 1:2.8 DG HSM

 – Canon EOS R5 with RF lenses:

  – 24-105mm F2.8 L IS USM

  – 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM

  – Mount adapter EF-EOS R for using EF lenses on the R5

 

Practical Advice

This advice is based on my practical experience. Photoshops and professionals might argue you need more gear for specific situations, but you’ll want to focus on wildlife on a safari. Smartphones are great for family, events, and lodge photos, but you need the right camera gear for distant animals.

I don’t use prime lenses with long focal lengths. While a 400mm or 600mm lens produces excellent results, it’s limiting when animals move close to your vehicle. A zoom lens like 100-400mm or 100-500mm allows you to adjust quickly. Modern cameras have high resolutions so that you can crop images later.

 

Preferred Equipment

I use my DSLR or mirrorless cameras with lenses like 100-400mm, 100-500mm, or 200-400mm. My EF 200-400mm lens with a teleconverter gives slightly better pictures but is heavy and impractical to hold for long periods. Some lodges offer gimbals, but I prefer using a beanbag and shooting at high shutter speeds (around 1/1000) to capture sharp images. With 1/1000 handheld shots, it works fine even with your lens at max 500mm.

 

Settings and Techniques

As mentioned earlier, I prefer a shutter speed setting, and usually, I use 1/1000. But sometimes, when darkness comes, I start to reduce the shutter speed slightly and try to find support for my camera so as not to drive up the ISO too far. Birds in flight require higher shutter speeds, like 1/2000 seconds.

During the day in the open sun, I only use 100 ISO, but in changing conditions, I set my ISO to automatic and adjust the exposure compensation by one notch. This helps when transitioning between shade and sunlight. I limit my ISO to a maximum of 3200 to avoid grainy pictures. Check your results from time to time, as every camera is different.

My recommendations: For lodge and family photos, use your smartphone. For wildlife shots, use a 100-400mm or 100-500mm telephoto lens.

 

Photographic Hides at Ximuwu Safari Lodge

Ximuwu Safari Lodge offers two unique photographic hides. These hides provide a water-level vantage point, placing you just 8-10 meters away from animals as they come to drink. This allows you to capture stunning, eye-level shots that are truly unforgettable. 

While patience is required—such moments don’t happen in just 10 minutes—the experience is well worth the wait. Watching a herd of elephants drinking and playing from this close angle is a breathtaking experience for everyone, not just photographers.

 

Protecting Your Gear

Protecting your camera from dust and rain is essential. I usually leave my cameras open in the vehicle, which hasn’t caused issues. On a multi-day safari, use common sense. Dust isn’t a big concern if your guide isn’t constantly following other vehicles. For rain, consider a plastic camera sleeve. Rainy weather often provides excellent photo opportunities, especially with animals. Remember to dry your equipment thoroughly to avoid condensation. 

I’m not too fond of polarising filters in the bush as the light conditions change often, and when it gets too dark or you are in the shade, they make the pictures too dark. A clear filter is a choice, but I believe when you keep your lens hood on, it is protected enough, and it does not make better pictures.

 

Note

I am well aware that I have opened up a can of worms! Professional photographers will come and debate many other settings and recommendations. Still, please remember: This works for me and probably for 90% of all other not-so-extremely talented picture-takers!

Happy Holidays. Remember to put your camera away occasionally; the bush is too beautiful to stare through a camera or iPhone.

We see it happening all the time, unfortunately.

Patrick Suverein

CEO, Ximuwu Safari Lodge and Amateur Photographer 

 

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