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Best Camera & Lens for Safari in Africa

Best Camera & Lens for Safari in Africa

Are you planning a trip to Africa and wondering what’s the best camera for safari or what lens to get for safari photography? In this post, you can read some suggestions for camera equipment to take on safari in Africa.

We cover some of the best cameras and lenses for safari photography. In addition, you can find some general tips for safari photography. Find out!

There are so many cameras and lenses that you can use for safari photography; it’s impossible to cover them all. In this post, I am sharing some general tips that you should know when choosing a camera and lenses for your safari trip.

At the bottom of the post, you can also find my personal recommendations for the best cameras, lenses, and also tripods for wildlife photography. Find out!

TIP: If you are looking for more general practical information about taking pictures, please check our guide with the best travel photography tips.

Best cameras for safari and lenses for wildlife photography
 

Best camera and lens for safari

We visited Africa several times and have been on numerous safaris. Watching other tourists taking pictures of the animals is often more entertaining than the safari ride itself.

People use every imaginable type of camera on safari. You see smartphones, tablets, but also 10kg half a meter long lenses which are impossible to hold still and are therefore pretty much useless on safari rides…

If you are a professional photographer going to Africa in order to photograph animals, then this post is not for you. If you don’t care about the pictures and only go on safari for the experience – then this post is not for you either.

This post is for hobby photographers who are going on safari and hoping to take at least a couple of decent quality pictures to bring home as a memory of this amazing experience.

Before I continue with what kind of camera equipment you best take on safari in Africa, there are a couple of things you should know. Read on!

What to know about taking pictures of animals on safari

  • You cannot take good safari pictures with a smartphone, a tablet or a pocket camera. You can take ok pictures with the newest smartphones, but it’s incomparable with the quality you get with a DSLR camera.
  • The chances of you getting a National Geographic – like close-up high-quality image of a hunting leopard in action are close to zero.
  • You can take good quality pictures of safari animals even if you are not a pro. But you’ll need good equipment and it helps if you can learn a few basic photography techniques. As a minimum, you need one of the two, so if you don’t know much about photography, you definitely need a good camera and a decent lens.

If you don’t own a good camera yet, a trip to Africa is the perfect excuse to get one. Come on, you are going to spend thousands of dollars to go on a once-in-a-lifetime safari trip to Africa and take a pocket camera with you? Really? You’ll regret it the first day, take my word for it.

And no, your latest iPhone won’t do the job either. You may use it to photograph landscapes or a herd of zebras in a distance, but it will be completely useless for photographing moving animals (and they do move, they always do).

TIP: If you don’t feel like getting a DSLR camera for safari and having to change lenses, take a look at some of the best point-and-shoot cameras available at the moment. Technology doesn’t stand still and there are some really good cameras with amazing zoom possibilities that might be perfect for your needs. We ourselves just bought Nikon Coolpix P1000 and I’m so impressed with this camera, the zoom, and image stabilization that I’m not sure I’ll ever want to take my DSLR & lenses on many trips anymore. For more budget-friendly alternatives with decent zoom, take a look at Panasonic Lumix FZ300 or the previous model of the camera we bought – Nikon Coolpix P900.

Jumping springbok antelope in Africa
It took a very good camera and lots of luck to get a decent shot of a jumping springbok
 

Tips for choosing the best camera and lens for safari

I’m not going to go into too much detail about all kinds of different camera brands and models as there are so many of them available with new ones coming out all the time. You can find a few suggestions based on your budget below, but this is what you definitely should know about the best camera for a safari in Africa.

  • You need a digital SRL camera or a very good, newest point-and-shoot to take on safari in Africa. What you need, basically, is a camera that focuses fast and takes a picture the moment you press the shutter and not a second later.
  • You need a good telephoto zoom lens with a reach of at least 200mm to photograph safari animals. There will be moments you wish you had a 500mm with you, but in my view, it’s just not worth the price and the weight to carry a lens like that if you are not a professional photographer. Unless you get one of the point-and-shoot cameras that sometimes have a zoom that goes to 2000-3000mm – more about it below.
  • You need a wider lens for photographing landscapes, which are often just as interesting as the animals. I use 24-70mm as my main lens when we travel, also in Africa. If you like really wide landscape pictures, you may want an even wider lens, like 16-35mm (my new favorite) or 17-40mm. If you have a regular DSRL camera without the full-frame sensor, you’ll probably need a lens of at least 18-55mm for regular landscape shots and one from 10-18mm for wide-angle photography.
  •  You may want to take a second (cheaper) camera for photographing landscapes so that you don’t have to change lenses all the time when you are on safari.
  • Consider taking a tripod to photograph animals in low-light conditions (morning or evening) at the waterholes. More about it further below.
  • Take enough batteries and memory cards when traveling to Africa – at least twice as much as for a regular trip. Charging batteries might not always be possible (certainly if you are camping) and you won’t find many places selling batteries or memory cards in the middle of the Kruger National Park or the Kalahari desert.
Best camera equipment for safari in Africa
 

What camera to pack for safari

As I said before, this post is not for professional photographers, but rather for regular tourists. Also for photography enthusiasts traveling to Africa and hoping to get a few decent shots of safari animals.

Below you’ll find a few suggestions on what camera and lenses to take on safari.

I’m going to focus on Canon cameras and lenses as this is what I use and know best.

Best-buy cameras for safari in Africa

If you are looking for a decent camera for your trips, but don’t want to spend a fortune on it, you should consider the cheapest DSLR cameras available.

At Canon, it would be the Canon EOS Rebel series. Often you can get a kit (camera + lenses + accessories) for around 500-600 USD. If you don’t know much about photography and just want good pictures without too much effort this camera is just right for you.

Why not just buy a point-and-shoot camera? As already said, you do need fast autofocus and a good lens in order to get decent pictures of safari animals. This DSLR camera will take care of that. But as I’m updating this article, I have to say that there are now also very good point-and-shoot cameras that could do the job just as well. In this price range, we recommend something like Nikon Coolpix P900.

Mid-price range safari camera

If you are looking for more possibilities and even better pictures and don’t mind spending a bit more money, Canon EOS REBEL SL3 and similar series might be a good option for you. This kind of camera is great for photography enthusiasts looking for a good price-quality camera to improve their photography skills.

Higher-price/ semi-pro quality camera

Probably the best price/quality DSLR cameras for those who are serious about travel photography are Canon EOS 6DII and similar series. If you want great quality pictures and use your camera on a very regular basis, then these cameras won’t disappoint you. However, we now have an even better recommendation at a lower price – see below.

The perfect camera for safari and general travel photography

TIP – our newest recommendation: In the mid-price range, but with an amazing lens included, so actually cheaper than most other cameras, you can also get a point-and-shoot camera Nikon Coolpix P1000. This is the camera we recently bought and I really don’t think anything else compares to it in terms of possibilities/ flexibility/ price/ quality.

This all-in-one camera has an insane optical zoom of up to 3000mm, but you can also shoot wide landscapes with it. If you don’t want to change lenses but still want good picture quality and the best zoom range on the market, you really can’t go wrong with it.

In all honesty, I think it can compete with one of the latest models of the semi-pro Canon EOS 5D that I own (and that costs about 3-4 times more, not even to mention the lenses). It may not have all the possibilities of a professional camera, but for 99% of people looking for the best camera for safari (and travel in general), it will give you all you could ever wish for. At the moment of the latest update to this article, this is my personal favorite camera and I can highly recommend it to anyone!

Reflections of two giraffes at Okaukejo waterhole at sunset
You definitely need a tripod to photograph animals in low light

Best lenses for safari

Consider investing in one or two really good lenses if you are somewhat serious about photography.

Standard EFS lenses from Canon are ok with the cheapest DSLR cameras and will do the job for occasional travel photography, but if you can afford it, get the best lens you can and rather save on the camera.

I started out with the cheapest DSLR some 10 years ago, but immediately bought two very good lenses (Canon L 24-70 f2.8 and Canon L 70-200 f4 IS USM). I’ve switched 3 cameras by now, but these two lenses still do the perfect job and are my most used lenses. I couldn’t have used the cheaper EFS lenses on the camera I own now…

It’s a big investment in the beginning, but the quality is worth it. On top of that, the good lenses keep their value and you can usually resell them at a good price later if you decide that photography is not for you.

As already mentioned, you need a good telephoto lens with a reach of at least 200mm in order to photograph safari animals. Preferably 300mm or even more if you can justify the cost and the weight. I use the Canon L series lenses, but there are plenty of cheaper alternatives from Canon, but also from Sigma or Tamron. Just make sure they fit the camera you have as these brands have the same range lenses for many different brands, including Canon and Nikon.

Close-up of a lioness in South Africa
You need a good telephoto lens for close-ups of the animals
 

Best budget lens for safari

You can buy a good beginner’s lens for wildlife photography for $100-200. Canon has a 75-300mm f/4-5.6 or you can get a similar lens from Tamron – AF 75-300mm f/4-5.6.

Mid-range safari lens

There is a lot of choice of good telephoto lenses for safari in the mid-range budget. Some good examples are Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM or Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM.

You can even choose a 2-in-1 solution – a lens that is wide enough for landscapes, but also has a telephoto zoom for animals. Here are a couple of good examples: Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS or Tamron 28-300mm F/3.5-6.3.

Best quality lenses for safari photography

The best lenses for wildlife photography will quickly cost you over $1000. As I said, it’s an investment and these lenses will do a great job for many years. However, if you only need a camera and tele lenses for this one safari trip to Africa, then it’s a really expensive choice.

Probably one of the best safari lenses from Canon is the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. I personally find it a bit too heavy and too expensive to justify this purchase, but I still have to meet a photographer who doesn’t love this lens. I use a bit cheaper and lighter version – Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM.

A good alternative with a bit more reach is Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM. I have to admit that I had one of these, but didn’t love it. Maybe it was just one bad lens, because the reviews are really great.

Best tripods for safari trip

If you only have the smallest DSLR and don’t want to spend too much money, remember that any tripod is better than none. As long as it can hold the camera without falling over, of course. Otherwise, you better don’t use any. You can get a tripod for under $50 and it will probably do the job.

If you have a heavier camera and/or lens, the cheapest tripod is not going to be good enough. I use and recommend Manfrotto tripods, depending on the camera/ lens weight and your needs.

For travelers, I recommend Manfrotto carbon tripods since they weigh much less and are therefore more suitable when traveling. They are not cheap, but worth every cent. I had two different tripods before I got this one 6 years ago, and none of the previous ones lasted even two years. Manfrotto is in constant use and it’s still as good as new.

For traveling, I bought Manfrotto 494RC2 ball head since it’s so small and takes less space in my luggage. I now actually use this ball head at home too.

So, this is our guide to the best safari cameras and lenses. I hope that it helps you decide what camera and lens to pack for your trip to Africa and get some really good pictures on safari.

For the best safari experience, make sure to also check our top tips for your first safari experience in Africa. Click the link below to read more!

READ ALSO: Africa Safari Tips

If you found this post useful, don’t forget to bookmark it and share it with your friends. Are you on Pinterest? Pin this image!

What camera to pack for safari in Africa. Complete guide to the best camera gear for wildlife photography.
 

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Sandra Gomez

Monday 10th of January 2022

Hi, thank you for your article I bought the Canon ESO Rebel T5 with 18-55 and 75-300 mm, back in 2015; I used it once. The description mentions only SRL, in your opinion is this a good camera to take for a Safari? Thank you.

Sandra Gomez

Monday 10th of January 2022

@Jurga, perfect, thank you so much!!

Jurga

Monday 10th of January 2022

Hi Sandra, this camera is a DSLR and it should be ok for some hobby shots. I think the standard kit lenses are quite basic, but you have 300mm zoom and that should be enough for some nice wildlife pictures if there's sufficient light and you manage to hold it still. If you haven't used this camera in 6 years, I'd definitely not buy another one. What's the point of spending that much money on something you never use otherwise. So just make the best of the one you already have. Ideally, practice a bit before your trip, so that you get used to the camera, know some basic settings, etc. It's also good to check how long the battery lasts. If it hasn't been used for so long, I'd definitely try to use it at home before the trip to be sure that it all works ok.

Stefano

Tuesday 31st of August 2021

Hello there, I just wanted to know if, in your opinion, a 70-200mm could be enough for shooting wildlife in Africa. I know that getting a lens above that (200-600) will be better but it would be a lot of money and the use would be limited (with a 70mm i could still be using it for portrait pictures). What do you think? Thanks in advance for reading my comment and nice work with this post, very useful! I have a alpha 7iii with a 24mm F1.4 GM. Just to add to my question. Is the Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 a good alternative to the Sony FE 70-200mm f4? I believe that both have OSS, so I don’t understand why the latter costs more. Is the super 35mm mode on the Sony a7iii a good tool to get a bit more of zoom? Thanks!

Jurga

Wednesday 1st of September 2021

Hi Stefano, I took most of our safari pictures with either 70-200mm or 70-300mm lens, so yes, you can get good images at that zoom range. It all depends on how far the animals are, how the light is, etc. It's often difficult to justify the cost of a more expensive lens, especially if you'll only use it for a few pictures on this one trip. So don't worry about it too much and just try to make the best of the material that you have. As for the lenses you mention, the Sony FE 70-200mm f4 has a fixed aperture (f4 at any zoom range) and that's what makes it more expensive. To put it simply, the lower the f-number, the better (and more expensive) the lens. Read a bit more about aperture on the internet if you are not sure what this means. As for the super mode on your Sony, I'm afraid I can't comment on that since I'm not familiar with this camera. Once again, there's tons of info online and it might be a good idea to get to know your camera a bit better anyway. It doesn't make much sense to keep on investing in the more expensive camera gear if you don't use it to its full advantage. Instead, try to make the most of the gear that you already have. Also, remember to simply enjoy the trip and the things you'll see instead of worrying about pictures all the time. Hope this helps. Enjoy Africa!

Maryam

Saturday 24th of July 2021

Dear Jurga, Thank you for this informative article. I am going on an African safari in August. I am not a professional photographer but have a passion for photography ;) After reading your aricle, I went to an electonics shop nearby to check the prices. The sales clerk offered me Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ82. Here in your post, you've mentioned Lumix FZ3000. The latter is about USD 200 more expensive than FZ82. Would you say for an amateur like myself, it'd be worth investing so much in a FZ3000 or do you find FZ82 acceptable for the purpose of safari photography? Thank you in advance!

Jurga

Monday 26th of July 2021

Hi Maryam, there are so many cameras in the lower price range that have great zoom capacity for safari photography, and new, enhanced models come out all the time. I couldn't find the FZ82 in the US, but this Lumix FZ80 looks great for the price and I read that these cameras are identical, just different names are used in different markets where they are sold. So yes, it looks like a nice budget camera for a hobby photographer. It will never give you the same results as 2-3k$ cameras and lenses, but it will definitely give you enough zoom range to get some nice close-ups of wildlife. The rest really depends on you - how still you can keep your camera, how well you compose the shot, etc. Hope this helps. Have a great trip!

Patrick

Tuesday 6th of July 2021

Hi there. Enjoyed the article. We’re using our safari in a few months as an excuse to finally buy a good camera. We prefer a high quality bridge camera so we aren’t carrying lens. We’re down to the Nikon you recommend, the Nikon P950 and the Sony RX10 Mark IV. The Sony seems to top all of the bridge camera lists but we’ve had lots of people we actually know recommend the Nikons. Can you provide your view on the comparison?

Thank you!

Jurga

Wednesday 21st of July 2021

Hi Patrick, sorry for the late reply - we were traveling and I'm just catching up on all the comments. And maybe it's too late by now, but anyway. Unfortunately, I have no experience with the Sony camera you mention, but having just used my Nikon extensively during our vacation, I'm really in love with it. It's the first time in years that I just packed on camera, no extra lenses, and could take pretty much any picture I wanted because of its amazing zoom. One thing I wasn't happy with is the way it handles situations where there's harsh sun and strong shadows, but my 3x more expensive Canon 5Ds was just the same. I found that in difficult light conditions my phone takes better pictures than any expensive camera. But for all the rest - I absolutely love my Nikon Coolpix P1000.

Jacqui

Tuesday 16th of March 2021

Hi I am off to Kenya in June, covid permitting. I have a Panasonic lumix G which i shall take as I love the 4k function and it takes lovely video shots. I was planning on taking the following lenses for this camera 14 to 42 45 to 150 100 to 300 I also have a nikon D500 and I am not too sure as to weather I should take the 150 to 600 sigma contemporary lens, I know I won't be able to hold still on safari jeep, but was wondering if it would be beneficial for using at camp sites for close ups of birds etc I shall be staying at Aberdare Country Club, Asnil Samburu camp, Lake Naivasha Simba Lodge and Ashnil Mara Tented Camp plus a couple of days in Nairobi itself Your comments would be greatly appreciated

Jamie Biddle

Tuesday 18th of May 2021

@Jacqui, Hi I’m Jamie and headed to Tanzania & Kenya 6/12 (Covid permitting too !).

Jurga, I love your post because I am not a pro and do want great memories of this trip. The 3 Point & shoot you mentioned are my speed since we can only take 33# per person (that’s hard for us girls!!). Which of those 3 mentioned have the best zoom for the money?

Jurga

Wednesday 17th of March 2021

Hi Jacqui, if you have two cameras, then maybe take them both. I'd put a wider lens on one and a telelens with the maximum zoom on the other. It's very hard to switch lenses in a dusty environment while on safari, so this would give you more reach and flexibility. But everything depends on how much stuff you want to carry around, how you travel, etc. You can never have the perfect lens for every circumstance, so I usually try to pack 2, maximum 3 lenses that will cover most scenarios, even if that means that sometimes they won't be the best ones for that particular shot. Good luck and I hope that your trip can take place!

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