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Best Camera & Lens for Safari in Africa

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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. Some examples are Nikon Coolpix P1000 or more budget-friendly choices like Canon Powershot SX70 and Panasonic Lumix FZ1000.

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 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.
  • 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 model? As already said, you do need fast autofocus and a good lens in order to get decent pictures of safari animals. This camera will take care of that. And if you want to learn a bit more about photography, these cheaper DSLRs are perfect to start.

Mid-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 80D 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.

The perfect camera for safari and general travel photography

Probably the best price/quality cameras for those who are serious about travel photography are Canon EOS 7D and Canon EOS 6D series. If you want great quality pictures and use your camera on a very regular basis, then look no further. These cameras won’t disappoint you.

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

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

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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


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!


Tuesday 25th of February 2020

I just wanted to thank you for all the tips and information. As a fairly experienced traveler who has managed good photos with just a cell phone on regular world travels (not wildlife), it was daunting to think about cameras for the first time. I decided on the entry level Canon T6 EOS kit with an 18-55 and a 75-300 lens (plus all the accessories, tripod, etc.). It was about $450 and does everything we'll need for our first safari to Botswana this year. I am taking an adult education photography class at our local university, which I would highly recommend to anyone who knows nothing about DSLR cameras. Thanks again for the advice!


Friday 28th of February 2020

Glad to hear that you found this info useful, Darrell. And wow, you definitely take this seriously! Taking a photography class will surely help you get some great safari pictures. Often, it's not that much about the photography equipment you use, but about how you use it. Enjoy your trip! Botswana will be amazing!

Irene M.

Monday 13th of January 2020

Hi there Jurga, I am going to Kruger National Park for the first time and I just bought the Canon deluxe kit eos rebel t7i with two lens one is EF-S 18-55 and EF-S 55-250 IS STM. I also bought one sd card 128 gb. I have very little knowledge on photography. My questions to you are, should I get another sd card and what lens should I use as I don't want to be changing because I will probably miss that once in a life time great picture. Or do you have a recommendation on a different size lens? What is the best setting for a beginner to leave the camera on? Thank you so much for your help in this. Happy Journey's Irene


Thursday 16th of January 2020

Hi Irene, if you are a complete beginner in photography, then you'll probably best leave it in automatic mode - in most cases, it will do the job. But you have to be careful with the built-in flash around the animals, if your camera has one... Otherwise, you have to switch it to Program (P) modus where you can turn off the flash and e.g. increase ISO value for photography in lower light. Try to google a few things like this, so you know how it works and what it does. If you use just one lens for the animals, then I'd go with the 55-250. I wouldn't spend even more money for yet another better lens in your case. Hope this helps. Enjoy your trip and try to live in the moment rather than trying to photograph it all...


Monday 30th of December 2019

Great article. Would you bring a Canon 100-400 F4.5-6.3 or the 70-200 f2.8. I have a Canon R and 7DM2




Tuesday 31st of December 2019

Hi Vito, if you are taking two camera bodies, then take two lenses. If I were to choose, I'd go for the 70-200 2,8 - the picture quality is amazing and I find the 100-400 too big to deal with... But that's just my personal preference and you might miss the 400 range at times... It's really up to you. Enjoy the trip!


Thursday 26th of December 2019

Thanks for sharing, this is a fantastic blog article and so helpful to help me decide which camera to pack for safari. Really looking forward to my safari experience and hope I can get some nice pictures as well.


Thursday 26th of December 2019

Glad to help, Rich. Enjoy your trip and try to just enjoy the moment rather than always striving to get the most perfect picture. Remember, it's first and foremost about the experience!

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