Herd of desert elephants in Namibia

Best Camera Equipment for an African Safari

In Africa, PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS, Travel Gear by Jurga21 Comments

There are three questions travellers to Africa usually ask. First, what kind of vaccinations/pills do I need for Africa. Second, what to wear on safari in Africa. And third, what kind of camera equipment should I take on safari in Africa. This post is about the latter.

If you need more information about what to wear on safari in Africa, you can read more in my post that tells you all you need to know for your first safari in Africa. For vaccinations you best consult an official website in regards to travel health, like this one

Back to the camera equipment for safari trips…

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 about what kind of camera equipment you best take on safari in Africa, let’s make a couple of points clear.

Here is what you should know about taking pictures of safari animals

  • You cannot take good safari pictures with a smartphone, a tablet or a pocket camera. You just can’t, believe me.
  • 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).

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 the best camera equipment for safari in Africa

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 equipment for 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 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.
  • 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.
Reflections of two giraffes at Okaukejo waterhole at sunset

You definitely need a tripod to photograph animals in low light

 

What camera and lenses to pack for an African 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 camera to take on 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 a 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 camera to photograph safari animals

If you are looking for more possibilities and even better pictures and don’t mind spending a bit more money, Canon EOS 60D, 70D or 80D series might be a good option for you. These cameras are great for photography enthusiasts looking for a good price-quality camera to improve their photography skills.


The perfect camera for travel photography

Probably the best price/quality cameras for those who are serious about travel photography are Canon EOS 7D and 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.


The best lenses for photographing animals on safari in Africa

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 lenses for safari


Mid-range lenses for travel photography


Best quality lenses for safari photography


Best tripods for travel photography

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 travellers 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.




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

Best camera equipment for safari in Africa

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Best Camera Equipment for an African Safari was last modified: August 29th, 2017 by Jurga

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Comments

    1. Author

      Hi Marc, no, I don’t. I also considered buying one of those, but never did because I just couldn’t decide which one was better – the 1,4x or the 2,0x. They are rather expensive, but of course are cheaper than most of the tele lenses and take less space. I know someone who bought one from a cheaper brand (I think it was Tamron) and they were pretty happy with it. I guess it all depends on the camera/lenses you have.

  1. Hello Jurga, On my search for a family trip to Namibia I found your blog and I’m glad I did. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect for such a trip and you reassure on many points. As far as photography, I do own a Canon already and will certainly upgrade with some of your great recommendations. I have a question however. You mentioned that you had a lot of sand traveling to Namibia. How did you handle that with your camera equipment?

    1. Author

      Hi Melanie, thanks for your kind words. I’m so glad you found some reassurance for your trip to Namibia. It’s a beautiful country, perfect for family trip, and I’m confident that you will love it!
      As for the camera, I didn’t do anything special in regards to sand. I had a Canon 5D Mark II at that time, so it’s already pretty robust and protected against the elements. Same for the lenses. If you can afford it, better buy one L lens rather than two or three cheaper ones. They are the best! I have several and use them a lot for more than 10 years now and they are worth every cent if you are somewhat into photography. Of course, you should take some precautions: don’t change your lens outdoors if you can avoid it; put the camera safely away inside your bag if you are going to roll/run down the sand dunes. If you are still worried, you can take a big plastic ziplock bag to stow your camera in when not using it.
      Hope this helps!

  2. Hi Jurga

    What is the difference between a DSLR Camera and a Mirrorless Digital Camera I was thinking of a Fuji X-T2….. What do you think

    PS. I did one safari and thinking of doing more in the future with better equipment, I am a beginner

    Thanks in advance

    1. Author

      Hi Alfredo, I’m not really an expert. There are so many cameras and new additions all the time, that it’s difficult to follow :). Here is what I found in regards to mirrorless/DSLR cameras: Mirrorless cameras have the advantage of usually being lighter, more compact, faster and better for video; but that comes at the cost of access to fewer lenses and accessories. DSLRs have the advantage in lens selection and an optical viewfinder that works better in low light, but they are more complex and bulkier.
      The Fuji X-T2 seems to get excellent reviews.
      I see that there are quite some lenses available for this camera that would be perfect for safari, so that shouldn’t be an issue (55-200mm looks like a very affordable choice, or a high-end lens with incredible reach 100-400mm). So yes, it looks like a good choice. When it comes to cameras, there is so much choice, it’s really more about what YOU prefer and how much money you are willing to spend.

  3. Hi Jurga,

    Thanks for this blog. I’d be interested in knowing what lens you used for each picture and how far approximately you were from the subject.. I had entertained the thought of buying a Tamron 600mm, but all of can think of is that I’ll have to carry whatever I take.

    Thanks so much!
    A

    1. Author

      Hi. With 600mm you could photograph pretty much anything! I was contemplating taking a 100-400mm lens, but then tried it and sent it back as it was much too heavy for me to carry around. The lens I used for the safari pictures in Namibia was Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM UD. The picture of a lioness is from our trip to South Africa, it was taken with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM Lens. I also had a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM with me, but I used it mainly for landscapes and people when not on safari.
      I am not good in estimating distances, but most of my safari pictures were taken at the maximum reach of the lens (200 or 300mm), so it will give you an idea. Also, I have a full frame camera so 300mm means just that; if you have a crop sensor DSLR, 300mm would give you 480mm reach (300×1,6). Some animals were far, some nearby, so I used what I had to make the best of it. The lioness was very close to us, just a few meters away, so I took a close-up just because I could.
      There were moments when I wish I had more reach, but it’s all about the choices. If I were traveling alone with a sole purpose of photography, I’d definitely carry a longer lens for safari. But with three kids in tow I need something versatile and easy to use (and hold).
      I can’t really say what you should do. It depends on your travel style, photography skills, budget, and the purpose of the trip. Try to find the compromise that works best for you and covers 80% of situations. You can never have the right equipment for everything. You might have 600mm lens and then run into a group of lions so close to the vehicle that all you can photograph is their eyes… Try to be creative with the equipment you have depending on the situation. And also remember that often you won’t have the time to switch the lens to a perfect one. The animals are fast, so better take a less perfect shot than be too late ;).
      Hope this helps you a bit.

  4. What do you think of the bridge/superzoom cameras such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300?

    1. Author

      Hi Arvid, I never tried this camera, so all I can say is based on the reviews that I read on different sites. Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 seems to have incredible reach of 600mm (!) with fixed aperture f2,8. I have no idea about the quality of the pictures, but purely based on these numbers, it looks like a really good deal price/reach/aperture wise. So if you don’t want to invest in really expensive lenses and have to carry a bulky kit of DSLR+lenses with you, then this definitely looks like a very nice alternative. It only has 12MP though, but for regular vacation pictures this should be more than enough. If you compare with any DSLR lenses with this reach, then this camera looks like a real bargain.
      My only concern with wildlife photography would be how fast the autofocus is. Animals rarely sit still to pose for a picture. That’s – to me – still the biggest advantage of DSLR cameras. But then again, if you are not a professional photographer and just want a couple of good shots to remember your vacation, then it will probably serve the purpose quite well.

  5. Hi Jurga, great read and advice – just the type of article I was looking for!

    I’m considering either of the two options – relatively similar in price – on a Canon 60D, just wanted to get your thoughts? (my significant other will be on the trip too, armed with a decent point-and-shoot, so she can take some snaps too)

    – Canon 70-300mm EF f/4-5.6L IS USM
    – Canon 300mm EF f/4L IS USM

    I was also thinking about a 1.4x teleconverter, but not sure if that will be necessary.

    Other sources recommend a monopod; however, a tripod would be more versatile, right?

    1. Author

      Hi Mitch, glad you found this info useful. Lenses is a tough choice, as fixed focal length will give you better light, but you loose flexibility. I somehow always prefer zoom lenses, especially when photographing something unpredictable like animals. You can zoom in and out as animals move. But that’s my personal opinion, of course.
      As for teleconverter, I never used it. 60D is already a crop camera, no? So it already gives you 1.6x reach, meaning that 70-300mm actually becomes 112-480mm. For most situations this will be more than enough. Both these lenses look really good quality-wise.
      As for tripod vs. monopod, depends where you are planning to use it. On safari vehicles you can’t set up a tripod, maybe a monopod would help. But usually you won’t have much time to set all your equipment for a perfect shot anyway – you’ll just have to quickly snap a picture and hope it turns out well. Most animals don’t wait. If you are thinking of taking pictures on the ground, at the waterholes and such, then a tripod is still much easier I think.
      Sorry if I’m not more helpful. Everyone has their own preferences, so it’s really up to you to decide what works best for you.

      1. No worries – I was leaning more towards the zoom lens without teleconverter, so thanks for the reply!

  6. Hi Jurga. I’m Karen. Heading to Rwanda and Tanzania in a month. I was buying an additional battery for my Canon Rebel XT and was pretty much told that my 10 year old + body is obsolete and won’t serve me well on my trip. That gives you an indication of my photography expertise.!! I do have the Tamron 18-270mm lens. I wasn’t anticipating this new purchase. What base would you recommend that isn’t going to break the bank? And could I make do with the one Tamron lens? We’ll also have our smart phones/Ipad for some shots. Glad I came across your blog. Happy Travels, Karen

    1. Author

      Hi Karen, if you are thinking of upgrading your camera, then a trip like that is definitely a good moment to do it! If you like your Canon Rebel and want to use the same lens, then the most obvious choice is probably the Canon EOS Rebel T6i. The lens you have has quite a decent reach, with a crop-sensor camera it gives you a good range of up to 432mm (270×1,6), so for close-ups of the animals it should be more than sufficient.
      Don’t count on using your smartphone and tablet for animal photography – it’s just not fast enough unless the animals are very close by and standing still, you won’t get any decent shots. It is ok for the landscapes and such.
      Hope it helps. Have a nice trip!

  7. Dear Jurga,

    Your Blog is great and the the Safari post caught my interest as I am going on to South Africa and also on Safari in a few weeks. I feel lmuch better prepared however in terms of camera equipment I am uncertain.
    I want to do the best out of this vacation obviously 😉 I find your post very interesting but reading so much on the internet confuses me also.
    I have a basic DSLR Canon 100D with the Kit lens 18-55mm. I also have the Canon 50mm.
    I was thinking maybe to upgrade to the 80D and buy one new better lens such as the Tamron 16-300 or the 18-200. Would you recommend the camera change? And what do you think about the lenses with such a wide range? I mainly read sceptical opions, however I am just a hobby photographer and I am not sure where to invest best.
    I would love to hear your opinion.
    Many thanks.

    Katharina

    1. Author

      Hi Katharina, it’s not an easy decision indeed, as everyone has different opinions. You have to find the best balance between your photography needs and the budget you have. If you have to choose between a good lens or a good camera, from my experience, I would advise to go for the lens. A really good lens can make a huge difference, and you can use it for years. I have changed many cameras over the years, but I still use the same lenses which I bought more than 12 years ago.
      On the other hand, a good camera is also important. If you have money for both, then a trip to Africa is a good moment to upgrade your gear.
      If you don’t want to spend too much money and are happy with a few good shots, then just stick to the camera body that you have and buy a Tamron lens like the one you describe. Of course, a lens with such a wide reach will not give you the same quality as lenses with fixed aperture of f2,8 or f4. But a lens like that has advantages too – mainly that you don’t have to change it, and can travel light with just one lens.
      Sorry if I am not more helpful. It’s really a personal decision. If money is not an issue, then go for the Canon 80d and one of the L lenses that I described in this post, e.g. 70-200 f4 L IS USM or 70-300 f4-5,6 L. PS these are affiliate links to Amazon.de as I thought you were from Germany… Maybe it’s more helpful this way.
      Enjoy your trip!

  8. Dear Jurga,

    Thank you very much.
    One more question.
    Do you use a bean bag and if yes is it really helpful?
    Best regards, Katharina

    1. Author

      Hi again, Katharina. No, actually I never used a bean bag. I saw it used once or twice, but have no personal experience.

  9. Dear Jurga,

    I really enjoyed your article and the shots. My wife and I are planning a safari to Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya for our 25th Anniversary. I am thinking of using this trip as an opportunity to upgrade from my Cannon 60D that is about 5-6 years old. Additionally, I may rent another body so as to have 2 cameras with me so I don’t have to change lenses while out on drives. I was thinking about a Full Frame body with a 24-70 lens for landscapes and the closer shots and then a cropped body with a 100-400 lens for the other wildlife shots. Both lenses would be rented and “L” series equipment. Is this a reasonable approach in your opinion?

    Thanks so much for sharing your opinion!

    1. Author

      Hi Ken, yes, this sounds like a very reasonable approach. 24-70 2,8 lens is my most used lens for years. 100-400mm is really big, but it’s a great lens as well. I have a Canon 5Ds camera (full frame) and it also has a possibility to choose crop factor of either x1,6 or x1,3, so if need be you could even increase your 400mm reach to 640mm with such a camera. It’s not a cheap kit, but it’s something you can use for many years.

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