Photography Tips: What Lens Do I Need?

Choosing the right lens to take on safari can be even more more important than your actual camera body. This is one area where you want to focus your attention in order to capture the best photos. The best news is that these days you don’t need to break the bank to acquire a top notch lens! Here’s some tips from Jeff Smith, our Photo Ambassador here at ADS, on what lenses to bring and how to affordably rent them.

When I go, I usually take three lenses. One is a 16-35mm zoom. This is what I use for landscapes, sunsets and people shots in and around the lodges, the vehicles, and places like a Maasai village. Next, my primary wildlife lens is a 100-400 zoom. I take two cameras with me so this stays on one of them all of the time. But even if I just took one camera this lens would be on it most of the time. If you show up in Tanzania with a 200 or even a 300 as your longest lens you are going to want more. Trust me. Then, I take a 600 mm lens. Yes, it’s one of those big white lenses you see on the NFL sidelines. It’s a monster but it pays dividends.

Now, unless you’re a pro, you are not going to own a really long 600mm lens (they cost about $14,000). That’s a big chunk of change. Even a 100-400 is a couple of thousand dollars. You’re already paying a lot of money just to go on this trip and buying a lens dedicated to one vacation is a little crazy (but cool as hell!). Don’t fret…there are companies in the United States that rent lenses. These companies stock and rent cameras and lenses per day, week, or month and they are pretty reasonable. You can also insure the gear through them. Companies come and go, but, and are all companies I have used. This is probably the trip of a lifetime for you. Why not show up looking like a photographer from National Geographic? This is a great way to give yourself what it takes to come back with pictures not everyone has… and not break the bank.

A lot of people also take a teleconverter or two as well. These insert between your camera and your lens (they are camera specific) and increase the magnification of a given lens. They usually come in two flavors… 1.4 and 2.0. Basically a 1.4 turns a 400 mm lens into 560mm lens (1.4 X 400 = 560) A 2.0 turns a 400 mm lens into an 800 mm lens. I don’t use a 2.0 because I think it degrades the images too much. But some people don’t mind this for the extra reach it provides. Myself, I always have a 1.4 in my bag. You just never know what opportunities you may run into. You can rent these as well.

And don’t forget those bridge cameras I mentioned earlier!! Even though you can’t change the lenses on them, the Sony we took had a zoom range of 24-600MM!! And Nikon currently has one with a zoom range of 24-2000mm!! There are some compromises to these cameras… but hey… 2000mm?!! Yes!

What makes one 200mm lens (for example) more expensive than another 200mm lens is the way it is made. The expensive ones have better glass and they allow more light into them (thus allowing you to shoot in darker situations) and freeze movement better. Yes, there is a difference. BH Photo/Video in New York is the go-to supplier most pros use. If you browse that site, you will find a wide array of lenses for sale. Sometimes two lenses by the same manufacturer with the same zoom range can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars difference.

To read more of Jeff’s safari photography tips or to email him with camera related questions, please visit Our Photographic Ambassador.

2 Comments Leave a Comment

  1. Hi
    Going on my first safari with ADF but I’m not a camera person but I’m looking to buy one for this trip. What would you recommend for a beginner.


    1. I generally recommend a bridge camera to my non photo enthusiast friends. Nikon and Sony make some especially good ones. The light in Africa in daytime is usually very bright and allows the use of the full range of a zoom. The bridge cameras aren’t very good in low light but that’s a compromise easy to make. I personally carry(on safaris) an SLR with a 50-300zoom on it and a Nikon p510 with a wide zoom range up to 1000mm. This combination has yielded excellent images from around the world. My wife carries a Nikon pocket camera with a 28-600mm zoom. All these digital cameras do nice movie clips. Do NOT get so immersed in photo taking that you don’t enjoy the experience!

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