What’s In My Camera Bag?

As the Ambassador of Photography for Africa Dream Safaris I get asked a lot of questions which range from “how close will the animals be?” and “what lenses should I take?” to “what camera should I buy” and everything in between. The questions come from beginners, amateurs and pros who are venturing to Africa for the first time. Africa is a long way from home and there are no camera stores where you can just run in and buy something you forgot or forgot to think about.

Everyone wants to bring back killer photos, and you will…providing you have the right gear and you remember to bring it with you. There is also the weight consideration. The bush planes that fly into the Serengeti have a 33 pound weight restriction…and that includes your luggage. Are they strict about it? Depends on the day. If your weight is over (within reason) you can pay a fee and take an additional 5 to 10 pounds. If you think you’ll be significantly over the weight limit, you may wish to purchase an extra seat on the flight to the Serengeti (talk to your ADS safari consultant about this option).

Often, I’ll get the question…”Well what do you take?”. It’s a legit question. I have been on safari 9 times. Through trial and error I have fine tuned my bag down to what works for me. I thought I’d share that with you today along with an explanation of why I take what I do.

This is not an article about which camera systems are better that others. I used to shoot only Canon. When Canon drug their feet for a few years after basically inventing the modern digital camera…we had to keep working…so I jumped ship to Sony who at that time was really stepping up their game. So I’m going to use Sony as my reference here because I just got back from Africa and this is what I took.

Here we go…I hope it helps.

1. Sony a7r3 camera body. I like this because it shoots very high resolution stills and shoots great video at 60 frames per second…enabling me to turn the shots into slow motion when I get home and dump it into my video editing software. This is a full frame camera with the ability (through the push of a button) to magnify the sensor and turn the camera into an APSC type camera… which essentially allows me to multiply the focal length of my lenses by a factor of 1.6. In Africa, bigger is better and the long lenses really help. If you don’t know what an APSC sensor is… then your camera probably has one. APSC cameras are typically cheaper than full frame professional cameras… and they are still really good cameras. So don’t get caught up on this. Sorry to get technical.

2. Sony 70-200 2.8 lens. I mainly take this lens because it has a fast 2.8 aperture and is good in low light. We shoot a lot at dusk and dawn when the animals are most active. But honestly, I don’t use this lens all that much. Pros typically use lenses with low (we call them fast) apertures. But admittedly, these are typically more expensive.

3. Sony 200-600 lens. This is my go-to safari lens, or was, on this last safari. The 200-600mm lens is perfect for safari. The downside is that this is a relatively slow aperture lens… meaning it is not great in low light. When I shot Canon gear I used to drag one of those monster 600 mm lenses you see on the sidelines of NFL games with me. They are good in low light but super expensive. They are also big and don’t zoom (typically referred to as a “prime” lens). If we were still shooting film I would probably not have this Sony 200-600… but since we (I’m including you here) now have the ability to raise and lower the ISO with digital photography (ISO is how sensitive your camera is to light) it’s not the kiss of death to carry a lens with a slower aperture. You can just crank up your ISO (within reason, there are some trade offs) when you need it. This works for me in all but the most extreme situations.

4. Sony 24-105. This is the widest lens I take (although I own almost everything sony makes) and it’s been fine. I don’t use it much other than taking snapshot type shots around camp or maybe in an African village when I do portrait type stuff. Out in the bush, it pretty much stays in the bag because the long lenses are typically needed out there.

5. Sony 1.4 teleconverter. I’m not a huge fan of teleconverters because any time you put more glass between your subject and your camera sensor you lose a little quality… but there are always those times you just “need a little more lens” and a teleconverter can give you that option relatively cheaply.

6. I take 3 batteries for the A7R3 and charge them every night. Although, the safari trucks ADS now uses have power invertors in them so you can charge on the go.

7. I take two chargers (in case one fails which would render your camera useless). One of my chargers is a dual charger and one is a singular charger.

8. I always take a set of extra lens caps just in case. I’m always losing these.

9. I think it through, but I make sure I have all the cables I need for my chargers, hard drives, iphone, etc. Pay attention to this.

10. Memory cards. I use 128 cards and I take both SD and mini SD cards with me (don’t forget a mini SD card adapter). I typically take 4 of each since I download my pictures to a portable hard drive at night and reuse my cards the next day. If you’re not taking a computer to download pictures…. take more cards.

11. My macbook pro has an SD card slot in it but I still take a multi card reader as a backup.

12. Take power outlet adapters! Without these… you aren’t charging anything. The power over there is 220 but almost all modern battery chargers can handle that voltage. You just have to be able to have the right plug adapter.

13. I always take a couple of usb power blocks. You’ll need them to charge your phone and anything else that uses 5 volt usb power. These will work with 120 or 220 voltage. But again… the trucks now have usb adapters in them.

14. Lens cloths are a must. Take some to clean your lenses. It’s dusty out there.

15. Buy and learn how to use sensor cleaning sticks and fluid. Make sure you get the right size for your particular sensor (full frame or APSC).

16. A rain sleeve is a nice lightweight thing to have in your bag just in case.

17. Order a 3 way electrical splitter cable and take it. The electrical outlets in the camps and lodges are few and far between. This allows you to charge several things at once from one outlet. And again… make sure you have plug adapters. Amazon has them

18. I also take a cube block with further extends your number of outlets and most have a usb outlet or two.

19. A cheap headlamp is handy. You’ll be leaving in the dark and possibly returning in it.

20. Bug wipes and spray. Keep this nearby. Malaria and African Sleeping Sickness are no fun.

21. Take a few pens and a sharpie

22. I take a very small tabletop tripod (see picture). They come in handy for a decent selfie sometimes of you and your safari mates

23. Screwdriver (regular and phillips head). Small, so TSA doesn’t take it from you… or… put it in your checked luggage

24. I love my canon image stabilized binoculars. Not cheap but “oh so nice”.

25. Some nylon pouches from Amazon are great for keeping track of the little stuff in your bag. Plastic bags are illegal in the Serengeti

26. I use Samsung 1 and 2 terabyte SSD drives to download my pictures on to at night. I back up everything. When I fly home one is in my checked bag and I keep one with me. I’d be sick if I lost what I just shot. Make sure you take the right cable for your computer.

27. GoPro. So small, such good stabilization, and so convenient when you’re driving in the truck or just about anywhere. I have a GoPro 11. I bought a dual charger for it and I have 3 batteries and a cheap handle. I use this a lot for video while the truck is driving… but it can also shoot decent stills in a pinch.

28. SONY RX10 bridge camera. I know… why another camera? This is my backup camera. Bridge cameras are great. They have fixed zooms on them… but this one is 24-600mm. They are also APSC sensor cameras. But honestly, I’ve blown some pictures up to 40×60 inches out of this camera. It also shoots great video. If my main camera goes down… this is a great lifesaver. I use it a lot in conjunction with my other sony. It’s just a good companion. I have 2 batteries and a charger and a padded case for it. I take it over there in my checked baggage. I’m a big fan of this camera and recommend it a lot.

29. Make sure you have lens shades to keep the sun off of the front of your lens.

So that’s it… that’s what I take, or took… on this last safari. And we were shooting both professionally and personally. No tripod? Nope. They are all but worthless over there as you will be shooting out of the truck. ADS will provide you with a beanbag to shoot off of. These work great. Could I take more? Have I taken more? You bet. But experience has taught me how to lighten the load without losing any bang for the buck.

I’m also a cinematographer and when we shoot a lot of digital motion we load up on microphones and a few other things (like a tripod with a fluid head). If you’re interested in my opinions on that, just drop me a note and I can take you down that rabbit hole.

Drones? Nope. I know they make little ones now (I have several) but these are outlawed in the Serengeti and they have a system to detect if one leaves the ground. Thank the poachers for messing that up for all of us. So leave your drone at home. Tanzanian jail would not be fun.

Feel free to write to me at jeff@africadreamsafaris.com. I’ll be glad to help you with your photography questions!

  1. Thank you for this very informative article. I do have some questions about your actual camera bag. What camera bag do you use? What features are particularly important? Do you use the same bag on the game drives/bush flights and on the international flights? We have a Pelican case we have used as a carry-on for commercial flights, but it sounds like that would not be a good choice for internal African flights based both on its significant weight and it not being soft sided. Thoughts?