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Big Lenses on Safari
For the vast majority of travelers, a 100-400mm (or 80-400mm for Nikon) f/4.5-5.6 is the largest lens that we would recommend for safari. Advanced photographers who already have bigger lenses might think about taking them, but there are some important considerations:
Canon's new 200-400mm f/4 lens (with built-in 1.4x extender) is widely regarded as the (current) champion of safari lenses; followed closely by Nikon's 200-400mm f/4 lens. When it comes to prime lenses, many season professionals favor the 500mm f/4 lens by either Canon or Nikon, and Pierre has successfully used his "Trusty-500" on many a safari. The next most common candidate would be the super-fast 300mm (or 400mm) f/2.8. Outside of bird photography, the 600mm f/4 has a fairly limited following, and we've yet to encounter any of the 800mm f/5.6 behemoths on safari.
Super-telephotos are big and heavy, creating major transportation headaches.
NEVER check any valuable item (including photographic equipment) on scheduled flights. For most airlines, carry-on bags in coach class are restricted to around 46 total inches (length + breadth + depth), with a maximum weight allowance of 18lbs. Business class allows two such bags.
Most charter flights around Africa permit a total luggage weight of 44lbs per person, including camera equipment and carry-on, packed in soft sided bags without wheels. Some charter companies in South Africa give an additional 10lbs per person allowance, but this is the exception.
Travel business class and buy an extra seat on all charter flights. If this is not feasible, you can try some of Pierre's strategies for getting by on a budget:
An Aquatech Softcap is a convenient lens cap alternative to the impractical leather "snoot" caps that the big lenses come with.
A neoprene lens coat offers a waterproof covering to protect against bumps, jars, and nicks, and provides a thermal barrier to protect hands from cold lenses on frosty safari mornings.
Camera support is very much a question of personal preference, and will continue to be debated in the southern African safari context. Pierre prefers the speed and range of motion offered by handholding (see previous article), but monpods, clamps, and beanbags can be helpful in lowlight conditions.
If it all sounds like too much hassle and risk, you're probably right. But owners of these big lenses can be quite passionate about using them, and the results can be very impressive - just be sure that you consider all the challenges before packing your big glass.Let us help you plan your dream safari. call toll-free: 888.227.8311 or email us today
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