Contributed by Safari & Photography Addict, Chris Petersen
Ok, you booked your safari. You’ve poured over your prime species to hunt. You’ve already been sorting out your hunting gear and packing list. A camera is probably also on that packing list. Almost everyone packs some kind of camera on their safari. But this is your “trip of a lifetime”, so what kind of camera is best to capture those special moments and memories? And if you are going along as an Observer, your camera will most certainly be one of the most important items you should plan for in advance.
When people see my photos after a safari, they want to buy a camera just like mine. Not so fast. Just as there are many calibers of rifles and styles of scopes, there are many types of cameras and lenses. You probably can rule out a film camera these days given the convenience and quality of digital. But choosing the “best” digital camera for your safari will depend upon your style, passion and budget.
Let’s just say that I’m “serious” about photography and take at least two cameras on every safari. As we run through the camera options you’ll quickly see why. If nothing else, having two cameras along always provides you with a backup. In the case of my Giraffe safari, the camera in my pocket did not survive the chase that ensued.
Yes! Take your phone with a camera … even if you won’t make phone calls
International calling plans can be a bit expensive, but chances are you’ll be taking your cell phone with to talk and text when you are in your home country’s airports. Even if you don’t make any phone calls while travelling, there is simply no better or faster way than to use your phone to send photos to family or friends when arriving back home. Everyone wants to hear about your safari and see your trophies. Snap photos along the way, and you can quickly send a couple when you reach home.
You don’t have to have a new smartphone to take photos. Almost all cell phones today have pretty decent cameras for snapshots. The added bonus is that most phones also shoot video clips. Ideally you want a phone with at least a 4 megapixel camera, having 6 or 8 is even better. Going on safari may be the perfect excuse to upgrade your current cell phone to one with a better camera.
Pros: You already have a cell phone which is very small and lightweight. It will take simple snapshot photos in good light that are easy to upload. Best part is that it makes it very easy to send photos or video clips to friends and family when you are back home.
Cons: Slow shutter speed, limited telephoto capability for wildlife, photo quality is often poor in low light on early morning or late afternoon game drives.
You probably already have a pocket style digital camera, or maybe several collected over the years. They get their name from their small size and being able to literally slip into your pocket. They are extremely handy to carry with you everywhere on safari. Although I would not recommend your front pocket as the best place based on me cracking my pocket camera in a front pocket while chasing my Giraffe!
If you own a pocket style digital camera by all means take it with you! If you are looking to buy a new one, it is amazing what the new pocket cameras can do. Most are very affordable ranging in price from $100 to $400 US. As usual, you get what you pay for … the higher priced cameras have better quality lenses, and better sensors for higher quality photos.
The power of the “zoom” lens is important for better wildlife photos. You want to look for a pocket camera with an optical zoom of at least 6X to 10X. Some of the better more expensive pocket style cameras now have optical zooms as large as 20X. For wildlife photos, bigger is better for optical zoom numbers. (Ignore anything about “digital zoom” power because a digital zoom merely “enlarges” your pixels and degrades quality of your photos.)
A new category of cameras emerged over the past couple years which is perfect for an African Safari! Whereas pocket style cameras typically have telephoto zooms of 4 to 8X power, the new “super zooms” have a telephoto lens with 20X, to 30X power. The newest models are even up to 50X optical zoom. Just think of this like a rifle scope. A 4X scope doesn’t give you much magnification … but a 20X scope really brings wildlife “up close and personal”.