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Thread: Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

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    RockNGoalStar's Avatar
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    Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

    Hi All,

    I currently have a D90 with the 18-105mm kit lens. I am soon going to upgrade this lens to the 18-200mm (I'm still kicking myself as to why I didn't buy this lens with the camera in the first place!).

    Anyways, I am hoping to go on Safari to East Africa in June next year (as part of my honeymoon) and have been looking into hiring a Super-Telephoto Lens for the week or so that we are away.

    Will I need to do this to get some really good close-up shots if i get the 18-200mm?

    I have been looking at the site http://www.lensesforhire.co.uk and particularly at this page: http://www.lensesforhire.co.uk/nikon...photo-20-c.asp

    I think I'd prefer the ability to zoom over a prime lens and have been looking at the Nikon AF-S 200-400mm f/4 G IF-ED VR lens.

    Is this a bit over the top? It's quite heavy at 3.2kg so would probably need at least a monopod to use it in the back of whatever mode of transport we happen to be on...

    Also, does the use of a super-telephoto require any additional skills? Do they take a bit of getting used to? Obviously if I were to hire one for the holiday i wouldn't have much time to get used to it.

    Any advice / suggestions are greatly welcomed, especially from people who are experienced in safaris / wildlife photography.

    Many thanks in advance.

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    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

    Hi Tommy,

    Lucky man!

    200mm won't be long enough.

    Although I haven't done it myself, I would recommend a zoom over a prime, because you might get closer than expected to some wildlife and be caught out and have to change the lens in a dusty place with the dust bunny risks to sensor that entails. But maybe I worry too much

    For same reason, I wouldn't suggest using teleconverters to change focal length. (see, I'm still worrying)

    The AF-S should be faster focusing (and would be essential for my D5000), but there maybe other lenses you could consider with a D90.

    Weight probably is going to be an issue unless in a vehcle; a monopod sounds a sensible way to go, but a lens capable of going to f4 (if need be) sounds good to me.

    Cheers,

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    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Re: Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

    I suggest that you determine what type of vehicle in which you will be riding during your safari. This has a lot to do with the type of camera support you will be able to use. On some types of vehicles, a monopod can be used while on other types, a beanbag might be the better choice as a support.

    However Dave's advice on carrying a longer lens than 200mm is spot on!

    Additionally, I would have a good CPL filter for each lens if possible. This would eliminate the time and trouble of switching filters as you switch lenses. I would also ensure that I had the correct lens hood for each lens. Nikon users are more fortunate in this area since (I believe) that Nikon correctly assumes that a lens hood is a necessary accessory. Canon doesn't supply hoods for any but their most expensive lenses.

    Finally, a back-up camera would be a great idea. Perhaps renting one or buying a used camera on ebay and selling it after you return. That way you could have two lenses mounted and ready to shoot and additionally, it would be insurance in case of a camera malfunction.

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    Re: Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

    Hi Tommy,

    I'm currently living in Angola and Have been lucky enough to do several safaris in the past few years. My experience is that 200mm isn't enough for most subjects and 400 isn't enough for birds. You should be happy with the 200-400mm zoom for most cases. Dave is right about not wanting to change lenses in dusty locations. The other problem with changing lenses is that you may miss the 'decisive moment'. The most interesting moments are fleeting followed by long periods of no activity. The best method of avoiding changing lenses is to carry a second body. I know it's expensive but look at how much the safari is costing you against the risk of equipment failure with no backup.

    I normally shoot my big lens on a monopod. The other option is to check with your guide and see if they will supply beanbags. You should also confirm that they'll work with the style of vehicle that you'll be in.

    You can take a looke at my photos at http://picasaweb.google.com/BradsSharedPhotos. They should all have the EXIF information under 'more info'. It will give you an idea of what to expect.

    -Brad

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    RockNGoalStar's Avatar
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    Re: Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

    Thanks all for your input...

    I may be able to borrow my Dad's camera as a back-up and keep the 18-200mm on there, but I noticed from looking at your shots Brad, that you rarely shot anything below 400mm.

    Ken Rockwell seems to like the Nikon AF 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 D ED VR. That gives me a wide range of focal lengths and isn't badly priced at around 1,000... ...what's the catch?!

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    Re: Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

    You're right about most of my photos being at 400mm. It seems to work well for me for the majority of the time. There's been a few times when I was too close to get the photo I wanted. Take a look at lion on a hill and the next two photos. I got the third one on the fly as we were driving away. We were eye level and about five meters from the lion when I took the first photo. I wanted to be able to pull back and get the lion in context but couldn't.

    The Namibia photos are most telling. I had a 70-200mm lens and a 2X teleconverter on that trip. Most of the photos are at 400mm with the exception of some of the cheetah photos. The cheetahs were in a cheetah rescue preserve and semi tame. They would come just about all the way up to the vehicle. I backed off the zoom on a couple of the shots but most were still at 400mm.

    The 80-400mm looks like a good solution. I borrowed a friend's for a couple hours and shot a quick test shot. It was visibly sharper than my 70-200mm with a teleconverter at 400mm. On the plus size is a wide zoom and price. The negatives are relatively small aperture at 400mm and the related issues - lack of depth of field control, slow shutter speed at dusk. It's also a little slower to focus than than some of the pricer solutions.

    You should ask yourself what your future aspirations are before deciding on renting vs buying. Are you interested in continuing with wildlife photography when you get back or is this a one time event? There are a lot of options for spending lot of money that won't necessarily increase your satisfaction.

    -Brad

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    RockNGoalStar's Avatar
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    Re: Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

    Some good points there Brad... and some excellent photos as well! I love that first Lion pic!

    I don't think I'll be needing a super-telephoto in my kit bag all that often once I'm finished with the trip. It would be nice to have, but I think there are plenty of other things I'd rather spend the cash on! So I think I'll go for the hire option.

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    Re: Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

    When it comes to wildlife photography, most lenses will fall under the super telephoto ranges from 300mm to 600 mm at f2.8-4. Keep in mind that your smaller sensor body will easily increase the focal length by 1.5x; leaving a narrow window 300 mm (with FL of 200 mm) - 600 mm (400 mm FL) to work with so you can easily overshoot at times.

    Zooms and primes of these nature are considered "specialty" glass designed for a certain job; primarily sports, wildlife, and photojournalism. If you don't do much of aforementioned, it's really not worthwhile to purchase them. You're much better off renting them whenever you need them, which is what most people do.

    You will also need the proper monopod and/or optional monopod head. I prefer using a "bigfoot" foot base when in moving trucks or a spike foot when on soft "sinkable/unstable" surfaces. None of these super glass are "hand holdable" after 5 mins due to their weight despite VR. Note: bring a large clear plastic bag with you. Use it to change out lenses to help keeping the environment relatively clear, and do not forget your rocket blower and cleaning supplies.

    http://www.adorama.com/GZ1410130B.html
    http://www.adorama.com/GZGM5561T.html
    http://reallyrightstuff.com/rrs/Item...H%2D01&eq=&Tp=

    I would recommend renting the 70-200 2.8 VR and bring along a 1.7x or 2x teleconverter. This combo will be light weight and easily hand holdable without a monopod (just brace yourself against a solid surface). Be aware that teleconverters will only work on the commercial grade (gold ring) 70-200 2.8 and up. When using teleconverters, you will also lose 1.7 or 2 stops of light so watch your shutter speeds for action shots.

    Examples of 300 mm f2.8 with 1.7x telecoverter on monopod, local zoo:
    Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

    70-200 2.8 VR with 1.4x teleconverter hand held:
    Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

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    Re: Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

    Quote Originally Posted by rpcrowe View Post
    I suggest that you determine what type of vehicle in which you will be riding during your safari. This has a lot to do with the type of camera support you will be able to use. On some types of vehicles, a monopod can be used while on other types, a beanbag might be the better choice as a support.
    What you say is true, how he will be photographing and what he will be photographing is very important. I would suppose if he were photographing lions, this could be done from a blind, on an elephant, or on a truck. If he is shooting from a blind then he will need a very long focal length, more for safety than anything else, and camera support will be a necessity. Shooting from an elephant or truck, then unless the vehicle or animal stops, camera shake will be a big issue.

  10. #10

    Re: Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

    Quote Originally Posted by RockNGoalStar View Post
    Hi All,

    I currently have a D90 with the 18-105mm kit lens. I am soon going to upgrade this lens to the 18-200mm (I'm still kicking myself as to why I didn't buy this lens with the camera in the first place!)

    ....

    I think I'd prefer the ability to zoom over a prime lens and have been looking at the Nikon AF-S 200-400mm f/4 G IF-ED VR lens.
    I have this for you to read from Thom Hogan's website...

    The 28-300mm seems to be trying to resurrect the 18-200mm DX experience for FX users. Let me remind everyone what that experience was: we were all at first impressed with the fact that the elephant could tap dance, but after attended a lot of performances, we decided that the elephant wasn't that great at dancing. As I wrote some time ago, the 18-55mm and 55-200mm DX combo could equal or outperform the 18-200mm DX in all respects but one: avoidance of lens changing.
    I suspect we're going to find the same thing happens with the 28-300mm. Initially, there will be those that laud it because it "does everything," but they'll eventually get around to comparing pixels and find that the 24-120mm and 70-300mm combo do a better dance. And actually "go to 300mm." ;~)
    Also, you do know how much that 200-400 lens cost right? You might better off have a 300mm f/4.

  11. #11
    RockNGoalStar's Avatar
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    Re: Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

    Thanks again for the input.

    I think i am pretty much decided on the 18-200mm VRII Lens. It will replace the inferior 18-105mm kit lens that I use currently.

    I have also decided that I am going to hire a super-telephoto for this excursion.

    In terms of the mode of transport... ...I think we'll either be on the back of a truck or in a minibus or in a Land Cruiser. I imagine that when we see something of interest then the driver will come to a complete stop allowing us to take pictures. If I am in the back of a truck I will use a monopod, but if I am in the passenger seat of a Land-Cruiser (or similar) then I will lean against the door pillar for support.

    The Nikon AF-S 200-400mm f/4 G IF-ED VR is 182 to hire per week, which is quite a lot, but obviously a lot less than buying it outright!

    Do you think I will need a larger aperture than this? I am guessing that most of the pics I will be taking will be at the largest aperture and fastest shutter speeds I can, especially with moving subjects.

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    Re: Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

    I would highly recommend that you rent the 200-400 f4 a little earlier than your trip; so you can get the feel (familiarize yourself) and the handling of the setup. It's vastly different than the kit lenses that you own. Also make sure that you have the proper monopod to handle the load, and read the fine print of the rental agreement. Often times if the lens is damaged/lost/stolen, you will be responsible to replace it at cost. Since you will mostly shooting during broad daylight hours, useable apertures for your body will be f4-8. Make sure they include the lens shoulder strap and loop if around yourself while you shoot. Never EVER pickup this lens by the camera body or you will be seriously sorry; the lens will tear out the camera's mount.

    If you want to try your hand at panning while the vehicle is moving, switch the VR to active mode. Be aware when using this mode that it will drain your camera's battery rather quickly, so bring spare batteries. Do not bring too much gear with you, it will only slow you down and make life a chore in the heat. Wildlife photography takes a lot of patience on your part.

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    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Re: Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

    Try this web site for some tips on equipment, vehicles, etc. regarding safaris.

    http://www.luminous-landscape.com/es...ari-Tips.shtml

    One comment that I find quite interesting and very well worthwhile is about sharing your trips with non-photographers.

    I spent two weeks in China (not on safari of course) and was quite hampered by having to "keep up" with the rest of my tour group. I never got to visit a lot of places I wanted, visited a lot of places I could have cared less about and never had the time to shoot when I was in the places I wanted to be...

    I got a lot of good images but, by the second day; made up my mind that I would never again share a tour with a bunch of non-photographers. I expect that I would feel this way if I were on safari with a similar group.

    However, my friend, you will be on your honeymoon. I suggest that the most important facet of your trip would be to ensure that your bride enjoys herself. After-all, you don't want to hear at your fiftieth anniversary party about you thinking of nothing but photography on honeymoon when you should have been be thinking of her!

    I will remember for a long while my disappointment at not being able to shoot as much and where I wanted in China. However, I will never be as angry as a bride who considers herself as being thought of second to picture of a darned water buffalo while on HER honeymoon!

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    Re: Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

    Quote Originally Posted by rpcrowe View Post
    Try this web site for some tips on equipment, vehicles, etc. regarding safaris.

    http://www.luminous-landscape.com/es...ari-Tips.shtml

    One comment that I find quite interesting and very well worthwhile is about sharing your trips with non-photographers.

    I spent two weeks in China (not on safari of course) and was quite hampered by having to "keep up" with the rest of my tour group. I never got to visit a lot of places I wanted, visited a lot of places I could have cared less about and never had the time to shoot when I was in the places I wanted to be...

    I got a lot of good images but, by the second day; made up my mind that I would never again share a tour with a bunch of non-photographers. I expect that I would feel this way if I were on safari with a similar group.
    You're probably right about the non-photographer tours, but those are always hurried affairs. You get more time for lunch than you do for visiting sites. The good thing about a photographer's tour is that usually there are assignments and that is the goal of the tour to get that specific image.

  15. #15

    Re: Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

    Hi,

    We went to Tanzania in April this year (and got stuck there by the ash cloud). We visited Lake Manyara, The Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Arusha National Park.

    I pondered long and hard on this matter and soon reached the conclusion that 2 bodies and lenses were needed. I have a D70, which was my main camera. By poor chance, this was damaged a few months before the trip and gave me the excuse to buy a factory reconditioned
    D40 off e-bay for 200 (which was had a couple of minor nicks to the body but was otherwise perfect). Jessops were offering a very good deal on the Sigma 100-300 F4 - 599 at that time (whilst everyone else wanted 1,100). I read some cracking reviews on the lens and it seemed a no-brainer to get it. The idea had been to mate this with a 1.4x converter, but I ended up going without one. I took the 18-70 D70 kit lens on the D40 and mounted the Sigma on the D70. I had an 18-200 sigma as a back-up.

    There were 6 of us in a Landcruiser and I took the back seat with my wife and this enabled me to switch between the cameras as the need arose as sometimes the sigma was too long, just placing the cameras on the seat when they were not being used. You wont just want to take shots of animals and birds, as the scenery is breathtaking and you will want to catch the mood of the place and people too and will need to be able to go at least as wide as 18mm on a DX. On a couple of occassions I could have done with a bit more length (Leopards and Lions up trees, the Colobus Monkeys at Arusha National Park, Rhinos at Ngorongoro and birds generally.

    The roofs of the land cruisers and Land rovers (and I think the minivans too) rise up when you are in the parks allowing you to rest a bean bag in the
    100mm roof channel, which proved to be brilliant; I took a lightweight plastic bead filled bag/cushion with me and did not have to go hunting rice or beans to fill a bag on arrival.

    We had a solitary game drive each day starting at 8.30am and finishing around 6.30 (with a picnic lunch) and the lenses were perfect for this and I think that light-wise I could easily have got away with using a Bigma or 100-400 Sigma or of course the 80-400 Nikon, and did not really need the F4.

    If I went again (as I would dearly love to), I would try and get hold of a decent Bigma or OS Bigma and take a third body with a 10-20 or similar. My parents in law came with us and our two children and it was a hugely memorable and enjoyable experience. It is worth adding that my parents in law had been in a truck 20 years earlier and said that from a photography viewpoint this is far too restrictive, and I would say go in a Landcruiser or minivan, even if you have to double-up with another couple as you will be frustrated photo-wise if you don't, the drivers really do try and get you into the best spot to take photos but in a lorry this will be much more difficult, not withstanding the competition for pole position on the wagon. I also took a mono-pod, but did not use it; when people are standing up looking at animals or simply shifting in their seats, the Land Cruiser just moves too much - if you go to Tanzania or Kenya, a bean bag is the way to go!

    My 100-300 is a brilliant lense but I don't use it all that frequently; if it had not come at the price it did, hiring a lense would perhaps have been a better option. We also spent a few days in Zanzibar (as many folk do). The wider angle lenses are best for this but there are a few telephoto opportunities too. I would not recommend a prime on such a trip as I feel that you need the flexibility of a zoom. The Canon 100-400 seems to be rated over the 80-100 Nikon and I had thought about getting a second-hand Canon body and this as an option until the Jessops deal presented itself. Sadly the 100-300 F4 Sigma is now out of production.

    I would look at your wide angle zoom options as well as your telephoto options if you are able.

    I hope that this is of some assistance.

  16. #16
    Nass's Avatar
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    Re: Super-Telephoto Lens for Safari (Nikon)

    I went to Africa a few years back and 200mm wasn't enough. If I were to go again today I'd take my sigma 150-500.

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