Jun 292011

Cheetah relaxes at sunset

Now that I’m home, it is time to share some thoughts on the equipment that I used in Africa.

I always find it interesting to write down what worked, what didn’t and what I’d do next time.

In the first instalment I will look at the big stuff; cameras and lenses. Next week I’ll discuss the smaller accessories which can often make a big difference.


The photo tour to Africa was the first time that I planned to do a serious amount of videography. Unfortunately, my Panasonic TM700 camcorder was stolen at Johannesburg. I was left with my Panasonic TS3 compact camera and Nikon D3S to record video. I primarily used the D3S and despite lacking the autofocus sophistication of the TM700, it was a great tool. When combined with the 70-200mm f2.8 lens that I borrowed from Nikon, I was able to get some great pan and zoom videos of the wildlife. For distant subjects I even used my 600mm lens for video! Once I edit the video I should be able to produce some exciting multimedia presentations about the trip. Sound is still something of an issue and I haven’t yet discovered the perfect solution for recording high quality sound in the field. As soon as I do, I will share it with you!

Lens Choice

Lens choice was obviously important for this trip. The two lenses that I used the most were my 300mm f2.8 VR (1005 photos) and the 600mm f4 VR2 (792). It should be noted that I use two full frame cameras, Nikon D3x and D3s. If you have a DSLR with a smaller sensor (e.g. D7000 or D300s) then probably the best option would be Nikon’s 200-400mm f4 lens. Using the 200-400mm zoom would allow a photographer to create some stunning video footage and save a lot of weight but the advantage of having two big telephoto lenses was that I was able to take stills with one and shoot video with the other.

I am a big fan of prime lenses and do not own a 70-200mm lens. However, Nikon Professional Services (NPS) in Canada kindly loaned me a 70-200mm f2.8 VR2 lens for the trip. It was very versatile and ideal for using from a vehicle or canoe, I used it for video and produced some great pan and zoom video segments with it. No matter which camera system you use (Canon, Nikon, Sony etc) if you are serious about wildlife photography then a 70-200mm f2.8 lens is an incredible tool that will last you years. If you couple a 70-200mm with a tele-convertor such as Nikon’s TC17EII, then you can end up with a 120mm-340mm f4.8 lens.

We didn’t really use wide angle lenses. Next time I’ll take a 28mm f2.8 instead of my heavy 17-35mm f2.8 lens.


The high speed Nikon D3s is ideal for capturing fast action such as this impala

Camera Choice

I took five cameras on this trip; Nikons D3x and D3s (full frame DSLRs), Panasonic’s TS3 (waterproof compact) and TM700 (camcorder) and my Fuji GX617 panoramic camera.

I primarily used the D3x and used the D3s when I expected the action to be fast and furious, or the light was getting low or when I wanted to shoot video. Both are full frame but the D3x’s 24 mega-pixels can give you a 1.5x crop and you’ll end up with a high quality 10 mega-pixel photo.

The slim nature of the TS3 made it great for grabbing documentary shots, especially as it has a built in GPS to log the location.

The idea of using my GX617 was to photograph wildlife at sunset or sunrise, especially if they were moving through a scene. Something which would be very difficult by stitching. I was also able to use it from the canoe on bright days. Unfortunately, my TM700 was stolen in Johannesburg which was a big loss as it’s autofocus makes it incredibly useful and easy to use.

In future I would contemplate taking a Nikon APS-C camera such as the D7000 or D300S and use the Nikon 200-400mm f4 lens but I’m not sure that they can replace my D3x or D3s. If Nikon comes out with a new professional quality APS-C camera then that would probably be the camera to use with the 200-400mm lens.

Next week….

In my blog next week I will look at the accessories that made an important difference to the Africa photo tour

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