Gear needed for Namibia safari

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by Zeus1, Aug 18, 2016.

  1. Going with my wife and daughters on a Namibia roundtrip beginning of September. Windhoek to Etosha to Swakopmund to Sossusvlei to Wolwedans and back to Windhoek. All transfers and lodgings are booked.
    For lenses, will be carrying the Pany 100-400, Pany 7-14, Samyang 7.5, mounted on an OMD EM5. Second body (carried by one of the daughters) will be a Pany GM5 with 12-32 and 35-100. Probably also the Olympus 60 mm macro.
    But.....what do I need for stabilising gear?? I will be packing a small bean bag. Specifically, do I pack a tripod? A gimbal head? A monopod? A Manfrotto superclamp?
    Most of the travelling will be self-drive, but what in the different lodges and tours offered by the lodges?
    TIA for any advice specific to Namibia.
  2. robcee

    robcee Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 10, 2016
    New Brunswick, Canada
    Rob Campbell
    bring a tripod. the dunes look best at dawn and sunset and you might have some low light to deal with, especially with the F4 and 100-400. I use a ball head for most of my stuff.

    Weather sealing's important there. The sand and dust is very fine and gets into everything. Avoid lens changes in the desert if you can avoid it. My tripod still has sand in it from africa.

    Bring lots of water.
  3. Gillymaru

    Gillymaru Mu-43 Veteran

    You are taking a very comprehensive kit with you and will have all the focal lengths well covered. I travel with my wife and daughter regularly and I know from experience that the amount of time I get to concentrate solely on photography is usually limited. I always have my camera with me but my family think 5 minutes photographing a location is way to long and we need to be moving on so usually you can count the times on one hand I get to use my travel tripod.
    I have a Mefoto tripod that is perfect for travel it can be used as a monopod (one leg detaches) and packs up nice and small. I could see something similar being useful for you helping to stabilize the 100-400 and the tripod will give you the chance to make some wonderful photos early and late in the day.
    My tripod always comes on the trip but usually ends up staying in the hotel during the day.
  4. mattia

    mattia Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 3, 2012
    The Netherlands
    Tripod, beanbag might be handy. Although I'll admit that I shot almost all my safari stuff simply bracing with my body. The tripod's for landscapes.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  5. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    This is good advice, but if you are in lodge's game drive vehicles there is often the opportunity to use a monopod with a ball head. I've been to Namibia, just got back from Kenya and Tanzania. When traveling in your own car you might find a window-clamp type mount valuable, again with a ball head.

    When shooting animals, you need to have two bodies immediately available to you. (Not one in your hands and one in someone else's hands.) My "standard" safari configuration is two identical bodies, one with the 14-140mm and the other with a 100-300mm or a 100-400mm. As the photo opportunities change, you will find yourself grabbing one or the other of the bodies. For example, I remember an instance where I was shooting a leopard in a tree with the long zoom and it climbed out of the tree and walked towards us and then past the front of the vehicle. As she descended I swapped cameras and was able to get several shots with each.

    I doubt you'll use your primes much except maybe for landscape shots. Wildlife = zooms, plus you really don't want to be doing a lot of lens changing in dusty environments.

    This is a nice little window clamp: Pedco Ultra Clamp Assembly PD05020 B&H Photo Video Throw away the articulated thingy, bush the 1/4"x20 stud poking out of the clamp up to 3/8" and put a good ball head on it. This is the type of adapter you need: 10pcs 1/4" Female to 3/8" Male Threaded Tripod/Monopod Convert Screw Adapter Note that it is different than the more common type that converts a 3/8" threaded base to accept a 1/4"x40 stud. We once watched a couple of sleeping male lions in Etosha for an hour, the camera clamped to the VW Kombi's window. They never did wake up enough to give us a good shot but I was ready!

    Do NOT try to use one of the "monopod" heads that tilt in only one direction. IMO that is a brain-dead design. You'll need the full flexibility of a ball head. Personally I use an Acratech GP-S. It's lightweight and works really well. I also use an Acratech lever-type Arca clamp. Trying to use a screw type clamp with a camera in one hand and a monopod in the other is problematic. Unlike the RRS lever, the Acratech locks so you don't have to worry about the camera taking a dive. There is a Chinese locking Arca clamp on eBay for about $50 that would work too.

    I'd bet you'll never use a beanbag and that you will find little or no need for a tripod. I'd take a tripod for good luck, though, and because you have enough family to haul a big kit. Take a couple of bungees, too. Sometimes you might be able to lash the monopod to the game drive vehicle cage or even to a tree.

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  6. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    Just for motivation prior to your trip, this little guy was shot with a GX8 in the Masai Mara, Kenya, 100-400 cranked to 400, camera on a monopod, from a lodge's game drive vehicle:

    This is full frame, no cropping, and very mild post. Maybe some clarity added. I have about ten like this, shooting until I got the yearling leopard cub to look directly at me.
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  7. PacNWMike

    PacNWMike Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Dec 5, 2014
    Salish Sea
    Not really gear but I recommend a porter and a patient family:biggrin:
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    • Funny Funny x 1
  8. TXS all, some good advice already.

    @PacNWMike@PacNWMike: :2thumbs:
  9. @oldracer@oldracer

    This will be my "window clamp": a Manfrotto superclamp, combined with a Manfrotto 155 RC tilt top head.

    P1030497.JPG P1030498.JPG P1030499.JPG
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  10. GRID

    GRID Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 22, 2011
    I used a 300mm 80% of the time (no tripod), 20mm 15% of the time (no tripod), and 7,5mm 5% (a few of them with tripod) when i was in Tanzania a few years agoe, to capture these images. And that was with a GH1 so no stabilisation in camera either (the 300mm was a canon so manuall with no stabilisation)
    • Appreciate Appreciate x 2
  11. alex g

    alex g Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Mar 30, 2016
    New York / Bath
    I recommend taking a couple of old pillowcases or similar in which to hold your cameras during drives. As Robcee mentions, dust is the enemy, and at the same time, very often photo opportunities arise and pass in a matter of seconds, so you don't want to be fiddling around with camera bags. Unless your gear is dustproof, you don't want to leave it exposed any longer than strictly necessary, else you will have crunchy zoom rings within days.
    • Like Like x 3
  12. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    I've seen those clamps; they look pretty interesting. I think I"ll buy one to try. The Pedco is kind of a one-trick pony.

    The Manfrotto RC2 is also an excellent choice IMO. When working with a monopod and a camera, the fact that the clamp automatically latches when the plate is inserted is really good. I actually have one of those RC2 clamps that I have modified to work with Arca plates, though I am not completely satisfied with the first try. I'm going to work on it some more because I really want to use it when I am working with a monopod.

    Re the "Tilt Top Head" I'd like to convince you to go with a "real" ball head. If you already own the tilt top, I'd suggest that you play with it a little with the window clamp as you plan to use it. I think you'll find it to be more than a bit wobbly with the 100-400 mounted and movements will be sticky. I haven't personally used any of the mid-price Manfrotto ball heads but I'm certain that one of the larger balls will serve you much better if you don't want to buy a good RRS, Kirk, Acratech, etc. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and you have some wonderful equipment there. Why compromise its performance with (yes, I will say it!) junk mounting hardware?

    This article: Tripods and Ball Heads by Thom Hogan is a little broader than the question you're trying to answer but his points on the "procession of the heads" are worth considering IMO.
  13. alex g

    alex g Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Mar 30, 2016
    New York / Bath
    Probably stating the obvious, but if you're considering clamping your camera to a vehicle in some way or other, make sure you do it in such a way that allows you to unclamp it again quickly! You definitely don't want it in direct contact with the vehicle while the latter is in motion — unless you enjoy watching equipment reverting to its component parts. :dance4:
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  14. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    Also engine off. A running engine transmits a surprising amount of vibration into the chassis.

    The good game drive guide/drivers automatically shut down the engine when one of the clients wants to take a picture.
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  15. nancyr

    nancyr Mu-43 Regular

    May 17, 2014
    San Diego
    Lots of good advice here, and a gorgeous leopard by oldracer!

    I've been on safari twice, in Zambia and Namibia/Botswana. The Land Rovers at safari camps in all 3 countries looked like the shot below, with or without the top and posts. There's no way to use a beanbag or clamp, unless you're happy shooting at lap level. I shot big Nikons attached to a monopod (balanced on the seat or floor) with a tilting head. The design is not brain-dead IF the lens has a tripod collar! You can rotate the camera freely in the collar, and tilt down or up. A ball head flopped to the side with a heavy* lens on it would be very unstable. Does your 100-400 have a tripod collar?

    An old pillowcase is very handy for keeping dust off your gear while moving, and adds nothing to your packing weight.

    by Nancy Raymond, on Flickr

    *Heavy for m43; I'm comparing to 1.5-2.8 kg Nikons
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  16. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    I agree that a collar in combination with the braid-dead design improves the combination and yes my 100-400mm has a collar, but the combination still does not solve the problem unless your monopod is exactly vertical left/right or the collar allows more than 90 degrees of rotation. Leveling is not always possible, at least for me, because I brace the monopod against whatever I can find. Sometimes I lash it to a fixed support. I have a photo of a very interesting old chandelier in Glacier Park that I shot from the lobby/atrium second floor with the monopod bungeed to a hand railing spindle, necessarily not exactly vertical. In that case, with a brain-dead monopod head it may have been possible to level the camera with a collar but in game drive situations things are changing too fast for this. Consider the open game drive vehicle in your photo. A monopod might be lashed to one of those vertical pipes but it would necessarily be tilted. Then, unless your collar allows full rotation of the lens, you are out of luck. My 100-400mm collar only allows 90 degrees of movement, so the designers were assuming that the lens would be shot from a level surface, at least left/right.

    Re "flopped" ball head it may well be unstable with a heavy full frame camera rig but I have never felt that to be an issue with my M43 stuff. The ideal, really, is a collared lens mounted on a ball head. Then, almost regardless of how the monopod is braced or lashed, you have complete flexibility of movement.

    Lots of words here to try to explain a very simple concept; sorry.

    Thanks for the flowers on the leopard cub. I also have a series of the cub eating on a kill that his mother had hauled into a tree. The cub doesn't look so cute and cuddly in those! :) 
  17. nancyr

    nancyr Mu-43 Regular

    May 17, 2014
    San Diego
    oldracer, I believe you have a better ball head than I do! :)  I don't like to use it vertical ("flopped") even with lighter gear, and I should have emphasized awkwardness over unsteadiness as the reason.:oops:  A monopod is basically vertical if the tip is on the seat next to you, with the weight of your gear and your hands to steady it. My (old) Nikon collars rotate 360°, so I can level by eye. Sports guys don't use any head at all. On safari, subjects can be high or low, hence the need for a hinge or a ball. As for lashing to a post, the vehicle is unlikely to be level, other passengers might move around, and the vertical posts may not be installed anyway (they're removable). On a game drive, you're unlikely to hit shutter speeds slow enough to need extra help. (BTW, what will IBIS & OIS add or subtract here? Should it be on or off on a monopod?)

    I would suggest trying your gear and support to see what works for you. If it fits into your weight requirements (yay m43!), a tripod would be useful for scenic bits like Sossusvlei. VR/IBIS/OIS will do in a pinch. If you're taking your ball head anyway, you can tilt or rotate; whatever works. Obviously we're all different!

    Have a fabulous time on safari—it's a life highlight for sure.
  18. nancyr

    nancyr Mu-43 Regular

    May 17, 2014
    San Diego
    I have a full-pride lion smorgasbord. When the cubs emerged, they were... colorful. :) 
  19. Holoholo55

    Holoholo55 Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 13, 2014
    Honolulu, HI
    Dallas Dahms uses M43 gear on safari. He has some suggestions.
    A Rationalised Working Kit For Micro Four Thirds
    Which Telephoto Lens For Safari 2016?

    I think one takeaway is to have two bodies and two zoom lenses mounted when out in the field, and to avoid changing lenses if possible. There's too much dust and wind and risk of it getting into the camera. Weather sealing is important. A fast prime is probably useful around a campfire or at the lodge. I have the 12-40 and the 50-200 SWD, so those would probably be my field lenses always mounted on my EM5 and EM1 respectively.
  20. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    @nancyr@nancyr I don't think we're arguing here. We just have different experiences and different shooting styles. A few comments:
    • I agree on the difference between sports photography and the more general photography we are talking about here. We need heads.
    • RE ball heads, it is an Acratech GP-S with the lever Arca clamp. It is very nice!
    • Re vertical monopods, lashing to a post, etc. with my setup I never worry about whether the monopod is vertical or not. In fact, if you search "how to use a monopod" on the 'net you will see a lot of creative ideas that involve the monopod being far from vertical.
    • Re putting the monopod tip on the seat that has never even occurred to me. I put it on the steel floor, but that does on occasion necessitate an off-vertical position. Last month in Kenya, one of the game drive vehicles had no space between the side of the seat and the outside wall. So for that one when I was shooting out the side the monopod was tilted maybe 20 or 30 degrees from the tip on the floor in front of me (against my foot) to the top beside me. In fact I shot the leopard cub from exactly that position.
    • Re shutter speeds when I was shooting the cub's Mom, it was mid-morning with hazy sun and she was in deep shade. She almost couldn't be seen with the naked eye. I am traveling right now but when I get home I will verify, IIRC I was shooting at 400mm, wide open, 6400 ISO, and shutter in the 125 or 250 range. Several near-sunset shots also surprised me with shutter speeds slower than I expected. So I won't agree with you on not needing slow shutter speeds (with the slower M43 zooms, anyway).
    Happy shooting to the OP! Have a great trip. Hopefully we have not confused you too much.
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