Help me choose my lenses for a month in Africa

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by trandg, Dec 15, 2016.

  1. trandg

    trandg Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 24, 2012
    At the beginning of January I'm headed to:
    • Istanbul/Cappadocia
    • Zanzibar
    • Serengeti and surrounding national parks for safari
    • Virunga National Park in the DR Congo - gorilla trekking and Nyriagongo volcano
    • Nairobi and potentially a few parks near there - Amboseli, Hell's Gate, Tsavo East
    • Mombassa, Watamu and Diani beaches
    I'll be shooting lifestyle/culture, surf, SUP and kitesurfing, and safari wildlife. Photos and extensive video. Will be using the E-M1 mark II and the GM5 and taking along a DJI Mavic and a few GoPros as well.

    I'd like to minimize the lenses I'm bringing and would love everyone's views on what I should bring. Here's what I have:
    1. PL 100-400mm f4-5.6
    2. Oly 40-150mm f2.8 + 1.4x TC
    3. Oly 75mm f1.8
    4. Oly 12-40mm f2.8
    5. PL 15mm f1.7
    6. Samyang 12mm f2.0
    7. Samyang 7.5mm f3.5 fisheye
    I am also potentially borrowing an Oly 7-14mm f2.8 from a friend as I don't have anything ultra-wide landscapes and high-res mode shooting.

    So lots of lenses. I'm thinking about ditching the 40-150mm and taking the 100-400mm. The thing is I just got the 100-400mm and have never used it before. Only familiar with the 40-150mm. Also thinking of keeping the 12mm at home although I would have liked it for astro stuff. The 15mm is good being paired with the GM5 and for low light/low weight kit on evenings out and street. The 75mm is also good with the GM5 for the same thing.

    Would love to see what people think! I always over pack. I feel like I would be fine with just the 12-40, 100-400, and the 15mm and 75mm.

    I'll be packing it all in the Peak Design Everyday Backpack 30L. I could bring a small messenger bag as well.
  2. Turbofrog

    Turbofrog Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 21, 2014
    That should be a heck of a trip! Having spent a couple of months in East Africa years ago in a number of the same places, it is a photographers heaven. This was before I was "seriously" into photography, so all my images were taken with a tiny little Ricoh R8 28-200mm 1/2.3" point & shoot. Still love them, though.

    Zanzibar is amazing, make sure you have a chance to do some wandering at dusk / night when the lighting gets dramatic (especially the night market in Stone Town), so the 15/1.7 and maybe 75/1.8 should definitely be in there. You could also get some pretty amazing images in Stone Town with the fisheye, which can double for nice astrophotography in a pinch if you are willing to do a bit of post-processing star-stacking. It's 1 2/3 stops slower than the 12/f2, but you can get away with shutter speeds that are almost twice as long, so it's not as huge a disadvantage as it initially appears, only 2/3 EV.

    For safaris you can never, ever, ever have too much reach, so I think the 100-400 should definitely be in there. But I would make sure to do some concerted testing in the mean time to make sure you have a good copy that meets your standards. Nothing worse than being disappointed in a new lens on a (once-in-a-lifetime?) trip.

    Rather than a standard zoom like the 12-40/2.8 (which I don't have), I think that I would preferentially take a superzoom in the 14-140 (or the new 12-100/f4 should the weight and wallet budget accommodate) range for good-light shooting during the days. You have two bodies, so I guess changing lenses all the time is not as big a problem, but having some good reach close at hand during the day makes for shots you would never get otherwise, in my experience.

    So I would say:

    12-40 (or 14-140, 12-100)

    I suppose you could also go with the 12-40 on the E-M1 and the 75mm/1.8 on the GM5 with both at hand during the day, in which case the 14-140/12-100 would not be necessary.
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  3. Jersey devil

    Jersey devil Mu-43 Regular

    Mar 5, 2015
    I agree with turbofrog. The 12-100 along with a 100-400 would be a nice combo.
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  4. Leighgion

    Leighgion Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 1, 2012
    Madrid, Spain
    Leigh L Pang
    Are you going on this trip to actually experience Africa or because it wasn't possible to move Africa closer to all your cameras?

    Unless you're being paid a pile of cash for insane levels of documentation, I'd leave fourth fifths of that stuff at home. M4/3 might be the small and light system, but the sheer number items you've listed has pushed right back up to backbreaking.

    If I were you, I'd take the two camera bodies, not more than four lenses and a much smaller camera bag. Forget
    the rest. Otherwise, your month is going to be about carrying gear, sorting gear and deciding what gear to carry and the fact you're in Africa will be incidental.
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  5. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    My wife and I have been to Africa a half-dozen times, including a total of maybe 6 weeks on photo safaris. I'll emphasize the safari stuff because shooting landscapes and cities is pretty much that same everywhere. Thoughts:
    • You will not have time to change lenses when shooting wildlife.
    • No matter how long your longest lens is, you will be wishing for more.
    • When an animal walks by a few feet from your game drive vehicle, you will need a very short focal length to get the shot.
    • Fixed focal lengths for wildlife will reduce, not improve, the quality of your shots because you will have to do a lot of cropping and will also have compositions that are too tight to be any good. Basically, one size fits none.
    • Light is not always bright, especially for animals in trees.
    • Make sure you understand the electricity situation in the camps where you are going. Some remote camps have part-time generators or solar-powered LED lighting. In neither case can you count on being able to charge batteries.
    So, what?
    • Carry two nearly-identical bodies that take the same batteries. On safari you will be using both; one for a "short" zoom and one for a "long" zoom. This way you also have redundancy if a body is lost, stolen, or damaged.
    • The 100-400mm is a wonderful lens but it is big and heavy. Assemble your full kit with that lens included and consider the size and weight of what you have to carry. The 100-300mm is a smaller, lighter alternative though not really a substitute. Grab the camera with one of these two to get the leopard in the tree. (see below)
    • The 14-140mm MK II is my go-to lens. Or the similar Oly lens would work too. Grab this camera when the lion starts ambling towards you.
    • Carry a monopod with a small QR ball head and, before you leave, learn how to use it. A monopod is not just a vertical stick that holds the camera up. Carry a couple of bungee cords so you can lash the monopod to steady things (trees, trucks, ...) as a substitute for a tripod.
    • Carry lots of batteries, like four or five per camera. (So 8 or 10 total, all identical.) Carry at least two chargers.
    • There are endless threads here about travel backup storage strategies. Read until your eyes glaze over and you fall asleep.

    My kit: 2x bodies, usually GX7s, & 3 lenses. 9-18mm, 14-140mm Mk II, either 100-300 or 100-400. Carbon-fiber monopod with Acratech GPS head. (On our last trip I carried a GX7 and a GX8. Dealing with the slightly different controls was a PITA, as was dealing with two types of batteries. Never again. On two previous trips I carried the 3 zooms and also 3 primes. Never once mounted a prime. Sold them all after the second trip.)

    Compared to what this trip is costing, the cost of the equipment is almost negligible. If you don't own what you need, buy it. Plan to sell it when you get home if necessary.

    Sample shot: 100-400mm, GX8 on monopod, iso 6400, minor cropping if any at all; I don't remember. It was so dark in the tree that she was hard to pick out with the naked eye.

    If you haven't committed to arrangements yet, I'd encourage you to touch base with Pierre or Karen Duval at South Africa safaris | South African tours | South African safaris We've traveled with them three times and they have become friends. Totally custom arrangements; exactly what you want. No more, no less.
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  6. trandg

    trandg Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 24, 2012
    Thanks guys for the great feedback so far.

    Some thoughts
    • won't be buying any more gear before I go, so the 12-100 is out of the question unfortunately
    • I'm going to experience Africa - there will be no shortage of moments without my gear
    • @Leighgion@Leighgion I am documenting for personal, but I also have commitments to write a number of articles, blogs and videos for a number of media outlets
    • @Leighgion@Leighgion I do agree, 2 bodies and up to 4 lenses is perfect in my eye
    • @oldracer@oldracer great tips! Unfortunately I don't have the luxury of 2 EM1MKIIs, so going to have 2 separate cameras instead. The new E-M1 has a much higher capacity battery and I'm doing tests to see how long I can get out of two batteries. I think I'd likely bring 3 or 4 as I used to have that many with my Mark I and never went through them all
    • @oldracer@oldracer can you charge your batteries in the 4x4 with an inverter? I plan on bringing one just in case
    Keep em coming guys! It sounds like the 40-150mm doesn't have a home on this trip. I think I just have a slight fear of leaving it behind as it used to be my go-to for long shots, but now that the 100-400mm got here this week it will have to take it's place unless someone can convince me otherwise.
  7. barry13

    barry13 Super Moderator; Photon Wrangler Subscribing Member

    Mar 7, 2014
    Southern California
    Progo batteries, and some others probably, come with a charger with a 12V cigarette lighter plug.

    A decent inverter should be OK, but test here first, and make sure you have a spare charger and battery in case of damage.
    The only way I know to check an inverter's output quality is with an oscilloscope, and even then it might change as conditions (including temperature) vary.
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  8. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    @trandg@trandg, I wouldn't cut it too fine on batteries. They are cheap, light, and compact. They also fail. Figure two or three days shooting/2 bodies without being able to charge and you'll probably be totally, even absurdly, covered. But the alternative is worse. Carry two chargers for each battery type. Chargers die too.

    Re inverter, the common camera battery charger sold all over eBay: s-l225.jpg has a version with a cigar lighter/12v plug. I always carry this type but, truth be told, have never used the 12v option. It takes several hours to charge a battery, so I don't think its a realistic option when you have two bodies and are charging 3 or 4 batteries a day. Also when you say "4x4" think: "beat up old Toyota." Maybe it has a cigar lighter, maybe it works, maybe it's not being used to charge the guide's radio, maybe no other passengers want it, ... Inverters are heavy and inefficient. I wouldn't consider carrying something like that. Carry 4 chargers with the 12 volt cords and pray that you never have to explore that option.

    All that said, we were actually in a game drive vehicle in Tanzania that had an inverter and a plug strip for customers' chargers. Wave of the future, maybe. That one was rigged so we could charge overnight. Lap of luxury.
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  9. acnomad

    acnomad Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    Jan 5, 2016
    I travel a great deal and try to carry very little gear on shorter trips, and probably too much on longer stays.

    I keep my PL15 on one of my m4/3 bodies at all times. If I had a GM5 (instead of a GM1) I'd never take it off that body for the whole trip. Although it's not that wide, the PL15 can still get good astro captures.

    For the E-M1, the other three lenses you are planning to take sound like a perfect combo. If you are able to borrow that 7-14 f/2.8, I'll bet you'd have fun with it.
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  10. trandg

    trandg Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 24, 2012
    You guys are all providing sage advice. Can't thank you enough!

    @acnomad@acnomad agree with you - the 15mm is almost exclusively on the GM5. When I'm out and about in cities and towns, will almost exclusively only use the 15mm+75mm with the GM5 and keep the E-M1 for action, nature and video. For the safari I think I'll likely pair the 12-40mm with the GM5 while I keep the 100-400mm on the E-M1.
  11. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    @trandg@trandg, I have been thinking about your two cameras. TBH, I have not even handled a GM5 but I think you are going to be very unhappy with it on game drives trying to shoot without an EVF. There just isn't time to fuss with framing using an LCD and the "hands outstretched" position provides almost no stability. This, in addition to the issue of two kinds of batteries IMHO will lead to unhappiness. If your new Oly dies (and the most likely time for an electronic device to die is early in its life -- called "infant mortality") trying to shoot the 100-400mm quickly on the GM5 will be hopeless. Try it and see if you don't agree.

    Obviously I don't know your financial situation, but I'd encourage you to beg, borrow, or steal an Oly EVF body that is at least roughly similar to the one you have -- even if you can't have common batteries.

    Sorry to beat the same drum again but I think this is really important. Would you try to use the GM5 for sports photography? ... I didn't think so. Safari photography is a lot like sports photography except often the light isn't as good.
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  12. acnomad

    acnomad Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    Jan 5, 2016
    I agree that an EVF is necessary in bright conditions - and the GM5 has one.
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  13. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    OK, I'll shut up now. :biggrin:
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  14. bassman

    bassman Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Apr 22, 2013
    New Jersey
    The Bassman
    I planning a trip next July, and agree with the 2-zoom (12-40, 100-400), 2-prime (15, 75) strategy. My inventory is a bit different than yours:

    17/1.8, 25/1.4, 45/1.8
    9-18, 12-35/2.8, 35-100/2.8, 50-200 with the EC1.4

    So I'm thinking of the 17 and 45 primes - together about 10 oz.

    For zooms, the 12-35 and 50-200+1.4 gives a slightly shorter range than the 12-40 and 100-400, though with a smaller gap. The 50-200+1.4+Adaptor also weighs about a pound more than the 100-400 and is slightly faster. The 100-400 is calling to me.

    My tentative plan for bodies is the E-M1 and E-M1ii. Different batteries but very similar controls and setup. I'll ameliorate the battery problem with the Watson dual-charger which accepts plates for different batteries, assuming the new BLH1 is supported by then. It also charges pretty quickly.
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2016
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  15. D7k1

    D7k1 Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Nov 18, 2013
    I would get a 72mm Canon 500D for the PL100-400, makes for an amazing macro setup. My kit for travel with "lots of stuff" is the 9-18, 12-35, and PL100-400 + Canon 500D. I probably really need a PL15mm 1.8....
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  16. acnomad

    acnomad Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    Jan 5, 2016
    IMHO, everyone needs a PL15mm! At the risk of going way OT, can you elaborate on the 72mm recommendation? I'm a Nikon guy at heart, but always interested in new ideas...
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  17. trandg

    trandg Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 24, 2012
    @oldracer@oldracer although my post appears to show that I don't know what I'm doing....I can capture a lot of different action. I have captured great shots with a GM5. It's a very capable device. I appreciate your worry and suggestions but I think I will surprisingly be able to get the shot with that camera at close range.

    Oh jeez this is an awful sounding post hahaha
  18. alex g

    alex g Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Mar 30, 2016
    New York / Bath
    For what it's worth, here is my shot distribution between lenses over the space of ten days of safari in East Africa:

    7-14/2.8 796
    12-40/2.8 489
    40-150/2.8 2576
    100-300 948
    75/1.8 240

    Clearly, every trip will be different, and what works on one occasion may not work on another. Equally, different photographers have different visual objectives. And with an itinerary as diverse as yours is, you'll be hard pushed to cover all bases!

    That said, I think those figures show the overwhelming usefulness of the 40-150 Pro in that situation. It covers a very useful range of focal lengths and is comparatively fast. I've heard people argue that f2.8 still isn't fast enough for low light shooting and therefore you might as well opt for the convenience of an f4 zoom and not bother trying for the low light shots, but I disagree. The most interesting action happens at dawn and dusk and it's definitely possible to get good results with u43 at dawn and dusk or under a tree canopy. But... there is little or no wiggle-room.

    So when I see that you have a 40-150/2.8 and plan to leave it behind, I have to say I think you'll regret it. You'll wish you had that extra stop. Added to which, a lot can happen between 40 and 100mm! For example, this is uncropped and shot at 82mm:

    Lions, Samburu.jpg

    The 75 is even faster, of course, but I wouldn't advise tying one of your bodies to a single focal length if you're taking only two, and the 75 might not appreciate the working conditions on safari. I used mine very sparingly, only when there wasn't too much dust in the air and I really wanted the extra brightness and/or IQ.

    So my pick from your list would be:

    40-150 (on the E-M1 II)
    100-400 (on the GM5 — I'm not kidding, I've had great results from the 300/4 on a GM5 and they're of comparable size: it'll feel like you're shooting with the Hubble telescope to begin with, but at least that way you'll have IS on both long zooms. :) )
    7-14 (if you can get it)
    15/1.7 or 12-40

    Personally, I don't get on too well with standard zooms — I think I'd opt for the faster prime myself — but that decision depends a lot on what and how you plan to shoot.

    You could even take the 75 and use the 7-14 as your standard zoom if you're into the widelife. :)
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  19. Holoholo55

    Holoholo55 Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 13, 2014
    Honolulu, HI
    @oldracer@oldracer has some good advice. I haven't shot a safari so I depend on others' experience. Other persons who have made recommendations for safaris recommend against switching lenses in the field. Too much dust, wind, rain, or something. Two similar bodies with two lenses would be ideal. With what you have, the 100-400 might be your best bet on the EM1 out animal viewing, although it's a little long at the short end. The 40-150 may be a little short at the long end, or you'll have to use the MC-14. Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO Goes On Safari

    Having a wide to short tele zoom would be good on another body, but I dunno about putting the 12-40 Pro on the GM5. That sounds too unbalanced and you'd need some sort of accessory grip for the GM5 to hold it. Compact Camera Meter
    Plus, the GM5 isn't weather sealed and dust could get in. Great for city and travel, but not so much in the field, I think.
    You might get by with the 15 on the GM5, but keep it under wraps while out in the field, bringing it out for some quick snaps and then putting it back in a bag. If you got an EM1 or EM5 II body to use with the 12-40 Pro, that would be ideal.

    A photosafari guide had some advice. Which Telephoto Lens For Safari 2016?
    2016 Ultimate Big 5 Safari Feedback (see the last paragraph)

    It's kinda tough to have a kit equally well suited for city and safari. It's gonna be a compromise.
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  20. Sniksekk

    Sniksekk Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    Apr 7, 2015
    Maybe we'll see each other. Going Tanzania/ Zanzibar late January. :)
    My equip / setup is this.

    E-m1 with 100-400 carried by me.
    E-m1 with 40-150 carried by GF.
    E-m10 12-40 by my side when I need wider shots and time is of an essence.

    Might pack 25/45/75 for stonetown, but no idea. No room in my backpack for any of them.

    And I have a Ricoh Theta S.
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