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Southern Africa Safari Lens Advice

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by everythingsablur, Apr 4, 2015.

  1. everythingsablur

    everythingsablur Mu-43 Veteran

    412
    Aug 4, 2010
    Toronto, ON
    Hi all,

    Long time no lurk, but I'm hoping you all could weigh in on some lens packing dilemmas I am having. I am going to be on an overland safari trip through South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe in about three weeks. The safari will be a lot of driving, camping, and game drives over two and a half weeks. After the safari, I will be spending a week in Turkey (mostly Cappadocia and Istanbul) laying over on my way home doing the more city vacation type photography.

    Anyway, with all the moving around, I don't want to carry everything I own, and would like to bring maybe 3-4 lenses total for my E-M1. Of what I own, here is what I was thinking of bringing:
    - 12-40 f/2.8 Pro
    - Either the P20 or PL25
    - P7-14
    - 100-300

    Now, I've had the 100-300 for a couple of years but it doesn't really get all that much use. Outside of this trip, I should probably sell it along with other lenses I find myself not using (I'm looking at you PL45!). I have been budgeting and saving for the 40-150 Pro, so I could buy it before this trip, but should I? Will 150 mm (or 210 if I buy the TC) be long enough? The 100-300 feels like it will become dead weight in Istanbul, while the 40-150 would be more versatile overall. Would you bring both the 40-150 for its great image quality/sharpness in addition to the 100-300 for the extra reach, despite the bulk two big lenses would add?

    I'm not 100% on the 7-14 either. I always have fun with that lens, though I have used it a lot less since moving to the 12-40 since its more convenient. Wide open vistas are pretty wide at 12 or at 7, but I may still bring it.

    Is there something else I should be considering instead? 75 f/1.8 springs to mind...

    Thanks in advance!

    Sent from my HTC One_M8 using Tapatalk
     
  2. mattia

    mattia Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 3, 2012
    The Netherlands
    I would pick one super telephoto options. My African Safari kit was the E-M1 and 50-200 with 1.4 TC. But I've also travelled with the 100-300 and it's an excellent good weather lens.

    As for the rest - most shots were with the 50-200 with TC, then the 12-40, and only one set where the 7-14 delivered the winning result, although II do love ultrawide in cities. For safari, you will never regret having more reach.
     
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  3. CiaranCReilly

    CiaranCReilly Mu-43 Veteran

    481
    Oct 18, 2012
    Dublin
    Ciaran Reilly
    I'd definitely bring 100-300. Went to game parks in SA with just 40-150 and struggled to get the detailed shots of animals I wanted.
     
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  4. Klorenzo

    Klorenzo Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 10, 2014
    Lorenzo
    I would only swap the 100-300 for the 40-150+TC. No lens is "long enough" for wildlife especially for a safari where you are not free to slowly move closer to the animals as much as you'd want. You are always going to find situations where you need more.
    The "problem" with the 100-300 is that near 300mm performance goes down and you shoot at 5.6. "Small" aperture means using often a tripod/beanbag of some kind. But even with a tripod you could have to rise the ISO to freeze the action. With the 40-150 you gain one or two stops depending on the situation and better contrast, details, etc.
    At mid day the speed difference could not matter, but many animals do not move around during the hottest hours of the day.
    I'd expect that you are going to start at sunrise and be back right after sunset, so a lot of situations with low light.
    With the 40-150+TC you have 1 extra stop, less need for stabilization and you just have to upscale by 20%(?) with a good program to have the same pixel size. Maybe the 100-300 at 300mm shoot in perfect conditions could have better resolution then the upscale(?), but I think those conditions are harder to get. You could download a few of the many 40-150 samples around and try to upscale and check the magnification difference with the 100-300. And if you shoot below 250mm there is no match. I'd consider the 100-300 only if you are bringing a tripod too. And animals are not always far away, sometimes a 50mm is all you need.
    If you are not a pixel-peeper just ignore everything I said :)

    I'd bring the 7-14 too, for the interior of the mosques in Istanbul and then Cappadocia is wide, especially from the sky :)
     
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  5. dornblaser

    dornblaser Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 13, 2012
    Chicago-area
    David Dornblaser
    We were in SA including the Mala Mala reserve and I would echo the recommendation to take the 100 - 300. A 40 - 150 is a nice lens for SA but not instead of the 100 - 300. The 40 - 150 would receive a lot of use. The 12 - 40 is another good choice. If you are lucky you will get very close to some animals. We had been following a pride of lions hunting and they went around our Land Rover and I physically could, but obviously did not, reach out and touch one. It was an open vehicle.
     
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  6. chargedmr2

    chargedmr2 Mu-43 Regular

    30
    Mar 26, 2014
    If you had the 9-18mm I would probably bring that over the 7-14 since you will definitely want the wider angels for Istanbul and Cappadocia (assuming Goreme), but have weight restrictions (the 9-18 is not quite as good, but the size is incredibly small).

    Just a few few thoughts on the 40-150 + TC. Klorenzo noted above that if you are shooting below 250 with the 100-300mm lens, then the 40-150 + TC would outperform it and it would be no match. I just bought the 40-150 + TC and have been doing comparisons with my 75-300mm (so Olympus, not the Panasonic) and what I have found is that the much more expensive combo when shot at 210mm hardly outperforms the 75-300mm also shot at the same focal length (208mm is as close as I can get it). And this is when I stop down for the sharpest possible photos using a tripod. If shot wide open at f4, the performance is actually WORSE than the 75-300mm (which is at f6.2 wide open). I will probably put together a post with pictures over the next few days for some opinions on this. The whole point of this is that you should definitely test the combo to see what advantages you get. The 40-150mm minus the TC is superb, and obviously has the speed advantage (which is the main reason I bought it). I did, however, expect much more out of the lens with the TC.

    By the way, I too will be in Southern Africa, and the trip was the reason for purchasing the 40-150 + TC. We're heading down for two months starting in early May, and like you, traveling light is important.
     
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  7. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 All-Pro

    Oct 1, 2010
    USA
    Substitute Namibia for Zambia and I have made exactly the two trips you're talking about. Things learned:

    On safari, two bodies are essential. One with the 100-300 and the other with a shorter zoom. 14-140mm is what I use. A 40-150mm would probably work. As someone mentioned, the animals can come very close to the game drive vehicles. What they will not do, however, is to wait patiently while you change lenses. Said another way, forget the primes for animal shots.

    Regarding the comment that the 100-300mm is too long to hand hold, that is simply not true. You should carry a monopod, which will help in many situations, but properly bracing and jamming yourself in the game drive vehicle (seat backs and pipe roof supports to assist) will get you stable shots most of the time. Yes, and maybe the 300mm is not tack sharp at full zoom but the shot you get will be far superior to the shot you miss or the tiny animal that you crop out of the middle of a frame. Here is one full-frame at 300mm hand-held; one several all nice and sharp as the animal moved:

    full.

    For a third lens, my kit includes a 9-18mm. I like this one because it is tiny and the long end, 36mm equivalent, makes the range suitable for street shooting. You will use this mostly in Turkey. Another example (in Istanbul):

    full.

    The wide end of the 9-18mm provides some fun, again in Istanbul:

    full.

    But there is always the temptation to cliches:

    full.

    So, back to our regularly scheduled program, I would recommend for your kit:

    • 2 bodies. Buy a second one now and sell it when you get home if necessary.
    • 100-300mm
    • Medium zoom: 14-140mm, 14-150mm best, 40-150mm acceptable
    • Wide zoom: Your 7-14mm is OK, my preference for street shooting is the 9-18mm
    • A good carbon monopod with a small ball head plus a small bungee or two to lash it to fixed objects when possible. I carry these: https://www.niteize.com/product/KnotBone-Adjustable-Bungee.asp

    It's a great trip. I'm jealous; I'd like to go back!
     
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  8. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
    I'm planning but have not made a similar trip. Am waiting for the ne Oly 300mm Pro. I have done lots of wildlife photography in N. & Central America. Your question is a common one. In thinking about my plans, 2-3 factors have emerged that you haven't mentioned.

    Oldracer is spot on about 2 bodies for many reasons. Given the dust problems, changing lenses on a drive is to be avoided. (Bring good cleaning gear.) You'll want a large range of FL available (14-300mm) all the time. & you should have a backup camera on a trip like this.

    Most Africa discussions center on large animals but there are lots of birds, other small critters & flowers too. For small critters 210mm & even 300mm will regularly not be long enough. And min. focus distance will be a consideration.

    As for steadying your camera, what you choose to bring maybe should adapt to the vehicles you'll be spending most of your game drive time in. I've found a significant range of vehicle types being used by rentals, lodges & guides. Some even come equipped w/ bolted in gimbal heads. Others are open & some have hatches/windows or roll bars. Your equipment choices - bean bags, monopods, table top tripod (for use on a roof) - should be made based on the vehicle you'll be in. So find out what kind of vehicle(s) you'd be doing drives in. From photos I've seen, shooting HH or off a bean bag seems the most common. The OIS in the Pana 100-300mm will help you lots here but its AF speed is reported to be slow & hunts often. Practice lots before you go to learn how to set up your camera for optimum AF on this lens.

    As Oldracer's wonderful photo shows, you'll be shooting up often. So monopod/tripod needs to be tall enough to allow you to do that or you'll need to kneel down. Turns out there aren't many tall carbon monopods out there. I have the Sirui P-224C for that but I'm 5'11".

    Last but not least, evening/night game drives are common so consider: high ISO performance, max aperture & flash. Lots of critters are mostly inactive in the day. Are you willing to be confined to daytime only shooting?

    Remember this is a trip of a lifetime & a big commitment just to be there. The beauty of m43 is even a kit that includes 2 bodies & flash is tiny compared to a DSLR & 500 or 600mm f4.
     
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  9. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
    One more thing. On the choice of the 40-150mm Pro w/ MC14 or the Pana 100-300mm (don't own either but have the ZD300 & M.Z75-300), you might make AF speed a priority in that choice. A good copy of the 100-300 @ 300 may well be sharper than the 40-150+MC when cropped if both shots are in focus. By all accounts, the new lens has wicked fast AF. Others who have been to Africa can comment on how often you might see fast action where fast AF will be critical.

    In my experience good AF performance is very useful but only if you have good technique & camera setup. When all that comes together though, you can get images w/ high impact. This was taken w/ the not so fast ZD300+EC-14, HH w/ the EM1. And I would have been depressed for weeks if I had missed it!!
    16659601905_d23b29c4f1_o. _2120376 by tradesmith45, on Flickr
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2015
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  10. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 All-Pro

    Oct 1, 2010
    USA
    A few small/additional points to amplify what tradesmith45 said:

    On my trips we were rarely permitted to get out of the game drive vehicle. The leopard was shot from the vehicle, for example. So I have not had a need for anything special in the way of monopod height. A small ball head will add maybe 4" by itself.

    Re night game drives, again only my experience, someone is swooshing a floodlight around the vehicle trying to catch birds or animals. Maybe due to a lack of skill on my part, but I was never able to get a shot that was of any value at all during an evening/night drive.

    Virtually all of the game drive vehicles we experienced were Land Cruiser pickups with three banks of seats welded to the bed and a pipe frame that held the frame for a canvas roof. I always tried to sit next to a pipe so I could wrap my arm around it to stabilize the camera. Sometimes it worked to actually hold the camera against the pipe, but engine vibration sometimes made that undesirable. The monopod extended to maybe half height from the vehicle floor, with my leg wrapped around it for additional stability, was a useful tool. BTW you'll want some kind of quick release on the monpod with plates on both bodies.

    Re long fixed focus lenses, it is probably the majority of times that I find my subject at a wide setting and then zoom to 300mm or whatever. Using a fixed focus 300mm is like looking at the world through a soda straw. People say that you can learn to do it well and I don't doubt them, but that is probably never going to be me. So, lots of practice or a reflex sight should be considered.
     
  11. DL Photo

    DL Photo Mu-43 Veteran

    216
    Nov 15, 2012
    Richmond, BC, Canada
    Dave
    Since you have the E-M1, you may even consider the 50-200 swd with the 1.4 and 2x converter. Will definitely provide you with sharp pictures and additional FL. You could sell them and recoup your costs after the trip.

    There are a number of threads regarding this lens.
     
  12. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
    Everythingsablur, since you are not using your 100-300 very often, I'd suggest getting in as much wildlife photography practice as possible before your trip will be more helpful than having the correct selection of gear. There must be a game park or sanctuary up there in Ontario you can get to several times to practice. Or shooting most anything w/ the long lens from a car will help. Or shoot lots of sports………………..

    One of your goals should be learning good eye-hand coordination so you can get on & follow a target quickly. There are lots of ways to do that so find one method that you can reliably make work & practice it.

    For action, I'm a right eye shooter & keep my left eye open so I can acquire & follow a target. With practice, when I bring the camera up to my right eye, the target I am looking at w/ my left eye will be centered in the EVF. But this is just one method & left eye shooters have to do something different.
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2015
  13. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
    A friend who has been to Africa lots highly recommends walking game drives - she hates vehicle drives. I have mixed feelings about walking drives since they require an armed escort & the risk of having to shoot an animal. Supposedly good guides routinely avoid having to actually shoot but my photos are never worth an animals life!
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2015
  14. dornblaser

    dornblaser Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 13, 2012
    Chicago-area
    David Dornblaser
    I went walking twice with an armed guide. Following in the distance, out of sight, was a land rover in case one of us was hurt etc. I don't think that there is any risk of shooting an animal, you won't get close to a large animal like you would in a vehicle. The exhaust, size, smell, etc., of vehicles hides our humanness. Walking will allow you to see more small critters and birds. Little guys like the dung beetles at work can be fascinating.
     
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  15. datagov

    datagov Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 2, 2012
    New York
    I spent a month in Namibia in 2013, and got most of my best shots with the P20. The landscapes in Africa are so wide, you don't need a wide lens. And the light is excellent. I will be going to Tanzania in May and will bring the P14-42, P20, and O75-300. I might throw in the O60 for macro and portraits. In Africa, less is more. Bring fewer lenses, focus on light, composition, and remember the BEST thing about Africa is the people. You will have few opportunities to take a stunning photo of animals, and far more opportunities to capture the personality of the people you meet.
     
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  16. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    As someone else suggested I would get the 50-200 SWD with the 1.4 and 2.0 TC's. Then you could not buy the 40-150 Pro and leave the 100-300 at home. Use the money you save from not getting the Pro and buy a used 2nd EM1. When you return you could sell both for a net of zero and have great images
     
  17. everythingsablur

    everythingsablur Mu-43 Veteran

    412
    Aug 4, 2010
    Toronto, ON
    Thanks all! Many great points that I've been thinking about, and a few that I haven't.

    Agreed on the UWA. I love having a really wide angle in tight cities. Look forward to the Oly 7-14 f/2.8 Pro.

    I have been shooting with the 100-300, but mostly for stadium sports. It was initially bought with the intent on wildlife, but the Alaskan cruise we had gone on that year was a little early in the season and we really didn't see much of anything (1 eagle, 2 seals, 1 deer, that's about it). I don't mind the lens, I just don't get too many occasions to really pull it out.

    For stabilization, I was packing my CF Mefoto Roadtrip which I can convert into a monopod. The wife might pack a GorillaPod SLR-Zoom, though I'd probably want to swap out the ballhead on it for one with an Arca plate. Not entirely sure what all of the vehicles we will be using will be, but I've mostly read open-air jeeps on the game drives. Will look into this a little more.

    I've been thinking about the second body for a while. I still have access to my old M43 bodies (the classic GF1, and my old trusty E-P3) that have been handed around to friends/family members. Granted, that's a pretty big difference from my E-M1, but size/weight/money and wife would probably be quite against a full on second OM-D (wife being the big one). I would love a second body with the same battery/charger so there would be fewer extra bits to carry, but that is likely not in the cards. I can see a second body mounted with a prime or shorter zoom being handy for the unpredictability of where animals might show up, and just as a backup in case something goes awry with my E-M1 (knock on wood).

    The old Zuiko 50-200 wasn't even on my radar. Interesting option I hadn't considered. Not the best market considering I'm not in the US, which makes sourcing an available used lens, TC, and adapter on short notice more challenging. Still, something to look into as it is less expensive and may be a little more flexible. Heavy and big, but if it saves a lens spot, possibly a fair trade. 40-150 Pro is just more readily available to me

    I used the original Panasonic 14-140 for quite a while as my travel lens. Loved the convenience of the focal range in a single lens, but it was never my preferred lens for most situations. For better or worse, I always seem to have "something better" in that FL, unless I need/want a one lens solution. It was always just something simpler for my wife to use since she hated lens swapping. I have since moved her off to an RX100 which she really enjoys and finds more convenient. Since that lacks the zoom range, she'll probably be handling more of the closer encounters.

    Any other lenses or gear I should be considering? Flash?
     
  18. Klorenzo

    Klorenzo Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 10, 2014
    Lorenzo
    I just wanted to clarify one thing: my comparison was 210mm vs 300mm where the 100-300 performance drops and there is one stop difference.
    In a 210 vs 210 there should be less IQ difference but you loose the main advantage of the Panasonic lens. Maybe there is "no point" could have been a better expression than "no match".
    I would never have expected that the 40-150+TC could be worst then the 100-300 (and I still found this very strange). I've read a few reviews and samples, from big and small sites and forums, and found not much complaints about the TC. There are a couple of threads here about problems with the TC but with simple tests only.
     
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  19. vbi

    vbi Mu-43 Regular

    77
    Apr 15, 2014
    Cape Town
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2015
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  20. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 All-Pro

    Oct 1, 2010
    USA
    You'll probably be sitting on opposite sides of the game drive vehicles, having successfully avoided the dreaded middle seat. Generally speaking, the animals do not know which side of the vehicle has the lens with the proper focal length. You and your wife will probably find yourselves quickly trading cameras from time to time.