Which lenses to take to Africa.

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by chrisO, Jan 26, 2014.

  1. chrisO

    chrisO New to Mu-43

    Jan 26, 2014
    Hi, asking for some recommendations of lenses to take with me to Africa. Due to weight restrictions on the charter plane I have opted to not take my Canon 5D and the bulky but gorgeous 70-200 2.8(so hope I don't regret that decision) and I have recently purchased an OMD E-M1 and a 20-40 2.8 pro. So My next Question is what other lenses do I purchase (I am thinking something with more reach.:confused:
  2. rklepper

    rklepper Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Dec 19, 2012
    Iowa, USA
    Personally I would look at something like the Canon 300L FD.
  3. jloden

    jloden Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 15, 2012
    Hunterdon County, NJ
    I've never been to Africa so I can't say what would be most useful there specifically. However, having done other travel & wildlife photography in numerous places, the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 and the Panasonic 100-300 would definitely be in my bag.

    You didn't say what you're looking to shoot - wildlife, landscapes, portraits, all of the above? If you're looking at going on a photo safari for instance, my best wildlife shots taken in the field have all been with the 100-300 simply because of the amount of reach required. e.g. both of these are racked out at 300mm:

    Grizzly on the Ridge 2 by jloden, on Flickr

    Bighorn Sheep, Banff National Park, Alberta Canada by jloden, on Flickr

    The 35-100mm is the direct replacement for your 70-200mm lens in terms of FOV and can do some nice portraits, short wildlife photos, tele-landscapes etc. Excellent complement to the 12-40mm you already have as well. If your main goal is wildlife I think it'd be woefully short range for a lot of stuff, but I'd have mine with me anyway because it's an excellent lens for other uses.

    Other things to consider
    * 75mm f/1.8 - fantastic tele for portraits, landscapes, and close wildlife
    * 7-14mm - this is my preferred wide angle and usually always goes along unless I'm really tight on space. 12mm isn't wide enough for that truly dramatic UWA perspective :thumbup:
    * 25mm 1/.4 or 17mm f/1.8 - I'd have something like this along as well for low light, environmental portraits that sort of thing, where the 12-40mm is a little slow even at f/2.8
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  4. Gillymaru

    Gillymaru Mu-43 Veteran

    Depends a lot on your budget which lenses to get.
    I am heading to Sri Lanka later this year and plan to photograph Leopards and Elephants. My lens choice will be the Panasonic 12-35, 35-100, Nokton 25mm and the Olympus 50-200 SWD and 1.4x TC.
    The 3 m4/3 lenses will be my main kit and the 4/3 lens will be just for the times I am photographing game. The 50-200 Olympus is nice and sharp and the autofocus is adequate for game that is moving slowly or resting. The teleconverter has little effect on the image quality and allows for a little more reach.
  5. Adubo

    Adubo SithLord Subscribing Member

    Nov 4, 2010
    i'd probably take 3 lenses... but you'd miss out a gap which in MY own photographic range, don't use much.


    you can add the new 12-40, but personally, i prefer the extreme FLs
  6. mattia

    mattia Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 3, 2012
    The Netherlands
    You have an E-M1, so I'd recommend what I'll be doing when I head to Africa in June: a 43 50-200 with MMF-3 adapter and, if necessary, a 1.4x teleconverter.

    Even without the converter, I got a lot of great shots with my 100-400 and 5DII (same field of view as the 50-200) back in 2008 (last time I went on Safari). I owned the 100-300, and if you want to go light, that's also a very good lens (for what it is, stopped down, and you're in Africa so light isn't the problem) with really extreme reach (600mm equivalent on your 5D in a compact package). Also of note, for a lot of African landscapes - extremely wide, wide vistas, like the Namibian dunes, or savannas - wide to ultrawide is sometimes just too wide, because there isn't necessarily anything particularly interesting happening in the foreground. I think some of my favourite shots of those kinds of places are more telephoto/compressed, so while I will take the 7-14 along, I'm not sure it'll get a huge amount of use landscaping.

    Just to help you get over your sorrow - I had the 70-200/2.8 loaned out to a friend shooting a crop DSLR while I was shooting the 100-400 on the FF canon, and he often bemoaned the lack of reach. 70-200/2.8 was only occasionally on the FF canon, and it was almost always either too long, or too short. I'll probably be shooting the 50-200 on the E-M1 and mount a moderately wide (35) or standard zoom (depends on the reviews of the Sony 24-70/F4.0) on the A7r. As for fill flash, I think it depends on your technique and post-processing. There's more than enough dynamic range in the files to extract a lot of detail and saturation in almost all shots in post, and I actively dislike the bulk and hassle of a flash with the extra batteries/capacity it entails. Horses for courses, though...
    • Like Like x 1
  7. wildwildwes

    wildwildwes Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 9, 2012
    Brooklyn, NY
    My parents were missionaries in 1960's East Africa and my Dad was an avid wildlife photographer. His photographs are magnificent and I'm told that he'd wait for HOURS to get the shot he wanted. I never got to discuss our mutual love of photography with him as he fell victim to a fatal dose of Cerebral Malaria when he was just 32 (i was barely 3 at the time). Anyway, getting back to your question about which lenses to take on your trip to Africa -- my suggestion is the LONGEST and FASTEST that you're able to manage!

    Good luck. Looking forward to seeing your pix upon your return.
  8. xdayv

    xdayv Color Blind

    Aug 26, 2011
    Tacloban City, Philippines
    100-300 definitely gets my vote. If the Panasonic 150 2.8 is already available, I would consider it too.
  9. hkpzee

    hkpzee Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 5, 2011
    Hong Kong
    Since you already have the 12-40/2.8, I would also suggest the ZD 50-200/2.8-3.5 and EC-14 1.4x teleconverter to compliment it. It gives you full frame equivalent coverage of 24-560mm without requiring too many lens swap (you miss a little bit of coverage in the middle, but it's something I can live with. YMMV, of course). If you think the 50-200 is still too heavy and bulky to carry around, either the Olympus 75-300 or the Panasonic 100-300 should work. As for the mid-telephoto range, I would either use the 75/1.8 prime or the 35-100/2.8 as others have suggested if you opt for the 100-300...
  10. GRID

    GRID Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 22, 2011
    I used my Canon 300mm F2.8 FD when i was in Tanzania 2 years agoe, and it was great to have 600mm and F2.8, i didnt use my tripod much at all, so i f i would go again i might not even bring it, and back then i didnt have a camera with IBIS even.

    You can see some of my photos on my site www.GRIDDD.se
    • Like Like x 1
  11. drd1135

    drd1135 Zen Snapshooter

    Mar 17, 2011
    Southwest Virginia
    I'll be simplistic and say go for the 100-300. Speed is great but reach is everything. If you can get afford some of the old 43 long zoom glass then definitely go for that. Of course, don't forget a nifty normal for non-safari shooting.
  12. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    Chris, this might be a little lengthy but hopefully it is helpful:

    Africa is a big place. North Africa is mostly about street photography and landscapes, but I'll assume that for you "Africa" means photo safaris and wildlife somewhere in the sub-Sahara. I have done that trip a couple of times.

    If you only take one lens, take the 100-300mm. If two lenses, add the 14-140mm or Olympus' similar lens.

    You need the 300mm reach for shots like this:


    You also need speed. Opportunities come and go in an instant. This means that if the lens you need is not already mounted on a body and at hand, you probably will miss the shot. Yes, that means you carry two bodies. I bought an extra body and the 100-300mm for my second trip and sold them when I got home. Net cost was about $30. Birds, of course, come and go quickly. But many times I have had animals move towards the game drive vehicle (not threatening, just sauntering) and inside the range of the 100-300mm. No problem: Grab the body with the 14-140mm and shoot.

    Here is a failed photo to make the point that speed is critical:


    I keep this one, maybe out of angst, because of what it could have been. This is one of four white lions known to exist in the wild (Nov. 2011). They are not albinos; the fur is a very, very light tan and they have blue eyes. Anyway, we had been taking pictures of this yearling, her also-white sister, and their normal brother when she suddenly decided to move. As she came by the game drive vehicle I grabbed the 14-140mm and tried for the shot. She was moving. I was moving. The auto-focus was moving. It was late in the day so the light was not strong.

    Failure was the result, but what a shot it could have been! Here's the point: If I had not had that second body with the shorter zoom, I would not have had the chance.

    A couple of other things:

    • Carry a monopod with a ball head and quick release like the Manfrotto RC2. (You want a QR system where the camera is automatically locked into place as its plate is inserted into the base, not one where you have to turn a screw. Unless you have three hands, that is.) Often you will be able to use this in the game drive vehicle or when walking -- 600mm effective focal length needs support! Where you aren't using the monopod in the vehicle, brace yourself aggressively -- foot up against the rail in front of you, camera on your knee, leaning hard against the side rail, etc. Image stabilization is A Good Thing, but a camera that is not moving is better. I would not fool with a tripod; you'll have few opportunities to use it.
    • Practice manually focusing. In the first picture, note the twigs between me and the lady. The autofocus really liked those twigs. I also have another failed photo of a jackal lying in a clump of grass, looking at me. The autofocus grabbed the grass and the jackal is a little out of focus. I manually focused the picture of the lioness, but didn't notice the problem with the jackal.
    • Carry primes and other lenses if you wish, but I don't think you'll use them for the animals. Scenery and shots around the lodges, yes, but if you're going for light weight the two bodies and the two zooms will suffice. If you want to add one more lens, the 9-18mm will round out the range very nicely.
    • Edit: I just noticed this comment: "In Africa the sun is so strong you need fill flash during the day to get good saturation." Personally, I would not experiment with blasting a top predator like a lion or leopard with a flash. Maybe the giraffes or the antelope would tolerate it, but I don't think you'd be willing to carry enough flash to make a difference at 50 feet or more. So I respectfully disagree with that suggestion.

    • Like Like x 4
  13. svenkarma

    svenkarma Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 5, 2013
    mark evans
    Wherever the OP is going in Africa there'll surely be some panoramic landscapes to photo and the P14/2.5 is very small and effective.
  14. Edmunds

    Edmunds Mu-43 Regular

    Oct 16, 2012
    When I went on an African safari in Tanzania, I took the old 4/3 Olympus 70-300mm. I found this lens to cover all the needed focal lengths for wildlife, but also had a shorter lens for something closer (like myself!). My most used focal length was, by far, 300mm.

    I can attest that getting good pictures out there is NOT EASY. It takes a lot of patience, lot of time spent in the same spot waiting for the right moment. Which may never actually come. Light is brutal, you only have good light like 2-3 hours per day. Ultra wide angles are mostly useless as there is little of interest you can put in the foreground. Everything is really out there. Your 12-40 will suffice.

    If you want to go light, you can pick up an Olympus 75-300mm and be done with that. That's what I would do if I had to go now.
  15. mattia

    mattia Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 3, 2012
    The Netherlands
    I think my main 'lesson' from shooting wildlife in Africa last time around (Kruger in South Africa, which is a little 'easier'/tamer than east Africa, where I'm headed next) is to practice shooting a long lens at home to get used to it if it's not something you do regularly, and not to be afraid to bump the ISO to get your shutter speed where you need it; ISO 3200 or 6400 exposed brightly will yield a much nicer picture than a blurry shot at ISO 400 or 800. We didn't see any big cats in the wild that time around (it happens), so most of my favourite shots are of elephants. Slightly easier targets to locate, but still lots of great texture.

    I think the only think I used an ultrawide for out in the wild was taking shots of the milky way.
  16. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    Amen to that, brother. We sat for an hour watching two snoozing males and this is the best we got:


    Depending on circumstances sitting and waiting may not be possible. In this case we had a private guide and could stop. At most lodges, though, we were in game drive vehicles (Landys, Land Cruisers) with 2-4 other guests and had little or no control over our movements. Again, this points to having the lens(s) you might need already mounted on a camera body and ready to take any shot that presents itself.

    Amen also to the comment about the 75-300mm. Since I have shot the 100-300mm and have Panny bodies I tend to think in terms of that lens and the 14-140mm. But the similar lenses for Oly should be fine with the Oly IBIS. Not on Pannys with no IBIS however.
  17. Edmunds

    Edmunds Mu-43 Regular

    Oct 16, 2012
    Yep, and since these trips cost $$$$ you're always under that little bit of pressure. You're in the same spot for 2 hours, nothing has happened, what should you do, move someplace else, stick to it? What if nothing else happens? What if they get up and start a hunt?

    Being in Tanzania, they have a ridiculous number of animals there (Serengeti, Ngorongoro, etc) so we usually moved on if nothing of interest was happening, as there's always more animals waiting around the corner.

    Blurry pictures are the always the big issue - have to remember to bump up ISO all the time.
  18. kenez

    kenez Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 18, 2012
    I took this a couple of weeks ago handheld using my EM-1 and the Olympus 75-300mm at 300mm. If you want to go light then I would definitely consider taking this lens. The bokeh isn't great but my 4/3 50-200mm is a good bit heavier and doesn't have the same reach unless I use a teleconverter. The 75-300mm also focuses a bit faster.

    Attached Files:

  19. wildwildwes

    wildwildwes Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 9, 2012
    Brooklyn, NY
    Oldracer - really thought your advice was spot on and should be required reading for anyone planning a trip to Africa.

    The following image was captured by my late father -- who along with my Mom were missionaries in Africa in the '60's. He was an avid photographer and shot this rarely seen image of a male lion hanging out way up high in a tree. In subsequent images there were NINE lion taking a nap up in the tree! The point of my commentary is as you've already asserted, that you want to be ready and appropriately equipped when those once in a lifetime photo ops manifest themselves.

    <a href="http://s298.photobucket.com/user/eastwes/media/Cyril-Bender_lion_tree1.jpg.html" target="_blank">[​IMG]
    • Like Like x 1
  20. Antonio

    Antonio Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 27, 2011
    Sao Paulo, Brazil


    I spent some days in Namibia last year with my OMD EM5 and Panasonic 100-300mm. I managed to take some nice pictures, most at the 300mm end of the lens.

    Sent from my iPad using Mu-43 mobile app
    • Like Like x 1
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