I'm going on a safari in Kenya soon, and I spent a bunch of time today searching for and buying the right safari camera setup. I took a photography class in high school and even developed my own stuff back then (remember film?) but since then I have been a point and shoot kind of guy. I do have a small digital photo printer at home. So, I contacted a couple people and read a lot online to get back into the game a bit. Based on advice from websites and friends that I emailed, here are my tips for how to get decent safari photos without spending tons of money on pro-level camera equipment.
Safari Camera Advice
Get a decent camera with telephoto lens, at least to 300mm, preferably with some for of vibration reduction or image stabilization. You'll need it to get good pictures of the safari wildlife. I bought a Nikon D60 with a 70-300mm lens, it worked perfectly.
Bring backup storage so you can backup your safari photos from your memory cards to something else so you don't lose your photos while on safari. A lot of people like the Wolverine, it is made for things like this. Apple makes an adapter for your iPod if you want a cheaper solution that really drains your battery, or there are dedicated devices. I bought the Apple adapter for $35, but it did not really work, so I returned it. I brought 10 GB of memory cards and then backed up my safari photos to my laptop each night.
- In addition to a safari camera and good zoom lens, bring an extra battery, and maybe a car adapter with your charger. Charge everything whenever possible. Power availability is sometimes limited while on safari. I bought an aftermarket battery and car charger for $50. The battery was a great idea, but I never used the car charger. For the Nikon D60, the battery lasted a whole day (at least) so with the backup battery there was no need to charge my camera battery on the go.
Get circular polarizer filters for all your lenses. Even a little online research will indicate that they can make a big difference in high light conditions during the peak hours of the day while on safari, and they will help your camera take better safari photos. (Tip: while taking photos, rotate the polarizer to get different effects/colors/tones to your photos.)
Make sure your safari organizer will provide photographer's beanbags for you to use to rest/stabilize your camera on the vehicle. Otherwise you should bring one. I did not use one, and that worked OK for me. It would have been nice to have one, but not requuired.
Here are two articles that talk about everything to do with safari photography in a lot more detail - Digital Safari Equipment Tips - Luminous Landscape and Photography in Tanzania - Fredo Durand
Thanks to Ilya Mirman for answering all of my questions via email all day, you can check out his Ilya's amateur photography on SmugMug.
Update: I'm back! You can check out my safari photos and see how they turned out.