Amatuer photographer in need of lens advice for a Safari!

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by david_mcewan|1, Jun 11, 2009.

  1. Hi,
    I purched a Nikon D40X DSLR about 1 year and a half ago and I plan on taking it to Kenya on safari later this year. The problem is I need another good lens, (upto 300mm) and I am unsure which one to purchase. Ideally it will be one that can be used when I upgrade my DSLR, but for the time being it needs to be compatable with the D40X.
    I have a brief look at whats out there but I am not sure whether to stick with a Nikon or go with a Sigma or Tamron?
    Please help!
  2. bmm


    My first thought is the Nikon 70-300VR...
  3. David,
    what is your current lens line up and do you have a strict budget?
  4. Matthew,
    My current lens is the standard 18-55 that came with the camera. As for budget, probably max I would be willing to pay is 400 GBP (660USD, 500Euro).
  5. Then, in that case, I second Bernard's suggestion with the 70-300mm VR.
    Enjoy your East African travels!
  6. I agree, the 70-300 VR is a good choice.
  7. David,
    I agree with everyone else with the 70-300VR suggestion as a purchase. However, you may want to rent a lens or two for your trip (lots of places do it). I would probably look to rent and bring the Nikon 200-400 F/4 and a 600 f/4. These lenses for animals and your existing lens for landscape and "taking it all in" would be a great combo.

    300mm is nice, but you're going to find yourself wanting more and given this wonderful opportunity to travel, I would do it right.

    Best of luck and do return with some shared photos!
  8. you might be able to get a used nikkor AF-S zoom 300mm (or tamron or sigma HSM) f/2.8 for US$700. but you will need at least a monopod. the 70-300mm VR is my second choice.
  9. David:
    An effective field of view of 400-500mm is good to have and the 70-300VR gives you a maximum of 450mm. However, I don't know the quality of this lens. I used the 70-200VR with a 1.4 tele-extender on my D300. You can see a slide show of my pictures from Botswana by clicking here. And you can see the thread on my trip by clicking here.
    —Mitch/Chiang Mai
  10. Since this is a one-time sort of need, why not spend more on a better lens up-front and then recoup your investment by selling upon your return. If you buy used, and buy well, you won't lose a penny.
    Two things that consistently come up here from people who have done the safari thing: 1) Need the longest lens possible, and 2) need zoom otherwise you'll miss lots of opportunities. The 80-400 would seem to be the best choice, or perhaps a 80-200 or 70-200 f/2.8 combined with a teleconverter.
  11. I have done the trip, and I'd demur on some statements. Obviously tours differ in type of vehicle, but what I describe is, I think, still the normal situation:

    1. Most shooting is done standing up in a vehicle with your head and shoulders sticking out the top. You can brace yourself on the vehicle roof or on the seats from inside. There's normally no room for a tripod or monopod if you are traveling with others. A bean bag is probably better than a tripod or monopod, but I never used one.
    2. The drivers get you pretty close, and the animals are used to zebra-painted motor vehicles tootling around, unless things have changed a lot in the last couple of years.
    3. Zoom is essential, but you need the low end (minimum of no more than 70-85mm) too, or you end up with pictures of animal's eyes or ears or other parts much magnified. I only very rarely used as long as 400mm and commonly shot around 200mm (on 35mm film).
  12. Here is a thread on about the safari they are organizing: It's a long thread, and buried in there is an exhaustive discussion about which lenses are most useful. Among the participants are experienced wildlife shooters who have been on safari before.
  13. Glenn, the 80-400 will not auto focus on the D40x. Only AF-S and AF-I lenses will.
  14. My first trip to Kenya was for a couple of months. The longest lens that I had with me was a 200 (on a Leica camera). Returning five years later I brought a Nikon F4S and several lenses:60mm macro, 70-210, and a 400 f/5.6. I had ordered a wide angle 24-50 but it didn't arrive before I left for Kenya. My most useful lens was the 70-210, for about 80% of my shots. The 400 excelled for close-ups of the animals' faces and a leopard high in a tree. The macro was for small animals and flowers. I would think that anything longer than a 300 (on a digital) would be excessive under most circumstances. On both my trips I carried a back-up camera body. I was glad that I had. In one case I had a shutter failure, and in another I had left my primary camera at the hotel in Nairobi.
    Thinking back on those trips, I realized that my African sojourns were my most memorable of all my foreign travel.
  15. I have the 70-300 VR and it has a much higher image quality than the previous Nikkor 70-300 G model. I am very happy with the lens.
  16. The Nikon 70-300mm VR is a safe choice. Not only does it perform well optically, it has VR. Since you can't use a tripod that could be huge.
    Kent in SD
  17. >>>...The drivers get you pretty close, and the animals are used to zebra-painted motor vehicles tootling around, unless things have changed a lot in the last couple of years.
    3. Zoom is essential, but you need the low end (minimum of no more than 70-85mm) too, or you end up with pictures of animal's eyes or ears or other parts much magnified. I only very rarely used as long as 400mm and commonly shot around 200mm (on 35mm film).<<<

    In game parks drivers are limited to driving on roads and tracks, unlike the the private game concessions that I visited in Botswana in May where the drivers can go off-road to view game. But even in these game concessions in Botswana where you are able to get closer, I found that I used the far end of my 70-200VR + 1.4x tele-extender, which is 280mm, or 420mm in full frame 35mm terms, for more than half the shots. With a 200mm lens in 35mm terms (only 143mm on a DX camera), you'll be disappointed. As I wrote above for game photography you need 400-500mm in 35mm full frame terms.
    As for shooting conditions, none of the four-wheel drive vehicles in Botswana had open roofs that would allow you to stand: you take the pictures sitting and can, in some vehicles, brace your arm on a guard rail. A mono-pod would be difficult, although not impossible, to use. I prefer hand-held.
    —Mitch/Chiang Mai
  18. I fully agree with JDM - you need a zoom, forget about those exotic fixed-focal length lenses! I have done this trip twice now and the only constant was the need for a wide zooming range. Indeed the 70-300 VR is amazing and you'll get great shots with it. If your budget stretches a bit, see if you can get a cheap multiplier (such as the Kenko ones) of say 1.5x, for all those damned (;-) leopards which hide way up in the trees and are impossible to get close to ;-)
    Also, forget about monopods, tripods, etc. A bean-bag is your best bet. One other thing you should definitely take with you is a sensor cleaner solution (whichever you prefer). You will get enough dust on your equipment (both inside and out) to last you a lifetime.
    Enjoy the trip, it'll be an amazing experience.
  19. Just bear in mind, David, that the focal length is going to be multiplied by 1.6 because of your D40x's DX sensor. The Nikkor 70-300 is actually going to be about a 110mm-480mm. I'm sure the telephoto end will be sufficient, but the wider end may not be wide enough. The lens will also be fully compatible with any other Nikon DSLR, including the D700, D3, and D3x, which are full frame.
  20. In game parks drivers are limited to driving on roads and tracks​
    That certainly makes sense, especially as tourism has increased, but drivers certainly stretched the definition of "trail" in my experience. That makes a longer lens make sense, but I still say you need a short telephoto length too. My experience was in Kenya and Tanzania.

    Some years ago, there were either no such restrictions or they were simply ignored altogether. I'd also second the suggestion of a backup body that will take the same lenses. That will also allow you a broader range of focal lengths if all goes well if you keep different lenses on the two bodies.
  21. I would look into to renting. I have the same issues, but I like to go to the zoo to take my pictures.
    LensProToGo has a wide selection of photographic equipment and the prices are about the same as the local stores around here. You can also get insurance added to the price of the rental.
    If this is a one time thing and you are looking for a lot of bang for little buck, this is the way to go. BTW, they also have a wide range of bodies if you want to take something other than the D40x.
  22. I was in the Serengeti in 2006. I brought along a D70 + 80-400mm. My experience was that even though the lens is not the sharpest on the planet, having the equivalent of 600mm/F5.6, bearing in mind the crop sensor I was able to get real close-ups of the wildlife. The lens is very slow to focus but I did not find this a problem.
    Where I found my kit fell down was the camera itself. I missed many great shots simply because I was limited to 3 FPS with a very small buffer. I would seriously consider trying to find a used or new D200 or D300 with grip to bump up to 5-8 FPS. even more important is that those cameras provide a much larger buffer. It was really frustrating missing the shot because the D70 buffer only held 3 pictures. Also bring many more memory cards than you think you will need. There were days I ended up was borrowing from people.
    I am not sure of the D40's spec but If you are going on a phototrip of a lifetime you really don't want to come back feeling your camera let you down. I did...
    Just my opinion.
  23. My suggestion would be to get a 70 - 300 VR. Its very good lens and value for the money and a very good telephoto zoom lens to begin with. I have one and abolutelely love it. I have shot a lot of pictures at 4 different safaris in India. I got some really nice shots with this.
  24. I have never been on a safari, but I have to D40 and I also have the 70-300 VR. I am really happy with the the lens. I am not sure if that will have the reach and it is not compatable with any of the teleconverters.
    The unfortunate thing is with your budget there is nothing else as good, that is going to give you more reach.
  25. Dear all,
    Thank you all very much for the very useful advice and also sharing your pics of your very own african adventures (Mitch, your pics are great.). I think we have a clear winner in the Nikon 70-300 VR so I will be purchasing that in the next weeks and getting used to it before heading to Kenya.
    If anyone else has anyother useful suggestions/Tips for great wildlife shots then I would be very grateful to hear those.
    I will most definitley be uploading some of the pics and will share them when I get back.
    Thanks again & all the best
  26. I had a wonderful trip to Botswana a few years ago (film era). A few points:
    I found a monopod very useful, on the ground, in the canoe, in the vehicles. Some vehicles are open, you shoot from a seated position. Others you stand up in a hole in the roof. Lots of variations, local rules.
    My most used lens was 300 f/4 with 1.4x extender = 420mm on monopod. You'll get the equiv with the 70-300 that's been mentioned. Fast AF is essential. Polarizer helps all the time.
    There's not a lot of room, anywhere. My 300 f/4 and monopod were about the limit. Unless you are on a photo-oriented safari, bigger lenses will really be a bother to your tour-mates.
    High ISO is essential; your game drives will be at sunrise and sunset. Animals may be in partial shade. You're starting with f/4 or f/5.6 and adding a polarizer. You need ISO. I shot 800 ALL the time and wished for higher. Experiment with ISO 800-1600 before you go.
    I also took a second body with a wide zoom range. This was really handy. Today, I would take an SLR with a long lens, and a quality point and shoot.
    If I were going today, I would buy the best high-ISO, fastest AF body I could (perhaps D90) and a VR lens reaching 300mm. I would prefer never to unmount lens from body to avoid dust. If you can swing the 70-300, a D90, and take your existing D40 rig too, you'll be well-prepared. It's really a wonderful experience. Have a great time.
  27. I have a friend who runs a safari company. He believes the Nikon 200-400mm f 4.0 AFS VR is the best safari lens to take. I know it is expensive. If you cannot rent one, buy it and then sell it when you return from your trip. Bean bags is an absolute necessity. Check out Andy Biggs safari and look at his list of equipment.
    Joe Smith
  28. Nikon 200-400mm - that's what I used on a D300 in Tanzania, along with the 70-200mm on the second camera (D200). Most of the time I mounted a 1.4tc on both of them. The combo worked well for me. I think the ability to auto-focus quickly is important for fast action shots.
    A friend went to Kenya with Joe and Mary Ann McDonald last year and came home with some amazing shots. She used the Canon 100-400 most of the time.

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