Beginner safari photography with D3200 - What else will I need?

Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by rebeccahughes, Sep 10, 2018.

  1. Hi all,

    I'm a complete beginner going on safari in a few weeks time with my D3200 and I'd appreciate some advice on what other equipment I'll need. I have the 18-55 lens that came with the camera and it took some lovely photos on my trip to India so I'm happy to stick with that. However, I believe that's only really suitable for wide to mid distance shots, so I'm assuming I'll probably need something like a 55-300 or 70-300 for close ups of the animals? I'm also not sure whether it's worth investing in a second body (D3200 or similar so I don't have to learn how to use a new camera), either through hiring a body or buying one second hand, but my budget is only up to £500 so I don't know how to prioritise. I'm also unsure about whether I'll need petal/solid hoods and whether a wide angle or telephoto lens would be useful for a beginner such as myself who just wants some nice in-focus shots for the wall and will likely only really be using the automatic settings (awful, I know) as I'm unsure of how to use any manual settings.

    Any advice would be much appreciated
  2. Hi Rebecca

    I don’t think a second body would be required, but you will definitely benefit from something longer, as you say, the 55-300 or 70-300. If you can fill the frame with your current lens, your’e too close to the Lions!!

    I have the latter lens, and have always found it a fine lens. Remember, with your ‘cropped’ sensor body, you effectively multiply the focal length by 1.5 so you 70-300 would become 105-450mm assuming you compare it to what you would need from a ‘full’ frame camera body (one with a sensor the same size as a frame of 35mm film). You should get one with the Nikon VR (Vibration Reduction) which really helps when light levels are low and shutter speeds get longer. One thing you should remember is to keep your shutter speed a bit higher when using a telephoto. The old rule of thumb is 1/focal length, so assuming your lens to be a 450mm, you would need 1/450 or shorter to keep motion blur at bay. This is helped by the VR, but is still a good discipline. You can help keep the shutter speed fast by increasing the ISO, or opening up the aperture a bit. Best to practice before you go.
    rebeccahughes likes this.
  3. Hi Rebecca. Certainly a longer lens should be your priority. Unfortunately, you're in a position where the 55-300 and 70-300 VR AF-S are "okay" at the long end, not "very good". The latest 70-300mm AF-P lenses are substantially better, but unfortunately they won't autofocus on a D3200, so they're not really appropriate unless you upgrade the body. I'd also warn you that a lens with VR will help a lot - both for low light (dawn and dusk) and for composing longer shots. Nonetheless, if you want to buy a lens, a used 70-300mm AF-S or the Tamron equivalent are probably your best option - though getting a newer body might be a long-term good idea.

    If this is a one-off trip (and with some trepidation that you wouldn't be keeping the lens, since a longer lens is a useful thing to have anyway), have you considered hiring something? That would put much more substantial lenses in your budget, with the proviso you'd have to give it up afterwards. I'd consider one or more of:
    • Nikon 70-200mm, any of the f/2.8 AF-S versions, or the f/4 - or the latest Tamron equivalent
    • Nikon 80-400mm VR AF-S
    • Nikon 200-500mm AF-S
    The 80-400 is most flexible, but optically probably weakest. The 70-200mm lenses are very sharp and can work at larger apertures so you can use them in low light, but are on the short side for distant wildlife. The 200-500 is very good for its budget (stop down to f/8 for better sharpness) and has a lot of reach, but you've got a big gap from 55 to 200mm if you have wildlife in the middle distance. There's also the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8, but it's awfully big. Changing lenses on safari might make it likely that you'll get dust in the camera, but short of a second body with an 18-55 on it, there's not much to do about that (except hire a compact camera like the PZ1000 instead).

    Do try these lenses in a camera shop if you can, though, because they're all much bigger than the others we're talking about, and a huge lens that you're not comfortable holding won't help you. (You might like to spend a few quid on the cheapest monopod you can find to help support the weight, or maybe a bean bag support if you can use the windows of your safari vehicle.)

    Disclaimer: I've not been on safari myself, though I've been to Yellowstone a few times shooting wildlife (I own the 70-200 and 200-500; I've never used the 80-400). Thom Hogan recommends the 80-400mm solution, for what it's worth. A quick Google suggests that you can hire it for a couple of weeks for under £200.

    Just a thought. Best of luck, and enjoy the experience!
    rebeccahughes likes this.
  4. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    If you need reach and light weight and you think that you'll be using automatic camera functions, then, instead of thinking about buying a less expensive telephoto zoom lens or hiring a more state of the art telephoto zoom lens for your DSLR, I think that you should consider taking a compact camera: if you particularly like Nikon, something in their Coolpix range might just be your answer.

    rebeccahughes likes this.
  5. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    rebeccahughes and Andrew Garrard like this.
  6. Although it's been a long time since I was there, the situations are still much the same from what I see and read.
    I think two cameras is a good idea. One "ideal' setup would be:

    A DX/APSC crop body with a zoom in the 75- 300mm range.
    The other, an FX/"full frame" with a wide to short telephoto (24-105 sort of range)

    Lots of game will let safari vehicles get close (same old, same old for them), so you don't always need a really long lens (after all, a picture of an elephant's eye is not the whole picture, so to speak.

    at ~200mm
    rebeccahughes likes this.
  7. I'll concur, with my limited experience - I've been sitting in a car with a 200-500mm on the camera with a bison standing next to the car (in Yellowstone, natch). Shots of eyeballs take you only so far.

    If all else fails and you can't take a second camera, or don't want to risk changing lenses on the one you've got, there's always a cell phone (or whatever compact camera you have available). Good photos are good, but no photo is worse.
    rebeccahughes likes this.
  8. Thank you all so much for your advice (and for the links Sandy). I think I'll go with your suggestions and get a smaller, cheaper compact camera and buy/hire a longer lens for my Nikon with vibration reduction. I'll also make sure I practise before I go!

    Thanks again - I can't wait to see the photos.

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