(summary of) lens options for safari

Discussion in 'Travel' started by kaiyen, Jun 7, 2018.

  1. Hi all,
    As promised..

    I know there are other threads out there on lens options for a safari, on multiple fora and multiple sites. I've read through as many of them as possible. So hopefully my questions are fairly specific.

    I have a pretty robust budget for new glass, but I'm trying to avoid getting glass that I won't use a whole lot more afterwards. A 400 2.8 isn't in the cards for me, for instance. And the 80-400 or a big telezoom aren't really "standard" lenses for me. Therefore, I'm going to be renting, unless someone has a recommendation not to.

    I have a D600 and a D300. I still love the D300 but figure 12MP is a bit low. I'm thinking of renting a D7500. Thoughts?

    I'm hearing go with a wide angle and a long telephoto.

    wide options I already own:
    Nikon 14-24
    Nikon 18-35 AF-D

    I'm worried the 14-24 is too heavy, plus its bulbous front element means I can't protect it with a UV filter. I would be willing to consider an upgrade to the 18-35 AFS if that's a good option for a lighter weight wider lens. The 14-24 could double for astro photography, though, which is an interesting but not primary goal. I suppose I could do the 18-35 plus a wide prime. Maybe the Sigma 20 1.4?

    I would put the wide angle on the D600.

    telephoto options would need to be rented. I'm thinking one of the following:
    80-400 AFS VR
    300 f4 (might consider buying this one)
    200-500 f5.6
    Sigma 150-600

    this would go on the D7500 for the extra crop factor to give me a bit more reach.

  2. Long: I would go with the 200-500 as my first choice, BUT, it is not a light lens. This would be OK if you are young, and your muscles can handle the load all day for many days.
    If not the 200-500, then the 80-400 or 150-600.
    I would be partial to the longer 150-600, for the extra reach, but I think it is more bulky than the 80-400.

    Also remember that the longer the shot, the more air between you and the subject. And that air can be dirty and have heat distortion (aka mirage), which will degrade the pix.

    I would go zoom over prime, then less lens changing when animals are at different distances.

    Another option is an Olympus OM-D E-M1-mk2 + 75-300.
    The micro 4/3 system has a 2x crop factor so the 75-300 would be like a 150-600 on a FF camera.
    And it is SMALL and LIGHT compared to a FF kit.
  3. The 200-500 gets such good reviews that even I would ponder adding a Nikon with one. To my understanding it is the #1 choice among the somewhat affordable sports & birding lenses.
    Sigma 150-600 seems to be slightly better than Tamron's counterpart but the usual recommendation seems to be get the Canon 100-400L instead and crop for better quality. - I did not do my reviews watching properly. - AFAIK Tamron released a 100-400 recently and it isn't very far behind the Canon? - Did somebody test it and recommend cropping instead of using a 150-600?

    I 'd most likely end buying(!) the older Tamron 150-600 for half assed sports stuff with my 5D, arguing resolution isn't needed there (for an Instagramish online gallery) and the Tamron seems less than the price gap worse than the Sigma. But If you are going to rent and are a Nikon shooter anyhow, take the 200-500! (Assuming you can handle the weight).
    D7500? - Once in a lifetime trip, rented glass, rental body and wagering via single card slot in 2018/19? - No clue if that 's smart. I had no losses due to solid card failure yet, just Microdrive issues and the majority of my bodies is single card slotted and yes I can sleep at night but still...

    I guess I'd want to have a mediocre standard VR zoom between the lenses you mentioned during a safari, for lazy shots. - I can live with the gap between 35 & 70mm but extending it from 35 to 200 feels beyond borderline to me. While I do deploy my 12-24, I'll most likely shoot more with an also carried 18-50 and in weight conscious moments I'd say "sod wides", stick to 16-50 on MILC & be quite content. - A co-worker travels with D750 & 24-120... I like my 21mm, but compromizing on 24mm as the widest end seems an option. - I never made great shots with wider lenses and carry the Voigtländer 15mm to snap environmental selfies. That questionable hobby doesn't feel worth bringing a SLR wide.
    Do you really not shoot the 35-90mm range around your home? - If not: Why would you get along without it on a vacation? - I'll see a lot of stuff worth shooting with a 50mm while hiking mountains. Also worry what a safari will permit wide shots wise. When you all are cramped on a 4x4, you can take a few nice shots of the gang with an ultra wide but how to keep them and the vehicle out of your landscape shots?

    What you'll catch on the long end will, to my understanding, most likely not be "spectacular" IQ wise, so the 24-120 might grant consistency? - I assume you could also go with a 24-70 (Tamron?) and swap the 200-500 on the FF, when portraiture is your aim?
    My Canon 70-200/2.8 on 5D is already borderline for me, coming from a 135/2.8 on a 2nd or 3rd Pentax or barely noticing the 135mm Elmar in a backpack pocket, I noticed myself running out of arm strength during a longer event. (I'm nerd / clerk shaped in my late 40s, not into sports blacksmithing and similar helpful activities) So concerning anything long I can only suggest to get the most comfortable accessories you can find, for a multiple days trip. - Maybe a carrying harness? Battery grip? strap around your hand too? If your safari provider will shut down engines for shooting, get a monopod, if not: Hit that gym now!

    Figure out how your trip will organize luggage handling. - If you plan attempting landscapes under star trails by night, you hopefully don't need to carry & guard the needed wide lens and tripod all day long?
  4. About 15 years ago, I was fortunate enough to goto a safari and had film SLR camera with me. I recall feeling that I lacked reach and width with the two lenses I had then (80-200/2.8 AFD, and 35-105/3.5-4.5). Today, if I were to go back here's what I would take, in terms of lenses.

    Since traveling, I'm not a fan of taking lots of heavy gear - both weight and bulk. With that said:
    - 300/4 PF and TC1.4x (or 1.7x but I don't like losing two stops)
    - 24-120/4
    - 20/1.8

    If you are taking two bodies, take a full frame, as you've noted and consider renting D500 (not D7500). I just upgraded D300 to D500 this past year and it was a seamless upgrade, in terms of controls and feel. It just felt like a turbo charging my D300 in terms of use. What you lose in terms of mp, you'll more than make up for it in terms of focus accuracy and fps.

    Good luck and have fun....
  5. My first thought was 400 f/2.8 + 2.8 trio (14-24, 24-70, 70-200) + TCIII's. Maybe also a macro. But if that's not in the cards.

    The 200-500 is a great lens for the price. It is really slow to focus though (w/ D5 & D800) so you will miss some shots. FWIW, I'll not be taking it back to Africa because of that.

    The Sigma 150-600 is heavy and that is the primary reason I didn't buy it. OTOH, it is quite good optically and beats the 200-500 with it's included TC vs 200-500 + TCIII. I can't remember how fast it focused but if better than the 200-500 then I'd go with it if you think you can handle the weight. I shot with both lenses for a week and while I remember focus frustration with the 200-500 I do not with the 150-600 so maybe it's not too bad. I do remember it's weight though.

    400 f/2.8 can't be beat. Probably half of our keepers were with it and many of those with one of the TCIII's. Gary is right about heat and gook in the air. Many of our long lens shots weren't so much great distances though as wanting to get close ups of faces. Some of my son's shots: Tanzania | Africa | Destinations | For Instants

    A 300 f/2 FL would likely be a great option. Only it's not yet been released. I was going to buy the current 300 f/2 but wanted the weight savings of the FL along with other recent advancements and thought that it was coming soon. Well that was 3 years ago and now I'm wishing I'd bought the current one instead of the 200-500. Had I known how long it'd be for the FL I would have. Given rumors that it may be coming along with a built-in TC I'm again anxious for it.
  6. You need to find out how much elbow room you're going to have in the vehicle and what type of mounting device you can use to mount your big lens on the vehicle. Also, as someone has already noted, while a lot of reach is always nice, there is such a thing as too much reach -- at some point haze and dust get in the way. Also, a super tele won't allow you to capture images when the subject gets close.


    If you have the room, get a 500mm and TC with a DX body mounted on the vehicle for the reach. If vehicle space is limited, consider a 200-500mm.. Complement either of those with an 80-400 AFS on an FX body for shorter distances. For wider than 80mm, a 24-70mm/2.8 is always a good option.

    LESS THAN IDEAL (for me):

    If I were to go with gear than I own today, without having to buy or rent anything else:

    Nikon 200-500mm on a D500
    Nikon 28-300mm on a D800e (yeah, I know....)
    Nikon 20/1.8 or Sigma 24/1/4 for landscape and low light

    If I could buy or rent one lens to improve this line up, it would be 80-400mm AFS to replace the 28-300mm.
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2018
  7. D800e is a great camera!

    FWIW, we either handheld or used beanbags for everything. Once or twice we'd use a monopod or tripod outside of the truck but wouldn't have missed them if we'd not had 'em.
  8. Okay, thanks for the tips. I had heard to bring wide for the times when the animals got close. Maybe I went too wide? Maybe a 24-70 2.8 (Tamron, probably) on the D600 and the Tamron 100-400 or the Nikon 80-400 on a D500 (good point on that)?

    Is "close" still far enough away that an 80-400 is usable? Seems awfully long to me.

    Bring the 14-24 for astro and landscapes? Or the Sigma 24 1.4 if I decide to go prime?
  9. I like the versatility of the 80-400mm zoom. If you really want to get wide, you'd have to opt for one of the 24/28 zooms. IMO, on a safari, the 80-400mm has greater utility. Paired with a 200-500mm, it does seem to have a lot of overlap, but I do think you want overlap between 200mm and 300mm to minimize switching cameras.

    80mm does sound long, but IMO, 'close' would be in the 80-120mm range. A 24-120mm would cover that and give you a wider FOV on the short end, but you create a gap between 120mm and the shorter end of a 200-500mm. I don't think I'd want that gap between 120mm and 200mm. If you need coverage wider than 80mm, you shoud have enough time to switch lenses (or bring a 3rd body).

    PS - I know there's a few things not to like about the 28-300mm but it does fit nicely with this kind of need.
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2018
  10. A reference to something above - anyone know of a good test of the Tamron 100-400 vs. the Nikon 80-400? If I'm renting, any reason to bother with the Tamron?

    I'm growing a bit concerned about the 200-500 weight and AF speed. I can work out, but I can't make a lens focus faster.

    I'm inclined to go with nicer glass and have a 24-70 and 80-400, with the latter on a DX. I'll be losing the 70-120 (crop factor added in) range, though, which isn't trivial.

    How does the 24-120 compare to the 28-300? Any good reviews out there I can read? Because I'd be a bit more inclined to do that - 24-120/80-400. I'm trying to keep things simple, and minimize lens changes but I'm not trying to handicap myself, of course.

  11. WRT to IQ: 24-70mm/2.8 > 24-120mm/4 > 28-300mm

    However, as you had stated, you'll have to deal with coverage gaps on the longer end if you opt for the 24-70/2.8.
  12. Thanks @photo_galleries

    So with the 24-120 at least it's a "seamless" FOV range. The Sigma 150-600 Contemporary (not Sport) is a compelling entrant, too. Easier to handle so I'm told. I expect to do mostly beanbag action with the long lens, by the way.
  13. thanks. I haven't played with DxO for some time...
  14. Hi all,
    Me again! So the original plan for a safari fell through, but a new one has emerged. It's about 10 months away but I like to plan ahead...

    Since I first posted, I've acquired a 24-120 f/4 VR as a general travel lens. I prefer my Sigma 24-70 2.8 whenever I can, but the extra reach seems like it could useful.

    I'm now thinking of the 24-120, plus the 80-400 on a 2nd DX body, or the Sigma 150-600 Contemporary on an FX body. I say FX because it reduces the gap between FOV on the lenses. I'm wary of having 120-225 uncovered. I do like having 600mm of reach. I do not feel I need 900mm FOV. DxO unfortunately doesn't have anything on the Sigma.

    Anyway. Initial thoughts? I'm still brewing on this. I'll have other lenses with me as we'll be doing Victoria Falls (will bring something wide) and gorillas as well.
  15. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Never been on Safari, but abundant wildlife here in MT where I live. Against advice here on PN, I bought the earlier than current model of the Nikkor 80-400, and have not found it entirely satisfactory. Have liked most older lenses I've bought and found them to be a terrific value - this works well enough when conditions are very good, other times not so much. Your outcomes might be different. Best of Luck with / on your adventure!
  16. "Against advice here on PN, I bought the earlier than current model of the Nikkor 80-400," Sandy.

    Good choice.

    Most of my photos taken in Egypt were with that lens. And on a D100....shame on me.

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