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12-08-2011, 12:30 PM   #1
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What to take on African safari?

I've read similar posts, but this is what I have: A K2000 (Km) body and a Pentax DA 55-300 lens. Is this good for a Tanzanian Safari? Any suggestions for a teleconverter (have not used a teleconverter before so don't know what to expect. I can't afford to buy a new lens, or I'd go for a 500mm.)

Would something like this be a good idea? 2X AF 7 (MC7) Element Teleconverter For Pentax Lenses

I'm a bit concerned that I'll miss lots of shots if the animals are moving fast. Is it time to upgrade my camera body too? :-)

Just trying to work with what I have for my first African safari without breaking the bank. Thanks for your suggestions.

12-08-2011, 12:45 PM   #2
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That is not a very fast lens and you might have focusing issues with a teleconverter attached. Also, longer shutter speeds won't help any.
12-08-2011, 12:51 PM   #3
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starting with the 55-300, I will assume that you do not wish to purchase something else if necessary. THis could be tough.

the 55-300 will be unreliable at achieving focus lock with a 2X TC because the combined maximum aperture will be something like F11.5, and the AF MUST have a maximum aperture faster than F6.7 to achieve focus lock reliably.

As a result, I am afraid you will mis more with the TC than you will by cropping your shots.

If you are limited in what you can or want to take, I suggest look at one of the sigma lenses that goes to 500mm, either teh 50-500, 150-500 or 170-500. I think tamron also makes something similar but I don't know the exact FL.

I will leave it to other forum members to suggest which is the best, but one of these will set you back about $1K us, and will give you the best bang for buck. I don't see any TC on the 55-300 being useable, sorry.

ALso don't forget to take a wide angle to medium tele, there is more than wild life to shoot,
12-08-2011, 01:36 PM   #4
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A wide angle is good to have for landscapes etc.
Most of the time you will be shooting from a car at focal lengths above 200mm. Therefore better have a monopod and/or a bean bag with you!

12-08-2011, 11:02 PM   #5
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A while ago somebody posted (on DPReview ) photos taken with the 55-300 on a K5 during an African safari and they were absolutely great. Your focal length will be OK although there will be times that you wished you had longer. But that will always be the case, so don't worry too much about missing shots. You will get plenty of opportunities to come home with more photos than you ever can process

I think your biggest challenges will be at dusk and dawn and therefore either a faster lens or a better performing high ISO camera would be nice. Depending on budget, K-x, K-r or K5. But shooting RAW and decent noise reduction SW might also do the trick (no experience with that); others might climb in here.

In favor of another camera can be that you can take both and that you can have a long lens on one camera and a wider one on the other camera. Prevents lens swapping limiting the chances of dust on the sensor.

I've done safaris with 200mm on film (135mm on APSc) and although I had a TC, it was barely used. And I visited game reserves with a P&S with equivalent focal length of 380mm (250mm on APSc). So again, 55-300 should be fine from a focal length perspective.

What would I do? With no budget, I would just live with what I have. With budget, I would add another camera.
12-09-2011, 12:26 AM   #6
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To give you an idea, here are some samples taken with a point and shoot in Botswana

roughly 55mm on APSc

roughly 90mm on APSc

roughly 250mm on APSc
12-09-2011, 01:28 AM   #7
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I think you'll find 300mm sufficient for the most part unless you're a birding person. Since you're going to Tanzania I assume you are going on a driving safari, and that means you'll get quite close to the animals most of the time. So don't forget to bring something shorter than 55mm. Even on foot I've found 55mm a bit long on a few close encounters with elephants.

My last safari was with the 55-300, and as several others have mentioned, it is not a very fast lens. I haven't checked systematically, but I know I have used ISO 1600 and 3200 quite a lot at dusk and dawn (and up to ISO 20,000 after dark). This isn't really a problem with a K-5, but might be with a K2000 (I've never used one). Using a bean bag will help a lot, as most of the time long shutter speeds are ok - the animals relax whenever they can. Most of the safari vehicles they use in Tanzania have pop-up roofs, so I think a bean bag is more useful than a monopod (but I've never brought a monopod, so I might be wrong ).

Also, depending on the time of year, East Africa can be awfully dusty. You don't want to swap lenses more than you have to. Bring an extra body if you can. A bridge compact is an ok alternative. Gives you a backup, too, if anything should happen to your main camera.

So, I will echo sterretje in recommending a body upgrade to get better ISO performance. And to shoot raw.

Oh, and remember to put down the camera once in a while and just enjoy the safari!
12-09-2011, 01:46 AM   #8
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A few samples:

@260mm, ISO 400:

Slightly cropped @300mm, ISO 320:

@300m, ISO 1000:

@55mm, ISO 100:

@300mm, ISO 640:

@230mm, ISO 200:

@260mm, ISO 160:

@230mm, ISO 400:

@70mm, ISO 640:

Cropped @300mm ISO 2500:

I've generally chosen fast shutter speeds, and quite often stopped down to f/8. I find I get more keepers that way. And whenever time allows I can always try to get extra shots with slower shutter speeds, lower ISO, and shallower DoF.

12-09-2011, 02:57 AM   #9
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Had I money to go on safari, I'd get a K5 or at least a Kr for my Lil'Bigma 170-500. The better high-ISO performance would really help the long not-fast lens. If someone dies soon and I get another inheritance, I'd get a K5 plus Bigma 50-500 for sure. Without an inheritance, I'd have to rob a couple minimarts. Oh bother.
12-09-2011, 05:48 AM   #10
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Wonderful shots Savoche - amazing what the 55-300 can achieve in the right hands and in the right conditions.

The big plus of being on Safari is that light is generally going to help you keep up shutter speeds throughout the day, at dawn and dusk that is another issue. If you can not afford to spend too much on upgrading your gear for the trip of a lifetime (and TBH I'd be surprised if you could not find something considering what safaris cost - you can always sell them off again when you return !) then I'd suggest a used Kx or Kr as your primary camera and your K2000 as your back-up.

During dawn/dusk definitely the Kx/Kr and swap lenses as often as needed. Note you are going to need a nice WA lens (I'd suggest the Tamron 17-50/2.8) for landscapes, around the campfire/lodge and as often the animals are so close to your vehicle that even 55mm will be too long ! If you need longer than 300mm then try to pick up a Tamron 500mm/f8 mirror lens (around $100-150) which is an amazing lens for the money though not of course as good as 'real' 500mm lenses. Ditto the suggestion for a bean-bag (or you can take empty bags and fill with dirt daily).

Have a wonderful trip !
12-09-2011, 06:23 AM   #11
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We went on a few 1 day safaris in early 2010. I used mostly the 55-300, other times the kit 15-55. No real issues as it was all day time. We found that the animals don't really move around much during the day. The biggest problem was the moving vehicle we were in :-) The main issue you will have is whether you get to take the shots when standing still or from a moving vehicle. But the guides would stop at best location/time so that we could take our time taking shots. I since bought a Tamron 18-250 so that I no longer have to swap lenses, too many cases of dust when doing that in a hurry. And when I bought the K5 I got the Sigma 18-250 (wife has the K100D setup now).
Some days: Mon Feb 22nd – Cape Town (Day 2) | Gerrit and Pat’s Travels,
Wed Feb 24th – Port Elizabeth | Gerrit and Pat’s Travels,
Friday Feb 26th Durban | Gerrit and Pat’s Travels

12-09-2011, 08:56 AM   #12
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My experience in Botswana and Zambia a couple of years ago was that the lenses I had were either too short or too long! We were approached by a bull elephant when we were in our Land Rover and came very close to a sleeping pack of lions. Wide angle for those. For dusk and dawn shots at water holes, you will be talking serious distance and will need a reasonably fast set-up with at least 300mm to 500mm at the long end. A camera with good high-ISO will enable you to use a slower lens. Birds were my biggest challenge. I fortunately was carrying a high-end point and shoot and was able to use that as well as my SLR. I recommend two cameras.

Other notes - you will often be in a vehicle (Land Rover or equivalent) and won't be able to use a tripod, although a monopod could be useful. Make sure you have enough spare batteries and memory cards - you won't be able to get overnight shipping if you run out!

12-09-2011, 09:10 AM   #13
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I remember an account from the early 1980's by the famous Fred Picker about equipment he took and the equipment others used on an African photo safari. He took his Leica and a Nikon F with FAST lenses, nothing over 200mm. The point is he could use fast shutter speeds. Depth of field is no issue as most pictures can be take wide open and once you have a beautiful sharp image, you can crop to the best framing. Most people brought big telephotos that are almost impossible to hand hold and had lots of problems with blurry photos, slow apertures. The equipment was also cumbersome, slow to frame and shoot. Many of the animals will be in the shadows of trees etc.
As far as the cameras themselves, he said that if the Nikon broke, he would still have the Leica (135mm maximum focal length). Also, back then, batteries were not an issue.
In short, I would make sure your lenses are all f/2.8 and better.
12-09-2011, 09:38 AM   #14
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If I look at all the comments, and at my kit (note the OP and everyone else will have different equipment although similar in terms of overlap of focal lengths) I would do the following

Leave my tamron 200-500/5.6 at home, At 2.7 KG it is just too big and needs a tripod top use.

Opt in stead to my SMC 300/4 and 1.7x AF TC (510mm total) , my sigma 70-200/2.8 plus 1.4 and 2x sigma TCs, this way I have multiple long options, and while not necessairly as fast (as a function of focal length) hand holdable.

THis covers the mid and long range needs, and I would add to that my tamron 28-75/2.8 and perhaps an ultra wide.

Along with these lenses I would take my K7 and K5 bodies, and a flash.

My shooting approach would be to have 2 bodies available, at all times, perhaps the 500 plus one of the two zooms, or the two zooms so that I would not be fumbling for lenses etc if something came that needed a different approach.

As I said at the onset, everyone will have a different approach depending on kit, but I think having at least one option to 500mm is worthwhile, as are fast zooms, although the K7 to some extent, and more so the K5 do not necessitate F2.8 from 20 something mm to 200 mm any more
12-09-2011, 09:54 AM   #15
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The DA 55-300 is probably a perfect range for most wildlife except birds. You might need wider at times when the vehicle gets up close, but I like the idea of a good bridge camera which will cover the close up and be a back-up if fate has its way.

Alternatively, you might be better off with a newer body with good high ISO performance K-5/K-r/K-x. Then you can use K-m for closeup lens..

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