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01-19-2019, 06:19 PM   #1
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Lens advice Safari Botswana, Namibia, South Africa. What range is most useful?

Hi all,

I'll be traveling to South Africa, Namibia and Botswana in a couple months and am contemplating what lens to buy. Amongst the parks we visit will be Kruger, Addo Elephant, Okavango Delta, Chobe, Etosha.

I'm covered on the wide to normal end with DA 15, 31, 70, 20-40. However, I'm lacking a proper tele, I only have the 50-200 from the K20D kit I bought 10 years ago and it's a bad copy too. I'm shooting with a K3 currently.

I'm considering:
- DA 300
- DA 55-300 PLM
- DA 60-250
- Combination of the first two

I'd love a DA 300 (FF compatible too should I ever upgrade), but I'm worried that it ends up being too zoomed in many times. Does anybody have any experience with the national parks and proximity to animals? I'd prefer full body shots, rather than just closeup head shots.

Thus the consideration of the 60-250, it is however more expensive and I generally don't really use zooms and I never shoot sports at home which would make it's use after the trip doubtful (I actually sold a second hand one that I acquired in a package deal a year ago). Bigger and it extends as well.

The 55-300 is obviously the most economical choice, though it will be a lot less good compared to the other ones. It would solve the issue of the limited range of the DA 300 if I bought both, but if I end up switching lenses all the time, the 300 might not see the use it deserves.

Summarized I think I'd like the 300 but I'm afraid the range is too limited, I just never really liked the 60-250, the 55-300 doesn't seem good enough considering I'm used to shooting primes.

Oh and renting seems impossible in these countries.

Would like to hear your opinion and if possible experiences with countries and lenses!

01-19-2019, 06:29 PM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by -JW- Quote
Hi all,

I'll be traveling to South Africa, Namibia and Botswana in a couple months and am contemplating what lens to buy. Amongst the parks we visit will be Kruger, Addo Elephant, Okavango Delta, Chobe, Etosha.

I'm covered on the wide to normal end with DA 15, 31, 70, 20-40. However, I'm lacking a proper tele, I only have the 50-200 from the K20D kit I bought 10 years ago and it's a bad copy too. I'm shooting with a K3 currently.

I'm considering:
- DA 300
- DA 55-300 PLM
- DA 60-250
- Combination of the first two

I'd love a DA 300 (FF compatible too should I ever upgrade), but I'm worried that it ends up being too zoomed in many times. Does anybody have any experience with the national parks and proximity to animals? I'd prefer full body shots, rather than just closeup head shots.

Thus the consideration of the 60-250, it is however more expensive and I generally don't really use zooms and I never shoot sports at home which would make it's use after the trip doubtful (I actually sold a second hand one that I acquired in a package deal a year ago). Bigger and it extends as well.

The 55-300 is obviously the most economical choice, though it will be a lot less good compared to the other ones. It would solve the issue of the limited range of the DA 300 if I bought both, but if I end up switching lenses all the time, the 300 might not see the use it deserves.

Summarized I think I'd like the 300 but I'm afraid the range is too limited, I just never really liked the 60-250, the 55-300 doesn't seem good enough considering I'm used to shooting primes.

Oh and renting seems impossible in these countries.

Would like to hear your opinion and if possible experiences with countries and lenses!
can you rent anything at home and take with you?

My wife and I went to Tanzania in 2016 ( and we are returning in July and August of 2019 ) and my " long lens " then was an old Tamron AF 70-300mm F/4-5.6 LD Tele-Macro [1:2] (Model 772D)

Read more at: Tamron Lenses for Pentax: Legacy Zoom Lenses - Pentax Lens Review Database

now I don't know the area you are going to and the terrain and how close you can get to the animals could be quite different.

there were times on my trip that animals ( black Rhino ) was too far but for the most part, there were plenty of animals in range and often quite close to the vehicle

I would first investigate, if you can, what the normal " range " might be.

who is arranging the trip, have you asked them?

Last edited by aslyfox; 01-19-2019 at 06:42 PM.
01-19-2019, 06:36 PM   #3
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I did chobe and it was winding around through forest to a open lake. My 3x point and shoot was good for elephants close up but the open plain around the lake lions, kudu and impala and such were 150-200 meters. The river was forest on one side and open on the other. So crocs at 15 meters an hippos and elephants at 40-150 meters. Surprised that at kruger my 3x was pretty good. Rarely saw more than 50 meters where I went.
01-19-2019, 07:38 PM - 1 Like   #4
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We were in those areas recently. If you are after bigger animals (mostly mammals), the moderate telephotos listed will serve. If you want to do birds, you cannot have something too long. On our first trip to Africa, mostly in Kenya, I was using a Bigma 50~500mm on a K3. On our second trip (So. Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Botswana) I was using MFT (Pany GX8) and a Pany-Leica 100~400mm which is the FF equivalent of 200~800mm. I would personally select one of the zooms over the SFL despite the superior IQ of the DA300mm compared too the other lenses because when out on safari, you can go from elephants to lilac-breasted rollers to zebra to kingfishers in a twinkling. I suspect that a cropped image from the 60~250mm will have IQ as good as or better than the 55-300mm @ 300mm, which it to say, the extra 300mm at the long end of that lens will offer no advantage over 250mm except expense and being much smaller & lighter. THEREFORE of the lenses you've mentioned, I would select the 60~250mm, but it will be short for bird photography Insofar as even at 300mm you're well short of what I would select, My primary recommendation when encountering a small subject such as a bird = set it into its habitat, think about a scene rather than just the bird.

01-19-2019, 10:14 PM   #5
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Wonderful part of the world to visit, I would go with the 60-250mm, great range on a crop camera, zoom lets you frame a little easier and should you go full frame later, the coverage is mostly there as well
Enjoy you trip and whatever you choose , the experience should be unforgettable
01-19-2019, 10:51 PM   #6
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For any action shots, the PLM lens will have an advantage with faster AF. But when all subjects will be at distance, it will likely not be significantly faster than other lenses. In fact the older DA 55-300mm WR lens might do as well, and is no slouch for IQ, especially if not wide open at 300mm. At this FL you still get very good quality in the central area. The DA* 60-250mm will provide better IQ, and at a wider aperture, not hugely better than the above lenses, but yes better through 250mm. But it cannot do 300mm at all, so after a crop stretching to the same image size as the 55-300mm, there may not be a difference, especially if shooting at say f/8, and your subject will be in the central frame area.

The amount of loss in a crop also might be additional due to the camera's pixel loss also, which would be less additional if you are shooting with a 24mm camera.
01-19-2019, 10:58 PM   #7
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The plm lens allows auto focus in video. So there is that to consider.
01-20-2019, 12:37 AM   #8
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I've compared my DA* 60-250 to a plain old DA 55-300. With and without the HD DA 1.4x rear converter. The DA* even cropped to the same image side from 250 is noticeable clearer. The HD DA 1.4x also provides more reach with more clarity.

However, the differences are not massive and the cost and weight savings might make the 55-300 (any variety) a great choice.

01-20-2019, 04:37 AM   #9
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I have visited Chobe and Okavango Delta and also Etosha on 2 occasions. I actually have a lot of blog posts and 2 comprehesive african wildlife photography articles (also available in an ebook) on my site if you care to take a look. Morden O'Hare | Photography

I'm afraid if you want to shoot wildlife you will find the 200 or 300mm lenses you are talking about rather unsatisfactory. My most used lens was a 500mm canon lens (often with a 1.4 extender fitted) and you frequently need this focal length just to get a reasonable full body shots of even large animals. Many places don't allow the vehicle to leave the road so you have no control over the distance. In Etosha for example you are restricted to the roads and parking lots at the water holes. Even at Okaukeujo waterhole the animals often come to drink on the far side so you can't get close (though the elephants seem to drink on the close side which is fun). Obviously if you are not super serious about wildlife photography and don't mind taking your chances with shots a smaller lens will be okay.

Of the lenses you listed the DA 300 and a 1.4x extender is what I would go with then have a second camera body with a standard zoom on it for closer shots. Yes you may on occasion wish you could zoom that 300 in for a wider shot but I am fairly confident in saying you are going to miss WAY more shots at the long end because 300 is not enough than at the short end where 300 is too much. With the extender the DA300 will get you 420mm at F5.6 which is a useful focal length.

You say you want full body shots and this is fine in theory and for some locations where the scenery is nice but often (particularly botswana) you fill find animals are surrounded by rather unattractive scrubby vegetation or partially obscured by foliage or whatever and you will be wanting to use a long fast lens to 'crop' in on a head shot or get that low depth of field closeup so the background is blurred out and focal length rules for this.

Honestly after a few trips I can say I could have made do with a 24-70 for general photography, and 500 F4 L for wildlife. I never really found 70-200 or even 100-400 secondary lenses useful most of the time.

Please make sure you take a second body so you can avoid changing lenses and more importantly have a failure backup. There are no camera stores at these locations!

If you felt like you wanted to carry the extra weight and give yourself more chances of getting the shot maybe you could buy the 150-450 used on ebay then sell it again when you get home. Cheaper than renting.

Whatever you take I am sure you will have a great time as you are going to some great locations! Make sure you visit Dik Dik drive and Chudop Waterhole in Etosha national park - 2 great locations. And I hope you have allowed at least a day in Okaukjeuo waterhole to spend sitting around and watching the wildlife come and go - its magic.
01-20-2019, 05:14 AM   #10
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The OP and others traveling to Africa might consider getting some books and learning about the animals they may encounter

knowing about the animals might help your photography

I obtained this one:

" The Behavior Guide to African Mammals " - Richard Despard Estes ISBN 978-0-520-27297-2

[ it is the one that my professional guide of 20 years was using on our first trip ]

or do research on line
01-20-2019, 05:59 AM   #11
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I have heard some of these trips also have a weight limit. You should check.

Aside from that , a flash with a snoot might also be of use.
01-20-2019, 06:01 AM - 1 Like   #12
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did a trip to botswana last year with the da 55 300
this is what i got out of it..
you can find the focal length next to the pics.
Botswana - christophe gryspeert
imo pretty useful zoom. but it depends on what you really want to get out of it.
I kind of agree with a previous poster that the da300 & TC, thus 420 would have been nice on some occasions.
Mind you, one of the difficulties is the positioning of the truck vs wildlife. And the amount of time you have. definitely one body, one lens ratio. no time to swap lenses and it is dusty. If you go for 55 300. go WR version..
01-20-2019, 09:04 AM   #13
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"Black Rhinoceros at Sunset" by Johan Georget on a k5 with 16-50 is my favorite Pentax safari photo.
Interesting Photo of the Day: Black Rhinoceros at Sunset
01-20-2019, 10:15 AM   #14
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If I was lucky enough to take a trip like this, and if I hoped to have some trophy prints on the wall afterward, then I would take two bodies with the 60-250 on one (or 70-200), and a long tele on the other. I would carry my 16-85 for landscapes, or in your case the 15 + 20-40. As I'm always on a budget the long tele would probably be an older manual focus 300mm + tc. Alternatively, if I could find a used Bigma, I might take that with the wide zoom on the other camera. But if the purpose was only to post pics on the web, I'd stick with the 55-300 or even pick up an 18-300.
01-20-2019, 12:20 PM - 1 Like   #15
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I agree with much that has been said here, especially Gyroscape's and WPRESTO's. A few things to consider:
1. Decide what you are particularly interested in- Large Game, which imho will be adequately served with either a 50-200, or as suggested 300mm lens.
For birds you will definitely need something longer than 300mm. If, as is common with many a visitor to these Game Reserves, you are interested only in the Big
5, a 300mm lens will be adequate. But there is a host of other, equally interesting and exciting sightings to be had, and for which a longer FL will be needed.
2. Animal behavior is unpredictable, and no amount of preparation lens wise can avoid that. When it comes to Game and Nature reserves, right time/right place is the
rule. You will have an advantage with a safari/tour guide, but even that is no guarantee. To Illustrate, on one trip to Addo, I met people who had not seen elephants
for 3 days. I could not believe that, as it is justly famous for its elephant sightings virtually guaranteed. Much the same can be said for Pilansberg National Park,
famous for its Rhino, but there are days you see nothing!
3. You will not be able to hire anything for the Pentax brand, it simply does not exist (well in SA at any rate, and probably the rest of Africa) so you will have to bring
whatever you decide on.
4. A teleconverter is a must, preferably the 1.4 or 1.7. With a x2 you will lose out on IQ.
5. Check the weight allowance on your flight, it can dictate what you can or should bring. That is of course assuming money/budgetary constrictions.

I have visited Kruger several times, and on one occasion I forgot to pack in my 500mm (Sigma) lens and had to make do with the 300mm, it was frustrating but in the end it was good enough. I relied heavily on my x2 converter then.
I am lucky in that I live in South Africa, and take all my lenses with me when I go (Good idea that ) and more often than not, different situations mean different lenses. You simply cannot use a 500mm lens with an elephant next to your vehicle, or a lion on the side of the road or a Rhino next to a hide. I have not used any safari services, but do self-drive, so I speak from that perspective.

If you can, a 500mm imho is a must, but if not possible, then a 250 or 300mm lens with a teleconverter.
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