To quote David duChemin “Gear is good. Vision is better”. This is a statement I truly believe in and as a photographer I have to continually remind myself of this because shiny toys are fun to play with. On the other hand this is not a completely true statement either because using another saying “the right tool for the right job”. Taking a point and shoot camera to Tanzania would not have resulted in the same photographs I was able to capture using the equipment I did take.
With that thought in mind I am going to discuss my gear choices for the trip to Tanzania. First I should explain a little bit more about myself. I am a Nikon shooter, does that mean I think Nikon is better than Cannon or any other brand? No not really. I have seen some amazing photos taken with everything from an iPhone on up. I originally started out using Nikon because I had access to Nikon lenses, if you are into photography at all you realize how incredibly expensive good glass can be. By choosing Nikon I was able to explore different lenses and their focal lengths and get an idea of what lenses I wanted/needed for my style of photography. So slowly over time I built up my collection of lenses based off the focal length I found myself using the most. I tried to focus on good fast glass over trying to keep up with the newest body. Nikon is really good about allowing their camera bodies to be backwards compatible with older lenses and this is important. Camera bodies are really just little computers and we all know how quickly computers become outdated but conversely good glass lasts much longer.
I started out with a Nikon D70 pretty much when they first came out and used it for a number of years I finally upgraded to a D300 when they were released four years later. The D70 was getting really long in the tooth and I was reaching the limits of the cameras capabilities the D300 was a major upgrade in capabilities.
While I really enjoyed the crop factor of a DX camera resulting in the increased range of approximately 1.5x. I increasingly keep having difficulties with being unable to shoot in low enough light or to counteract this by increasing the ISO level in the camera without unacceptable pixilation so...enter the D3S an amazing piece of machinery.
So two I took two camera bodies, having a backup body is just common sense. You are a long way from anywhere that can repair a camera or any place that you can even buy another camera if that was even an option. Most likely this is a once in a lifetime trip and having it hinging on a single point of failure is foolish. The D3S gave me incredible low light capabilities and 9 frames per second. The D300 gave me the 1.5 crop factor and with the optional battery pack 8 frames per second.
Nikkor AF-S II 600mm f/4d IF-ED
No not the newer vibration reduction models but it was borrowed from work so who can complain. I have the Nikkor 200-400mm but I was concerned about the distances involved in East Africa shooting. My experience with this lens has pretty much mirrored Thom Hogans review of the lens when shooting at extended distances. This lens was on my D3S pretty much none stop and probably accounted for 85% of shots taken.
This lens was mounted on my D300 giving me the effective focal length of approximately 105-300mm. The two lenses probably accounted for over 95% of the shots taken on safari.
Other lenses included:
Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G AF-S
I don’t think I used this at all on the safari but I didn’t want to have a gap in my focal lengths and it normally is my most commonly used lenses. Despite consciously trying not to use these focal lengths
Nikkor 16mm f/2.8D AF Fisheye
Why a fisheye? Hey it’s small and fun to use sometimes and yes I actually did use it so...
Everything I read told me I would not need this but I always try to bring a tripod - no I didn’t need it. Instead because I was shooting off the top of a vehicle I used the: Kinesis Safari Sack Beanbag which was simple and very effective. I just filled it with local beans and it was flat for travel.
Ok that’s the sexy stuff, what else is required? Batteries, you can never have to many, I had 2 sets of batteries but never had a problem with recharging except for one night but you cannot count on electricity so better to be over prepared. Filters, I normally don’t use filters on my lenses except for the occasional polarizer but due to the dust I had filters on all of my 77mm lenses.
Speaking of electricity - plug adaptors. Definitely not sex or shiny but very much necessary. Normally every where I go requires the normal round 2 prong european outlet. Kenya and Tanzania both use a British style plug but not always because that would be too easy. So I brought a couple of these All-in-One Travel Power Plugs Adaptors and a couple travel power strips.
Laptop and external hard drives for duplicate backups - have I mentioned the importance of redundancy? Plus lots and lots of memory cards. Shooting animals results in a much greater number of shots than landscapes - much greater.
So how to carry all of this? That will be covered in part 3 camera bags