Camera Advice When Traveling to Africa for Safari

by Don Klingborg, DVM

If you are bringing many cameras, you may be held at customs due to concerns that you may be selling them.    Do have several copies of a record with the model and serial number of your camera and lenses.  I do not expect one (or two) camera bodies and several lenses per person to raise any concerns.

Digital or film?  This is more an individual preference.  In the past I used film with great results and satisfaction.  I loved the ability to have very high ASA speeds for mornings and dusk, and to “freeze” the critters as they moved.  I’ve now fallen in love with digital photography and no longer use film. The biggest challenges I’ve found with digital are (1) being sure you’re shooting with sufficient speed to freeze movement and (2) overcoming the delay inherent in many (older or less expensive) digital cameras from the time you push the button to when exposure actually happens.  The perfect photo can be missed due to this delay.  I’ve learned to compensate by shooting multiple exposures (and reviewing them in the evenings discarding those that “missed”) and by replacing older camera’s with newer and better equipment with faster components.  This is more of a problem in Africa than on the Galapagos Islands as animals run from you in Africa, and simply don’t notice your presence on the Islands (no fear of humans for most, but the crabs will avoid you).  My photos are better in the Galapagos because I get the front end of the critters, in Africa more of the rear end as they’re running away.

I bring additional image storage devices because I shoot at higher megapixels and need space.  Remember to bring extra batteries for the trip (which are hard to come by and may be expensive).  I don’t erase photos from memory when I upload to the computer so I have two files should one have a problem. I’ve successfully charged cameras overnight and most cameras can use either 110 V or 220 V.  You’ll need the right adaptors for the country being visited.   Be prepared the number of outlets may be limited – I have a small three plug travel strip that allows me to charge the camera and Bev to curl her hair – a very wise investment.

Do “shoot” carefully—film is expensive to buy and limited in their ASA selections.  Be aware that the airport security screening X-ray equipment is not as regulated in South America or Africa as it is in the US and I’ve heard reports of priceless negatives being ruined by X-ray.  I had no problems using an inexpensive lead-lined film bag for my regular film, and made sure I had it in my carry-on and not packed with the luggage being checked.  I prefer to carry my memory storage devices in carry-on—and if in checked luggage I spread them between Bev’s and mine should one be ‘lost’.

Lenses do most of the work in good photography.  Recall that the better digital cameras use the same lenses used with film cameras, but the digital sensor that captures the image in many (not all) digital cameras increase the magnification by about 1.6X that found with film.  These means a 300 mm lens is more like a 480mm lens.  I’ve recently switched back to a full frame sensor camera from my less than full frame camera and expect I’ll shoot either panorama (down around 16 mm), most often with a 70-300mm lens, and if birding with a 100-400mm lens. With image stabilization even at 300 mm you usually don’t need a tripod. I’ll likely be the one spending all his time changing lenses and not getting any pictures.