Lens options for African Safari

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johnchap2 Contributing Member • Posts: 832
Lens options for African Safari

Still toying with the idea of going back to Africa. While my plan is for "sometime in the near future", especially given my advancing age and health, the current sale price of the Nikon 200-500 has necessarily accelerated my equipment decision process, even if the trip is months in the future, if ever taken. Africa will require at least one lens 400mm or more preferably even longer. Looking for recommendations on how to accomplish this.

My standard travel kit including backups consists of 3 D800 bodies and 4 or 5 lenses with the longest being the Nikon 28-300 FX. I have had quite enough equipment breakdowns/failures over the years that I have learned to back up everything I carry especially including Nikon battery chargers.

Easiest option would be simply shooting the 28-300 in one of the non FX modes. The regular DX mode would get me to 450mm. The 36 MP D800 can more than amply handle the reduction in pixels that would result. Since the weakest part of the image is typically the corners, this approach would exclude that part of the image, so it is better than it might be. Could also use a 1.4x extender as well, thus increasing the FL further, but that might strain the optical capability of the lens.

Second option (which obviously includes the first option) would be to add to my kit my 70-200/2.8 VR1 lens with a 2X extender. Typically don’t carry this lens on overseas trips because of its weight and limited zoom range; especially with the hi ISO low noise capability of the D800. This would get me to 400/5.6. Some simple tests indicate this is a really good combo in terms of IQ. And still could go the one of the non FX modes further increasing the effective FL. Advantage with this is that I would then have another backup lens; while disadvantage is that more weight is added to my travel kit.

Third option is to take my older but very sharp (according to my bench tests) 1st generation Sigma 50-500 AFS (but not VR) lens. No VR is for me a serious issue at my ever advancing age; plus it is a very large heavy lens to add to my carry-on kit. The low noise high ISO capability of the D800 means that I can partially compensate for no VR by setting minimum shutter speed in excess of 1/1000 sec. And by going to a non FX mode I can get 750mm and longer.

So far, none of these options would cost ($) me anything, although it would be a significant weight gain in carry-on luggage.

The fourth option is to avail myself of the current sale on the Nikon 200-500 and buy one. But this too is a large heavy lens that I will have little use for if my Africa trip does not materialize. My regular shooting (travel) has little use for superzooms.

My Africa experience was a safari to Tanzania 25 years ago when all was film. My lenses on the trip included but was not limited to a Nikon 500 mirror lens and a Nikon 1000mm mirror lens (both very sharp) which I occasionally used with a 1.6x extender. Even with using beanbags 1600mm was a tough shoot especially given available film ISO speeds, although I had a fair number turn out well, as several images of a distant leopard high up in a tree. Most used lens was probably a so-so nondescript 200-400 AF lens by an unremembered manufacturer. Also had along my 80-200/2.8 AF Nikon which I occasionally used, with and without an extender.

 johnchap2's gear list:johnchap2's gear list
Nikon D7000 Nikon D800 Nikon D800E Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED VR +18 more
Nikon D800
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