Zoom recommendation for safari

Started Mar 13, 2019 | Questions thread
Tatouzou Senior Member • Posts: 2,023
Re: Zoom recommendation for safari

Horatiu Mihalache wrote:


In the summer I will go for a safari trip to Malawi, Zambia & Botswana (my first).

I have no experience whatsoever with safari photography nor with long lenses. I rarely use my 70mm on my K-3ii and almost never go beyond that.

I would like to take some nice pictures but they will be just memories - no printing or selling.

I was looking at Sigma 50-500 (both versions) but they seem very hard to find, even used, and I don't know if I will really need all that reach.

What sort of focal lengths it's more likely that I will need? And, if I am not asking too much, what lenses would you recommend?


It all depends the kind of safari you plan.

I only went for a safari in 2016 in northern Tanzania national parks (Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Tarangire, Manyara...).

It was mostly savannah at the end of dry season (september): the grass was low, and the wildlife thus easy to watch even when far away.

In these national parks, you are not allowed to go outside the car during the safari, and you cannot drive during the night.

During the day there was plenty of light.

It may be quite different if you mostly go into rainforest areas, where the light can be very dim even in full daylight, requiring brighter lenses, and where long telephoto will not be so useful (save for birds and small animals) because the visible wildlife will be rather close.

I was with my son and daughter, we were alone in the car with the driver, which was a very efficient guide.

Most of the time, the wildlife was on only one side of the car, and we were glad that there were only the three of us, so that we all could have a nice watching (shooting) point at the same time.

I had my K3 with the Pentax HD-DA 55-300 f4-5.8, the Pentax DA18-135 and the DA35 f2.4.

I mostly used the WR DA55-300, a 2013 refreshment of the original 2008 model (non WR and with less advanced coatings); which I had chosen because it was considered as a good inexpensive telezoom, with a range covering the most useful focal length for shooting wildlife handheld.

The only times I used the DA18-135 and DA35 was when I was walking, for instance with two Masai warriors in Olduvaï river to see giraffs and going to watch the sunset.

When shooting at wildlife from the car, there was no time to swap lenses for focal lengths wider than 55, and it was rather dusty. Thus I used my Fuji X10, a high end pocketable compact with a transtandard zoom, for unexpected wide angle shots while the 18-135 was mounted on the K3.

Though it is rather big and heavy, I would have used the much sharper DA 60-250 f4 as recommended by other posters in this thread If I had one, but it was too expensive IMO as I dont go birding or shooting wildlife around my home: I very scarcely used the 55-300 since september 2016.

The 55-300 did the job, here are a few samples from my DPreview gallery:

Many more samples in my flickr gallery.

AFAIK, the WR DA 55-300 f4-5.6 is still available new in most countries, though it has been replaced in 2016 by the newer DA 55-300 f4.5-6.3 PLM, with a much faster and more efficient silent AF motor replacing the old screwdriven AF. This affordable lens is highly praised by those who have it, though it is 1/3 of a stop slower.

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