Zoom recommendation for safari

Started Mar 13, 2019 | Questions
Horatiu Mihalache Junior Member • Posts: 32
Zoom recommendation for safari

Hello,

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?

Thanks!

ANSWER:
This question has not been answered yet.
DavidB77
DavidB77 Forum Member • Posts: 64
Re: Zoom recommendation for safari
1

Horatiu Mihalache wrote:

Hello,

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?

Thanks!

On a K-3II, a 60-250mm should be very fine for a safari as it's about 100-400 equivalent in 35mm and it have a good IQ and is "all weather".

Sigma 50-500 is probably fine too if you want to shoot small animals or birds.

Pentax 150-450 is probably too long on the wide end if animals get too close to the jeep and if you want to take other photos than portraits.

 DavidB77's gear list:DavidB77's gear list
Pentax smc DA 70mm F2.4 AL Limited Pentax smc DA* 300mm F4.0 ED (IF) SDM Pentax K-3 II Pentax smc DA 35mm F2.4 AL Pentax smc DA 50mm F1.8 +2 more
Adam007 Contributing Member • Posts: 641
Re: Zoom recommendation for safari

I've been on just one safari, and it was when I first started shooting, using a Sony RX10. That camera had a 200mm-equivalent lens.

That's the absolute bare minimum, and if there's ever a time to go long, a safari is it. You're in a jeep with animals a couple hundred yards or more away most of the time. Sometimes the lions are ten feet away, which is awesome, but this is probably not a typical day on your trip.

I have a DA* 300. That's 420 on your APSC, which is about right. Of course, it's a prime, and you would definitely want a second body to cover, say 70-200 (if you really need something wide, you would usually have time to switch lenses).

If you can only take one body, maybe rent the 150-450. I've often thought I might rent this lens for another safari. HOWEVER, there's a learning curve with these super-telephotos; it's taken me a while to get dialed into my 300 prime, and the 150-450 is a lot to handle. You might want to play with it for at least. week before your trip, just to get used to it. (and bring a beanbag to rest that lens on).

People like the Bigma, but almost everyone says the 300 and 150-450 are superior.

There's a Sigma 100-300 for K-Mount. It gets good reviews, and for an APSC, that might be the sweet spot in terms of flexibility.

Have fun!

 Adam007's gear list:Adam007's gear list
Fujifilm X100F Pentax K-1 Pentax smc DA* 300mm F4.0 ED (IF) SDM Pentax smc FA 31mm F1.8 AL Limited Pentax smc FA 43mm F1.9 Limited +5 more
dick eduard
dick eduard Senior Member • Posts: 1,469
Re: Zoom recommendation for safari
1

Hi Horatio,

I had the DA 300 and the 60-250 and 2 bodys on my safari's and that worked fine

Dick

agukha Regular Member • Posts: 231
Re: Zoom recommendation for safari
1

The best zoom for that is probably the Pentax 150-450, renting it, but it is big and heavy I think, not I you have to walk a lot ! But in a car I would definitly rent one.

Beside that, I would take my 55-300 PLM, I like it very much, fast focusing, I like its IQ, and it works on the K3ii also (if you have updated it to the lastest firmwares).

And for the stars with the astrotracer, I would take a wide angle with great aperture also (at least 2.8, more if you have)

PentUp Contributing Member • Posts: 529
Re: Zoom recommendation for safari
3

Horatiu Mihalache wrote:

Hello,

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?

Thanks!

Horatiu

I was born and raised in Zambia. I always take the following 3 lenses on Safari (with my K5ii), especially for South Luangwa:

1. Sigma 50-500 OS HSM - main lens, gets the most use at all focal lengths.

2. Sigma 70-200 HSM f2.8 - always on the camera for night drives (invaluable for photographing predators hunting at night viewed by spotlight).

3. Pentax 18-270 - always use this for walking safaris (for which Zambia - particularly South Luangwa is world famous). My son has the Sigma 18-300 HSM on his K50. This is a great walking safari lens too. Both these lenses are light enough for walking and give great flexibility in zoom range.

Also don’t worry about the weight/size of the 50-500 on game drives as most camps (in Zambia at least) provide bean bags on their open land rovers / land cruisers.

 PentUp's gear list:PentUp's gear list
Pentax K-7 Pentax K-x Pentax K-5 II Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG Macro HSM II Pentax smc DA 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 +8 more
miles green
miles green Veteran Member • Posts: 7,631
Re: Zoom recommendation for safari
1

Horatiu Mihalache wrote:

Hello,

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?

Thanks!

I have been VERY impressed by the DFA 150-450 on the K1ii. Optics, build quality, AF speed and accuracy... all excellent. Where is the * this lens deserves!? Those who have used both say it runs circles around the Sigma 50-500. (OK, it should, one's a 3x zoom, the other is 10x)

It's heavy, you should pactice handling with any such lens if you're not used to it.

Is it too long on the short end? I don't know, but if you have a second camera for the wide shots, you'll definitely be very happy.

-- hide signature --

Miles Green
Pentaxian since 1997!
Corfu, Greece
N.B. All my images are protected by Copyright

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Jon Schick Veteran Member • Posts: 4,669
Re: Zoom recommendation for safari
1

I've been on one safari - to three camps in Botswana over several days - and even for larger animals like lions I think 300mm would be a minimum.  Most of my best images came from an old Tamron 500mm mirror lens (which I would not recommend unless you really want to learn how to use it) mounted on a K20D, which was the best Pentax body at that time.  The remaining best images were twilight landscape shots taken with the FA35/2 and a Voigtlander 58/1.4.

If I was to go back now I'd take a zoom reaching at least 400mm for daytime, and a fast constant f2.8 shorter zoom for when the light goes... Perhaps the 50-135 or a 70-200.

 Jon Schick's gear list:Jon Schick's gear list
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Tatouzou
Tatouzou Senior Member • Posts: 2,023
Re: Zoom recommendation for safari
4

Horatiu Mihalache wrote:

Hello,

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?

Thanks!

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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Zvonimir Tosic
Zvonimir Tosic Veteran Member • Posts: 3,125
More crucial than a lens ...

Horatiu Mihalache wrote:

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?

Thanks!

More crucial than a lens (you can choose any, whatever suits you), is that you use appropriate lens filters during your endeavour.

1. PL filter: African plains are full of dust, randomly moving grass and sun reflections, which will saturate your shots with unpleasant OoF characteristics. You absolutely must use a variable (circular) PL filter, the best one you can get, which will tame excessive reflections and mush, (especially with cheaper optics not designed for beautiful OoF).

2. ND filter: Also, take a good ND filter if you wish to photograph events from dawn up to 11 am, and glorious sunsets; ND filter will allow you better sensor saturation by allowing for longer exposures in an environment where you cannot use flash (vast landscapes) to boost low-gain inter-tonal values.

3. Small flash: Also take a small flash unit if you can, and use whenever you can, for fill-in: strong sun always creates strong shadows, and you need better tonal values than that. Take care and have fun.

Alex Sarbu Forum Pro • Posts: 11,806
Re: Zoom recommendation for safari

miles green wrote:

Horatiu Mihalache wrote:

Hello,

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?

Thanks!

I have been VERY impressed by the DFA 150-450 on the K1ii. Optics, build quality, AF speed and accuracy... all excellent. Where is the * this lens deserves!?

Right, the D FA 150-450 is excellent. The AF isn't the fastest in its class - similar, perhaps slightly faster than the Nikkor 200-500 - but it's faster than many Pentax telephoto lenses.

It takes a lot of space though, would Horatiu be willing to lug it around? (maybe, for such a rare occasion...). I had to buy a backpack just to properly carry this lens.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the 50-300 RE PLM: perhaps the fastest Pentax lens AF-wise, decent optics, and quite compact.

Alex

 Alex Sarbu's gear list:Alex Sarbu's gear list
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TonyBalogna
TonyBalogna Regular Member • Posts: 472
Re: Zoom recommendation for safari
1

60-250 f/4 and the HD1.4 teleconverter the critters.  Rent if you can - especially if you don't use tele all that often.  Otherwise look used.  I bought my 60-250 f/4 in pristine condition for $400 from the buy/sell board on PentaxForums.  Adding the teleconverter would get you to 525mm f/5.6 equivalent in a robustly sealed combination that isn't too shabby I don't think.

Tony A.

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Zvonimir Tosic
Zvonimir Tosic Veteran Member • Posts: 3,125
Inspiration from the best

It is good to refresh memory before you go, as to what is possible in the field of wildlife photography, and focus at one or two specific goals in wildlife photography (for example, you may focus on landscape colour and silhouettes only, but nail them really well).

http://matebence.hu/en/

dnscott645 Regular Member • Posts: 124
Re: Zoom recommendation for safari

I have been to Tanzania 4 times and South Africa twice.  The best and most useful lens would be the Pentax 150-450 on APSc body. Also bring extra lenses to fill in from 17mm to 150mm.  The 1.4 TC can be handy a times.

 dnscott645's gear list:dnscott645's gear list
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PentUp Contributing Member • Posts: 529
Re: Zoom recommendation for safari
1

miles green wrote:

Horatiu Mihalache wrote:

Hello,

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?

Thanks!

I have been VERY impressed by the DFA 150-450 on the K1ii. Optics, build quality, AF speed and accuracy... all excellent. Where is the * this lens deserves!? Those who have used both say it runs circles around the Sigma 50-500. (OK, it should, one's a 3x zoom, the other is 10x)

It's heavy, you should pactice handling with any such lens if you're not used to it.

Is it too long on the short end? I don't know, but if you have a second camera for the wide shots, you'll definitely be very happy.

Is the DFA 150-450 too long at the wide end for Zambia? Yes it is.

There are times where you will want to get shots of elephants, lions merely meters away from your vehicle. 140mm is no where near wide enough.

I'm sure that the Pentax is optically better than the Sigma, but is just not a practical lens for the terrain and conditions of Zambia. Having two cameras is a solution, but just adds to weight where there are strict carry on luggage restrictions for light aircraft (especially given the weight of the DFA 150-450 already).

 PentUp's gear list:PentUp's gear list
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PentUp Contributing Member • Posts: 529
Re: Zoom recommendation for safari

Jon Schick wrote:

I've been on one safari - to three camps in Botswana over several days - and even for larger animals like lions I think 300mm would be a minimum. Most of my best images came from an old Tamron 500mm mirror lens (which I would not recommend unless you really want to learn how to use it) mounted on a K20D, which was the best Pentax body at that time. The remaining best images were twilight landscape shots taken with the FA35/2 and a Voigtlander 58/1.4.

If I was to go back now I'd take a zoom reaching at least 400mm for daytime, and a fast constant f2.8 shorter zoom for when the light goes... Perhaps the 50-135 or a 70-200.

I agree, 300 is minimum and I have successfully used a Pentax 55-300. But it is not adequate for birds and Southern Africa is a paradise of interesting birds. Once you have a lens that reaches out to 500mm, you will never go back when it comes to bird photography.

But I agree, if there is a budget concern, you can get away with a 55-300 or even a Sigma 18-300.

 PentUp's gear list:PentUp's gear list
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PentUp Contributing Member • Posts: 529
Re: Zoom recommendation for safari
2

dnscott645 wrote:

I have been to Tanzania 4 times and South Africa twice. The best and most useful lens would be the Pentax 150-450 on APSc body. Also bring extra lenses to fill in from 17mm to 150mm. The 1.4 TC can be handy a times.

The problem with bringing "extra lenses to fill in from 17mm to 150mm" is that the OP would need an extra body to put them on. I would never recommend changing lenses on an open safari vehicle. Especially not in the dry season due to the amount of dust in the air, but also the risk of dropping a lens in the open land rover (seen that happen with unfortunate consequences).

 PentUp's gear list:PentUp's gear list
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OP Horatiu Mihalache Junior Member • Posts: 32
Re: Zoom recommendation for safari

Space is indeed an issue. I will also be doing some mountain hiking on the same trip, before the safari. I will not carry this lens in my backpack (I usually hike with the 15mm Ltd, either 43 or 35 and sometimes the 70mm). But it will take space in the cabin bag.

OP Horatiu Mihalache Junior Member • Posts: 32
Re: Zoom recommendation for safari
1

PentUp wrote:

Is the DFA 150-450 too long at the wide end for Zambia? Yes it is.

There are times where you will want to get shots of elephants, lions merely meters away from your vehicle. 140mm is no where near wide enough.

I'm sure that the Pentax is optically better than the Sigma, but is just not a practical lens for the terrain and conditions of Zambia. Having two cameras is a solution, but just adds to weight where there are strict carry on luggage restrictions for light aircraft (especially given the weight of the DFA 150-450 already).

Thank you, PentUp, that is really valuable information. I will only have one camera which is another reason to go for the more flexible option.

OP Horatiu Mihalache Junior Member • Posts: 32
Re: Zoom recommendation for safari

Lovely pictures and useful information. I can see for most of the elephant pictures you used a focal length between 150 and 200 (or thereabout). 300mm for birds.

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