The most important purchase I made for the trip was a decent pair
of binoculars, a pair of Barr and Stround 8x42 binoculars bought from an
Amazon UK seller. I picked these because they have good eye relief,
so I can use them with my glasses, and they worked well there. They were
also just really pleasant to use, with smooth focusing and movement. And
they feel really solidly built,
as well as being waterproof. (They also
weigh around 700g, so I'm not sure how often they'll get taken hiking!)
Our guides had similar size and magnification binoculars, 8x40 or 8x42.
I had decided long ago that if I ever went on an African safari I would
upgrade my camera and buy a good telephoto lens. I had picked up a
secondhand telephoto lens some time ago, but in the end I stuck with my
now aging Olympus E-1 — my only purchases was a new strap for this,
as the original one had started falling apart.
First released in 2003, the Olympus E-1
is now an antique as digital cameras go. But it still has fantastic
ergonomics, dust- and rain-proofing, enough megapixels (5) for my
purposes, and great out-of-camera jpegs.
Image stabilisation and/or higher usable ISOs (the E1 can't
really be pushed past 800, ideally 400) would have been nice for a small
number of photos — mostly birds not in direct sunlight when using
the telephoto + teleconverter — but I've learned to work around
the other limitations, such as limited replay zoom, no colour histograms,
and so forth.
For lenses, I had a 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 (28-108 equivalent)
standard zoom, a 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 (100-400 equivalent) telephoto, and
a 1.4x teleconverter. (I also had a circular polarizer and a tripod,
which I didn't end up using.)
landscape at 150(300)mm
More reach would have been good occasionally, mostly for birds. At the
other end, I mostly only wanted the wide-angle for buildings, food, etc.
On the savannahs the 50mm to 100mm (100-200 equivalent) range was much
more useful for landscapes, which were otherwise swamped by huge expanses
of grass or sky. (I have proportionally far more photographs with the
standard zoom jammed to 54mm than I do with the telephoto at 50mm.)
So a 100-400mm equivalent zoom is probably the most useful 4x zoom for
I'm used to composing in camera and repositioning myself if necessary,
so being in a vehicle with limited options for moving around to change
framing was occasionally frustrating. It also meant I did much less
macrophotography (of plants and other interesting ground features) than
I would normally. The places where we had a chance to walk (mostly in
Kenya) were pleasant changes.
Camilla had an E-510 with 14-42mm, 40-150mm, and 70-300mm lenses
(28-84, 80-300, and 140-600 equivalent). She didn't like changing
lenses, however, and had the strange idea that it was essential to have
a wide-angle lens handy at all times, so she had the standard zoom on
most of the time.
The E-510 has image stabilisation and better software (replay zoom,
colour histograms, etc.) but the dynamic range isn't so good and I find
the ergonomics a bit frustrating.
I took a little netbook as well, which wasn't used much — to check
email at the beginning, middle and end of the trip, and to vote in the
NSW state elections from Arusha — and I left it in Arusha while
we were on the Tanzanian leg of the trip. The chargers, etc. for all
of this took up quite a bit of space, but I packed them into hard
kitchen containers and that kept them manageable (and well protected).