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Old 2nd March 2015
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Going on safari

Background
Several forum members are experienced safari goers and I know others are keen to give it a try. I hope this post will enable people to share their experiences and encourage more members to get involved in these fantastic photo opportunities.

I became hooked on African wildlife after my first safari in Kenya more years ago than I’m prepared to admit. In all I managed five, mostly self drive, in connection with work related visits but as the last was in 1991 my knowledge of the country is well out of date.

More recently we have been going to South Africa – four trips in all. Mainly this has been to the Kruger but we have also visited Umfolozi, Hluhluwe, Mkhuse, Ithala and St Lucia as well as the battlefields and the Drakensberg. Unless stated otherwise the following remarks apply to the Kruger.

When and where is the best place to go?
There isn’t a best buy in the safari business. No matter where you go you’ll have wonderful photo opportunities. Some species of game and birds are specific to particular countries and parks but otherwise you’re likely to see almost anything almost anywhere. Many birds and some mammals are migratory which may affect your plans.

Getting to the Kruger
We fly to Joburg where we’re met by a friend. It’s about a five hour drive to the park but we spend our first night at Hazeyview. This gives more flexibility in the event of delays as you have to be in camp by 1830. Anna also does the catering which is a great help. It is, however, perfectly feasible to hire a vehicle at the airport and drive down to the park. You can buy food on the way or use one of the camp shops. An alternative is to fly to Skukuza and hire a car there.

Rissington Inn at Hazeyview where we overnight before entering the park



Accommodation
As well as foreigners a large number of South Africans, mainly European, go on safari and the Kruger is geared to their needs. There are lodges (for which read hotel) but mainly it is camps. To the South African a visit to the Kruger is much the same as a visit to the West Country for us – take a tent/caravan or book a holiday cottage. Everything’s self catering although the bigger camps have a restaurant. Full details are at http://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/

Luxury tent at Tamboti





Cottages at Sirheni and Shingwedze





There are several picnic spots where you can stop for lunch. Most provide hot water for coffee etc and have loos and washing up facilities.

Timbavati picnic spot





Pafuri picnic spot



Vehicle
There is nowhere, apart from a few designated 4x4 trails, where you need a 4x4 as all roads are accessible to any ordinary family saloon. Having said that, you are better off hiring something bigger. The family saloon has a poor height of eye and this can matter, especially in the summer when the grass is high. We mainly use a minibus even though there are only three of us. It has a good height of eye and there are plenty of flat surfaces for books, cameras, binoculars etc. We have also found a Hyundai i35 good for two but it might be cramped for more.

If you go with an organised safari you are likely to end up in a nine seater vehicle. This is fine provided the other 8 share your interest but terrible if they don’t. Effectively only the six outside seats get decent photo opportunities. You will need waterproofs and will suffer from dust on dirt roads. In the Kruger you are far better off driving yourself.



As this photo shows it is possible to hire an adapted pickup with its own built in tent etc. I daresay there’s a commensurate price tag but it will suit Boy Scouts.



Camera kit
I guess the key question for many members is ‘what kit should I take?’ Africa is either wet or dusty or both. That points firmly towards E3/5 and EM1/5, although with a bit of care other bodies will do perfectly well. The EP5 coped admirably when the EM5 played up and I just put a towel over it on my knees. That gave the added advantage that I didn’t get sunburn. Take at least two bodies to give you coverage of all likely focal lengths and to have something in reserve in the event of a body failure.

As for lenses you need something long if you want to take birds etc. By long I mean
300/2.8
90-250/2.8
50-200 plus EC14 (arguably the best value for money combination for wildlife). I used this on my EM1 with great success.
There are also non weather resistant alternatives such as the 70-300, 75-300 and 100-300. Light is generally good in Africa so, other than at dawn and dusk, a slow lens is not much of a handicap.

Some animals are quite large and more than fill the frame even at 90mm or so. For large stuff at short range I am now using the 40-150/2.8 without MC14. A 35-100/2.8/2 would also be good. There are plenty of other lenses in this focal length range though most are not weather resistant.

Finally you need something short such as the 12-40/2.8 or 12-35/2.8 or 14-35/2 for landscapes and more general close range shooting. Again there are non weather resistant alternatives.

I take a 60/2.8 for macro but didn’t use it this time. Flash came in handy on one occasion. It you’ve an FL50 it might be worth taking if you go on a night drive. I take three spare batteries, making eight altogether. Mostly I charge the batteries in the car but also take an Oly charger with adapter plug.

Storage wise you need to budget for up to 500 pix per day (unless you’re a lot more selective than I am). I copy all pix to my laptop every evening and then to a 1TB USB3 drive, thus having three copies of everything.

A tripod is hardly worth taking as for the most part the car is your hide. You may find a bean bag useful. Only in camp or at the few hides will you be able to use a tripod.

Will I see the Big Five?
Maybe, maybe not! Elephant, buffalo, lion and rhino are relatively easy to spot. The leopard is largely nocturnal so most likely to be seen at dawn or dusk. It takes them, and the equally elegant cheetah, about 30 seconds to cross the road. If you’re on the right stretch of road in those 30 seconds it’s fine, if not you may think there are no cats in the park at all! In thick vegetation there can be 50 elephants 50 yards from the road and you wouldn’t know they are there. Don’t worry though because there is endless fascination in photographing all the other wildlife as I hope my posts have shown.

If you can’t afford to go …
… try looking on Google Earth. Apparently they’ve now done the whole park.

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Old 2nd March 2015
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Re: Going on safari

Excellent, really useful. I hadn't factored in the dust, I didn't safari when I went to SA, but no doubt its important for longevity of all the gear you take
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Old 2nd March 2015
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Re: Going on safari

Great stuff, many thanks. Very helpful.

It's nice to see Rissington is still going - we had a couple of nights there as we left the Kruger a few years ago - it's a lovely place, run by the most enthusiastic Brit owner. Like a bit of Old Kenya, actually!

We've had one 4-night stay in the Kruger area, in Serondella Lodge in the private Thornybush reserve. This we found excellent for first-timers since it's an upper-mid range, small lodge (about half a dozen huts) and the ranger and tracker who accompany you we found really good at finding game and describing the local ecology. We saw the big 5 in the first 2 days.

We went in May and the lodge was half empty which meant that every day I was able to have a side seat in the open land rover, which was good for photography. I agree that a beanbag was sometimes useful, but a tripod was useless and a monopod overall got in the way more often than it helped. Handholding is the way to go in these vehicles.

Beanbags are probably much more use in the sort of vehicles I think they use in Tanzania/Zambia, where you stand up out of the roof.

On reflection I would say that the guides didn't know a great deal about good positioning for photography: they switched off the engine to reduce vibration when you found an interesting animal, but they didn't really understand positioning of the vehicle to make best use of the light. I expect one needs to go on a specialist photo safari for that or, of course, drive yourself.

If (when, hopefully!) we go back to the Kruger we'll probably do what you did and stay in a government camp and do self drive (although game walking at Pafuri camp sounds good). Personally we really valued the education we got from the private lodge experience first time.

Several bodies is certainly the way to go: dust is a real issue, so I took a blower and plenty of microfibre cloths and avoided changing lenses except at rest stops.

In May we're off to Majete in south-west Malawi and Madikwe reserve in north-west South Africa. We're also going to the battlefields area in SA and to Cape Maclear in Malawi to see our daughter. This itinerary involves a light plane transfer, limiting the hand baggage allowance to 5kg each, so as a result of your helpful post I'll be taking an E-M1 with 40-150/1.4, 12-35 and 35-100 for sure, with lots of batteries. I'll have a lightweight Gitzo tripod in the hold baggage and very little/nil in the way of filters etc.

I'll think about adding the 7-14 for non-game drive landscapes, possibly a 12 or 45mm prime for wide-aperture, and will take either a second E-M1 body or my GM1 with 12-32: I'll decide amongthis lot based on the weighing scales.

Even though I may miss its 600mm FF equivalent, I'll leave the non-dust sealed 100-300 at home.
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Old 2nd March 2015
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Re: Going on safari

That's a great run-down on the what, where and why. This is something of an idea I've tinkered with for many years and as day's to do are rapidly counting down, it really is time to score one more item off the bucket list. If I can just remember where I left my round tuit???

From your experience, and, as changing lens and camera's has become a real PITA, I reckon I need to look into an Oly Tough something or other that can take a hammering with a fairly wide to a long reach.

Thanks for taking the time and the effort to lay things out as per KISS - Keep It Short and Simple.

Having spent some years in Kuwait and Saudi, both sand and dust can be a real killer. The Arabic saying, 'Sand and dust can get inside a new laid egg' isn't too far removed from the truth.
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Re: Going on safari

The extent to which dust is an issue depends largely on the vehicle and where you go. If you shut the window and use the aircon you won't have much problem. We tend to drive with the window open unless the dust is really bad such as following or passing another vehicle. Obviously it's not much of an issue on the tarmac or after a rain shower either.

Despite the obvious attractions of a Tough I think you'd be disappointed with the results compared to using an SLR. Safari is one of the best ever opportunities for wildlife photography and you'd kick yourself if you didn't get the best shots your kit will run to.
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Old 2nd March 2015
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Re: Going on safari

Thanks for a ver comprehensive and informative article, David. I'm sure it will be of great interest and practical benefit to many forum members.
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Old 5th March 2015
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Re: Going on safari

Prompted by David's helpful article I've done some more research for our trip.

Of the optional things I listed in my post above I'll be taking the second E-M1 body, and for non-game drive use I'll add the 45mm f1.8 (to get background isolation for portraits etc) and my Samyang fisheye (for a bit of fun).

The whole lot will fit in my LowePro 202 slingback bag with a bare iPad, one charger & cable, a couple of batteries and the must-have stuff like prescription pills and a change of underwear, and it comes in at the Federal Air 5kg carry-on limit as long as my dear lady wife carries the second E-M1 body and I put a few small things in the pockets of a light jacket I'll be wearing or carrying.

All the other flights are either unlimited carry-on (BA) or 8kg (SAA), which will be much easier. How people manage with the weight of Canikon full frame or APSC gear I really don't know (although you can get a higher carry-on allowance by going 'business class' on Federal, at significant expense). I suppose they have to drive for hours rather than fly.

There is some helpful practical info on m4/3 kit used on game drives in this article and some more recent ones on the site: http://www.photographers.travel/the-...5-safari-2014/

There's also some really good safari advice to be found on the Africa section of the FlyerTalk forum, which we used last time too: you have to register, but have a look here, for example, when you have: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/afric...ps-tricks.html

I hope this is useful.
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Old 5th March 2015
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Re: Going on safari

5kg of baggage is certainly a challenge, even with MFT. Mine weighs about 9kg with the laptop although if I was less fussy I could put a few things in the hold baggage. Even so SWMBO ended up carrying the 50-200.

I hope this series of posts encourages others to take the plunge.
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Old 22nd March 2015
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Re: Going on safari

What I should have mentioned, and did not, was the cost. The exchange rate for the Rand was favourable when we went (and is even better now). The basic cost for the two of us for 8 nights (7 in the park and one at Rissington) was £2,063. This covered accomodation, vehicle, fuel and food for self catering.

Not included in this figure were air fares to J'oburg, conservation fee and out of pocket expenses. The conservation fee is significantly more for non SA nationals. We bought a Wild Card for £155. This covers two people for twelve months and if you are going to be in the park (it also covers most other parks in SA) for more than about five days is cheaper than the daily rate. Of course to get the best value from the Wild Card you need to stay longer or make a second visit later in the year!

Costs included self catering but we did have a couple of meals out. A bottle of wine in a restaurant is under £10 and food prices are comparable so eating out is far from expensive.

Overall this is significantly cheaper than going on a dedicated photo safari!
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Old 17th June 2015
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Re: Going on safari

We had a wonderful trip: I've been catching up for the past couple of weeks so I've only just got round to processing some images, but here are a few.

All went really well, and I'm very grateful to David (Melaka) for his advice.

Impala sunset
P5303833 by drmarkf, on Flickr

Lilac breasted roller
Lilac Breasted Roller by drmarkf, on Flickr

Chombe village boys
Chombe boys by drmarkf, on Flickr

Madikwe cheetah
P5313954 by drmarkf, on Flickr

Zulu memorial, iSandlwana
Q5174018 by drmarkf, on Flickr

What makes you think this log's cold, exactly?
P5283664 by drmarkf, on Flickr

Cape Maclear sunset
Q5244651 by drmarkf, on Flickr

Taken with the 40-150 f2.8 plus/minus 1.4 t/c, or the 12-35 f2.8.
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Old 18th June 2015
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Re: Going on safari

I'm delighted to hear your safari went well. I hope your experience will encourage other forum members to take the plunge!
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Re: Going on safari

Quote:
Originally Posted by drmarkf View Post

There is some helpful practical info on m4/3 kit used on game drives in this article and some more recent ones on the site: <link removed>

I hope this is useful.
Hi there and thanks for quoting / linking my article! I'm glad it's been helpful to other Olympus and m43 users. I plan on writing a few more on there as we will be going on a few more safaris again this year and the local airline regulations for carry on have become quite strict. We are now only allowed 8kg carry on for domestic flights (doesn't help that I just bought a used 35-100/2.0, the researching of which has led me to this great site).
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Old 30th August 2015
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Re: Going on safari

This thread has been so helpful to me too. I'm off to Zimbabwe and Botswana next month - 15kg for hold with real restrictions on size of bag due to light aircraft. 5kg for hand luggage - that's a real test for me as I don't usually go light. Still, at least I won't have my heavy Canon gear. Want to do the night sky/star trails but can't take big tripod so have a little UltraPod II mini tripod which I hope will do the deed.
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Old 31st August 2015
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Re: Going on safari

Quote:
Originally Posted by TansySue View Post
This thread has been so helpful to me too. I'm off to Zimbabwe and Botswana next month - 15kg for hold with real restrictions on size of bag due to light aircraft. 5kg for hand luggage - that's a real test for me as I don't usually go light. Still, at least I won't have my heavy Canon gear. Want to do the night sky/star trails but can't take big tripod so have a little UltraPod II mini tripod which I hope will do the deed.
I leave for Botswana on Wednesday morning to join up with my guests who are already there with my business partner in the photo safaris I do. According to her they didn't weigh the hand luggage at the check-in when they were flying to Vic Falls from Johannesburg on Friday, so I am hoping that when I fly to meet them in Kasane that I will be spared that issue too. However, having said that, my kit for this year's trip will be well within the restrictions. I will be taking 2 x E-M1 bodies, the 40-150/2.8 PRO with 1.4x TC, the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO and Oly 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II. I will probably also take my little PEN E-PM2 but will see. The bulk of the weight in my carry on is likely to be from my MacBook Pro.

I'll let you guys know how the hand luggage thing works when I get back.
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Old 31st August 2015
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Re: Going on safari

Well I'd always thought a safari would be a holiday experience I'd never do. Having read this thread I'm not so sure now. Retirement beckons next year so just maybe will have to major discussion on the luxury elements for my better half Dave & Mark those images really show off the experience, nicely done guys. Dallas, great to have you posting here I'm sure your experiences will make some excellent reading/viewing in the future. Good luck with the upcoming travels.
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