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Lens dilemma for Kenya-Masai Mara

kenya photograpy masai mara lenses Nikon

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#41 janzin

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Posted 26 October 2016 - 09:50 PM

Thought I'd update this with my experience.

 

I was really happy with my decision to bring the Nikon 200-500. I was able to hand hold it all the time; ended up never using the clamp or the gimbal (waste of weight, oh well!) There were just a few times I wish I had that F4 (we actually had a lot of afternoon rain and cloudy skies) but the flexibility of the 200-500 made up for it.  I was even able to use the 1.4 converter a few times with this lens and it held up well enough.

 

Porini Lion filled my Molar bean bag, no problem (never bothered to fill the Kinesis as there were ample bean bags for hubby to use.) We ended up with a private vehicle at Porini (just due to the configurations of the other guests that were there--we got really lucky!). The private vehicle for the rest of our trip was outfitted with more beanbags of every type and shape then one would ever need.

 

The 70-200 was mostly on the D810 but I often put it on the D500 when I needed a faster aperture and things were close enough.

 

Only used the flash a couple of times. Due to a lot of rainy evenings, we only did two real night drives the entire trip. It seemed every time we set out for one, it would start pouring rain. Also due to this weather we had none of the famous Mara sunsets :(  So I only used the 24-120 a few times as well.  I think for my next similar trip I may get something like the Sony RX-100 or the Nikon DL (if it every comes out) to use for scenery. The Nikon V2 got used a bit for camp shots but not very much for scenery--I didn't have the right lens, as it broke just before the trip and I decided not to replace it.

 

Anyway, bottom line I was really happy with the 200-500. Its really a great lens, and it held up fine in all the bouncing and dust (which was one of my concerns.) Anyone want to buy a very nice Nikon 200-400 F4? :D (Seriously, I may sell it, but haven't quite committed to that yet.)

 

Plenty sharp at 500mm....

 

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Edited by janzin, 26 October 2016 - 09:52 PM.

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#42 pault

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Posted 27 October 2016 - 12:45 AM

Very glad you were happy with the call you made. If I were @Game Warden I would ask for the link to the trip report but I am not and so I will just try to remember the name of that bird, which is on the tip of my tongue but won't form into words.
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Waiting again... for the next time again


#43 janzin

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Posted 27 October 2016 - 03:14 AM

@pault the bird is the Purple Grenadier, fairly common in the Mara, but hard to photograph as it seems to run around constantly on the ground.  It was a lifer for me so I was happy!

 

Trip report is not yet written...first I have to process the photos...and I am still working on the culling process (10,000+ shot, I'm down to about 4200 but haven't finished yet!) So there's a long way to go before the trip report. Hopefully it will be done before the end of the year :rolleyes:

 

Next trip I am not going to shoot the D500 at 11 fps all the time! Way too many photos to delete! (on the other hand...you just never know when that one in a million moment might happen...)


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#44 pomkiwi

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Posted 19 January 2017 - 03:11 PM

2 weeks unti my first trip to the Mara  :) I will be taking hand luggage only and I'm currently pondering my camera packing list. Previously i've been to South Africa and had more lenient luggage weight limts than the 15kg offered in Kenya. My standard kit has been a D7200 with an 80-400 lens and a D7100 with 16-85 lens (both DX/crop format so good reach at the long end and adequate at the wide end). I would guess that the 80-400 gets used for at least 95% of my photos. This time I'm pondering substituting the D7100 / 16-85 lens with a Nikon J1 with a 10-30 lens which gives me equivalence to 18-55 on a DX camera).

Other than losing easy backup if anything happens to the D7200 does anyone see any likely issues with this plan?



#45 janzin

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Posted 19 January 2017 - 05:18 PM

@pomkiwi I am a big fan of the Nikon 1 (I have a V3) but not so much the lenses. I have now had three Nikon 1 lenses fail on me, and if you look at some message boards you find this is not uncommon.

 

I usually keep the V3 with the 10-30 or the 11-27.5 in my photo vest pocket for quick scenic photos. But both those lenses failed (along with a 30-110) and when they do, they do it fast--one day they work, the next they don't (it seems the lens diaphragm locks partially open.)  I've been waiting for the Nikon DL to be released but since it still hasn't been and it doesn't look like it will be in time for my next trip in early March, I just ordered a replacement 10-30 for my V2 (it wasn't under warranty and it cost less to buy a used one than have it serviced.) I had already bought a replacement for the 30-110 that failed!

 

Bottom line, if you bring the J1 I would definitely bring a couple of lenses for that camera in case one fails. (Since they are so small and light it is easy to toss in another lens.) The 18mm 1.8 is a nice lens and inexpensive, nice to have the speed for sunset or dawn photos.


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#46 Dave Williams

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Posted 19 January 2017 - 07:33 PM

@ janzin  Fascinating reading this thread which I have only just discovered. With my big trip soon about to take place I have similar dilemmas but the trip is different for me in as much as for only the second time I have had to consider both mammals as well as birds and my previous experience was very limited.

I thought your decision not to take either the 200-400 or 500f4  interesting. 

The 200-400 was for many years the envy of Canon users as it was the one lens where Nikon scored an advantage. I am aware that it did need extra technique ( whatever that might mean) but when Canon brought out their own version, even better with a built in TC, I decided if I ever went on a safari I would buy one.

Well, I am going and I haven't bought one.

Why?

At the end of the day it's main use would be limited for me and as someone pointed out , Canon's 100-400 f4.5 -5.6 is a much more portable lens, razor sharp and a fraction of the price. I was pleased to read you were happy with your decision to settle for the 200-500. I bought a 100-400 for my trip and that has the same potential weaknesses re dust etc but I can live with that until it happens! 

If I would you I'd sell the 200-400 and buy a 300mm f2.8 for BIF if you find the 500mm too heavy to hand hold.

My biggest dilemma is which of my 500mm or 600mm f4 lenses I should take. The former is so hand holdable, the latter hasn't but 20% extra reach is not to be sniffed at! For birds though I have to take one of them if not both.

It was also interesting to hear you hadn't used your flash unit. I have decided I probably won't take mine either but what about a remote control? Did you have one, you didn't mention it? 

I guess one of the biggest considerations is where you are going to be taking photos too. If it's out of a car window and from a confined space the priorities are different to standing outdoors. I will definitely need a tripod and head but at least that can travel in the hold baggage so the weight isn't such an issue.



#47 pault

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Posted 20 January 2017 - 12:15 AM

Dave,is the tripod for the waterholes and walking around camp? i think the 200-400 is supposed to resolve the dilemma of which to bring. An all in one lens for the larger creatures - going 200-560 without a change. But since you have all those nice lenses already you can do without.

If you take the 600 you'll likely use the 100-400 for more of your wildlife shots, due to portability and focal length - lot of shots at the long end of the 100-400! Tough decision indeed given your birding priorities, especially if you are counting the difference in focal length with a TC. I vote for 500, although everyone takes the lens I didn't pick for some reason, so you'll doubtless end up deciding on the 600. Mind the gap though.

Waiting again... for the next time again


#48 Geoff

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Posted 20 January 2017 - 12:31 AM

If you're in a vehicle with others that a predominantly using shorter length tele lenses (say in the 100-400mm range) or you cannot control the positioning of the vehicle for subject distance then the 600mm is a complete waste of time.  You're better off with a 300mm f/2.8 with both converters. Even though you'll loose a stop of light using a 2.0 TC and slower AF it is still very acceptable for birds and much easier to cart around.


Geoff.

#49 xelas

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Posted 20 January 2017 - 08:47 AM

@Dave Williams

 

Most of your photographing will be either on foot around lodges, or from the car, thus bring the longest lens you owe! A bean bag for when in the car, although a molar bag would be even better, not to mentioned those special door contraptions. A tripod or monopod for when on foot. I have had zero issues with light, maybe just the opposite, too much (harsh) light between 10:00 and 15:00.



#50 Dave Williams

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Posted 20 January 2017 - 09:12 AM

@Geoff   I swapped my 300mmf2.8 for a Canon 100-400 Mk2 as I wasn't getting much use out of the 300 since I went full frame, however, I recently bought a 7D2 which is a crop body to we will see if I come to regret it. The 300 makes a very handhold able and adaptable lens but on my limited safari experience I found it there too much reach for most mammals on a 1.5 Nikon 300s even without a TC. ( and that was where you are not allowed off road). I also find I'm equally comfortable hand holding with a 500Mk2 vs a 300f2.8 Mk1. It's all about the weight distribution. One day in the future I will probably sell the 600, possibly the 500 too, and settle for the super lightweight 400mmDO f4, a Canon speciality. However, as long as I'm able the current lens offer a keep fit regime too!

 

I have plenty of experience of birding out of a car window and I have to admit, the 600mm is pretty unwieldy due to it's bulk. Once it's manoeuvred in to position it's not such a problem. I would only contemplate two people in a "normal" car so that the front seat is always free to store gear and both shooters can go to either side if needed. For mammals I fully expect the 100-400 will be a lens of choice for me but I'll use a bigger lens for birds. Still deciding on the verdict for that one.

 

@pault   During my trip I will have 6 days definitely inside Etosha were there will be little option other than to sit in the car or wander around camp. Depending on how that goes I can increase the number of Etosha visits just entering for the day. A lot of photo opportunities may well occur as we are travelling in the rest of Namibia too so at these times the weight of the 600 is less important than the bulk. When I'm in a position to go walkabout which again might be as many as 10 or 11 days, the weight issue comes in to play. Both my big lenses are the lightweight versions but the 600 pushes my limits whereas the 500 is no problem for quite some time when it comes to hand holding. No matter which of the two I decide on I will use a tripod in preference to hand holding though. It's easier to compose a shot to say nothing of relief from carrying a lens and the ability to leave everything set up yet walk away when you want to... a reason I don't even comntemplate buying a monopod.

 

Why did I end up with both super teles ? Basically, some flights have such a limited cabin allowance the 600 is a no go and I don't want to put it in the hold. I actually bought the 500 after I sold the 600mmMK1 but at the same time went full frame from a 1.3 crop body and I really noticed the lack of reach ( hence selling the 300f2.8) . In the future who knows, I might even decide to take a fly-in safari but with only 15kgs , the usual total luggage allowance, weight will be critical.

 

As for the 200-400 f4. Well, Canon's version doesn't seem to have any problems through the focal length but there again not that many people have one so reports are limited. A photographer friend of mine put the thought of acquiring one straight out of my mind  when you compare cost and product performance. You can stick a 1.4 TC on the 100-400 and with today's cameras you can bump the ISO considerably more than you could when Nikon's 200-400 was launched. I imagine that you would be using a smaller aperture most of the time for DOF when photographing large creatures so that's one advantage nullified. At the other end 200mm might be too long too so the 100-400 suddenly has that advantage as well as weight and bulk too and as far as price is concerned, well it's chalk and cheese. 



#51 pault

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Posted 20 January 2017 - 10:33 AM

Dave... yes the weight ssue is a personal thing. but I was referring to that usage in a vehicle rather than outside - theory that anything you can't easily lift and swing one-handed tends to get used less.- especially after you've sprung one of your vertebrae. You put up with if for birding because you have no option. You'll be using the 100-400 anyway for animals, and so my finding (based on a survey of one - me) is that you will gradually use the vertebrae-popper less and less.

 

I think you're on top if the thought process though!

 

The 500 AND 600??? With a 15kg limit. Nudity will get you arrested quicker than camouflage though - so maybe wear three layers of clothes for the flights or something - just to keep you covered?

 

I see your friend's logic re. 200-400 and think Canojn kind of killed it by bringing out a better 100-400, but it does make sense for vehicle safari. That one lens - lots of low-light shooting. Changing lens in vehcile is strongly not recomemnded in Etosha. All a matter of opinion though and not a birder's lens I guess. 


Edited by pault, 20 January 2017 - 10:34 AM.

Waiting again... for the next time again


#52 Geoff

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Posted 20 January 2017 - 10:47 AM

In the future who knows, I might even decide to take a fly-in safari but with only 15kgs , the usual total luggage allowance, weight will be critical.. 

 

@Dave Williams  you need to consider Sth Luangwa, the flight to Mfuwe allows 23 Kgs.

 

Also if you're going to the Mara what you do is purchase a child's seat for your extra weight. For the extra minimal cost you can take 30 kgs and put the 600mm on the seat next to you. 


Edited by Geoff, 20 January 2017 - 10:49 AM.

Geoff.

#53 Dave Williams

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Posted 20 January 2017 - 12:18 PM

Interesting options @Geoff

 

One thing that struck me a slightly strange @janzin was your statement that as you'd already been to Tanzania you didn't think you'd see any new birds. Was this a deciding factor on your decision not to take the 500mm? I guess if your interest isn't really avian I can understand but personally no matter what I have seen before I always hope to get better and more interesting shots next time out.

 

@pault I wasn't intending taking an internal African flight yet but my recent trip to The Gambia only allowed 15kg hold and 6 kgs hand baggage from the UK. That's package holidays for you. You can't buy extra hand but hold luggage was available for about £30 for another 5kgs. 

 

@xelas Been out this morning with just the 500mm and wished I had the 600mm when the action was 50m away!


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#54 AmyT

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 02:24 PM

@pault, @janzin, @pomkiwi and all others!

 

What would you recommend for an enthusiastically optimistic beginner with a Nikon D7100?  I know that I will need more than my usual Sigma 18-250 for my upcoming trip to Kenya. 

 

Are there online courses somewhere that explain bracketing in layperson's terms?  



#55 pomkiwi

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 02:59 PM

@AmyT I used my Nikon 80-400 most of the time and I don't think you need much longer much of the time unless you are particularly interested in birds. Occasionally I would use a shorter lens on a different body but in general if the animal in question got that close it was time to put the camera down and enjoy the moment!

 

Bracketing involves taking a number of pictures with different exposures (essentially). It is not anything I have found necessary on safari - in general the camera (both Nikon D7100 and D7200) judges exposure pretty well and as I shoot in RAW adjustment is easy using a programme such as Lightroom.  I don't have any info on video resources but have found Thom Hogan's manuals on the Nikon cameras very useful in learning more about their use.


Edited by pomkiwi, 09 March 2017 - 03:38 PM.


#56 Peter Connan

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 05:39 PM

There are a variety of functions which you can "bracket". Essentially, you take a string of photos, whith the camera automatically adjusting the selected setting above and below what the camera thinks is ideal.

 

The variable, number of shots, size of the variance and order in which the shots are taken can all be adjusted.

 

To my mind, the most useful bracketing variable is exposure, and to be honest I tend to use it only when trying to shoot a scene in which the dynamic range is such that I expect to have to do an HDR rendering. In other words, I will later on blend all the photos in that HDR string together into a single image.

 

To activate exposure bracketing, there is a button on side of the camera close to the built-in flash. Rotating the two control wheels while pressing this will adjust the number of images in the string and the variance between values.


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#57 Dave Williams

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 05:44 PM

Looking back on my trip to  Namibia I could have left so much weight at home. Tripod and head not used very much as nearly all my shots taken from the car which will be the case for most folk I would think. A decent beanbag a wise bit of kit.

I didn't use my flash, hardly used the 24-105 and the 70-200. I took two shorter lenses, the 70-200 and the 100-400 so my o/h Claire could use one but she didn't bother after the first day preferring to use her iPhone and iPad.

That left me using both the 100-400 and my 600f4. I tend to use a full frame body most so 600=600 whereas on a D7100 it would theoretically be 900mm. In reality the picture quality is better on a full frame body so you can crop to a greater extent which reduces the apparent deficit.

For most mammal occasions the 100-400 was perfectly good but I did use the 600 with TC's attached, even the 2x with a crop body, the 7D,( I'm a Canon user if you hadn't guessed!)

For birds the 600 was hardly ever long enough without a TC on it.

 

As a Nikon user you have a crop body, the perfect combination would be an 80-400 or the 200-500. I know little about them in terms of performance and price, well not true. I used to own a MK1 version of the 80-400 but sold it as it wasn't suitable for my needs . It's very slow to focus, noisy but takes pin sharp pictures.The Mk2 should be loads better. I think they are expensive though. The cheaper option might be a 300mm f4 plus a TC ( not sure how good they are now either but even a 2.0x might be OK, I'd ask others first though) but then you loose the zoom which is so very useful and one I was pleased to have.

If you want to get full frame pictures of individual beasts you need more than your 18-250mm most of the time but to be honest it's very easy to become obsessed about fine detail and in doing so forget the big picture.If all the shot shows is the animal it could just as easily be taken in a zoo.Maybe that's why my o/h Claire decided she was using her iPad or iPhone. She took some excellent scenic shots including the animals with them.

 

The most important bits of kit are a spare battery and plenty of card space. Try not to delete anything until you get a chance to check it out on a bigger screen than the camera and if you get the chance take lots of shots using different settings. I would advise anyone to use manual settings from the off. Use the camera's light meter to tell you if you are roughly in the right place for exposure and if you can't  really see the result using the back screen to check the shot because the light is too bright, check out the histogram.

Bracketing is basically doing the same thing  in as much as it lets you decide how many shots either side of your "chosen estimated perfect figure"  you want to take at different exposures. If you choose -1/+1 you get three shots one darker, one lighter and one as you told it to in the first place. Depending on the camera you can take 2 or 3 darker/lighter ones and you can tell it if you want a full stop, ( big difference) or as little as a1/3 stop( not much difference) for each one. If you have decided to bracket -2/+2 you press the shutter button and keep it pressed whilst the camera takes 5 shots. Then it stops. You need to take your finger off and press again to take more. I was advised to use bracketing from the beginning by someone who doesn't. I haven't either.

You'll realise why if you do. You might get a different pose for each shot if the subject is moving and it's sod's law the perfectly exposed one is not the best pose! Try to learn to pre-empt the correct light in your original setting. In manual you can choose three ways, shutter speed, f number or ISO setting. Take five shots that are all the same and then you won't be frustrated by the one that has the wrong pose right light. Try to fix it in post processing if it needs it. As Pomkiwi suggests, shoot in RAW.


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#58 xelas

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 09:37 PM

I am so sorry to contradict a fellow photographer, and a great one like @Dave Williams , but his sentence "I tend to use a full frame body most so 600=600 whereas on a D7100 it would theoretically be 900mm.". Unfortunately, marketing people from both black&white side has started to share this misconception and we, users, are sharing it further afield.

 

The 600 mm on a full frame body will be a 600 mm on full frame. The 600 mm on crop body will be the 600 mm on cropped body. So basically, one would end with same photo if:

A. using the same lens at same distance on full frame size sensor and cropped the image to 1.5 (1.6) factor

B. using the same lens at same distance on cropped (smaller in size to so called full frame) sensor

There is more to the story, when either of above images has to be cropped further, but that is already entering into details.

 

 

@AmyT , the selection of the lens depends on the type of the wildlife you are planning to photograph, and on the type of the park/game drives you will be participating. Visiting National Parks, and/or self driving, the photographer is constraint to stay on the roads, and is at the mercy of the wildlife. Usually, most of the wildlife tend to stay well away, and long zoom lens like 80-400 or 200-500 is usually used on its longer end. If photographing in private reserves, where driver will took you much closer, then 70-200 or 70-300 is much used zoom.

 

We have started our safari photography with D7100 with 300f/4+TC14 = 420 mm and D90 with 70-200 f/4. For larger mammals like elephants and giraffes and zebras at waterholes, D90 at 200 mm was often used. For cats and for birds, the 420 was the tool used.

Second trip, in Kgalagadi, we have used almost exclusively the D7100 with 300f/4+TC14 = 420 mm, as wildlife tends to be further away, or smaller in size, and were too short for many birds.

Third trip, Kgalagadi again, we have used the TC17 thus the 300mm -> 510 mm. While the final IQ did suffer a little, and focusing was not that fast, end results were acceptably good. All thanks to the excellent light - plenty of sun.

For the fourth safari, in Kruger NP we used D7200 with 200-500 f/5.6. This combination is the very best for hobby/non-pro photographers, IMO. The focus speed is excellent, the HighISO less noisy in comparison with D7100, and 200-500 gave us option to take photos of big mammals on short end (200 mm), and photographing cats+birds on long end (500 mm), by only turning the zoom.

 

So my advice is to buy yourself one of the long zooms that are now on the market: Nikon has 200-500, and both Tamron and Sigma has 150-600 lenses. They are all suitable candidates for safari photography.

 

I have never used bracketing, so no help with this. There are three important advices already shared above:

1. have at least 2 batters, 3 or more are better

2. have plenty of SD cards, never delete or format before back home

3. take photos in RAW

4. enjoy photography with whatever tools you have/will have. You will love your photos because they will be part of you!


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#59 AmyT

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 11:45 PM

We will be in reserves most of the time, but will venture into Amboseli and the Mara.  Daughter will use her Lumix and iPhone and probably have superior photos.

 

There are two lenses available used that I'm interested in...the Nikkor AF-S 80-400 and the Sigma 150-600 Sport lens; both used at roughly the same price.  Opinions?

 

I have two batteries and a power bank (bought for hubby but will take along without him.)  

 

Will I need beanbags for Porini camps?  

 

Thanks!



#60 Alexander33

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Posted 10 March 2017 - 12:55 AM

@AmyT

Until they come out with a 14-600 f/2.8 that is lightweight and affordable (I know, keep dreaming....), this decision is going to involve a number of trade-offs, and you just have to decide which things are most important to you and which things you can either put up with or go without.

I would certainly recommend more reach than 250mm, even on a body with a cropped sensor like the D7100. A zoom lens is going to give you a lot more flexibility than a prime, although most experts agree that primes yield sharper images.

Whatever lens you ultimately choose, make sure it's one with a fast, responsive autofocus and that you've practiced with your lens/body combo enough to feel really comfortable with the controls and end product. (Believe me, when you are fortunate enough to spend an afternoon with 5 cheetah cubs playing in straw-colored grass in beautiful sunlight, the last thing you want to do is come home and realize that the cubs in all of your shots are soft but the blades of grass in front of them are razor sharp).

If I were told I could bring only one lens on safari, I think I'd choose the 80-400 (newest version) because of its versatility and autofocus capabilities. But if I could take 2 lenses, I'd probably take the 200-500 and my newest toy, the newly released 70-200 f/2.8. (And, you always want to slip in a wider angle lens for landscapes plus the occasional friendly elephant or buffalo).

So now for the tradeoffs:

1. 80-400

Pros: Greater versatility, faster autofocus, lighter weight, smaller dimensions.
Cons: More expensive (like almost 70% more: $1,400 vs. $2,300), 100mm less reach, images sometimes slightly less sharp

2. 200-500

Pros: Greater reach, cheaper, images sometimes slightly sharper
Cons: Less versatility, autofocus is more sluggish, heavier and bulkier

I have not used the 300 f/4, so I can't comment on that. I also do not use teleconverters, but I do not hear good things about them when used with zoom lenses. (The 300 with a 1.4 TC seems to generate positive reviews). Also, I have not owned any of the super zooms from Tamron or Sigma, as I've always preferred the Nikon lenses when trying those out.

Like @xelas, I find that the D7200 is noticeably better than the D7100 in both sharpness and at higher ISO levels.

Speaking of which, if you do take more than one lens, I'd highly recommend you find room to take along another camera body. You don't want to be changing lenses out in the field. So this might be a good time to beg, borrow or...rent a D7200 and try it out. I mention the D7200 instead of the D500 (which has gotten rave reviews) simply because the controls are all the same as on the D7100.

And if you were to bring two camera bodies, that might simplify your decision. Since you already have the Sigma 18-250, why not try the 200-500, which, taken together, would give you 18-500 on a cropped sensor? That's pretty great coverage.

By the way, welcome to the slippery slope. We took our first safari in 2013 (South Africa) and brought a Nikon Coolpix P520 and an i-Phone. Fast forward 3 1/2 years, and we now have 3 D7200s, a 200-500, an 80-400, a 70-200 2.8, a 16-85 and a 10-24, flashes, flash brackets, a travel tripod and 2 LowePro backpacks and a LowePro lens case to put it all in -- and a much smaller bank account. But nothing beats the memories and photos we have since accumulated. Have a great trip!

Edited by Alexander33, 10 March 2017 - 01:00 AM.

  • amybatt and AmyT like this

"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."  -- Unknown 






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