Recommended Gear

A photo safari in Africa can be a different experience for many of us, so it's important to keep in mind certain necessities you may not normally require for other destinations.

Jump to the bottom of the page to see recommendations on: clothing & toiletries, medication and money and other paperwork.

Photo Gear

Since this is a photo tour mainly taking place in a vehicle, we should discuss some of essentials and other recommended gear that will let you take advantage of some exciting photo opportunities. While it's easy to just try to bring all your gear and see what works best once you get there, weight considerations also need to factor into your packing decisions.

One or Two Camera Bodies
If you're interested in this tour, you probably own a digital SLR camera body. You do not require a "high end" body to come away from this trip with great pictures, though it does help to have a body that shoots a decent quantity of "frames per second" (for those action moments) and works moderately well in low light conditions (for evening/night game drives). Overall though, any DSLR body paired with a solid lens will do the trick. We generally recommend two camera bodies so it's easier to switch between long and wide shooting situations, or in case something happens to your main body. However, this is certainly not a requirement.

Verreaux's eagle-owl
A camera that handles high ISO well is handy on night drives.
Here are some camera body suggestions: * - In Max's bag

More Importantly: A Good Lens (or Two)
Most photographers will tell you that good "glass" is more important than a good body. This rings true in Africa, though really the most important thing for this tour is to make sure you're covered in terms of Image Stabilization and Focal Length.

Image Stabilization (Vibration Reduction for Nikon users) can typically save between 2-4 stops of light. In common jargon, it reduces that shaking we all produce by handling our cameras, helping make for sharper images in conditions where we may not have much shutter speed to work with. It's a good idea if your main lens for this tour has IS/VR/OS, since much of our shooting will be with the help of a bean bag or monopod (or hand-held), not with the use of a sturdy tripod.

Ideal Focal Length is an important consideration, and our destinations play a role in determining what is "ideal." In Kruger National Park, we are confined to the road, so we are at the mercy of the wildlife there and where it decides to appear. Often this is right next to the road, but sometimes it's further away. MalaMala, on the other hand, allows us to go off-road in pursuit of wildlife, so we have more opportunities to get close. The minimal focal length we recommend for your longest lens is 400mm. In Kruger, I found that having a 500mm lens was useful, but in Mala Mala it was sometimes too long. The Nikkor 200-400mm or Canon 200-400mm would be ideal for Mala Mala. A zoom lens akin to the 70-200mm or 70-300mm would certainly work well as a "second" or backup lens for closer encounters.

Leopard with cub
Sometimes 500mm is too much lens!
Keep in mind, you'll likely want to bring multiple lenses to handle a variety of situations. The most common combination is a long lens with a medium-long range zoom. A wider lens would be desired for those opting for the Mashatu extension, where we will be shooting close-ups from their underground hides.

Here are some recommended lenses that work well for this Africa tour. Please note that these are mostly Canon lenses, so Nikon users should look for their equivalents. For those thinking about purchasing new gear for this trip but are worried about cost, both Sigma and Tamron make decent lenses which have many of the same functions as Canon and Nikon, but cost significantly less.

  • Canon EF 500mm f/4 IS*
  • Canon 200-400mm IS
  • Canon 100-400mm IS
  • Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS*
  • Canon 24-70mm 2.8*
  • Canon 17-40mm*
  • Nikkor 500mm f/4
  • Nikon 200-400mm f/4
* - In Max's bag

There are plenty of other lens options as well. A teleconverter can come in handy too.

Tripods, Monopods and Beanbags
Though we will mainly be driving around and shooting from vehicles, you will want to have a stabilization option with you. A beanbag is the most common tool used in vehicular-based photography, usually propped on a window or railing. Beanbags can also be useful in the various hides we may visit. If you purchase a beanbag to bring with you, you can empty it to save on weight for the flight to Africa and then fill it locally with ingredients purchased at a grocery store (beans, lentils, rice, etc.).

You will not have many opportunities to use a fully extended tripod. However, you may want to bring it (or a monopod) in order to prop your camera and lens higher while seated in the tour vehicle. At Mala Mala, for example, the support bars in the Land Rover may prove to be too low for a bean bag, in which case you'll want to set up your monopod (or tripod serving as a monopod) at eye level.

Other Gear and Accessories
Here are some additional items we recommend to fill your photo bag. All of these items can be found in Max's bag.

  • Second or backup camera body
  • Teleconverter
  • Flash
  • Rain gear! (Even if it's just a plastic bag... yes, it does rain occasionally in Africa)
  • Extra memory cards & storage (such as the Nexto DI storage device)
  • Extra batteries
  • Lens cloth, pen brush
  • Polarizer

Photo Bags
Finding a way to comfortably pack and carry all this gear can be challenging. We recommend either a good photo pack or rolling bag, keeping in mind that you have to tote the rest of your luggage around as well! Because we are flying on small planes during the trip, it's important to pack gear that fits on-board!

If you're looking for a good photo pack or small rolling bag, check out Think Tank Photo.

Gear Rentals:
I shoot with Canon equipment. If you are interested in renting a lens for the tour (e.g., 300mm 2.8 IS, 100-400mm IS), please let me know.

Medication

Kruger and MalaMala are both situated in an area where malaria has been known to occur. Though it is quite rare during the dry season, we suggest you consult with your physician or travel clinic to obtain a professional recommendation about whether you should bring malaria medication on the trip.

Clothing, Toiletries & Gear

Regardless of whether you're going to take pictures, you need to make sure you are prepared for Africa. Your main concerns should be sun, heat and dust. We are traveling in the dry season, meaning conditions are somewhat milder, but it can still get quite hot at times.

Some Clothing Items to Remember:

  • Jacket/sweatshirt or fleece (it can be cold in mornings and evenings)
  • Warm hat/light gloves
  • Hat to protect from sun
  • Sunglasses
  • Shorts
  • Swim Trunks (we will have downtime in the middle of the day)
Other Gear:
  • Headlamp or Flashlight
  • Bug Repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Essential Toiletries (toothpaste, deodorant, contact lenses, eyeglasses, etc.)
  • Anti-malarial medication (See note above)
  • Moleskin or Foot Tape
  • Ziploc Bags
  • Energy Bars or other snacks (keep well-sealed to avoid attracting ants/critters)
  • Laptop, tablet, eReader, etc. to keep you entertained during downtime
  • Water Purification Tablets or Steripen (Optional: the water in South Africa is potable)

A Note About Packing

It's generally recommended that you pack as lightly as possible, particularly if you are bringing heavy photo gear. Some of the domestic charters and flights we'll be taking will have stricter weight limits for baggage. A great way to save space in your luggage is by using travel compressor bags for consolidating clothing.

Money and Paperwork

Don't forget these essentials or you won't get very far!

Passport:
You'll never make it to South Africa without it!

Cash:
US Dollars may be sufficient for tipping some of your guides, but for the most part you'll want to pay for items in South African Rand. Be prepared to bring some with you or get it from the cash machine when you arrive. You'll need cash primarily for tips, as well as food, gifts or other expenses in places that don't take credit cards.

Credit Cards:
You can use your credit cards at many of the locations we'll visit, but you should note that some stores and shops in Kruger may not accept them.

Copies of Your Important Documents:
Be sure to have a copy or scanned backup of your important documents stored in a different location that said documents!