Camera equipment for African trip

March 18, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

It is a difficult exercise in preparing a trip about which camera equipment to bring or rather which camera equipment to leave behind. It may also mean that I just have too much stuff. If I just owned only one camera and lens it would be an easy exercise.


I sold my Nikon D3S last weekend (or rather exchanged it against a two month old Nikon D800 and some cash). I know there are many reviews  out on the internet that question the suitability of the D800 for wildlife photography.  As I own already a Nikon D4 my thought was that the D800 would give me more options in combination with the D4 compared to a combination of a D3S and a D4.


My first steps with the D800 were however not trouble fee. In the past I used the D3S in combination with the Sigma 50-500 but that combination failed on the D800. The images are soft and it seems that the autofocus is not spot on.

Before I blame the D800 I want to do some more testing as my Sigma 50-500 has been repaired already three times because of an autofocus problem. Perhaps it is because on a 36mp sensor when you crop at 100% any softness becomes more obvious than on a 12mp or on a 18mp sensor but on my old D300S and on the D4 the Sigma 50-500 seems to focus correctly.


As I do not want to come home with a series of unsharp images I purchased a licence of the Reical Focal camera  calibration software so that may hopefully resolve any front or backfocusing problems. I will test out the various body +lens combinations and see how much autofocus finetuning the software recommends and if finetuning really makes a big difference.


Before determining what to take on this upcoming trip I thought I list what I took on previous African trips and if there were any lessons learned.


Zambia and Botswana 2012

Nikon D4
Nikon D3S

nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8

Nikkor 200-400mm f/4 VR

Nikon 1.4 and 2.0 (III) teleconverters

Tripod + Gorillapod

Lessons learned: While it is possible to autofocus up to an F8 lens with the D4 and thus a 2.0 (III) teleconverter in combination with an F4 lens can be used, the quality of images is not good enough. The Nikon 200-400mm seems to only work correctly with the 1.4 teleconverter . All other converters result in too much loss of image quality. 

white rhino, Kalahari, Botswana

The Nikkor 14-24 was ideal for the Victoria falls but of limited use for the remainder of the trip. The tripod was only of use for the lunar rainbow at the Victoria falls.

Full circle rainbow over the Victoria falls


The Sigma 50-500 is a great lens because of its flexibility but the autofocus broke down during the trip (already the third time the autofocus collapsed on that lens). In the camera store they told me that that lens was not made for the speed of the Nikon D3S. As I had to get it repaired already three times, I do not want to rely solely on this lens on any future trip


Ethiopia 2012

Nikon D3S

Nikkor 16-35mm F4

Sigma 50-500mm f 4.5-6.3 apo dg hsm nikon

Leica M 9

Voigtländer 50mm F 1.1

Leica 90 mm F.2

Voigtländer 12mm 5.6

Leica 28mm F 2.8

Joby Gorillapod

Lessons Learned:

I used the Sigma 50-500 for 90% of the time until the autofocus broke down two days before the end of the trip. It is a great lens  for taking pictures out of a driving car. 

Going to the market- Series "Ethiopian street photography"

I did not use the Leica 90mm much because it not suited  for sharp images while driving and it is too long to take portraits out of  a car window when the car is parked.  The voigtländer 12mm was of limited use too. The 28 mm and the 50 mm 1.1 were my favorite lenses for use on the Leica M when visiting the churches.  

Rock hewn churches, Lalibela, UNESCO world heritage site

Kenya and Tanzania 2011

Nikon D300S

Nikon 80-400

Tamron 18-270

Nikon 12-24

Joby Gorillapod

Leica M9

Voigtländer 50mm 1.1

Leica 28mm F 2.8

Leica 90 mm F.2

Lessons learned:

The images of that trip (combination Nikon D300S and 80-400 lens) were much softer than those taken with the Sigma 50-500 lens on a Nikon D3S.


The Sigma 50-500 is definitely a sharper lens than the Nikon 80-400.

The Nikon 12-24 was seldom used as the 28 mm Leica was more than sufficient for landscapes as can be seen with the image of mount Kilimanjaro below.

What are my initial thoughts on lenses for the upcoming Kenyan trip

Kenya 2013:

Nikon 24-70 f2.8 ( instead of 14-24 mm/16-35mm)

Sigma 50-500 if I can get it calibrated for the D800 (instead of Nikon 80-400).

Nikon 200-400 + 1.4 converter

Nikon 70-200 F2.8 + 2x converter (in case the Sigma 50-500 were to fail again)

Joby gorillapod (instead of tripod)





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