What kind of lens should I get to go on safari?

I might be going to Kenya for a safari this summer. If I do, I plan on getting this camera when it comes out next month: http://www.usa.canon.com/consumer/controller?act=ModelInfoAct&fcategoryid=139&modelid=18385.

I was also thinking of getting a telephoto lens as well since I imagine a lot of what I want to photograph will be pretty far away. I’d appreciate any ideas on a lens that would be good for the trip, but also a) not so large as to a huge PITA; and b) something that would be practical for day to day use and not just this one trip.

Any advice and comments are always appreciated.

I have an older version of this 70-300mm lens that I brought on safari when I was in Africa. I’m by no means a sophisticated photographer, but I was pretty happy with the results. The image stabilization works pretty well. It is also not particularly bulky or heavy.

Thanks Darryl Lict, I’m not a sophisticated photographer either. Your suggestion sounds like it might fit the bill.

I’m just a beginner in terms of cameras (I bought a digital one for about $150).
But I got some fantastic closeups of elephants, rhinos, giraffes and zebra, because the safari company got me so close to them.

(I was in the Pilansberg Game Reserve @ Sun City.)

A lot of the answers will depend on your budget. I think that perhaps the ultimate all-in-one reasonably portable safari lens would be Canon’s 28-300 IS L, but as you can see, that’s not cheap.

Various other manufacturers make lenses in the same zoom range, but which thankfully cost a lot less, including:

Tamron: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/347531-REG/Tamron_AF061C700_28_300mm_f_3_5_6_3_XR_Di.html

and Sigma: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/389308-REG/Sigma_795101_28_300mm_f_3_5_6_3_DG_IF.html

I think it all boils down to two things: how much weight are you willing to carry, and how much weight are you willing to lose from your wallet? Given that the camera you plan to buy already comes with the 18-55 kit lens (and a very decent lens for the price, I might add), I think you need to look at the longer end of things. I’ve had a Sigma 70-300 and not been particularly impressed with the quality of the photographs, but that might also be due to the fact that I spend a lot of time on photography forums where people have 500mm monsters.

Good places to look for reviews:


Personally, I would look for a lens that goes up to 300mm at the long end, at the very minimum. I think you’ll miss out on a lot of opportunities without a decent long zoom. Of course, the longer the better, but that increases both weight and cost.

I think the lens that Darryl linked to is about the upper end on size and price. Anything much more than that and I couldn’t really justify the expense vs. the amount of use and my level of skill. I’d hate to spend a lot of money on something I never use (like that stupdid life insurance policy I have).

Is the IS feature really worth the extra money, the same lens without it is quite a bit less.

The camera you are looking at has a crop sensor, meaning to find the effective focal length of any lens you have to multiply by 1.6. So at the long end you’re shooting with a 470mm lens. IS is critical in allowing you to reduce camera shake at that focal length, it becomes very difficult to hand hold a shot unless you have lots and lots of light.

So, get the IS version, or carry a tripod with you.

Ooh - take a bean bag thingie instead of a tripod. I went on safari in Tanzania in 2007 with my hubby and parents, and Mom had a monster lens (well, monster lens to me. We’re all amateurs. It might not be that big to someone who’s really into photography.) Instead of a tripod, she had this bean bag type thing that she used to set her lens on. It worked really well in the poptop Toyotas that we were riding in.

If that was the only use for the lens, then I’d agree. But you can hand hold a 450mm lens with IS in daylight. That makes it much more versatile and valuable if you get the IS version. Also, I’m pretty sure the optics are better on the IS version, the specs don’t tell the whole story.

Yes, get a long lens but not because the action will be far away. We went to Tanzania April 2008 and were thrilled at how close the animals were. The furthest animal that we could see and still get a decent picture was a black rhino which was about a kilometre away. If the animals were further away than that, we had difficulty composing the shot since it was difficult seeing them. The long lens will allow you to get amazing closeups though. We were using a Canon S3IS (36 - 432mm equiv. (12x optical zoom)) and got some nice shots. Keep in mind that the camera resolution (15MP) will also allow you to postprocess the pics to zoom and crop when you get home.

Also, take lots of memory cards. They are (relatively) cheap now and you don’t want to be caught short. Oh, and don’t let my 6 year old son play with the camera and delete 2 days of pictures.

BTW, prior to the safaris we were told in very clear language that you always stay in the truck! Our lunch spots were obvious picnic areas within the parks, but never had any means of keeping the animals away from the area. One day we ate lunch at the side of the hippo pool in Ngorongoro crater. My wife didn’t discover until after we got home that one of the most dangerous animals in Africa is the hippo. She is still uneasy about how close we were.

Yeah, most of the time I was in a big truck where we didn’t get out until we were within a “safer” area. Sometimes the “safe” area was enclosed, and sometimes not. I could never figure out how a damn canvas tent would prevent a lion from eating you, but apparently not many tourists have been lion food (with the notable exception of Japanese tourists trying to pet lions in Kruger). We were told to never leave the tent during the night, which is problematic if you drink a lot of beer.

In other words, I found a tripod to be of limited usefulness. Something like this might be more useful, but I’ve never tried one. I’m guessing that the image stabilization cuts down on camera motion by about 80%. It really is amazing, and also you can use the camera in place of binoculars.

That said, there were numerous times that I actually hiked around. There’s a national park in Namibia where they have a high wall next to a watering hole where you could sit and watch the animals come and go from a pretty close vantage point. In the Okavango Delta, it seems to be pretty popular to hike around one of the islands. We had an elephant chase us which scared the fuck out of us. In Zimbabwe, there is a national park where I got within about 20 feet of a rhinoceros. Also in Rwanda, you hike up to go and see mountain gorillas, and even though you aren’t supposed to get within 10 meters of them, they’d pop up here and there and be even closer. In any case, I used a tripod only very occasionally.

But in the Ngorongoro crater, the Serengeti, Masai Mara, and Lake Nakaru, we always stayed in the truck. Funny story, in the weeks before we arrived at Lake Nakaru, a ranger had gone missing. They had thought he had gone home for vacation, but then they found some bones and his wallet. A week later they found the remains of another ranger. Apparently, an older male lion had been kicked out the pride by a younger competitor, so the old lion had to fend for himself. It seems that humans are pretty easy targets, even for an old fart lion (the females usually do the hunting).

Just a small hijack to the thread , but do adapters exist that would connect a cannon DSLR to a telescope ?


I’ve no recommendation about the lens, but do take a second, compact, camera just in case something happens to your first.

@Declan, yes. For the most part they’re usually T-mounts that physically connect the lens to the camera but don’t transfer any exposure or focus control etc. They’re inexpensive but IME cheesy if you’re going to use them often.

You could look at mirror lenses, which are often telescopes adapted to cameras. OP, here are some starting at $120.


Here’s the background on them.

Pro: Light, often inexpensive, available from variety of mfrs.
Con: Slow (usually f/8), aperture doesn’t vary, manual focus for many (most?), doughnut shaped highlights.

You could also look at teleconverters. Say you have a modest zoom but attach a 2x multiplier.

Pro: Smaller, cheaper than separate lens.

Con: Lower image quality, lose f/stops (1.4X costs 1 stop…2x costs 2. So an 80-200 f/4 lens with converter would become a 112-280 f/5.6 or 160-400 f/8 lens respectively).

Here are some starting at $99. Caveat emptor on what functions still work, like AF and exposure values etc.


I’ve had pretty good luck with the 70-300mm IS lens. Then again, I’m lusting after the 100-400mm L series lens which has just a bit extra reach and slightly better image quality and focusing speed.

Although there’s no way to know for sure, Canon usually has a spring rebate program in the middle of May. So if you wait a couple or three weeks, you might be able to get $50-$100 off your lens, and possibly some back on the camera as well.

Definitely bring multiple memory cards and don’t store them all in the same place. My preference is also to use many smaller cards rather than one large card that can get lost or damaged. You might consider a small backup hard drive if you’re really paranoid.