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Safari Wildlife Camera Equipment

Which wildlife camera is the best for safari wildlife photography and what format should you use to get the best results?

Having the right camera and lenses will make a big difference to the quality of wildlife pictures that you produce but it doesn't automatically guarantee good photos.

You still have to control the composition and in some cases the exposure when the camera isn't capable of exposing the scene effectively. But the right photography equipment does tilt the balance significantly in your favour even if you are a novice.

So after twenty five plus years of safari wildlife photography experience here is the wildlife camera equipment that I believe is the best for safari photography...

Digital Wildlife Camera Format - Compact or SLR?

white rhino

To answer the question of which type of digital wildlife camera to choose for a safari you need to determine just how serious a photographer you are.

If you take pictures on holidays and other occasions for memories and the sheer enjoyment of subjecting other people to the results of your photographic efforts then a compact digital is right up your alley.

If you are a little more serious about photography and want to publish pictures, enter competitions and earn money from your efforts then a digital SLR is the way to go for you.

The Best Safari Compact Wildlife Camera

There are some excellent compacts available in the market today and although they don't measure up in terms of image quality to the DSLR cameras, especially in low light situations due to the smaller sensor, they are more than adequate for safari photography (unless you are planning to pursue wildlife photography for a living).

For me they make great safari cameras, perfect for novice and serious amateur photographers alike. I've been using them for several years now to take my own safari pictures which are showcased on this website.

Advantages Disadvantages
Low cost Shutter release button time lag
Lightweight and small Noise at higher ISO levels
One lens with long zoom range Slow power up time
Image stabalization Small sensor (ineffective in low light)
Easy to use, short learning curve
Video recording functionality

After a lot of research I bought the Canon Powershot S1 IS several years ago and later on upgraded to the more powerful Canon Powershot S5 IS. It was the 10X image stabilised zoom lens that initially sold me on the S1 because you need a pretty long lens on safari and the image stabilization helps to reduce blur.

It also meant I didn't have to mess about changing lenses and possibly wasting an opportunity as the animal disappeared over the horizon. It also cut down on the amount of dust reaching the camera sensor which can be a problem when changing lenses. I've never had any issues with dust on any of my safari trips.

On the negative side there is a lag between the time I press the shutter release button and the time the image is recorded, long enough to miss the exact moment when a cheetah catches a gazelle or when a bird takes off from its perch. And it takes a second or two to power up which has caused me to miss getting decent pictures of a honey badger carrying her baby down the road.

But compact cameras are constantly improving and at the moment there are some better ones on the market than the Powershot S5 IS that I currently use. I would recommend you take a look at these two if you plan on buying a compact for your safari...

(PS...these are the same ones I recommend in the compact lens section as the lens and wildlife camera are one and the same thing on a compact)

Canon PowerShot SX10 IS Panasonic Lumix FZ28
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The Best Digital SLR Wildlife Camera

The good news is, that contrary to conventional wisdom, a more expensive DSLR camera doesn't necessarily translate to better photographs.

For safari photography, it's much better to spend more money on the lens and get a cheaper camera than to get an expensive camera and a mediocre lens. Your results will be much better with the first configuration.

Advantages Disadvantages
No shutter release button time lag High cost
High ISO levels with low noise Steep learning curve
Quick power up Heavy and bulky
Wide range of lens choices
Big sensor (works well in low light)
Many accessories

So coupling even an entry level Canon DSLR camera with one of these telephoto lenses will give you the potential to take high quality images on your trip. I advocate Canon bodies because I believe Canon makes some of the best safari lenses available in the market.

My advice is to first find a good safari lens for as much as you can afford (put the money you would have spent on an expensive camera body towards the lens too) and then buy the entry level DSLR camera that goes with it.

If you have the money to buy an expensive camera body with all the bells and whistles and a good lens, then by all means do it, but it's not a prerequisite to getting quality safari images.

These are the entry level Rebel Canon DSLR bodies, all pricing at well below US$1000...

Canon EOS 450D/Xsi Canon EOS 400D/Xti Canon EOS1000D/XS
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