As my Twitter followers might know, I’m getting ready for a pretty big trip to South Africa, where I’m fortunate enough to be going on a Safari.1
I’m incredibly excited to have this fantastic photographic opportunity ahead of me, but it has thrown a wrench into my usual travel/packing strategies, in addition to making a couple photographic purchases necessary. I thought it might be of interest to do a bit of a travel diary, which has already been of some help to the process. This post has already been revised a few times as my packing strategies change.
As ever, it’s important to start with a solid foundation. Game reserves present a unique challenge when it comes to keeping your camera steady. Most of what I’ve learned on the topic is from (re-)reading this piece from Thom Hogan, and another more recent piece. A key problem to solve is how to support your camera when you’re in the vehicle. I opted for Really Right Stuff’s new Travel Clamp Kit to affix to the rails of a vehicle like so:
It’s a pretty solid piece of equipment and isn’t having any trouble holding my camera steady. I’ll do more of a write-up on this item after my trip.
Thom also advises a monopod, which I considered, but there’s a limit to how much I want to bring when it comes to support, and since I also plan to bring a compact tripod and pocket-sized tripod→ as well. It’s always a balance between wanting to travel with as little as possible while still making sure I have what I need. The game reserve will only take up a few days of our trip after all.
Had this trip occurred last year, I would have been perfectly happy to buy a second X-T1 keep my XF 50-140mm f/2.8 glued on one of them (probably with an XF 1.4x Teleconverter attached), and a wide angle lens on the other.
The X-Pro2 presents a bit of a wrinkle. I know I’m going to be constantly juggling whether or not to make the most of my available megapixels, or using the tilt screen of the X-T1. A second X-Pro2 is always a possibility, but I really think I’d notice the lack of a tilt screen when the camera is attached lower than eye level. If only there was a camera that provided the best of both worlds…
Anyhow, I've all but settled on bringing both the X-Pro2 and X-T1. The X-Pro2 is the camera I want with my all the time, and the X-T1 will end up being my “Safari camera.”
I was all set to leave the fixed focal length X100 at home for this trip. The X-Pro2 has resulted in my X100T sitting dormant for the last few months. Then my wife saw the X70 and is seriously considering that as being her camera for the trip as opposed to her iPhone.
I think I’ll try to talk her out of it actually as bringing a fixed focal camera results in a whole second set of batteries and chargers to contend with that might not be worth the hassle.
Another wrinkle, the XF 100-400mm. Thom writes:
In the Serengeti and other parks where you can’t leave the road, you tend to need longer lenses than in the places where you can (e.g. the private reserves in South Africa). I’m going to assume that you’re not going to one of the latter places, as the lens needs there are far less extreme and easier to meet. We’re going to assume the worst case here...
... Thus, we need flexibility and reach. Flexibility means a zoom lens; reach means pixel density.
As it happens, I am going to a private reserve in South Africa, so I was really struggling with whether or not I’m even going to need a lens with as much reach as the XF 100-400mm. That’s a lot of extra lens to pack for me (more on that in a minute) and it has other implications as it relates to things like filters (more on that in a minute too).
Rather than obsess over it, I decided to contact to the actual game park to get a sense of how close they typically get to the animals. They sent back a couple of images for reference:
That’s pretty close!
Close enough that I’m thinking I’ll be able to leave the big lens behind. Traveling with the XF 50-140mm f/2.8 is already going to be new territory for me, but in reality, it isn’t that much larger than the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 I used to travel with. Traveling with only a carry-on wasn’t really an option in my DSLR days though.
I have to admit that one of the first things I thought about for this trip was the opportunity for some good astrophotography. Given I managed to capture the Milky Way with my X100S in the country-side of France, South Africa should offer much less light pollution, and even more visible stars. For that, I’ll be bringing along my XF 16mm f/1.4 WR. With its wide angle and fast aperture, I should be able to get some nice exposures.
This is a big family trip, so I’ll also want to document it to some degree, and capture some images while on the streets of Jo’burg, of course. For that, I’ll have my XF 35mm f/2 WR mounted on my X-Pro2.
Cameras In Summary
For now, that’s a total of two bodies, three lenses, a teleconverter, one compact tripod, one pocket-sized tripod, one travel clamp, and a whole whack of batteries.
Despite what Tony Northrup says in his video that starts off like an infomercial,2 filters can still be pretty important tools to photographers, especially those who like to capture things in camera. That’s not to say that I’m against post processing, but as time goes on, I find my desire to sit at a desk is waning rapidly.
If the XF 100-400mm does stay at home, I don’t have any reason to go larger than 72mm with my filters. This is one of the very rare times I’d consider the use of a lens like the XF 100-400mm, and the only other lens Fuji currently makes at 77mm is the XF 16-55mm f/2.8, which hasn’t been mounted on my camera to take photos in almost a year. In all likelihood I’ll stick with the 77mm as the standard, and add additional sizes as needed, and when funds allow.
A notification that the new 77mm X4 CPL and ND filters and step-up rings I ordered from Breakthrough Photography entered the country popped up on my phone just last night. I’m eager to try Breakthrough’s latest release to see how it stacks up.
Here we have the biggest hurdles in two parts:
- My collection of bags to date doesn’t accommodate longer lenses well.
- I strongly prefer carry-on-only travel.
My carry-on bag of choice is Osprey’s Farpoint 55 (S/M) which is already a couple inches longer than airlines typically allow for carry-on, but I haven’t had a problem with it so far.
My strategy is to pack my camera gear and a few clothing items in the Think Tank Airport Express bag I just ordered—that at least two people agree is the bag to get—and pack it along with the rest of my travel needs in the Osprey, hoping for the best. If I get nabbed on the size of the Osprey, I’ll check it and bring the Think Tank as my official carry-on. This will depend entirely on whether or not I can fit the Airport Express in the main compartment of the Osprey with room to spare or not.
I haven’t received the Think Tank bag yet, but I’m losing confidence that it’s going to fit in my Osprey with much, if any room to spare. I’m now pondering whether or not I can get away only the Airport Express and a “personal item.” I’ll have to do some serious layering on the plane, but if I can sneak an item or two in my wife’s carry-on, it just might work.
Happily, I just received notification that my bag has shipped, so once it arrives I’ll test out a few packing strategies.
I have as much a bag addiction as any photographer has, and I’d love to get myself a Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 one of these days. Sadly, I don’t think this is the trip for it. I’d have a hard time getting longer lenses in there, and the lack of a frame like the Osprey has to transfer weight to the hips will be a problem. Mirrorless gear is far from heavy, but it’s still more than just clothes.
To Be Continued…
That’s all for now. I hope to write more as the trip draws nearer and I get all my photographic quandaries sorted.
- My new South African family actually mocks us a little when we call it “a Safari.” To them, it’s a “game park” or “game reserve.” ↩︎
Really Tony, a whole minute?
I honestly can’t believe he’s telling people to just do it all in software to save a whole “100 bucks.” Setting aside the fact that I seem to value my time more than he does, and the enjoyment of the creative process, there are things a polarizing filter can do that software can’t replicate, like reducing reflections from the waxy coating on leaves.
On top of that, his struggle with the filter is laughable, his water reflection example is horrendous, and the idea that capturing 10s of images instead of one is less time consuming or cost-effective (storage for all those RAW files costs money, after all), is ludicrous.