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Reasonable priced camera for safari

We are going on a safari in July and I have been researching cameras for photographing wildlife.

I am reasonably familiar with photography and once had an SLR will separate zoom, wide angle lens, etc. but tired of lugging a large camera bag while touring. Once digital dominated, I have been happy with a Nikon point and shoot, with only a 21X zoom lens.

Did some research and visited Amazon and other sites. I found three nice cameras, not SLRs, but all have upgraded zoom lens with power from 42X to 60X. Prices are from $229 to $299.

If I go with an SLR and separate zoom, the upgrade is great, but prices are from $650- $1000.

Looking for advice for whether or not I should go with the non-SLR lower priced or SLR.

I don't really want an SLR to lug around when touring, that is why I am resisting buying just for the safari.

Any advise would be helpful.

Posted by
3561 posts

I am not averse to recommending looking at a used camera. An SLR isn't necessary, and cameras with change lenses are at risk....dust!. At the very least, take a bandana or zip lock bag to protect any camera in your day pack when in transit.
I originally used bridge cameras, with good zoom, a view finder and the ability to go manual if you want.
Others like a mirrorless camera, they often need a second lens and may be more than your budget.
Read some of the photo review websites for what might work for you...as well as the questions related to photography here.

Posted by
1308 posts

I have used an older version of this Panasonic Camera which has a 60x optical zoom - I have used this in multiple countries for capturing birds and wildlife including in Africa
Panasonic LUMIX FZ80 4K Digital Camera. - seems. to be in the range you listed.

Only downside I have found is after using it for many years (5+), it has sucked in some dust which now shows on the pictures - hence, time to buy a replacement. The quality of the pictures have been great to this point.

Posted by
547 posts

My knowledge and interest in photography is enough to justify a compact sized digital camera with full manual control but not enough to justify a big professional camera model with interchangeable lenses. I am not hard-core about photography. I try to not keep taking a lot of pictures and I know that all the monuments I visit have already been professionally photographed multiple times and other people's pictures are easy enough to find. I have a Canon A710 point and shoot camera, with 6x optical zoom and 7.1 million picture elements, that I got as a gift from my parents in the summer of 2006. My parents seem to have bought it the week it arrived in USA retail stores. It still physically works. It has the settings wheel that let's you select manual mode or auto or some other settings I don't know what to do with.

The new Canon's that cost under about $350-$400 lack the settings wheel. I keep my camera in manual, I don't use the flash, and I re-adjust the shutter speed every time I take a picture, which usually works except if there is too little light. If this camera dies, I would probably buy another Canon compact sized camera, making sure it includes the settings wheel that let's you select full manual mode. It looks like on e-bay, there are several old model Canon's available, some with more than 6x optical zooming, that use AA batteries, which would of course work with rechargeable AA batteries.

The main thing I don't like about the current model Canon's is the batteries: it looks like all the new model Canon's use a proprietary expensive unusually-shaped (rechargeable) battery instead of AA batteries like the model I have.

Posted by
67 posts

I switched from a Canon with interchangeable lenses to a bridge camera---specifically the SONY RX 10 Mark IV. I realize this camera is probably beyond the price range you prefer, however, you can find other high quality bridge cameras that will satisfy your requirements. Getting one that is weather sealed and that has at least a 300mm zoom range will be helpful for your Africa and all other travels and circumstances. It's been wonderful traveling "lite." While photography is one of my passions life has evolved and I now balance image quality with practicalities.
You may want to review alternatives at: www.dpreview.com.
Whatever you decide, most importantly, gain a complete understanding of your new camera and give it lots of use well before your trip. Things happen quickly in the bush and any hesitation will cause you to lose the opportunity to capture the moment.

Posted by
6203 posts

I'm partial to the Panasonic Lumix line of high power zoom point and shoot cameras. Have had two and now looking to buy a newer model - lost my camera a couple of months ago and definitely need to replace it before another trip.

What are the 3 cameras you've been looking at? That might help with giving suggestions and opinions.

Posted by
517 posts

Tools are specific to the task. If I want to turn bowls fromaluminum billets, my wood lathe is simply not going to do the job.

Wildlife photography is highly specialized, requiring not only super telephoto lenses but immeasurable patience and stealth. The environmental factors also impact the camera selection. I’d go for waterproof, dust proof, GPS, and a mount that allows attaching to a catadioptric scope. The cost is not a factor if you want the pictures. If cost is more important than the pictures, you can use your phone and blow up the files. Get a telephoto attachment and Otterbox.

Posted by
1511 posts

I have the same conclusion as bogiesan's previous comment but from the other direction -
do you really want to buy a camera for a specific occasion, or do you want a camera that you're going to enjoy using for a few years wherever you are?
If the former, then get the gear together for a wildlife safari specifically, and live with the expense -- to me it'd be like buying a pickup truck with a lumber rack because you have a backyard project this summer, and then having to use a pickup to commute to the office and get groceries for the next half a decade. Not a great move.
If the latter, choose a well-reviewed prosumer super zoom like the Canon mentioned earlier that will work decently at home and around town, and for the safari figure out how to hold it still enough for long captures.

Posted by
3561 posts

Just so you know, due the Tanzania plains that dominate, even your 21x may be adequate for a lot of your images. Animals are not blobs on the horizon. Adequate trails, and guides with shortwave gets you where animals are. The herds may be around you, the lion using your jeep as shade cover, or having a drink in the ditch beside your vehicle.
But if due for an upgrade, then head for the 60x. You know the difference in results, and what you can live with for quality.
People have been on safari and ecstatic with their photos from ipads, phones, SLR and $40 P&S. This is an experience where you need to remember to put down the camera and observe. From my several trips to Tanz, it's the images in my mind's eye that matter the most. I can 'look' at them anywhere.

Posted by
267 posts

You should consider Cannon refurbished cameras if price is a concern. For very little money you may buy a great as new but inexpensive camera. I have bought several this way including the one I am currently using (and taking great pictures with).
From my experience the CCD that is used in Cannon cameras is tuned to take more realistic images. The colors are more true to life than Nikon and Panasonic. I know that because when I backpack with a group of friends we share the images with each other at the end of our trip. I loath the Nikon shots...they look Photo Shopped.
Having said that, a safari is the one place where you should take a camera with a good zoom and image stabilizer. Taking wildlife photo's is a lot like big game hunting. The opportunities for great shots do not always come as you expect them or the way you might want them to. You need to be opportunistic and a zoom allows you to do this. Of course using digital zoom can result in pixilation so you need to try to avoid using it when you have the chance to take a larger crop-able image.
Think this through. This is not a walking trip through the Vatican where your camera and bag become a PITA to carry. On a safari you are guided and presumably not exerting yourself to the point of exhaustion carrying your own gear. Leave the point and shoot at home. Don't back yourself into the digital zoom corner. Bring out the real camera and lens for this trip.

Posted by
4601 posts

Thanks everyone for your very informative posts. I will follow up and check out your suggestions.

Already looked at a couple. The one Chris recommended is still $474, so it is out.
The Panasonic Lumix looks like a great option. I will compare it to some of the others that I found.

Any suggestions for what website to use to buy the camera? I am not sure Amazon always has the best prices?

Posted by
3561 posts

Is it all about price? What about service or advice? Is there a local photo company that could use your covid business? Be able to recommend? Has sales or a used equipment department? We have such a store in town, with a larger store in Toronto so a wider range of opportunities. Alternately there would be Best Buy, Costco....just enter the make and model into google and you'll see who's selling it.

Posted by
2643 posts

i also agree with Bogiesan. The wrong equipment just doesn’t work. So, as you don’t have what is really needed for this type of photography and do not want to spend the money or weight for it (All personal preference), then I would change course and buy binoculars with your budget and just absorb what you can see. Then, when you can, journal the day with descriptions so reading the journal will bring back your memories of what you saw.

Posted by
4601 posts

Our community is a county of 86,000 people and the only camera stores are in Walmart and Target. Based on the research and what I have found. it seems that I can buy a camera that meets my needs with a great zoom for less than $400. I already have some binoculars that I plan to take on the trip. I think a room lines with 42X to 60X should meet my needs. I did check the Walmat website and they have some cameras that I can go and physically inspect.

Posted by
123 posts

I have a Lumix G9 and absolutely love it. I got it and all my lenses from B&H. I've been very happy with the service & support from B&H. I use the 100-400 mm lens for most wildlife but it is a pricey lens. I've found it to be worth every penny. They just came out with a 100-300 but since I have the longer version I've not looked into it much. Edited to add the reviews I have seen on it have been good.
The stabilization built into the camera & lenses are superb. I'm not typically a tripod user as I don't like carrying much gear and the sharpness handheld is excellent.

B&H has a used department as well. I have bought some used lenses from them & have 0 complaints.

Hope this helps.

Posted by
6511 posts

Walmart and Target are not "camera stores" - they are mass commodity stores! Good luck finding a person at Walmart or Target who is knowledgeable at all about cameras or any electronics equipment (even Best Buy is somewhat better).

If I were you, I would read reviews on Wirecutter and order a good camera online so that you're not limited to mass-market stores in your small city. Wildlife shooting is not the same as your every-day photography. If you actually care about getting good photos, then take the time to buy a good camera and master its features way before your trip through a lot of practice (you can start by shooting birds, for example since they tend to move a lot).
https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/electronics/cameras/
https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-superzoom-camera/
https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-budget-dslr-camera/

B & H is an excellent store in NYC for all kinds of electronics, including cameras (as mentioned above in a prior post). I have ordered several items online. The staff there is helpful and knowledgeable, and the prices are very competitive. They are well-known and regarded well outside of NYC. I would talk to someone who actually knows something about cameras in lieu of just placing an Amazon order or buying from the limited selection at Walmart/ Target, etc.
https://www.bhphotovideo.com

Posted by
5609 posts

I have also bought camera gear from B&H and would do so again.

Beyond a wide zoom range, I would want a 35mm equivalent wide angle coverage of at least 28mm, 24mm and shorter being desirable.

I look for an articulating LCD display screen and eye viewfinder option. Using display screens can be a problem when external light is reflecting off of the display.

Image stabilization is a must feature for max telephoto shots.

I also look for a "sports" predictive focus feature. Think running animals.

Posted by
4601 posts

Thanks again to all for the information you provided.

I have spend several hours researching this issue and comparing several cameras.

I will not buy the camera yet, since I want to make sure the safari is a go and I don't have to pay the final payment until late April.

The Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80 Digital looks like a good fit. It get good reviews for its zoom (60X) and I found a used on from Adorama for $179. Still I see that BH photography has a new one for $279.99. Several reviews praised the camera, especially the zoom and it use for wildlife like bird photography and use on African safari.

Posted by
4478 posts

When I went to Botswana in 2003, I took a very early model of the Panasonic camera you are looking at; it was only 2 mp and 10x optical zoom, but I still got some great photos. I wouldn’t hesitate to go with a Panasonic; I use one of the compact Panasonic models for general travel.

My one recommendation would be to get a spare battery. I have also purchased from B&H in the past and had no issues with them.

Posted by
5609 posts

Definitely need spare battery/batteries esp when in the bush. Recharge whenever you can.
https://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/panasonic-fz80/panasonic-fz80A.HTM#

Regarding power, the Lumix FZ80 uses a 7.2v 895mAh lithium-ion battery
that offers a 330-shot battery life when using the LCD monitor and 240
shots when using the electronic viewfinder. This is a fairly large
reduction in battery life compared to the FZ70 with the same battery,
as it was CIPA-rated at 400 shots with the LCD, so it appears a spare
battery might be in order for FZ80 users.

Posted by
547 posts

I wonder whether powerful zooming ability would actually be useful. If you take an up-close picture of an animal, with none of the background landscape in the picture, how will you identify where you were when you took the picture, by looking at the picture?

I would assume that every animal species you will see has already been professionally photographed multiple times. Books about sevanna animals that are full of copies of color photographs, are available. I like the idea of bringing binoculars on your trip.

Posted by
5609 posts

Personal photos are trophies of a sort. Better to bring back a head shot photo of a beast than its head and horns. That said, wide angle scenes are often underappreciated by by novice photographers.

Posted by
67 posts

Another recommendation for B&H. I've been buying my equipment there for the last 30 years all during the time I haven't lived in NYC. Excellent customer service and pricing. Also, during covid they have been offering free online workshops with well known photographers. Just last week was the first of a three part series originating from Tanzania. Good luck with your decision.

Posted by
353 posts

Tools are specific to the task. If I want to turn bowls fromaluminum billets, my wood lathe is simply not going to do the job.

The "right" tool for a job depends on the end product. In OP's case, how will the photos be used? For monitor display among family and friends? For poster size prints to be hung in galleries?

Having a "right" tool is just the start, learning to use it for optimal results is the real challenge.

https://www.zdnet.com/article/why-you-should-never-buy-a-new-camera-right-before-a-vacation/

Posted by
1656 posts

We are going to Tanzania next year, so this topic is definitely of interest. After our South Africa trip where we had just a taste of safari (3 days), I had bought a very large expensive lens and was totally disappointed in my photos. Not sharp and crisp enough because the lens needed to be on a tripod.

Not sure what I will do for our trip next year, so I will be following this and wanting to know if you come back happy with your photos.

Posted by
5609 posts

RE: Not sharp and crisp enough because the lens needed to be on a tripod.

Consider image stabilization camera/lens technology and use predictive focus features for moving subjects. And proper (fast) shutter speed and small aperture (wide depth of field).

https://www.howtogeek.com/298560/what-is-image-stabilization-and-how-does-it-work/

When we talk about image stabilization and photography, we’re normally
talking about optical image stabilization, which is found in a lot of
high end lenses (and some high-end smartphones like the iPhone 7).
Canon calls the feature Image stabilization (IS) and Nikon calls it
Vibration Reduction (VR). With optical image stabilization, part of
the lens physically moves to counteract any camera movement when you
take the picture; if your hands are shaking, an element inside the
lens shakes too to counter the movement.

https://expertphotography.com/focus-sharp-sports-photography/

Set Your Camera to Continuous AF to Use Predictive Tracking

Continuous autofocus is when the AF system focuses continuously on the
area covered by selected autofocus points. Most cameras have four
focusing modes: manual, suto, single, or continuous. On a Canon,
continuous focusing is called AF or Al Servo. On Nikon or Sony, select
AF-C.

This mode activates predictive tracking as soon as the autofocus
system detects a moving subject. It continuously monitors the focus
distance. When the distance from camera to the subject changes, the
focus is adjusted accordingly.

It uses info from the autofocus system to adjust the point of focus.
It does this to account for the change in the subject during the
split-second delay between the camera’s mirror being lifted and the
shutter opening.